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Big Ten power rankings: Week 8

Week 7 brought some definition in the Big Ten. Michigan State established itself as the team to beat in the Legends division. Both Michigan and Illinois showed their strong starts were largely the byproduct of favorable schedules. Wisconsin continued to dominate and look like the Big Ten's best team by far. Penn State? The Nittany Lions found another way to win.

We have a better idea of who these teams are. Not surprisingly, there was some significant shuffling in this week's power rankings.

Let's get to them ...

1. Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten): After a tune-up against Indiana, the Badgers finally get ready for their first true road game of the season. It comes at a place (Spartan Stadium) where they've lost three straight contests and against an opponent (Michigan State) playing at a very high level, especially on defense. The cakewalks likely are over for Russell Wilson & Co., and we'll learn a lot about Wisconsin's ability to stay poised under pressure on Saturday night.

2. Michigan State (5-1, 2-0): Mark Dantonio's team affirmed itself as the best in the state and the best in the Legends Division with a convincing victory against archrival Michigan. Michigan State is halfway through a brutal October slate at 2-0, and has Wisconsin coming to its house, where the Badgers have struggled in recent years. The nation's No. 2 defense continues to punish people and capitalize on opportunities, while Edwin Baker sparked a rushing attack that Dantonio wants to define his program. Michigan State can make a national statement this week by upsetting Wisconsin.

3. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1): Bo Pelini's team got a breather in Week 7 after a potentially season-saving comeback against Ohio State. But the bye week also brought some bad news as star DT Jared Crick was ruled out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Crick's injury is a blow to a Nebraska defense that needs to regroup for the second half of the season. Nebraska looks to boost its play against Minnesota before a huge Legends Division showdown against Michigan State.

4. Penn State (6-1, 3-0): Who needs a quarterback? Penn State has won six games and put itself right in the mix in the Leaders Division without settling on a signal-caller. The Lions continue to play opportunistic defense, recording three takeaways Saturday against Purdue to bring their season total to 17, tied for 10th-most nationally. They also held a decided edge on special teams. You have to wonder how long the formula will succeed without a quarterback emerging. But for now, Penn State is in great shape.

5. Michigan (6-1, 2-1): Brady Hoke warned us that Michigan hadn't arrived, and he proved prophetic as the Wolverines' weaknesses on both sides of the ball caught up with them in East Lansing. After a strong start, Michigan struggled to generate a passing attack and couldn't stop Spartans playmakers like Baker and wide receiver Keshawn Martin. Denard Robinson completed just 9 of 24 pass attempts on a windy day, and coordinator Al Borges got too cute with a critical fourth-down call late in the game. Michigan tries to regroup in the bye week before hosting Purdue.

6. Ohio State (4-3, 1-2): Football might be a passing game these days, but Ohio State defied the theory Saturday at Illinois. The Buckeyes completed just one pass, albeit a touchdown from Braxton Miller to Jake Stoneburner, in a 17-7 win fueled by the old-fashioned values of punishing defense, takeaways and a run game boosted by the return of Dan Herron. If a defense led by linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins replicates its performance, Ohio State will be tough to beat. The Buckeyes get a much-needed bye before hosting Wisconsin.

7. Illinois (6-1, 2-1): The Illini take the biggest tumble in the power rankings, although it's hard to rank them ahead of an Ohio State team that beat them by double digits in Champaign. Although Illinois' defense continued to receive strong individual performances from Whitney Mercilus, Jonathan Brown and others, the offense took more than 50 minutes to get off of the mat against Ohio State. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase seemed jittery and didn't get enough help from his supporting cast as Illinois fell for the first time.

8. Iowa (4-2, 1-1): After failing to score a touchdown against Penn State, Iowa scored five against Northwestern and exploded for 24 fourth-quarter points to defeat its recent nemesis for the first time since 2007. Running back Marcus Coker emerged with 124 yards and two touchdowns, and the Hawkeyes capitalized on a shaky Northwestern defense and got a defensive touchdown of their own. They now have a chance to go on a roll as they face Indiana and Minnesota the next two weeks.

9. Purdue (3-3, 1-1): The Boilers are a few plays away from being a 5-1 team, but their inability to avoid major mistakes at the wrong times continues to hold them back. Saturday's loss at Penn State was filled with what-might-have-beens, as Purdue outplayed the Lions for stretches and put itself in position for a defining road win. Whether it's penalties or turnovers or special-teams blunders, the Boilers are holding themselves back from taking the next step as a program.

10. Northwestern (2-4, 0-3): There's still half a season to play, but Northwestern has been the Big Ten's biggest disappointment. The Wildcats' defense seemingly has regressed after collapsing late last season, and a program known for finishing games and being clutch is repeatedly melting down in the fourth quarter. Coach Pat Fitzgerald admitted after the Iowa loss that defenders aren't on the same page and said the coaches must do better going forward. This week's home game against Penn State is an absolute must-win if Northwestern intends to continue its streak of postseason appearances.

11. Indiana (1-6, 0-3): Halloween isn't for another couple of weeks, but Indiana already has visited its house of horrors at Camp Randall Stadium. Though Saturday's beating wasn't quite as bad as last year's 83-20 debacle, Indiana won't be pining for a trip to Madison any time soon. The Hoosiers defense looked overmatched -- as many units do -- against Wilson and Wisconsin's high-powered offense. Quarterback Edward Wright-Baker struggled and the offense did little outside of a long touchdown run from RB Stephen Houston.

12. Minnesota (1-5, 0-2): The bye week came at a good time for Minnesota, which has lost its first two Big Ten contests by a combined score of 103-17. Quarterback Marqueis Gray should be fully healthy after dealing with a toe injury, and Minnesota will need a much better effort from the offense to keep pace with a high-powered Nebraska attack this week. The Gophers' Big Ten home schedule is extremely challenging as Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois visit TCF Bank Stadium.