After an absolutely wild Week 9 in the Big Ten, we have a new No. 1 team for the third consecutive Monday. Nebraska rises to the top of the rankings after its impressive win against previous No. 1 Michigan State. Penn State, the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play, also makes a move as it prepares for the schedule to get much tougher in November.
In an effort to avoid confusion, these rankings match how both of us will vote in the ESPN.com Top 25, so season performance is taken more into consideration.
Let's get to it ...
1. Nebraska (7-1, 3-1): Bo Pelini's team delivered its most complete performance of the season and sent a message to the rest of the Legends division by beating up surging Michigan State. Nebraska's defense finally looked worthy of the Blackshirt label, flustering Kirk Cousins and a going-nowhere Spartans attack. Junior I-back Rex Burkhead continued to enhance his legend with one of the gutsiest performances of the Big Ten season.
2. Penn State (8-1, 5-0): Style points they lack, but these Lions know how to win this season. Thanks to stout defense, blossoming running back Silas Redd, a mistake-prone Illinois team and a heroic drive led by junior quarterback Matthew McGloin, Penn State improved to 8-1 entering the bye week, with its only loss to No. 2 Alabama. How much longer can the Lions keep this up? We'll learn much more during a daunting November stretch (Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin).
3. Michigan (7-1, 3-1): There won't be a second-half slide this season in Ann Arbor. Could there be a push for a Legends division title? We'll find out in the coming weeks as Michigan starts a challenging November schedule (Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State). The Wolverines figured out their running back against Purdue as Fitzgerald Toussaint went for 170 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Denard Robinson had his ups and downs, but Mike Martin and the defense performed very well following the bye week.
4. Michigan State (6-2, 3-1): What had been an incredible month for Mark Dantonio's squad ended with a thud in Lincoln. Michigan State was unable to put a stranglehold on the Legends division and created a wild race during the month of November. The Spartans haven't been overly impressive on the road this season, and Cousins and the offense must bounce back this week against Minnesota before visiting Kinnick Stadium, where Michigan State lost 37-6 last season.
5. Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2): What looked like a dream season for Bret Bielema's team has turned into a nightmare. For the second consecutive week, Wisconsin suffered a heartbreaking loss on the road after making a dramatic comeback. For the second consecutive week, Wisconsin endured a crucial breakdown in the kicking game and couldn't stop a long pass in the final minutes. Wisconsin might still be the Big Ten's most talented team, but it simply isn't the same squad away from Madison. The Badgers now must win out and get some help just to make it to Indianapolis.
6. Ohio State (5-3, 2-2): The Buckeyes had so much on the line Saturday night, and they came through in all three phases. A physical defense held Wisconsin to 10 first-half rushing yards and just 89 for the game. Ohio State received several huge plays on special teams, including a Ryan Shazier blocked punt that set up a touchdown. And freshman quarterback Braxton Miller came of age in the clutch, making the biggest throw of his young career -- and Ohio State's season. The Buckeyes have no margin for error the rest of the way, but they also enter November with plenty of momentum. Although they just beat the team ahead of them in these rankings, we still like Wisconsin's overall body of work a little better.
7. Illinois (6-3, 2-3): After a 6-0 start, Illinois is headed in the wrong direction. The Illini leaned on their defense against Penn State and nearly got a huge win, but they failed to get one final stop and suffered a heart-wrenching loss. Talent isn't the problem for the Fighting Illini, but a slow-starting offense and repeated problems in the kicking game have cost Ron Zook's team dearly. A bye comes at a good time before Illinois plays two tough home games against Michigan and Wisconsin.
8. Purdue (4-4, 2-2): The Boilers backslide after a beat-down in Ann Arbor. After three decent-to-good performances to begin Big Ten play, Purdue struggled mightily in the final 58 minutes. Although quarterback Caleb TerBush was OK, the offense wasted opportunities and failed to make Michigan pay for turnovers. The defense, meanwhile, missed countless tackles and had no answer for Toussaint, Robinson and the Wolverines' rushing attack. Things don't get much easier this week as Purdue travels to Madison.
9. Iowa (5-3, 2-2): Saturday's loss seemed to defy general football law. Iowa had 269 rushing yards (252 by Marcus Coker alone), 21 first downs and 446 total yards. And yet the Hawkeyes couldn't beat Minnesota, a team many regarded as the worst major-conference squad in the country. Iowa dropped its second consecutive game to the Gophers, and this loss could sting for a while. The schedule gets much harder in November for Kirk Ferentz's crew, which needs to rebound badly.
10. Northwestern (3-5, 1-4): Who needs a defense when the offense can't be stopped? Northwestern turned in one of the most efficient offensive performances in team history at Indiana, reaching the end zone on eight of its first 10 possessions and racking up 616 yards (317 rush, 299 pass). Led by quarterback Dan Persa, quarterback/receiver Kain Colter and tight end Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern recorded its highest point total since 2000 (59). The problem: The Wildcats struggled to slow down Indiana and now must travel to Nebraska.
11. Minnesota (2-6, 1-3): No one's questioning the timing of Jerry Kill's new contract anymore. After three noncompetitive performances in Big Ten play, Minnesota took its play up several notches to beat Iowa and retain the beloved Floyd of Rosedale. The Gophers received terrific performances from quarterback MarQueis Gray and running back Duane Bennett, and while their defense surrendered yards, it came up with critical plays, including a sack and a forced fumble that turned momentum in the third quarter.
12. Indiana (1-8, 0-5): The Hoosiers discovered their offensive backfield in quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Stephen Houston, who combined for 272 rush yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern. Now, as for the defense? Indiana has been looking for one for more than a decade, and the search continues this season. The young and undermanned Hoosiers had no answer for Persa and the Northwestern offense, which had its way Saturday. Things don't get easier in the coming weeks as Indiana visits Ohio State and Michigan State.