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Monday, October 13, 2008
Big Ten power rankings


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There's some more clarity at the top and the bottom of the Big Ten after Saturday's games. The middle remains a bit muddled and should stay that way for a while.

1. Penn State (7-0, 3-0) -- The Nittany Lions have been the most consistently dominant team in college football. Any lingering questions were answered when Penn State handed Wisconsin its worst home loss since 1989 and completely controlled the line of scrimmage. Hobbled coach Joe Paterno is enjoying the view from the press box as Penn State established itself as the team to beat in the Big Ten.

2. Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) -- The Buckeyes barely hold onto the No. 2 spot after an unsettling performance against Purdue. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins led a spirited effort on defense and special teams, but no offensive touchdowns against the Big Ten's lowest-rated defense is cause for concern. Ohio State will need a more polished effort Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

3. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) -- Opportunistic and poised usually aren't words used to describe Michigan State, but Mark Dantonio has this team on the right track. A mistake-free performance at Northwestern marked Michigan State's sixth consecutive victory. The Spartans are right in the mix for the Big Ten title, but to truly legitimize their renaissance, they must beat a vulnerable Ohio State squad on Saturday at home.

4. Minnesota (6-1, 2-1) -- Surprised to see the Gophers here? You should be. But head coach Tim Brewster, defensive coordinator Ted Roof and a group of players tired of losing have put together a tremendous turnaround. A road win against Illinois made the Gophers bowl eligible, and their leadership on both sides of the ball indicates bigger things are on the way.

5. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) -- Once again, the Wildcats struggled in the spotlight, falling behind Michigan State 17-0 and never catching up. They came out rusty after a bye week and made uncharacteristic mistakes. Northwestern can bounce back the next two weeks against Purdue and Indiana, but quarterback C.J. Bacher must limit interceptions and the special teams units can't be a detriment.

6. Iowa (4-3, 1-2) -- The Hawkeyes will make some noise in this league before season's end, and they took a big step by routing Indiana. Shonn Greene is a force, and freshman Jewel Hampton complements him nicely in the rushing game. Teams that run the ball and stop the run usually fare well, and Iowa likely will move up the rankings by beating sputtering Wisconsin this week.

7. Illinois (3-3, 1-2) -- Big numbers and great athletes don't equal a great football team, and Illinois continues to be all flash, no substance. For some reason the Illini don't get geeked for home games, and Minnesota took advantage. The leadership of players like Brit Miller and Juice Williams will be tested as Illinois tries to get bowl eligible and climb back up the list.

8. Wisconsin (3-3, 0-3) -- Michigan might be the league's biggest disappointment from a historical standpoint, but Wisconsin had much loftier goals, all of which are now gone. The Badgers never should have lost in Ann Arbor, but their collapse against Penn State showed how far this program needs to go. The honeymoon is over for Bret Bielema, who must find a quarterback and a way to recharge his team.

9. Purdue (2-4, 0-2) -- Ranked opponents remain Purdue's bugaboo, as the Boilers dropped their 17th consecutive game to a team with a number next to its name. Purdue's defense continues to impress -- the numbers lie with this unit -- but quarterback Curtis Painter can't get the offense into the end zone enough.

10. Michigan (2-4, 1-1) -- Rich Rodriguez came into this season as a realist, but even he couldn't envision how bad this thing would get. A loss to Toledo -- Michigan's first to a MAC team in 25 tries -- likely puts hopes of a bowl game and a winning season to bed. There aren't many likely wins left on the schedule, and Rodriguez needs to try a different approach on offense because this clearly isn't working.

11. Indiana (2-4, 0-3) -- After an emotion-charged season that ended with the program's first bowl appearance in 14 years, Indiana has quickly tumbled to a familiar spot in the league standings. The talent might be there, but turnovers and penalties get you beat, and Indiana finds itself in a free fall. This week's trip to Illinois is critical from a confidence-building standpoint.