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Monday, October 8, 2012
Big Ten power rankings: Week 7

By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett

The Big Ten's blue bloods are back.

Despite new coaches at both Ohio State and Penn State, and a shaky start at Michigan, the Big Ten's three top traditional powers occupy the top spots in the power rankings as the season approaches its halfway point. Ohio State has accelerated its learning curve under Urban Meyer, while Penn State continues its hot streak behind boss Bill O'Brien. Michigan needed a strong performance on the road and got a great one at Purdue. Michigan and Penn State both make moves up the rankings, while Ohio State holds steady at No. 1.

Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue all drop in the rankings, as the Boilers take the biggest tumble after a feeble showing on their home field in a game that had been hyped up. Wisconsin is slowly creeping its way back toward the league's elite.

Here's the full rundown ...

1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten, last week: 1): If this is what the Buckeyes can do just six games into the Meyer era, the rest of the Big Ten should be very, very concerned. Ohio State slapped 63 points on Nebraska, the most points a Bo Pelini-coached team (or defense) ever has allowed during Pelini's college coaching tenure. Braxton Miller continues to dazzle behind a surging offensive line, and Carlos Hyde (4 rush touchdowns) looks more than capable as the starting running back. Expect more big numbers this week at Indiana.

2. Michigan (3-2, 1-0, last week: 4): Brady Hoke got the response he wanted after an open week as Michigan opened Big Ten play with its best performance of the season. The Wolverines' defense continued to build on the Notre Dame performance with four takeaways, including a pick-six by sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor. Denard Robinson (235 rush yards) rebounded well after his disastrous night in South Bend, and Michigan's offensive line controlled a pretty good Boilers defensive front. Michigan can't afford a letdown against Illinois before its home showdown against Michigan State, which has won the teams' past four meetings.

3. Penn State (4-2, 2-0, last week: 6): Few saw this coming after a nightmarish summer and an 0-2 start, but Penn State keeps finding reasons to Bill-ieve. The Lions rallied to win their fourth consecutive game, completely outplaying Northwestern in the fourth quarter, a time when the Wildcats typically shine. Quarterback Matt McGloin continues his senior-year renaissance with plenty of help from Allen Robinson and a good defense. O'Brien is the front-runner for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. The Lions enter the open week with a ton of momentum.

4. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1, last week: 2): Pelini had no explanation for his team's latest road meltdown at a big-boy stadium. After a strong first quarter, Nebraska's defense fell apart, allowing six consecutive touchdown drives. Quarterback Taylor Martinez reverted to his past roadkill form and committed four turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown. The Huskers have talent and an exciting, big-play offense, but they repeatedly wilt in the spotlight away from Lincoln. The good news: They can still win a weak league.

5. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1, last week: 3): Despite a sluggish offensive start, Northwestern put itself in position for its first 6-0 start since 1962, taking a 28-17 lead behind explosive running back/returner Venric Mark. And then it all fell apart as a supposed fourth-quarter team couldn't do anything right in crunch time. A nonexistent pass rush and some questionable offensive coaching decisions hurt the Wildcats, who were burned for a third consecutive year by McGloin. Northwestern still struggles with big leads and needs to do a better job of putting away teams. The Wildcats begin division play next week at Minnesota.

6. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1, last week: 8): Little will be easy for the Badgers this season, and while Saturday's final score against Illinois (31-14) looked like a cakewalk, it definitely wasn't. Wisconsin seemed to hit its stride in the second half and particularly in the fourth quarter, as running back Montee Ball and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis both turned in nice performances. The offensive line remains inconsistent, but the defense is doing its part. Despite all the early-season turmoil, Wisconsin can put itself in the driver's seat for Indianapolis with a win this week at Purdue.

7. Michigan State (4-2, 1-1, last week: 7): Mark Dantonio's players nearly starred in "The Hangover: Bloomington" on Saturday, as they stumbled out of the gate at Indiana and had a miserable first half. Fortunately for the Spartans, they regrouped during the break and rallied for a potentially season-saving win against the Hoosiers. Freshman wide receiver Aaron Burbridge sparked the passing attack, while tailback Le'Veon Bell bounced back after a no-show against Ohio State. Michigan State still has to show it can put together a complete game as the challenges get tougher in the coming weeks.

8. Purdue (4-2, 0-1, last week: 5): No Big Ten team had a more disappointing Week 6 showing than Danny Hope's Boilers, who never really challenged Michigan despite a great opportunity to begin a defining stretch of the season. The defense has taken significant steps backward the past two weeks, while the quarterback plot has thickened, as Caleb TerBush struggled while Robert Marve, playing just weeks after an ACL tear, could be the better option. Purdue still has a chance to put itself in the driver's seat for Indianapolis with a home win this week against Wisconsin, but there's a lot of work ahead.

9. Iowa (3-2, 1-0, last week: 9): The Hawkeyes scored a potentially season-saving win against Minnesota before the open week, and resume play this week at Michigan State. Can the Mark Weisman legend continue? We'll find out as Weisman faces his best defense to date as Iowa's starting running back. Iowa got some bad news Saturday as top cornerback Micah Hyde was arrested for public intoxication. There's no change to Hyde's status right now, but he has been arguably Iowa's top defensive playmaker the past few seasons. We'll learn a lot about these Hawkeyes in East Lansing.

10. Minnesota (4-1, 0-1, last week: 10): An open week came at a good time for the Gophers, who need to get healthy and get a chance to regroup after getting a reality check in Iowa City. Minnesota hopes top quarterback MarQueis Gray can return from a high ankle sprain for the Big Ten home opener against Northwestern. Gophers coach Jerry Kill called out his safeties for their struggles against Iowa's run game. It'll be interesting to see how Derrick Wells and his teammates respond against a good Northwestern rushing attack.

11. Indiana (2-3, 0-2, last week: 11): It looked like the Hoosiers finally would turn the corner and record a signature win under Kevin Wilson. They dominated the first half against Michigan State and sliced through arguably the Big Ten's top defense with their up-tempo attack. Cameron Coffman could do no wrong. And then it all fell apart as Indiana couldn't stop Michigan State's Bell or do much of anything on offense. There are some positives to take away for an improved Hoosiers team, but the inability to get over the hump in the Big Ten has to be frustrating.

12. Illinois (2-4, 0-2, last week: 12): The Illini didn't play nearly as poorly at Wisconsin as they did on their home field the previous two weeks, but they still came out on the losing end. Tim Banks' defense played well for three quarters before surrendering three touchdowns in the final 13:28. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase did some good things, but he still has so few weapons around him in an offense that continues to search for its identity. Things only get tougher for the Orange and Blue this week as they travel to Michigan Stadium.