Monday, November 12, 2012
Big Ten power rankings: Week 11
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
A knockdown here, a replay reversal there and the power rankings would have a dramatically different look. Northwestern would be higher and perhaps so would Penn State, but losses by the Wildcats and the Nittany Lions put them in the middle of the pack. The top two remain the same, while Michigan moves up to the No. 3 line after its dramatic victory. As we've seen in recent weeks, there's very, very little separating Nos. 2-6 in the rundown.
Wisconsin left nothing to chance against Indiana and jumps up a few spots, and Purdue finally made a move in the right direction. The I's -- Illinois, Iowa and Indiana -- linger at the bottom of the league because of a lack of W's.
Let's get started ...
1. Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): After their first 10-0 start since 2007, the Buckeyes earned some rest during the open week. They hope to get senior linebacker Etienne Sabino (leg) back for this week's game against Wisconsin, which rushed for a team-record 564 yards against Indiana and will test Ohio State's defensive front seven. Ohio State can lock up the Leaders Division championship with a win at Wisconsin, where it fell in 2010. Braxton Miller led last year's comeback against the Badgers and looks to remain in the Heisman race with another big road effort.
2. Nebraska (8-2, 5-1; last week: 2): The Huskers play a wild brand of football, filled with dramatic swings during games, but sometimes crazy clicks, and it has for Bo Pelini's squad this season. Nebraska faced yet another sizable deficit and turned in yet another huge second-half performance. Once again, there was some controversy mixed in, thanks to the men in stripes. Nebraska isn't a perfect team, but the Huskers are making plays when it counts. Ameer Abdullah has provided a big lift at running back, and safety Daimion Stafford had a hand in two takeaways Saturday. Nebraska completes its home schedule this week against Minnesota.
3. Michigan (7-3, 5-1; last week: 4): It looked bleak for a while in the fourth quarter, but Michigan never quits on its home field and received another huge play from receiver Roy Roundtree, who somehow hauled in a 53-yard pass to set up the game-tying field goal against Northwestern. The Wolverines won in overtime to remain tied with Nebraska in the Legends Division race. Northwestern gave Michigan's defense a hard time, but the Wolverines once again got a lift from quarterback Devin Gardner and the passing game. Michigan must keep pace with Nebraska next week as it hosts slumping Iowa.
4. Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2; last week: 6): Nothing has come easy for Wisconsin this season, but the Badgers are heading back to Indianapolis, just like we all thought they would, for the league title game. The last leg of a tough journey proved to be much easier than expected, as Wisconsin steamrolled Indiana 62-14, piling up a team-record 564 rushing yards along the way. Despite three starting quarterbacks and other turmoil, Wisconsin's offense still can be dominant. The challenges get much tougher the next two weeks, though, as Wisconsin hosts unbeaten Ohio State and then visits Penn State.
5. Penn State (6-4, 4-2; last week: 3): As stated above, there's very little separating Penn State from Nebraska, and maybe the Lions leave Lincoln as winners if Matt Lehman's reach was ruled a touchdown, not a fumble. But the Lions also hurt themselves in the second half and couldn't slow down Taylor Martinez, Abdullah and the Huskers' offense. Penn State once again looked like the more prepared team early on, jumping ahead to a 20-6 halftime lead. It was a very tough loss for the Lions, but they still can finish 8-4 with home wins the next two weeks against Indiana and Wisconsin.
6. Northwestern (7-3, 3-3; last week: 5): How many times will the Wildcats watch the same movie? You know, the one with the terrible ending? Northwestern blew a double-digit second-half lead for the third time in Big Ten play, and thanks to Roundtree's wild catch in crunch time, the Wildcats walked off the field as losers. The Michigan loss might have been the most painful because Northwestern outplayed the Wolverines much of the way and had a good game plan but made errors in crunch time. Northwestern and Michigan State can reminisce about the near misses when they meet this week in East Lansing.
7. Michigan State (5-5, 1-4; last week: 7): It's safe to say the open week arrived at a good time for the Spartans after another close, controversy-filled loss. At 5-5, the Spartans must beat Northwestern (home) or Minnesota (road) to become bowl eligible. Mark Dantonio has talked a lot about resiliency, and his team must show it in the final two games to get back to the postseason. Michigan State's defense struggled late against Nebraska and must rebound against a Northwestern team that moved the ball well Saturday at Michigan but suffered a Spartans-like fate in the end.
8. Minnesota (6-4, 2-4; last week: 8): Few pegged Minnesota as a bowl team after back-to-back 3-9 seasons, and the Gophers' struggles in the first five Big Ten games left some doubt. The road was never going to be easy, and Saturday's game at Illinois hardly looked like a masterpiece. But Minnesota got it done behind a stout defense and running back Donnell Kirkwood, who gashed the Illini for 152 yards and two touchdowns. The Gophers' sixth win ensures they'll be going bowling -- and most likely somewhere warm -- for the first time since 2009. They now aim for a signature win this week at Nebraska.
9. Purdue (4-6, 1-5; last week: 11): There hasn't been much to smile about in Boiler Country this season, but Robert Marve and his teammates eased the pain a bit with a win at Iowa. Purdue dominated the box score and shouldn't have needed a last-second field goal to win. The Boilers racked up 26 first downs and 490 yards, receiving big performances from Marve and RB Ralph Bolden. Kawann Short looked every bit like an NFL-caliber defensive tackle with four tackles for loss, while safety Landon Feichter turned in another nice performance. With remaining games against Illinois (road) and Indiana (home), Purdue's postseason prospects suddenly look a lot brighter.
10. Indiana (4-6, 2-4; last week: 8): Reality arrived for the Hoosiers in the form of Wisconsin's running backs -- pick one, any one -- streaking downfield for long touchdown runs. Indiana never truly challenged the Badgers in its most-anticipated home game in recent memory. A potent offense surprisingly stumbled out of the gate, and after a decent defensive effort in the second quarter, Indiana inexplicably let James White score on third-and-16 right before halftime. It was all downhill from there for Kevin Wilson's team, which won't be going to the league championship and must win two road games (Penn State, Purdue) to go bowling.
11. Iowa (4-6, 2-4; last week: 10): Remember when Iowa rallied to beat Michigan State in overtime at Spartan Stadium? Feels like decades ago, doesn't it? Things went from really bad to even worse Saturday as Iowa fell to Purdue in a game the Boilers dominated most of the way. Things ended in all-too-familiar fashion, with an Iowa pass short of the first-down marker, followed by defensive breakdowns. Iowa is plus-11 in turnover margin for the season but has a losing record -- not easy to do. A 4-8 season seems likely with remaining games against Michigan (road) and Nebraska (home).
12. Illinois (2-8, 0-6; last week: 12): It'll be over soon for Tim Beckman's crew, which had its chances to beat Minnesota but once again generated next to nothing on offense. The defense competed hard and held Minnesota to three points through the first 42 minutes, but the lack of playmakers around quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, combined with an ineffective scheme, led to Illinois' second touchdown-less performance in its past four games. Scheelhaase's struggles continued with two fumbles and Illinois dropped its 12th consecutive Big Ten game. The Illini wrap up the home schedule this week against Purdue.