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Big Ten Power Rankings: Hawks, Nits, and Bucks Push for the Title

Kristofer Green

The Hawkeyes got a touchdown with no time remaining to go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Nittany Lions, led by another brilliant performance from quarterback Darryl Clark, put the Wolverines in their place... in their place.

The Buckeyes rebounded from rock bottom with a stellar performance from embattled quarterback Terrelle Pryor and emerging star receiver DeVier Posey and still control their own destiny in the title hunt.

Barring some pretty spectacular upsets, the Big Ten race is down to three.

Who gets to Pasadena?
1. Iowa Hawkeyes

The undefeated Hawkeyes look more and more like the conference's last national champion (the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes), finding ways to win close nailbiters, especially on the road.  Iowa didn't even take a lead until the fourth quarter at Michigan State, but they were ahead when the clock showed 0:00, and that's all that matters.  Great execution on the final drive, and obviously, the final play.

KG: Just when you thought a gutsy hook-and-lateral call by Mark Dantonio might ruin Iowa's perfect season the Hawkeyes, led by steady quarterback Ricky Stanzi, marched 70 yards down the field and capped the drive with a scoring pass to Marvin McNutt with no time remaining.  The Hawkeyes have lost leading rusher Adam Robinson for the season and now Kirk Ferentz must use upcoming games against Indiana and Northwestern to figure outt a new running back rotation before traveling to Columbus for what could be a de-facto Big Ten Championship game.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions

JoePa's team erased more than a decade of frustration at the Big House, thumping Michigan by 25 points on the road in a game that really wasn't that close.  Iowa is the only team to come within 17 of the Nittany Lions all year, and Penn State's stellar defense has yielded a TOTAL of 13 points in the last three contests.  Hard to lose when your D holds the other team to 4.3 ppg, right?

KG: Penn State fans have to be excited about next week's showdown in Happy Valley with Ohio State, but JoePa's team must not look ahead to next week when the Lions travel to Evanston to take on a scrappy, upset minded Northwestern squad. The Nits seem to be peaking at the right time and quarterback Darryl Clark should be in the Heisman conversation after several brilliant performances since the loss to Iowa.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

The Bucks continue to control their own destiny for a fifth straight Big Ten championship, but they'll have to find some consistency if they want to knock off the league's best two teams back-to-back Saturdays in November.  And no, Terrelle Pryor should not move to receiver.  Next topic, please.

KG: The angst that hung around Buckeye Nation after another pitiful half of offensive football was quickly forgotten when Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes finally got it going against the Gophers in the second half. Pryor accounted for 343 yards of offense and three touchdowns in the win putting Buckeye fans at ease for the time being and the emergence of fullback-tailback hybrid Jermil Martin was a pleasant surprise. Martin gained 75 yards on only seven carries, including an impressive and bruising 39-yard touchdown run that reminded some old school fans of the great Keith Byars.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

Coming off their bye week, the 5-2 Badgers appear to be on track for a nice holiday destination.  The remainder of the schedule is full of winnable games (Purdue, at Indiana, Michigan, at Northwestern, and at Hawaii), and realistically, the only question left for Wisconsin is if they'll be 6-6, 10-2, or somewhere in between.

KG: The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Badgers. After back-to-back losses to conference leaders Ohio State and Iowa, Bret Bielema squad must regroup at home against a surging Boilermaker squad.

5. Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans were one play away from a season-defining win, which would have been their fourth-straight victory.  Now Mark Dantonio's team finds itself sitting squarely at .500 and really needing to bounce back and play well in Minneapolis.  Time to find out how if the 2009 edition of Michigan State is more mentally tough than the 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, and...well, you get the idea.

KG: After turning a three game losing streak into a three game winning streak was not an easy feat for the Spartans, but recovering from such a disappointing loss to the Hawkeyes may be even more difficult. The Spartans used a suffocating defense to thwart the Hawkeyes for almost the entire game, but when it came down to one play for the game, the Spartans couldn't stand up.

6. Northwestern Wildcats

The Wildcats couldn't have played much worse than they did against Indiana in the first 23 minutes of their Homecoming game, as they fell behind 28-3.  On the flip side, they probably couldn't play much better than they did in the last 37 minutes, when they used 26 unanswered points to shock the Hoosiers, 29-28.  My only complaint about Northwestern right now is the unofficial "Cardiac Cats" moniker; there has to be a better way to describe the exciting brand of football in Evanston so soon after the tragic loss of Randy Walker.

