- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Wisconsin moves into the top despite not playing a down on Saturday. Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State also make upward moves, while the Michigan schools both take a hit.
As a reminder, these rankings reflect how teams are playing right now. They're supposed to change each week.
1. Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten): After two huge wins, the Badgers received a well-earned open week before what looks like a very manageable November slate. Wisconsin should be healthy when it hits the road for Purdue this week, and barring a letdown, an 11-1 record is very possible. Bret Bielema's team still would like to see losses by Michigan State and Ohio State at some point.
2. Iowa (6-2, 3-1): That was what most of us had been waiting for from a talented and veteran Hawkeyes team. Iowa put it all together against Michigan State for its most complete performance in quite some time. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi should be on the Heisman radar, and safety Tyler Sash returned to his playmaking ways. Iowa now must handle its business on the road before the Nov. 20 showdown against Ohio State.
3. Ohio State (8-1, 4-1): Style points haven't been a problem for Jim Tressel's team this year. Ohio State eviscerated Minnesota on the road, piling up 52 points and 507 yards of offense. The offense is loaded with weapons, and the Buckeyes also scored touchdowns on defense and special teams. Ohio State enters its most successful month under Tressel, and the Buckeyes could run the table and reach the Rose Bowl.
4. Michigan State (8-1, 4-1): The Spartans looked like a different team at Kinnick Stadium, making far too many big mistakes to keep pace with Iowa. Quarterback Kirk Cousins must rebound after throwing three interceptions, and so must a defense that couldn't contain Stanzi. The good news is Michigan State's closing schedule remains favorable, and the Spartans hold the head-to-head tie-breaker advantage against Wisconsin.
5. Illinois (5-3, 3-2): Life is good right now for Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini, who could run the table the rest of the way to finish a surprising 9-3. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had a breakout performance Saturday, and the Illinois defense held Purdue scoreless for 49 minutes. It's too bad the Illini don't have more games against ranked opponents, because they look unstoppable right now. Up next is a trip to slumping Michigan.
6. Penn State (5-3, 2-2): Count me among those skeptical of whether Penn State could keep pace with Michigan in a shootout, but Matt McGloin and Evan Royster shut us all up. McGloin was outstanding in his first career start, and Royster recaptured his 2009 form with 150 rush yards and two touchdowns. Penn State will face better defenses in the coming weeks, but the Lions took a big step toward bowl eligibility and moved Joe Paterno one win away from No. 400.
7. Northwestern (6-2, 2-2): The flaws are still there with the Wildcats, but you can't argue with their record. If this is indeed a rebuilding year, coach Pat Fitzgerald and his players will gladly take a school-record third consecutive bowl appearance, which they all but locked up Saturday at Indiana. The defense stepped up nicely and the offense received big performances from Dan Persa, Mike Trumpy and Jeremy Ebert. Penalties remain a big problem, but NU avoided a turnover in Bloomington. Northwestern now enters a month where it has been very good under Fitzgerald.
8. Michigan (5-3, 1-3): I expected a lot more from Michigan after an open week, especially facing a banged-up Penn State team starting a new quarterback. Instead, we got more of the same from Greg Robinson's woeful defense, and the special teams weren't much better. Quarterback Denard Robinson certainly did his part, but Michigan isn't consistent enough to win a Big Ten game at this point. It will take a major improvement this week to beat red-hot Illinois.
9. Purdue (4-4, 2-2): Back-to-back blowout losses certainly change the mood in West Lafayette. Injuries continue to ravage Purdue, and the Boilers defense had no answer for Scheelhaase and Illinois. Danny Hope left Champaign ticked off at Ron Zook's fourth-quarter strategy, but he has got bigger problems on his hands. Purdue still needs two wins to make a bowl game, but it won't be easy.
10. Indiana (4-4, 0-4): The Hoosiers are playing better on defense, but they didn't get nearly enough from Ben Chappell and the offense against Northwestern on Saturday. Several curious play calls and no rushing attack made it tough for Indiana to finish drives. This team just can't get over the hump in Big Ten games, and it needs to win two of them to qualify for a bowl and ensure coach Bill Lynch returns in 2011.
11. Minnesota (1-8, 0-5): The Gophers moved the ball at times against Ohio State, but they still make far too many major mistakes to keep pace with elite opponents. Finishing drives has been a challenge all season for Minnesota, and it continued Saturday night. Gophers players continue to play hard, if not well, and they have another shot at a ranked opponent this week at Michigan State.
3hSam Khan Jr.
1dMax Olson and Jake Trotter