A weekly look at the Big Ten power rankings ...
1: Ohio State (9-0, 5-0, Last Week - 1): The Buckeyes decimated the Big Ten's hottest team, Penn State, on the shoulders of sophomore phenom quarterback Braxton Miller, whose status for the game was initially uncertain due to concussion like symptoms. It is a shame for the faithful in the Columbus that OSU is ineligible for the conference title game because, up to this point, Urban Meyer's squad has been the class of the Leaders Division.
Ohio State, which struggled on defense at times in back-to-back close victories over Indiana and Purdue, built up a 28-10 third-quarter lead over the Nittany Lions and never looked back.
2: Nebraska (6-2, 3-1, Last Week: ) Although Nebraska was aided by the injury to star Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, the Black Shirt defense did what it needed to do to put NU in the driver's seat of the Legends Division.
The Huskers yielded only 97 yards in the second half, and not a single touchdown all game, and sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah continued his emergence with 101 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (4.2 yards per carry). Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez was far from spectacular, but effective when needed to help Nebraska pull away in the fourth quarter.
3: Penn State (5-3, 3-1, Last Week - 3): Bill O'Brien's red-hot squad was somewhat exposed by Ohio State in front of a raucous night crowd in Happy Valley, and never really appeared to be much of a threat to the Big Ten's top team.
Fifth-year senior Matt McGloin continued to do his part, however, throwing for 327 yards and two scores, but PSU was outclassed on the ground by a mind-blowing 234-32 margin - which is unacceptable for any team.
4. Northwestern (7-2, 3-2, Last Week ): Northwestern wasn't passing particularly well early against Iowa, so they stopped.
Junior quarterback Kain Colter (166 rushing yards, three touchdowns) was nearly unstoppable out of option-based sets, and junior running back Venric Mark also continued his beastly play this year, rambling for 162 yards on 16 carries (10.1 yards per carry). He leads all conference running backs with 1,077 yards on the ground.
Despite a two-game losing streak leading into the contest, the victory brings the Wildcats within one game of first place in the Legends Division going into a bye week.
5: Michigan (5-3, 3-1, Last Week: 2): Michigan may very well be higher on this list had it not been for an injury to quarterback Denard Robinson, but injuries are always a concern in a game this violent- especially with his history. Redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy looked far from prepared for live action in his stead - completing only 3-of-16 passes (18.7 percent) and tossing three picks - and U-M could find itself in serious trouble if Robinson isn't at full strength the rest of the year..
The running game struggled both with and without the star quarterback in the game, rushing for only 49 yards combined between four other ball carriers - proving just how important No. 16 is to this team offensively.
6. Michigan State (5-4, 2-3, Last Week - ): The Spartans came out on the better end of an ugly, physical conference battle. A defense that has been making plays all season held Wisconsin's two-headed backfield monster of senior Montee Ball and junior James White to just 62-combined yards, and the Badgers to only 19 as a team.
MSU made 12 tackles for loss, including an incredible 4.5 by junior defensive end William Gholston, but an inconsistent offense, which produced only 277 total yards, must improve if the Green and White are going to push for a New Years' day bowl bid.
7: Wisconsin (6-3 3-2, Last Week - ): Starting quarterback Joel Stave was knocked out for the season with a broken collar bone in a loss to Michigan State, and a run-dependent Badger team managed only 19 yards on 37 attempts (0.5 yards per rush). Although Michigan State possesses an elite defense, Wisconsin's backfield must not only be productive, but dominant for Bret Beilema's squad.
UW does have a clear shot at the conference title game with Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible, and Purdue in the midst of a free fall, but still has a lot to figure out in the coming weeks on the offensive side of the ball.
8: Minnesota (5-3, 1-3, Last Week - ): A fledgling Minnesota squad received much needed encouragement when quarterback Philip Nelson tossed three first-half touchdown passes in a 44-point outburst against Purdue, providing hope that head coach Jerry Kill made the right decision in handing over the offensive reigns to the true freshman signal caller.
The Gophers have a chance to jump back the Leaders Division race, and regain possession of the Little Brown Jug, against a wounded Michigan squad this weekend if Nelson and sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood, who rushed for 134 yards a week ago, can continue to progress.
9: Iowa (4-4, 2-2, Last Week - ): An Iowa team that looked to be slowly finding its bearings following two wins to start the Big Ten season has plummeted back towards bottom of the conference following two consecutive losses in which it has been outscored 66-31.
The Hawkeyes knew that the Wildcats were going to run the ball nearly every play last Saturday, with Northwestern throwing the ball only 10 times, yet still yielded an astonishing 349 yards on the ground.
UI hopes for a Legends Division crown are all but crushed, especially with sophomore workout running back Mark Weisman expected to miss at least next week's contest against Indiana with an apparent hip ailment, and Kirk Ferentz's squad needs to find some form of motiviation if it hopes to make the post season in any capacity.
10. Indiana: (3-5, 1-3, Last Week - ): Suddenly, the Hoosiers are only a game down in the Leaders Division race with a now-critical contest against its key competition, Wisconsin, on the horizon. While this speaks volumes about the state of the Leaders Divisions, it also provides hope for a Kevin Wilson-led team that has continued its offensive potency (34.2 points per game).
IU looks to have settled on freshman Nate Sudfeld under center, and despite the carousel at the position, leads the Big Ten with 286.6 passing yards per game.
As unlikely as it sounds, the Hoosiers control their own fate on the road to Lucas Oil Field.
11. Purdue: (3-5, 0-4, Last Week - ): The downward spiral continues for a team that many believed to be a dark-horse contender in the Leaders Division. With a 44-28 loss to a below-average Minnesota squad last week, the Boilermakers have yielded at least 38 points, and lost by at least 16, in three-of-its last four games.
Not only winless, but embarrassed in four-straight conference losses, and with a defense that possesses arguably two of the best players in the Big Ten in fifth-year senior defensive tackle Kawann Short and junior Ricardo Allen, big changes may be on the way in West Lafayette.
12: Illinois (2-6, 0-4, Last Week - 12): Illinois actually outplayed Indiana for extended stretches last week, winning the total-yardage battle 372-292 and holding the Hoosiers to just 1-of-13 third-down conversions (7.6 percent), but was outscored 24-3 down the stretch in a 31-17 loss.
This team doesn't look ready to compete against the Big Ten under first-year head coach Tim Beckman and has the daunting task of clashing with undefeated Ohio State next week.
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