I'll be the first to admit this installment of the power rankings went easy on some teams. Although Iowa lost to Northwestern, I still have a hard time dropping the Hawkeyes below the No. 4 spot. Same thing for Penn State at No. 5.
Should Michigan vault both the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions after two somewhat shaky wins? Let's remember that Michigan lost to both Iowa and Penn State. And while Northwestern finally put it all together against Iowa, I have a hard time placing the Wildcats ahead of both Iowa and Penn State.
Basically, Iowa and Penn State get a bit of a pass this week. But both teams had better get things in gear this coming Saturday.
1. Wisconsin (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten): The Badgers flexed their muscles in a historic offensive performance Saturday against Indiana. Some felt Bret Bielema went too far, but he can't tell his players to stop playing the game. Wisconsin has the easiest closing slate of the three league title contenders, but it must find a way to get over the hump in the state of Michigan.
2. Ohio State (9-1, 5-1): After a lackluster first half, Ohio State looked like the team we've come to know under Jim Tressel in the month of November. The Buckeyes overpowered Penn State with Dan Herron and the run game, and an always opportunistic defense recorded two interception returns for touchdowns. Things get tougher this week with a trip to Iowa City.
3. Michigan State (9-1, 5-1): The open week came at a good time for Michigan State, which had to be pleased seeing Iowa stumble at Northwestern. The Spartans now become big Hawkeyes fans as they want Iowa to beat Ohio State and increase the likelihood of a two-team tie atop the Big Ten between Michigan State and Wisconsin, which the Spartans would win.
4. Iowa (7-3, 4-2): Sure, the Hawkeyes didn't drop in the power rankings, but they took a major step back in the Big Ten title race. Iowa would need a lot to go wrong elsewhere to have any chance to catch both Wisconsin and Michigan State in the final two weeks. Given the preseason expectations and all the seniors coming back, Iowa should be disappointed with how things have turned out.
T-5. Penn State (6-4, 3-3): This is another team that shouldn't feel good about being in the same spot in the rankings. Penn State did a lot of good things in the first half at Ohio State but completely fell apart in the final 30 minutes. Quarterback Matt McGloin's hot start abruptly ended, and it will be interesting to see how things play out under center in the final two weeks. Penn State should bounce back this week against Indiana.
T-5. Northwestern (7-3, 3-3): The Wildcats recorded a season-affirming win against Iowa but unfortunately lost star quarterback Dan Persa to a season-ending injury. No Big Ten player has meant more to his team than Persa this fall, so expectations have to be tempered the rest of the season. Redshirt freshman Evan Watkins will need to grow up fast, and he'll need help from the offensive line and the run game.
6. Michigan (7-3, 3-3): Kudos to the much-maligned Michigan defense for bailing out Denard Robinson and the offense Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. Michigan played a very sloppy game and made several questionable decisions, but it found a way to beat a banged-up Purdue team and ensure its first winning season since 2007. Things get a lot tougher the final two weeks with Wisconsin and Ohio State.
8. Illinois (5-5, 3-4): Only a few plays separate Illinois from a 7-3 mark, but the team's inability to beat both Michigan and Minnesota suddenly puts bowl eligibility in jeopardy. The Illini must beat a shorthanded but fired-up Northwestern squad this week at Wrigley Field or knock off Fresno State on the road Dec. 3 to reach the six-win plateau. If not, the heat will rise for coach Ron Zook.
9. Purdue (4-6, 2-4): Despite having the Big Ten's best defensive player in end Ryan Kerrigan, the Boilers are too injured and too limited on offense to beat decent teams. Purdue's defense has made several big plays the past two weeks, but the Boilers simply haven't converted enough opportunities and have made too many major mistakes of their own. It doesn't get any easier this week with a trip to Michigan State.
10. Minnesota (2-9, 1-6): It would have been easy for Minnesota to give up weeks ago, and especially after falling behind by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter. But interim coach Jeff Horton and his players didn't relent and mounted an impressive come-from-behind win on the road. You had to feel happy for quarterback Adam Weber and the other seniors who have endured so many losses in their careers.
11. Indiana (4-6, 0-6): Until Saturday, the Hoosiers could hang their hats on competing hard in Big Ten games. But they couldn't generate any defensive stops against Wisconsin, even after the Badgers put their second- and third-stringers into the game. Allowing 83 points is simply unacceptable, and Bill Lynch needs to get more out of his team the last two weeks to ensure he's back in 2011.