Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
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Let's get to the rankings ...

1. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten): The Spartans have taken the step from good to elite and deserve to sit atop the power rankings after their dramatic victory against Wisconsin, a team everyone considered the class of the conference. No Big Ten team has been better in crunch time during the past year and a half, and Michigan State is three-fourths of the way through a grueling October with a 3-0 record. Kirk Cousins had arguably his best game as a Spartan against Wisconsin, becoming the team's all-time winningest quarterback. The defense continues to come up with huge plays. As big as Saturday night's win was, Michigan State plays an even more important game this week at Nebraska.

2. Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1): Despite the loss, we're putting the Badgers in the No. 2 hole because we don't believe any other team would beat them right now. Wisconsin's heart-wrenching loss will test its character going forward, and coach Bret Bielema has to address several areas, namely special teams and third-down defense. But the Badgers moved the ball well against a good Michigan State defense and showed fight late in the game with two touchdowns to tie the score. Although the loss removes Wisconsin from the national championship picture and Russell Wilson from the Heisman race, the Badgers face a more important game -- at least in terms of the Big Ten title -- this week in the Legends division as they face Ohio State.

3. Penn State (7-1, 4-0): Dismissed after the Alabama loss and overlooked for most of the season, Penn State simply continues to win games. And after Wisconsin's loss, the Nittany Lions sit atop the Leaders division as the lone unbeaten team in Big Ten play. Penn State showed at Northwestern that it could win with offense, as Matthew McGloin seemingly locked up the quarterback position (although JoePa says Rob Bolden still will play) and RB Silas Redd continued to surge. You can knock Penn State for not being overly impressive in victory, but the Lions are providing reasons to believe. They could easily be 8-1 before the bye week and a tough but not impossible November stretch against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

4. Nebraska (6-1, 2-1): We'll learn more about Nebraska this week against Michigan State, but the Huskers made quick work of Minnesota, surging out to a 34-0 halftime lead behind Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead and Kenny Bell. Martinez spread the ball around well in the passing game and the defense recorded a touchdown while holding Minnesota to 11 first downs and 254 total yards. Again, you can't tell too much when a team crushes Minnesota, but Nebraska certainly has some momentum as it returns home to face the Spartans. A win this week means a move up the rankings.

5. Michigan (6-1, 2-1): Can Michigan avoid another late-season collapse? We'll learn a lot about Denard Robinson and the Wolverines this week against Purdue. It marks Michigan's only home game in a stretch of five, so the Maize and Blue must respond against an improving Boilers squad. Robinson has to cut down on his interceptions and start completing more passes, while the defense will be tested by Purdue's strong rushing attack.

6. Ohio State (4-3, 1-2): After a much-needed bye, Ohio State gears up for a season-defining game. An upset of Wisconsin will put the Buckeyes in the mix for the Leaders division title, as they already have a win at Illinois. Ohio State's defense must build off of its stifling performance at Illinois to contain the dangerous Badgers' offense. And, just going out on a limb here, but Braxton Miller will need to complete more than one pass to beat Bucky. It'll be a Scarlet-Out at The Shoe for the Homecoming matchup.

7. Iowa (5-2, 2-1): Credit the Hawkeyes for taking care of business against teams they should beat. After the 3-point performance at Penn State, the Iowa offense has rebounded by racking up 86 points in wins against Northwestern and Indiana. QB James Vandenberg, WR Marvin McNutt and RB Marcus Coker should have another big day this week against Minnesota before the competition gets tougher. Iowa still has a long way to go on defense.

8. Purdue (4-3, 2-1): The Boilers earn a bump in the rankings after upsetting Illinois at Ross-Ade Stadium. Danny Hope's squad discovered its quarterback in Caleb TerBush, executed an innovative offensive game plan and pressured Illinois all day, as DT Kawann Short (2 sacks, 3.5 TFLs) led the charge. The schedule gets tougher in the coming weeks, but Purdue is an improving team that could make some noise down the stretch in the Leaders division.

9. Illinois (6-2, 1-2): A 6-0 start seems like a distant memory as the Illini have looked uninspired in back-to-back games. The offense failed to score in the first three quarters for the second consecutive week and struggled mightily on third down at Purdue. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and Co. must regroup before an even tougher test this week against Penn State in Happy Valley. A win will get the Illini back on track, while a loss will increase chatter about a second-half collapse and put some heat on coach Ron Zook.

10. Northwestern (2-5, 0-4): A nightmarish season continued Saturday night for Pat Fitzgerald's team, which dropped its fifth consecutive game. The Wildcats have had opportunities to win all five, but their inability to put it all together has put them in a precarious position. When Northwestern is scoring at will, it can't get defensive stops (first half against Penn State). When the team shows a pulse on defense, it makes mistakes on offense (second half against Penn State). And for the first time since 2007, Northwestern likely will stay home for the holidays.

11. Indiana (1-7, 0-4): Defense, defense, defense. No matter the coach, the story remains the same for Indiana. Until the Hoosiers can make significant upgrades on the defensive side of the ball, they'll struggle to win Big Ten games -- or merely compete in them. Indiana had no answer for McNutt, Vandenberg, Coker and the Iowa offense and got shredded for the third consecutive week. The good news: freshman Tre Roberson provided a nice spark at quarterback. He could be the answer going forward.

12. Minnesota (1-6, 0-3): The bye week didn't do much to repair the Gophers, who once again were noncompetitive in a Big Ten game. Minnesota fell behind 34-0 on its home field against Nebraska, surrendering big plays and making key errors on offense. Something dramatic needs to shift for the Gophers to compete better down the stretch. Perhaps the chance to hold onto the Floyd of Rosedale this week against Iowa will produce a better effort from Jerry Kill's crew.

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