Monday, October 15, 2012
Big Ten power rankings: Week 8
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
There are no changes in the top 3 of the power rankings, but plenty of shuffling elsewhere.
Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State remain atop the rankings, although the Buckeyes are no longer head and shoulders above the rest of the league after a shaky performance on defense and special teams against Indiana. Wisconsin moves all the way up to No. 4 after its beatdown of Purdue in West Lafayette. As a reminder, the power rankings reflect how teams are playing at the present time, and Wisconsin has been very good the past two weeks, and certainly not the same team we saw in September.
Some might find it a bit harsh to drop idle Nebraska two spots, but it has more to do with Wisconsin's performance as well as a league road win by Northwestern. The good news is the Huskers can make big moves in the coming weeks with games against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State. Iowa also makes a nice move up the rankings, while Purdue plummets all the way to No. 11 after another embarrassing effort on its home field. Although it's rare to move teams up after losses, both Minnesota and Indiana deserve to be ahead of Purdue. Indiana especially has shown impressive fight, despite the results.
Here's the full rundown ...
1. Ohio State (7-0, 3-0, last week: 1): Urban Meyer's Buckeyes remain on top of the rankings, but there's not as big a gap separating them from the rest of the league. Ohio State's defense is far from elite, as Indiana repeatedly recorded big plays Saturday night, but the Buckeyes also make too many mistakes on special teams. Quarterback Braxton Miller continues to carry the team and is getting more help from running back Carlos Hyde, who recorded his second consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. The offense can do little wrong, but Ohio State has to fix the defense before the home stretch.
2. Michigan (4-2, 2-0, last week: 2): Big Ten play is bringing out the best in Michigan, which has turned things up a notch on defense and let Denard Robinson do special things with the football in his hands. Robinson has been spectacular in wins against Purdue and Illinois, and Greg Mattison's defense certainly is turning a corner after struggling against Alabama and Air Force to open the season. The Wolverines also got running back Fitz Toussaint more involved against the Illini. Michigan aims for its first Legends Division win and its first win against Michigan State since 2007 when its hosts the sputtering Spartans this week.
3. Penn State (4-2, 2-0, last week: 3): One of the Big Ten's hottest teams got a chance to exhale during the open week. Penn State now begins what coach Bill O'Brien called "murderer's row" on Saturday night at Iowa. The Lions then host Ohio State before visiting both Purdue and Nebraska. It'll be interesting to see if QB Matt McGloin, linebacker Michael Mauti and the Lions can keep up their winning ways, as they've exceeded expectations to date. Running back Bill Belton could see an increased role going forward as the open week gave him extra time to rest his ankle.
4. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1, last week: 6): As Bret Bielema would say, the "arrow is pointed up" in Badger Country. Wisconsin delivered its most complete performance of the season in a crucial Leaders Division road game at Purdue, thrashing the Boilers 38-14 and racking up a very Badger-like 467 rushing yards. Senior running back Montee Ball gashed the Boilers for a career-high 247 yards and three touchdowns, looking very much like a national awards candidate again. It's hard to see Wisconsin not making it back to Indianapolis. The Badgers now return home for Minnesota and then Michigan State.
5. Northwestern (6-1, 2-1, last week: 5): It wasn't pretty, but road wins in the league don't have to be. You take them and move forward. Northwestern's defense stepped up in the fourth quarter at Minnesota and Venric Mark's running sparked the Wildcats to a 21-10 lead. The Wildcats need to figure out their quarterback rotation and rediscover their pass game in a hurry, but they're bowl-eligible for the sixth consecutive season and return home for key division games against both Nebraska and Iowa. If the offense can get on track again, Northwestern will challenge for the division title.
6. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1, last week: 4): Bo Pelini and the Huskers got an extra week to stew after surrendering 63 points to Ohio State in Columbus. Pelini chalked up the defense's woes to poor execution, but Nebraska had to take a hard look in the mirror after its latest poor showing against the spread. Speaking of the spread, the Huskers' next two opponents -- Northwestern and Michigan -- run the system on offense, so we'll find out soon if things have been fixed. Pelini talked about the need to win out after the Ohio State disaster, and Nebraska should have top running back Rex Burkhead back this week in Evanston.
7. Iowa (4-2, 2-0, last week: 9): Did you write off Iowa after the Central Michigan debacle? You're not alone. But Kirk Ferentz, his assistants and his players have turned their season around with back-to-back wins in the division. Defense and special teams fueled Saturday's come-from-behind win in two overtimes at Michigan State. The no-name defensive line continues to step up, and Iowa's linebackers have played extremely well in the first two league contests. Quarterback James Vandenberg still needs to get on track, but running back Mark Weisman keeps producing. Iowa hosts Penn State this week in a battle of two teams unbeaten in league play.
8. Michigan State (4-3, 1-2, last week: 7): The Spartans probably deserve to fall more than a spot after their third home loss of the season, but the teams below them have been even worse. No Big Ten team has been more disappointing, relative to expectations, than Mark Dantonio's bunch, which has been a mess on offense -- aside from Le'Veon Bell -- and seems to lack the killer instinct it had the past two seasons. The defense still looks elite at times, but the offensive line and quarterback Andrew Maxwell haven't been consistent. Michigan State needs to find itself in some very tough venues -- Michigan Stadium, Camp Randall Stadium -- to turn things around.
9. Minnesota (4-2, 0-2, last week: 10): Minnesota is a different team, a more dangerous team, when senior quarterback MarQueis Gray is on the field. Had Gray stayed on the field for the entire game against Northwestern, Minnesota might have come out with a victory. The Gophers ultimately made too many mistakes to win, and their start to the game was a disappointment after they had two weeks to prepare. But if Gray can get healthy, Minnesota has some other components in place, namely a solid pass defense, to rack up at least two more wins and reach bowl eligibility.
10. Indiana (2-4, 0-3, last week: 11): It's rare when a team moves up the power rankings after a loss, but Indiana has impressed a lot of people with its play early in the Big Ten season, even though the wins aren't coming. The Hoosiers refused to quit Saturday night against Ohio State and racked up 49 points and 481 yards against the Buckeyes. Had a bounce gone IU's way on the final onside kick, it would have been in position for a program-changing win. The formula for the Hoosiers remains the same -- all offense, not enough defense -- but second-year coach Kevin Wilson is fostering a gradual change in Bloomington.
11. Purdue (3-3, 0-2, last week: 8): Another signature home game, another flop for Danny Hope's Boilers and another drop in the power rankings. Hope and his team are in big trouble after getting dominated by Michigan and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks at Ross-Ade Stadium. Where is the Purdue defense that contained Notre Dame? The Boilers have been gashed for 771 rush yards the past two weeks, and their quarterback situation remains messy heading to Ohio State. Hope is definitely on the hot seat now as his supposed best team hasn't looked the part.
12. Illinois (2-5, 0-3, last week: 12): Tim Beckman's team soon will make an appearance in the "Bottom 10" after its latest blowout loss, this time a 45-0 shutout at the Big House. Illinois' offense is inefficient with Nathan Scheelhaase, but totally hopeless without him, as evidenced Saturday against Michigan (134 total yards, one first down in second half). The Illini have been outscored 163-45 in their past four games. A defense that includes several NFL prospects hasn't been much better, particularly against the run. An open week comes at a good time for a program that has to be losing faith after the past month.