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Monday, October 3, 2011
Big Ten power rankings: Week 6

By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett

Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Wisconsin is looking down at the rest of the conference after its dominating performance against Nebraska. Michigan deserves some love after eviscerating Minnesota, while Illinois keeps finding ways to win. Michigan State continues to play lock-down defense, while the rest of the conference doesn't look good at all.

There's not a ton of shuffling in this week's power rankings, but the league race is starting to take shape.

And away we go ...

1. Wisconsin (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten): After stomping subpar nonconference foes, Wisconsin turned its attention to Nebraska and rudely welcomed the Huskers to their new league with a 48-17 beat-down. Quarterback Russell Wilson is the big story, and for good reason, but the entire offense continues to click and looks practically unstoppable. The defense, meanwhile, capitalized on Taylor Martinez's mistakes as Wisconsin pulled away. The win left no doubt that Wisconsin is the team to beat in the Big Ten.

2. Michigan (5-0, 1-0): Minnesota is horrendous, but we're beginning to buy into this Michigan team. The defense has made some significant strides after a historically poor three-year stretch, and Denard Robinson leads a dynamic offensive attack. Michigan got creative against Minnesota and everything worked in a 58-0 romp. We'll learn more about the Wolverines as they hit the road the next two weeks against Northwestern and Michigan State. But so far, so good.

3. Nebraska (4-1, 0-1): We're keeping the Huskers here for now, but we need to see a much better performance this week against Ohio State. Coach Bo Pelini said he was embarrassed by his team's defensive performance in Madison. While Wisconsin makes a lot of defenses look bad, there's something wrong with a Blackshirts unit that entered the season with such promise. Nebraska also needs to stick to its run-based offense as Martinez still can't avoid momentum-killing mistakes.

4. Illinois (5-0, 1-0): Football is all about response and finding ways to win, and Illinois has displayed plenty of fight and fortitude this season. The Illini are making mistakes that normally get you beat, yet still finding ways to pull out the Ws. After the defense secured wins against Arizona State and Western Michigan, the offense stepped up in a big way against Northwestern. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was brilliant in the second half, and A.J. Jenkins showed why he's one of the Big Ten's best receivers.

5. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0): It wasn't a pretty game in Columbus, but Michigan State will gladly take its first win at The Shoe since 1998. The Spartans have defined themselves as a defensive football team this season, as their D smothered Braxton Miller and the Ohio State offense all afternoon. Defense can carry teams a long way, particularly in difficult road games, and Michigan State will be a squad to watch during what is shaping up to be a competitive Legends division race. The offense still must eliminate mistakes in plus territory.

6. Iowa (3-1, 0-0): The idle Hawkeyes move up a bit before opening the Big Ten season this week at Penn State. It's a critical game for two teams that have the potential to improve as the season goes along. A Hawkeyes offense surging behind quarterback James Vandenberg and a talented receiving corps will face a Penn State defense that has been brilliant for most of the season. Iowa's defense, meanwhile, has a chance to gain some confidence against the Lions, who still lack an offensive identity. If Iowa can continue its win streak against Penn State, look out for Kirk Ferentz's crew.

7. Ohio State (3-2, 0-1): It's a coin flip between Ohio State and Penn State here, as both teams have significant problems on offense and good defenses. Both teams also have one semi-quality win -- Ohio State against Toledo, Penn State against Temple. Fortunately for us, the Rockets and Owls played Saturday and Toledo crushed Temple 36-13 in Philly. So congrats, Buckeyes, you're No. 7 for now. Better go fix that offense, though.

8. Penn State (4-1, 1-0): The Nittany Lions had to be thinking Saturday would provide clarity and confidence for the offense. Nope. From the quarterbacks to the offensive line, Penn State isn't generating the consistency it needs to beat better Big Ten teams, beginning this week against Iowa. The defense has been outstanding all season, especially now without star linebacker Michael Mauti and several others. But unless the offense shows some life soon -- figuring out the quarterback would be a nice start -- Penn State is headed for more mediocrity.

9. Northwestern (2-2, 0-1): Everything seemed to be coming together for Northwestern, which surged to a 28-10 third-quarter lead at Illinois behind superb play from quarterback Dan Persa (career-high 4 touchdown passes). And then it all fell apart, as it has often the past year and a half. While Persa likely won't miss time after aggravating his surgically repaired Achilles tendon, Northwestern has to fix a defense that endured multiple breakdowns and never adjusted to Illinois' passing attack. Next up: Denard Robinson and Michigan. Yikes.

10. Purdue (2-2, 0-0): We were tempted to drop the Boilers lower, and we will if they don't turn things around in Big Ten play. The major mistakes and confusion that have surfaced throughout the Danny Hope era doomed Purdue against Notre Dame in a non-competitive game. Purdue's big night went south from the start, as an interception led to a quick Fighting Irish touchdown. Notre Dame dominated on both sides of the ball, leaving Hope to mull over a "very poor showing" by his squad, which was coming off of a bye week. Not good.

11. Indiana (1-4, 0-1): After hitting rock bottom at North Texas, Indiana rebounded nicely against Penn State, particularly on defense. Hoosiers defenders responded well to coordinator Mike Ekeler's challenge and forced two turnovers in their own red zone. A short-handed offense once again struggled to get going in the first half and didn't reach the end zone for more than 56 minutes. Indiana still has a bunch of flaws, but it can build off of an encouraging performance against a more talented opponent.

12. Minnesota (1-4, 0-1): While Indiana's rock-bottom moment came last week, Minnesota's arrived at the Big House, as the Gophers absorbed the third-worst defeat in team history and the worst in Jerry Kill's 18 years as a coach. The Gophers couldn't score, they couldn't tackle and, most depressing, they couldn't compete against Michigan. There might not be worse major-conference team than Minnesota, which might take up permanent residence in the "Bottom 10." Kill likened his team to a "broken-down company." Hard to argue.