KG: The Wildcats have played their best when it seems that all hope is lost. Down 25 points midway through the second quarter to a streaky Indiana squad, the 'Cats rallied with 26 unanswered points for the win. Since Pat Fitzgerald called the Wildcats' inability to finish games "shocking" and called the defensive play "awful" the team has responded. But a brutal final stretch that includes home games against Penn State and Wisconsin and a tough road game at Iowa will be difficult to manage.

7. Michigan Wolverines

There were a lot of good vibes around the Wolverines' football program after a 4-0 start.  Those are long gone, thanks to three straight losses to FBS programs.  Rich Rodriguez's team got beaten soundly at home this weekend, and faces a dangerous trap game at Illinois next.  Time to stop the bleeding...or else.

KG: The Wolverines have gone from the feel good surprise of the conference to not ready for primetime in a matter of weeks. Rich Rodriguez's squad has dropped three of the last four game (the only win was over FCS Delaware State) and the luster has started to fade from Tate Forcier's magical first few games. Games against Illinois and Purdue should give the Wolverines an opportunity to right the ship before the final two big games, a revenge match-up with the Badgers in Madison and the season closer with archrival Ohio State in the Big House.

8. Purdue Boilermakers

Not sure which is more surprising, that the Boilermakers have a winning streak going or that they played a turnover-free football game.  Purdue re-dedicated itself to the run with solid results against Illinois, and the Boilers can once again begin to dream of a bowl trip (although they will have to win in Madison or Ann Arbor to have a chance.)

KG: The Boilermakers will try to assume the persona of Spoilermakers for the rest of the season. Purdue needs three wins to become bowl eligible and a quick look at their schedule reveals how difficult that might be to obtain. Back to back road games in Madison and Ann Arbor, a home date with the Spartans, and yet another road game to rival Indiana make for a daunting slate, but the Spoilmakers do play for Coach Hope, afterall.

9. Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Gophers' defensive backfield had a great day in Columbus Saturday, except for a complete failure to cover receivers.  Okay, I guess that's a bad day.  With Eric Decker leaving in the first quarter due to injury, Minnesota didn't have a chance of outscoring Pryor and company, especially when Buckeye receivers got behind the secondary anytime they wanted to.

KG: Adam Weber has been great for the Gophers over the years, but he may not give Tim Brewster the best opportunity to win anymore. When Eric Decker left in the first quarter of the Ohio State game, Weber was visibly flustered and looked lost without his go to guy throughout the second half. The spark (and the only score) on offense for the Gophers came with MarQueis Gray behind center. With an anemic running game, a shaky offensive line, and mediocre receivers Gray would give the Gophers an offensive weapon they desperately need.

10. Indiana Hoosiers

There are meltdowns, and then there are what Indiana did in Evanston Saturday afternoon.  After squandering a 28-3 lead, the Hoosiers have dropped four of five (only beating Illinois in that stretch), and may not win another game all season...which begs the question, did a 3-0 start for Bill Lynch actually hurt his 2010 job prospects because the season crumbled so fast?

KG: Bill Lynch should take Jim Tressel's class on coaching that we have been hearing so much about this season. The several questionable decisions made by Lynch down the stretch were a big reason the Hoosier's squandered a four score lead in Evanston last week. That and the fact that after the midway point in the second quarter the Hoosier offense couldn't move the ball at all. Even when handed three second half interceptions, Indiana sputtered. Getting to a bowl game now means having to upset Iowa, Penn State, or Wisconsin. Good luck with that Hoosier fans.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini

TC: Ron Zook has now seen Juice Williams, Eddie McGee, and Jacob Charest at quarterback, after all three completed passes against Purdue.  With the Illini 1-6, is there a fourth-stringer available?

KG: Ron Zook now knows that his job is safe for at least one more season. What else is there to say about a team that has no wins against FBS competition this season? A team that had a plethora of returning offensive talent? A team that has regressed dramatically from a fluke 9-win season and Rose Bowl appearance? I guess, for the Illini Athletic Administration, the only thing to say is keep it up and we'll see you next year.



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