Monday, October 10, 2011
Big Ten power rankings: Week 7
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Did Week 6 produce some separation in the Big Ten? It looks that way as Michigan and Illinois continued to roll, Penn State finally got over the hump against Iowa and Nebraska might have saved its season with a historic comeback against Ohio State.
The league's bottom two are obvious, but Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State are moving in the wrong direction. Week 7 brings more huge matchups as five division games are on the slate.
Without further ado, the rankings ...
1. Wisconsin (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten): Bret Bielema's boys got to sit back and relax after their dominating Week 5 win against Nebraska. Wisconsin gets another tune-up this week against Indiana -- the Badgers slapped 83 on the Hoosiers last year -- before its first true road game of the season Oct. 22 at Michigan State. Style points will be important if Wisconsin intends to make a serious push for the BCS title game.
2. Michigan (6-0, 2-0): The first road win is always critical, and Brady Hoke's squad responded well to adversity after falling behind 24-14 at Northwestern. Michigan shored up its defense and began forcing takeaways, its trademark this season. Denard Robinson, meanwhile, continues to be unfazed by his own miscues as he shredded Northwestern for 450 yards (337 passing, 113 rushing) and four touchdowns (2 rush, 2 pass). This isn't Michigan of the recent past, and the Wolverines can rid themselves of any doubters by beating Michigan State in East Lansing next week.
3. Illinois (6-0, 2-0): Ron Zook's squad finally hit the road, and after an early hiccup, it handled its business against Indiana with none of the drama of the past three weeks. The Nathan Scheelhaase-A.J. Jenkins connection revved up again, and the defense received huge performances from end Whitney Mercilus and cornerback Tavon Wilson. You can only play the schedule you're given, and Illinois is gaining confidence with each win.
4. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0): A bye week fell at a good time for Michigan State, sandwiched between emotional games at Ohio State and against archrival Michigan. The Spartans have won three straight against Michigan but will face a more polished Wolverines squad this week in East Lansing. Michigan State was the first Big Ten team to slow down Robinson in 2010, and Jerel Worthy, Trenton Robinson and their fellow defenders need another strong effort against "Shoelace" in a game that could decide the Legends division champion.
5. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1): Credit the Huskers for never giving up, even when some of their fans had, and taking advantage of a shaken Ohio State team in the third quarter of Saturday night's game. Nebraska has a long way to go, particularly on defense, but the Huskers have played well in the second half of games and could be a dangerous team in the second half of the season. A quick-strike offense behind Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead will keep Nebraska in games. The defense has to be the focus for Bo Pelini and his staff entering the bye week.
6. Penn State (5-1, 2-0): The Lions make a move after an impressive home victory against longtime nemesis Iowa. Defense has been Penn State's calling card all season, and Tom Bradley's crew delivered a dominating performance to stifle James Vandenberg and an Iowa offense that came to Happy Valley with confidence. Matthew McGloin likely solidified the quarterback spot for Penn State, which is in position to make a nice October run.
7. Ohio State (3-3, 0-2): A breakthrough win vanished into the Lincoln night and an Ohio State team that played so well for two and a half quarters returned home with more disappointment in a season filled with it. Freshman QB Braxton Miller energized a dormant offense, but his ankle injury leaves things very much in doubt with two more ranked opponents on the schedule this month. Ohio State's fortitude once again will be tested, especially if Miller is out for any extended period.
8. Iowa (3-2, 0-1): So much for Iowa's sizzling pass attack. Quarterback James Vandenberg and his receivers struggled mightily against an elite defense Saturday in State College, as Iowa failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 48 games (31-6 loss to Purdue in 2007). The Hawkeyes are a young team that should improve with time, but they'll need to rebound after looking rattled in State College. Vandenberg threw two interceptions and was sacked five times, and he received little help from his receivers.
9: Purdue (3-2, 1-0): Credit the Boilers for taking care of business against a bad Minnesota team and putting the game out of reach early on. The defense stepped up by forcing three first-half turnovers, including a pick-six by sophomore CB Ricardo Allen, the third of his career. Purdue had another solid performance on the ground, although it must do a better job of limiting penalties and stretching the field in the passing game to rack up more Big Ten wins.
10. Northwestern (2-3, 0-2): A troubling trend of blowing big leads continued for Pat Fitzgerald's crew, but against Michigan, Northwestern didn't display its typical resilience and got steamrolled in a sour second half. Whether it's a lack of adjustments, poor execution, a lack of defensive talent or not enough leadership throughout the squad, Northwestern seems incapable of putting together a complete performance. No lead is safe for the Wildcats. Quarterback Dan Persa makes a difference, but Northwestern's defense can't get off of the field.
11. Indiana (1-5, 0-2): The Hoosiers got the start they wanted against Illinois, but things fell apart late in the first quarter after the Illini returned a fumble for a touchdown. Indiana's defense still has a long way to go, but the team might have found its quarterback of the future in freshman Tre Roberson, who provided a spark in the second half. It doesn't get easier next week at Wisconsin.
12. Minnesota (1-5,0-2): Jerry Kill and his players thought they hit rock bottom during a 58-0 loss to Michigan in Week 5. They were wrong. Minnesota never gave itself a chance against a so-so Purdue team on Saturday, falling behind 31-0 in the first half. The Gophers lack cohesion on offense, play-making on defense and confidence as a team. They've been outscored 103-17 the last two weeks. The bye week couldn't come at a better time as Minnesota tries to regroup for a daunting stretch run.