- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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There aren't many changes to this week's power rankings, as the top three remain in order. Illinois makes a nice move after running all over Northwestern. Iowa beat Penn State way back on Oct. 2, but I can't keep the Hawkeyes on the No. 4 line after back-to-back losses.
Remember, these rankings reflect how a team is performing right now. They're supposed to change and will change each week.
1. Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten): The Badgers look like the Big Ten's top team in 2010. Yes, they lost to Michigan State, but that defeat seems long ago as Bret Bielema's crew has surged since the setback in East Lansing. Wisconsin now ranks sixth nationally in scoring (40.9 ppg) after putting up 131 points in its past two games. The Badgers only need to beat Northwestern at home this week to claim their first league title since 1999.
2. Ohio State (10-1, 6-1): There was the typical slow start and some miscues from quarterback Terrelle Pryor, but the Buckeyes played like a championship team down the stretch. Pryor picked up teammate DeVier Posey in directing the game-winning touchdown drive, and a talented defensive line smothered Iowa in the closing minutes. Ohio State isn't as dominant as most of us thought it would be, but the Buckeyes still know how to win.
3. Michigan State (10-1, 6-1): Spartans teams of the past would have crumbled after Purdue took a 28-13 lead entering the fourth quarter. But the 2010 Spartans have been resilient all season, and they showed it with a furious rally to beat the Boilers. Quarterback Kirk Cousins played through pain and redshirt freshman Denicos Allen made the latest in a series of huge special-teams plays as Michigan State kept its league title hopes alive.
4. Penn State (7-4, 4-3): Behind streaky quarterback Matt McGloin and a huge special-teams play from Andrew Dailey and James Van Fleet, Penn State ensured its sixth consecutive winning season by pulling away from Indiana. This isn't a great Penn State team, but the Nittany Lions have learned how to win in the second half of the season. This should help as a young squad builds toward 2011. Penn State can finish the regular season with a flourish by knocking off Michigan State this week.
5. Iowa (7-4, 4-3): A football season is shaped by just a handful of plays, and arguably no team in America has proved this more than Iowa the past two seasons. In 2009, the Hawkeyes made all the plays they needed to in clutch situations. This season, they're failing to do so. Iowa has blown three fourth-quarter leads in Big Ten play and allowed late touchdowns in all four of its losses. While Iowa's record is very disappointing, how the Hawkeyes got to this point stings the most.
6. Illinois (6-5, 4-4): Vic Koenning's defense carried Illinois in the first half, but Paul Petrino's offense has caught up in a big way. Both of Illinois' first-year coordinators have fostered impressive turnarounds as the Illini are going bowling for the first time in three seasons. Mikel Leshoure had a historic rushing performance (330 yards) at Wrigley Field and Illinois' offensive line imposed its will against Northwestern.
7. Northwestern (7-4, 3-4): Northwestern got the fans and the media to come to Wrigley, but Pat Fitzgerald's defense was a major no-show. The Wildcats' defense got totally steamrolled by Leshoure and the Illini in a game where it needed to help out new starting quarterback Evan Watkins. Things could get very ugly this week against a red-hot Wisconsin offense at Camp Randall Stadium.
8. Michigan (7-4, 3-4): All four of Michigan's losses have followed a similar pattern. The Wolverines start slowly on offense before rallying but can't overcome their chronic miscues on defense. Wisconsin's running backs consistently broke tackles and Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien completed his first 13 pass attempts at the Big House. Michigan's defense won't be fixed for a while, so the Wolverines need better starts from Denard Robinson and crew.
9. Purdue (4-7, 2-5): The sting from Saturday's loss will linger as it eliminated Purdue from bowl contention. But the Boilers' toughness this season after enduring an incredible number of injuries is impressive. Cornerback Ricardo Allen is blossoming into one of the Big Ten's top freshmen, and quarterback Rob Henry did a lot of good things before a troublesome fourth quarter. Three consecutive bowl-less seasons is a major concern, but I still think the future will be bright for Purdue.
10: Minnesota (2-9, 1-6): The Gophers got an extra week to savor their first Big Ten victory of the season. Now they aim for their first win at TCF Bank Stadium in 2010, and it would be a huge one. Minnesota has been shut out in each of its past two games against Iowa, but the Gophers seem to be gaining some confidence on offense. A major upset this week would finally bring a rivalry trophy to Minneapolis.
11. Indiana (4-7, 0-7): Bill Lynch's teams can compete for stretches in Big Ten games, but they simply can't win them. While the Hoosiers overcame a lackluster start against Penn State and tied the score at 24-24 late in the third quarter, a special-teams disaster doomed them at FedEx Field. Will a win in the Bucket game ensure Lynch returns in 2011? Tough to say. This much is clear: Indiana has lost all the momentum it generated from the 2007 season.