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Big Ten Power Rankings (Week Seven): And Then There Were Two...

Kristofer Green

The Big Ten title race is starting to get interesting.

Despite spotting the Wolverines seven points less than a minute into the game, Iowa held off a pesky Michigan squad to go 6-0 on the season and Ohio State once again proved that their defense is not only the Big Ten's best, but one of the best in the nation with an 18-point victory over previously unbeaten Wisconsin, despite holding the ball on offense for only just over a quarter.

Those victories put the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes in control of their own destinies. But, both teams will have to get through a couple of tests before their November 14 showdown in Columbus.

This week the Hawkeyes will travel to Madison to take on an angry group of Badgers who, despite leading in most every statical category (except the only one that matters), must regroup and get their league leading offense back on track.

The Buckeyes will have to travel to Happy Valley on November 7 to take on a Penn State team that is still looking to defend their crown.

Then there are those wildcards from Michigan. Both the Wolverines and Spartans, despite having two conference losses, are teams capable of knocking off one of the favorites.

The Spartans will battle both Iowa and Penn State in East Lansing and the Wolverines must go on the road to take on the Badgers, but get Penn State and rival Ohio State in the Big House.

The second half of the Big Ten season has shaped up rather nicely and the fight for the conference crown is heating up.

Which team will make it Pasadena?
1. Ohio State Buckeyes

TC: The Buckeyes disposed of previously undefeated Wisconsin in relatively easy fashion, thanks to a trio of non-offensive touchdowns.  OSU should breeze through its next three games (at Purdue, Minnesota, New Mexico State) before the back-to-back battles with title contenders Penn State and Iowa.

KG: The Ohio State defense delivered a truly masterful performance against the Badgers. Led by a tremendous and incredibly deep defensive line who got constant pressure on Scott Tolzien, the Silver Bullets racked up six sacks, held John Clay to under 60 yards rushing and the entire team to a 2.7 yard per rush average, and had two interception returns for touchdowns. Considering the defense was on the field for just under three full quarters makes the performance all the more remarkable.

2. Iowa Hawkeyes

TC: The Hawkeyes did enough to defeat a solid Michigan team on Blackout Night at Kinnick Stadium and stay undefeated.  Iowa still isn't getting enough respect nationally as an undefeated team with a ten-game winning streak, but they'll have a chance to prove the doubters wrong.  Finish the year without a loss, including a victory in Columbus, and the Hawkeyes should play for the BCS title (despite still looking in from outside the Top Ten).

KG: Iowa beat Michigan for only the 11th time in school history on Saturday in yet another emotional, down to the wire game. After spotting the Wolverines seven points off a Ricky Stanzi pick-six on the second play of the game, the Hawkeye offense took off. The return of tight end Tony Moeaki, who led all receivers with 105 yards on six catches and two touchdowns, enabled Stanzi and the passing game to take off on a night when the defense was stopping the run. The Hawkeye defense, as opportunistic as ever, forced five turnovers and limited the Michigan passing game to only 11 completions and 124 yards and two interceptions.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions

TC: The Nittany Lions did what they were supposed to against Eastern Illinois, posting a 52-3 victory and padding Daryll Clark's stats in the process.  The guess here is that the Lions would win at least a piece of the conference crown by winning out (assuming an OSU win over Iowa).

KG: If you have a handle on this team, can you please tell me what you are looking at? The Lions have faced two MAC teams with a combined record of 4-6, a team from the FCS, a 2-4 Big East basement dweller, an Illinois team who hasn't come close to beating any FBS team, and one game against an opponent with comparable talent, coaching, and resources. That one game, against Iowa, the Nittany Lions lost and didn't look good doing it. The schedule stiffins up in the next few weeks with Minnesota and Ohio State coming to Happy Valley and road games at Michigan and Michigan State. Finally we will learn a little more about what this team is made of.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

TC: When you gain twice as many yards as your opponent, you're supposed to win the game, right?  The visiting Badgers rolled up 368 yards in offense, compared to only 184 for the Buckeyes, but Ohio State's three long returns (two interceptions and one kickoff) was enough to spoil Wisconsin's perfect start to 2009.

KG: The Badgers were on the receiving end of arguably one of the strangest losses in school history. Wisconsin had more yards, more opportunities, more offensive success, and controlled the time of possessions almost three to one. But, the Badgers offensive line couldn't handle the Ohio State front and the Buckeyes made three games changing plays to break the game open. Now the Badgers must refocus for a vist from undefeated Iowa.

5. Michigan State Spartans

TC: The Spartans played without starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, lost leading running back Glenn Winston before halftime, and still thoroughly manhandled a sinking Illini squad in Champaign.  Give Coach Mark Dantonio credit for rallying his team after a 1-3 start.

