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Monday, September 15, 2008
Big Ten power rankings

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The rankings didn't change much the first two weeks as Big Ten teams beat inferior opponents and avoided embarrassing losses. Week 3 provided opportunities to flourish or flop, and Big Ten teams certainly did both.

Both Ohio State and Wisconsin headed to California with something to prove, and only the Badgers reached their goal. They get rewarded in the rankings, while the Buckeyes pay the price for a miserable performance.

1. Wisconsin -- This team had the guts to play Fresno State on the road and emerged with a hard-fought win that drew national attention. Despite some early health questions, Wisconsin has established itself as a legitimate top 10 squad that likely gets over the BCS hump if it holds serve at home against Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois.

2. Penn State -- The Lions have a gripe to be ranked higher in the polls, but they get their due here. Sure, the competition has been shoddy, but Penn State has won its three games by an average of 43 points and is the only FBS team averaging more than 260 rushing yards and 270 passing yards a game. We'll get a better read on this team soon, but the early returns look good.

3. Ohio State -- The Buckeyes still might be the Big Ten's best team, but they haven't shown it so far. A respectable effort without Chris "Beanie" Wells against USC would have kept Ohio State ahead of Penn State, but getting outclassed in every area merits a drop. A senior-laden Buckeyes team has more questions than anyone could have imagined at this early juncture.

4. Illinois -- Consistency continues to elude the Illini, who are struggling to get strong efforts on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Juice Williams struggled Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette after two stellar games, but the defense came up big to erase some earlier problems. A bye week probably comes at a decent time for Illinois, which must regroup before visiting Penn State.

5. Michigan State -- A downpour couldn't stop the Spartans, who finally got the defensive performance they had been looking for against Florida Atlantic. The soggy conditions put a asterisk next to Saturday's shutout, but Michigan State has rebounded well from its opening loss, thanks in large part to running back Javon Ringer. A win this week against Notre Dame would push the Spartans higher in the rankings.

6. Iowa -- Coach Kirk Ferentz is still looking for a quarterback, but he has found a strong defense that could take Iowa a long way this fall. The Hawkeyes have allowed just two field goals in three games -- Iowa State also scored on a safety on Saturday -- and six different defenders already have interceptions. A road game at Pitt provides a good barometer for this team.

7. Northwestern -- The program scored a coup by landing veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who has made an immediate impact. A usually porous defense has led the way in all three Wildcats victories. Northwestern will need more polished play from quarterback C.J. Bacher and the offense in the coming weeks, but the defense doesn't seem to be a major detriment any longer.

8. Indiana -- No movement for the Hoosiers after a bye, but the mystery about this team ends in six days against Ball State. Indiana has played easily the league's weakest schedule and looked great, but it's impossible to get a read until Nate Davis and a high-powered Cardinals offense come to Bloomington.

9. Michigan -- Getting to a bowl game could be a chore for Michigan, which was a total mess in a potential swing game at Notre Dame. Instead of limiting mistakes and letting a veteran defense lead the way, the Wolverines had seven fumbles (four lost) and two interceptions against the Irish. Freshman Sam McGuffie was a bright spot, but the execution needs to improve on both sides before Wisconsin visits the Big House on Sept. 27.

10. Purdue -- The Boilermakers would have made a major move had they finished off Oregon, but I have a hard time rewarding a moral victory for a team that has had way too many of them. The Ducks appeared to give this game away numerous times and Purdue's defense showed signs of marked improvement, but the Boilers fell short in another big game. Fortunately, they get several more chances for redemption.

11. Minnesota -- A 3-0 start nearly gets the Gophers out of the cellar, but I need to see more this week against Florida Atlantic. Minnesota needed two and a half quarters to pull away from Montana State on Saturday, though DeLeon Eskridge might have established himself as the team's featured back. A strong defensive performance against the Owls should answer some lingering questions.