Monday, November 7, 2011
Big Ten power rankings: Week 11
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
» Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Another wild Saturday of Big Ten football has produced yet another No. 1 team in the power rankings. Whether this league is mediocre or balanced, it has been fun to watch.
Penn State takes over the top spot despite not playing a game Saturday. Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern make moves, while Nebraska and Michigan both take a tumble.
As a reminder, we're trying to keep the Big Ten power rankings consistent with how we rank teams in the ESPN.com power rankings. Teams are ranked according to body of work as well as recent performance.
1. Penn State (8-1, 5-0): The open week came at a great time for Joe Paterno's crew, which had additional time to gear up for its defining stretch of the season. Penn State finishes with Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin, and needs two wins to clinch the Leaders division. Given the league-wide struggles to win big games on the road, Penn State's home finale this week against Nebraska is critical for the Lions. The defense has been superb, as has workhorse running back Silas Redd, but Penn State likely will need big things from quarterback Matthew McGloin down the stretch.
2. Michigan State (7-2, 4-1): It was ugly at times, but Michigan State made enough plays down the stretch to escape Saturday's scare from Minnesota with a 31-24 victory. Kirk Cousins rebounded from the Nebraska debacle with 296 pass yards and two touchdowns, and Le'Veon Bell sparked an inconsistent run game (96 yards, 2 TDs). Michigan State looked a bit sluggish for the second consecutive game and will need greater intensity and a more polished performance this week at Iowa, which embarrassed the Spartans 37-6 last year at Kinnick Stadium.
3. Wisconsin (7-2, 3-2): There was no heartbreak this week, at least on the Wisconsin sideline. The Badgers got their groove back against Purdue, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Montee Ball continued his assault on the record book with 223 rush yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. Quarterback Russell Wilson was brilliant and Wisconsin had its way with an overmatched Purdue defense. Despite another special-teams breakdown, the Badgers received big plays from their defense and cruised to another easy home win. They now must toughen up on the road, where they play their next two games.
4. Nebraska (7-2, 3-2): Big Red will now need help to win the Legends division after falling to Northwestern on its home field. Nebraska lost to an unranked foe at home for the fifth consecutive year. After a breakthrough performance against Michigan State, the Huskers' defense backslid against Northwestern, which attacked the middle of the field and controlled the line of scrimmage. Although quarterback Taylor Martinez passed the ball extremely well, Nebraska made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball. The Huskers must now rebound on the road the next two weeks against Penn State and Michigan.
5. Michigan (7-2, 3-2): The Wolverines' slow starts and inconsistent passing attack finally caught up with them Saturday at Iowa. Although Michigan rallied valiantly behind Robinson, it fell short on its second consecutive road game. The Wolverines now need a lot of help to get back in the Legends division race, and the schedule doesn't get any easier with games at Illinois and against Nebraska and Ohio State. Michigan's defense struggled with Coker but, as usual, improved as the game went on. The offense simply showed up too late.
6. Ohio State (6-3, 3-2): The Buckeyes have won three straight to become bowl eligible and remain alive in the Leaders division after an 0-2 start to Big Ten play. They were far from dominant Saturday against Indiana, particularly on defense, but a commitment to the run game in the second half and a big interception by cornerback Travis Howard sealed the win. Senior running back Dan Herron has made a huge difference since his return from suspension, and running back Carlos Hyde emerged from the dog house with a big performance. A tricky game at Purdue awaits Ohio State this week before the showdown against Penn State.
7. Iowa (6-3, 3-2): Don't count out Iowa in the Legends division race. The Hawkeyes rebounded from a crushing loss at Minnesota and took care of Michigan on their home field, where they improved to 6-0. Iowa remains home this week to face Michigan State in another must-win matchup within the division. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker is starting to hit his stride, racking up 124 rush yards or more in each of his last four seasons. If the defense can build upon its performance Saturday, Iowa will be an extremely dangerous team down the stretch.
8. Northwestern (4-5, 2-4): The Wildcats do it every season -- record one big upset and one shocking defeat. They pulled off quite the stunner Saturday against then-No. 10 Nebraska, surviving an injury to starting quarterback Dan Persa and outlasting the surging Huskers at Memorial Stadium. Backup quarterback Kain Colter played a brilliant game behind a ferocious offensive line, and Northwestern's defense delivered by far its best performance of the season. The Wildcats can't avoid a hangover this week against Rice as they need at least two more wins to get bowl eligible. They play their final three games at home.
9. Illinois (6-3, 2-3): The open week gave the Fighting Illini a chance to regroup following their three-game slide. Illinois has amazingly had more yards and more first downs than any of its last three opponents -- Ohio State, Purdue and Penn State -- but dropped all three contests. Whitney Mercilus and his fellow defenders continue to play at a high level, but Illinois needs its offense to reappear to resurrect its season. Things don't get much easier the next two weeks as the Illini host Michigan and Wisconsin.
10. Purdue (4-5, 2-3): It has been a real struggle for Purdue since the Illinois win, as the Boilers have dropped consecutive road games by a combined score of 98-31. Purdue's defense had no answer for Ball, Wilson and the Wisconsin attack, which racked up 605 yards, including 364 on the ground. Boilers quarterback Caleb TerBush had a rough day with two interceptions, and the run game didn't show up for the second consecutive game. Purdue must now regroup this week against Ohio State, as it needs two more wins to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
11. Minnesota (2-7, 1-4): The Gophers have looked like a completely different team since their open week. They gave Michigan State's decorated defense all it could handle Saturday at Spartan Stadium, as quarterback MarQueis Gray and wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight connected for three touchdown strikes. Gray has really emerged in last two games, recording 488 pass yards and 133 rush yards. Although Minnesota's defense remains too leaky, Jerry Kill's team is slowly taking steps in the second half of the season. Another rivalry game is on tap this week as Wisconsin visits TCF Bank Stadium.
12. Indiana (1-9, 0-6): A young Hoosiers squad admirably kept pace in Columbus for three and a half quarters before falling to Ohio State. Freshman quarterback Tre Roberson continues to impress and led a high-tempo Hoosiers attack that racked up 19 first downs and converted 10 of 17 third-down chances. The defense performed a bit better after a horrendous effort last week but still allowed too many big plays, and Indiana continued to fall victim to untimely penalties (6 for 62 yards). The Hoosiers get a much-needed bye before the final two games.