KG: Two weeks in a row, the Spartans have looked like the team many expected to see this season. With Kirk Cousins sidelined with an injury, Keith Nichol took over and provided a decent performance steering the offense. The play of running backs Larry Caper and Glenn Winston allowed the offense to control the tempo of the game and take the pressure of Nichol.

6. Michigan Wolverines

TC: Occasionally, star freshman quarterbacks will play like...well...freshman quarterbacks.  Rich Rodriguez found that out Saturday after Tate Forcier's less-than-stellar performance.  Watching Denard Robinson try and run an eight-minute offense in a two-minute drill situation was painful as well.

Another tough loss for the Wolverines will test the mettle of this young team. The Wolverines did turn in another excellent game on the ground with Brandon Minor leading the way with 95 tough yards and two touchdowns. With Penn State looming and games with Wisconsin and Ohio State to close the season, the Wolverines must find a little of that early season offensive magic and continue to get better on defense. It could be mean the difference between a New Year's Day Bowl or a trip to Detroit.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers

TC: The Gophers finally proved there's more to Minnesota football than Eric Decker, rushing for 207 yards in an easy win over turnover-prone Purdue.  Decker finished with only three catches, and coach Tim Brewster's team only attempted ten passes all afternoon in the 35-13 triumph.

The continued improvement of the Gopher running game only makes this Minnesota team more dangerous. Eric Decker, the team's best player and entire offense for much of the season, was only needed to catch three balls on Saturday. The Gophers travel to Happy Valley this week and could give the Lions a run for their money if the running game can get going.

8. Northwestern Wildcats

TC: There's no such thing as an ugly win, right?  That's what fans in Evanston are thinking after sliding by winless Miami (Ohio), 16-6, thanks to four Redhawks turnovers.

The Wildcats are walking a fine line. Though the 'Cats sit at 4-2 through six weeks, those four wins (Towson, Eastern Michigan, Purdue, Miami-OH) are less than impressive and of their two losses (Syracuse and Minnesota) only the Gophers loss is remotely acceptable. The back half of the schedule isn't so manageable with game at Michigan State and Iowa on the road and home dates with Penn State and Wisconsin.

9. Purdue Boilermakers

TC: If there was an award for "Worst Head Case in Football", the Boilermakers would be preparing an acceptance speech right now.  Purdue has led in every game of the year en route to choking the last five away in spectacular fashion.  Hard to point out just one unit, but the Boilermakers' "special teams" should be renamed the "worse-than-ordinary teams".  A 7-yard punt, yet another kickoff fumble, and a blocked field goal that Minnesota returned for a touchdown were the latest lowlights in the comedy of errors.

Once again the Boilers choked away a two possession lead. This broken record is starting to get tiresome and perhaps Danny Hope has more to worry about than just the X's and O's. Fundamentals are severely lacking and a more back to basics approach could do the Boilers some good. First step, give every player who has fumbled this season a football and make them carry that thing 24/7!

10. Indiana Hoosiers

TC: Some teams manage to do more than their fair share of damage to the Big Ten's national reputation, and this week, that would be the Indiana Hoosiers.  Losing by 40 points to anyone anywhere is a shame and embarrassment, but losing by 40 points to a previously 1-3 team that dropped a 12-point decision to William and Mary earlier this year is nearly unthinkable.  At 3-3, it would stand to reason that Lynch needs to figure out how to split his last six games and take the Hoosiers to a bowl to save his job.

KG: Wow! Did I misjudge this Hoosier team! After starting 3-0 and playing Michigan down to the wire many believed Bill Lynch and Indiana had turned a corner. Turns out, they only peeked around the corner, then retreated to the safety of playing horrendous football. It's hard when people expect things out of you, isn't it?

11. Illinois Fighting Illini

Is there a third option at quarterback?  Backup Eddie McGee looked worse than benched starter Juice Williams at the helm of the Illini attack, and Ron Zook's seat is easily the hottest in the Big Ten.  Williams relieved McGee in the second half, but the spark was too little, too late.

KG: Another team with some issues between the ears. There is something wrong in Champaign and it seems like we aren't getting the whole story. How could this team have regressed so much? What has Zook done, other than bench Juice Williams for two quarters, to fix the problem? Is Zoo even capable of fixing this problem? Questions abound and the answers are few and far between.



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NittanyFan said:

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Penn State is moving up as the season goes on. They should play well against Minnesota this week. I hope Lee is back in the game for good. On the teams facebook page or at there is a behind the scenes video of Coach Buggs talking about how the secondary is preparing for Minnesota's potent passing attack.

BigD said:

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Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana are all in a tough battle for the bottom of the Big 10. You picked them correctly.

I think NIU is looking good this year. They beat Purdue and could probably beat Illinois, Indiana, and Notre Dame.

Here's hoping USC beats Notre Dame by 50.

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