The top and bottom of the Big Ten remain unchanged in this week's power rankings, but the middle of the conference has been shaken up. After its marquee win at Nebraska, Minnesota makes a big jump up, while the Huskers come tumbling down.
1. Ohio State (last week: 1) – The Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) took care of business last weekend with a 63-14 win over Penn State. Their offense was clicking on all cylinders, as Braxton Miller went off for over 300 total yards, and Carlos Hyde rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns. OSU can lay claim to the title of best offense in the conference, which barely beats Indiana's in yards per game. What else can be said about the Buckeyes? They’ve already proven that they can win close games (31-24 over Wisconsin, 40-30 over Northwestern, 34-24 over Iowa), and now they’ve shown they can wipe teams off the field from time to time. Some might even argue that the Buckeyes are the most complete teams in the nation, considering that they are one of two Division I programs with a top-15 offense and defense. The other team is featured next on this list.
2. Wisconsin (last week: 2) – The Badgers (5-2, 3-1) had a bye last week, which will give them extra time to prepare for their important contest on the road at Iowa. That game will likely be the last time the Badgers are seriously tested, considering they end their schedule with BYU, Indiana, Minnesota and Penn State. These four teams have a combined record of just 19-11, so Wisconsin has every reason to believe that it can finish at 10-2. Quarterback Joel Stave doesn't put up major numbers, but with a dynamic running game like Wisconsin's, he doesn’t need to do all that much.
3. Michigan State (last week: 3) – Every week, the Spartans (7-1, 4-0) seem more deserving of that No. 2 spot, but the Badgers have won by a touchdown per game more than Michigan State does, which keeps MSU below. This past weekend, the Spartans looked unstoppable on both sides of the ball, albeit against the lowly Illini. In their 42-3 romp, Michigan State’s offense, which is usually not much of a factor, exploded for 477 yards, its second largest total of the season. The MSU defense, as usual, was as good as advertised. Against the Illini, the nation’s No. 1 defense allowed just 128 yards, an astounding feat.
4. Michigan (last week: 5) – While it might not always look pretty, the Wolverines (6-1, 2-1) have managed to get through their schedule with only one loss thus far. They easily could have had two or three more with how they performed against Akron and Connecticut, but they actually control their own destiny now. If they win out, they will clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. It will be extremely tough, however, considering they still have Michigan State and Ohio State left on their schedule. The Wolverines will have to rely on their offensive firepower, considering their defense has been almost a non-factor this year. Will their offense alone be able to dethrone the top dogs in the conference? That remains to be seen.
5. Iowa (last week: 6) – To Hawkeye fans, last Saturday’s 17-10 win against the ‘Cats couldn’t have been a good sign of things to come. While the Iowa defense was solid, they couldn’t manage to put up sustained drives against the 78th-ranked defense in the country. The Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2) didn’t look that impressive overall, and if it weren't for a costly fumble by the ‘Cats late in the game, they might have been upset at home. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier, either. Iowa is at home vs. the Badgers next week before finishing off with Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes are this high on the list because their only two losses came against Michigan State and Ohio State, and they only lost by 12 and 10 points, respectively, in those games.
6. Minnesota (last week: 9) – This team is the definition of a Cinderella story. In its preseason assessment of the Big Ten, Bleacher Report projected the Golden Gophers to finish at 5-7. Well, they’ve already surpassed that win total, and on Saturday, the Gophers (6-2, 2-2) had arguably the biggest upset of the season in Big Ten play when they defeated Nebraska, 34-23. Las Vegas had the Huskers as 10-point favorites going in, but that didn’t seem to faze the Gophers. Minnesota hasn’t been known for its offense this year, (the unit is 107th in total yard in FBS), but against the Huskers, the unit came to life. The Gophers amassed 430 total yards, which is about 90 more than their season average. If the offense continues to have success, don’t be surprised if this team ends up with eight or nine wins when it’s all said and done.
7. Nebraska (last week: 4) – Not to take away credit from Minnesota, but the Cornhuskers (5-2, 2-1) should really reevaluate things after their most recent loss. It came with the return of senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who had been sidelined with a toe injury since mid-September. While he didn’t have a particularly good game, accounting for only 155 yards and one TD, it’s still surprising that the team wasn’t able to rally around his return, and instead had one of its worst performances of the season.
8. Indiana (last week: 8) – The Hoosiers (3-4, 1-2) had a bye last week, which might be the only thing that can cool off their offense. Indiana has scored at least 35 points in a game five times this season, a feat matched only by Ohio State and Wisconsin. Overall, the Hoosiers are 10th in the nation in total offense, averaging a whopping 514 yards a game, and they get contributions from numerous weapons. Their quarterback, Nate Sudfield, is third in the conference in passing yards per game, Codi Latimer and Kofi Hughes are Top 10 in the conference in receiving yards per game, and running back Tevin Coleman is fifth in the league with 90.7 rushing yards per game.
9. Penn State (last week: 7) – The Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-2) just got walloped on the road at Ohio State, but the loss shouldn’t be all that surprising. Certainly, Penn State couldn’t be expected to dethrone the Buckeyes, and especially not on the road. The rest of their schedule isn’t all that challenging (they have yet to face Illinois or Purdue), so it’s likely that they will wind up with six or seven wins on the season. Not bad for a team that’s just two years removed from one of the biggest college football scandals in history.
10. Northwestern (last week: 10) – Once again, the Northwestern (4-4, 0-4) offense looked dreadful in a 17-10 loss at Iowa over the weekend. Even with quarterback Kain Colter back, the unit was clumsy with the ball and couldn’t protect the quarterback when it mattered most. One positive thing to take away, though, is that for the second week in a row, the defense really stepped it up, allowing only 305 yards to the Hawkeyes. Nonetheless, the team didn’t think things would get this bad from a results standpoint. By this point in the year, no one’s job is safe. Quarterback Trevor Siemian saw very little action in the Iowa game (only playing was Colter was out shortly with an injury), which is a sign that Pat Fitzgerald had seen enough from this once-promising passing threat. Now, the ‘Cats just hope to secure a slot in a bowl game and salvage whatever they can from this disappointing season.
11. Illinois (last week: 11) – The Illini (3-4, 0-3) just haven’t clicked as a unit since the start of Big Ten play. In their three conference games, they’ve been outscored 137-54. Last week might have been the worst of them all, a 42-3 beat down at the hands of the Spartans, who aren’t known for their offense at all. The Illini are outside of the Top 70 in the nation for both total offense and defense, indicating that they can’t rely on either side of the ball to get the job done on a week-to-week basis. If you’re a fan of college football, you might want to avoid tuning into their game three weeks from this Saturday when they go to battle with the Boilermakers, because it might be the worst-played Big Ten football contest of the year.
12. Purdue (last week: 12) – It's not tough to find stats that illustrate how rough a season Purdue (1-6, 0-3) is having. The Boilermakers were on bye last week, but in their six losses, they were beaten by an average of 25.8 points. Their total offense is the fourth-worst in the entire nation. And they are either last or second-to-last in the Big Ten in first downs, sacks, turnover margin and red zone efficiency. It’s as if they are auditioning for a weaker conference but are stuck playing against the “big dogs” on a weekly basis.