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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week Six--Hawkeyes Drop, Badgers Pop

Kristofer Green

After five weeks, the Big Ten title race is starting to take shape and the games that will decide the 2009 champion are beginning to become more and more clear.

Ohio State and Penn State, the preseason favorites, are both still in the hunt (though the Nittany Lions chances now hinge on the performance of others.)

The dark horse Iowa Hawkeyes have already taken down one preseason favorite en route to a 5-0 record and the surprising 5-0 Wisconsin Badgers will try to take down the other this week.

Then there are the wild card Wolverines. With one Big Ten loss already on their resume, Michigan will be fighting to keep their title hopes alive in Iowa City this week.

The fact that this ranking has had four different number one teams in as many weeks speaks volumes about how competitive it is at the top of the conference right now and many of those top teams facing each other in the next few weeks.

Notable match-ups in Big Ten play this week include 5-0 Wisconsin trying to stay alive against the suffocating Buckeyes in Columbus, Michigan hoping to bounce back after a close loss at No. 12 Iowa, and Indiana will represent the conference against ACC foe Virginia.

Which team will be eliminated from the title race this week?
1. Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes took care of business on the road, setting up a monster showdown with undefeated Wisconsin.  With Dan Herron banged up, Brandon Saine performed well with a 100-yard game on the ground.

The Buckeyes, picked by some as primed for the upset against the Hoosiers, showed why they are still the team to beat in the Big Ten with another dominating performance. Terrelle Pryor three for three touchdowns and ran for another spreading the ball around to eight different receivers.

2. Wisconsin Badgers

After playing their first four games at home, Wisconsin showed their 4-0 start was no fluke by disposing of the Gophers in Minneapolis. John Clay has responded to his preseason benching by posting some big numbers; he'll have to step it up even more for Bielema's crew to win in Columbus.

The steady Badgers started the season without much hype and have quietly built their record to 5-0. Badger quarterback Scott Tolzien has taken a backseat to Pryor, Clark, and Forcier. But Tolzien has been nearly flawless in leading the Big Ten's best offense. The Wisconsin defense has been steady, but not spectacular.

3. Iowa Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes are this year's candidate for "plays to the level of their competition each week".  The good news for Iowa fans is their team's still unbeaten...the bad news is the closest games have come against Northern Iowa and Arkansas State.

The Hawkeyes defense is as solid as it gets. The defensive front is excellent, linebacker play has been outstanding, and the secondary has been solid. But offensively, there are more signs of trouble than there are flashes of greatness. Ricky Stanzi is erratic and turns the ball over too much, the wide receivers are talented, but inconsistent, and the running game has been solid but not outstanding.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions

Lions can be declared state champions of Illinois in a few days after defeating the Illini and (most likely) Eastern Illinois this coming weekend.  Penn State looked good in Champaign, but who hasn't looked good playing the Orange and Blue?

The Penn State offensive line finally showed up for a game and tailbacks Evan Royster and Stephfon Green can thank them for the 100 yard games each had. But, let's not forget this was accomplished against an Illini defense that had allowed 84 points and 1158 total yards in its previous three outings.

5. Michigan Wolverines

Down 20-6 with less than 5 minutes to play, the Wolverines shouldn't have made it to overtime.  But Tate Forcier is a big-time quarterback.  Michigan needs to be more consistent moving the ball if they have championship hopes in 2009-can't wait until crunch time every week.

Tate Forcier has more than proven he worthy of any praise that comes his way. His performance in the last five minutes against the rival Spartans last weekend was awe inspiring. It's too bad that his final pass was the interception that sealed. Wolverine fans should be concerned about this Wolverine defense.

6. Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans got a win they desperately needed after trying exceptionally hard in the last five minutes of regulation to give it away.  MSU could get back on the road to a bowl game and even their record at .500 with a win in Champaign this Saturday.

The Spartans turned in their best performance of the season for 55 minutes on Saturday. But, the game is 60 minutes and the Spartans may have gotten just a little too confident during those last five minutes and Tate Forcier made them pay. Winning the toss in overtime was the lucky break the Spartans needed because it kept an exhausted Forcier on the field.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Gophers haven't quit in any of their games...their new home-field advantage is a big asset...and they may have the best player in the conference in Eric Decker.  That's about all.

The Gophers are good enough to beat the lower half of the conference, but not good enough to beat the upper half. Bad news for a Minnesota team that must travel to Happy Valley and Columbus in consecutive weeks and must travel to Iowa City to close the season. The Halloween showdown with the Spartans could decide whether the Gophers go bowling this season.

8. Indiana Hoosiers

Hoosiers have come back down to earth with losses to Michigan and Ohio State.  Then again, most of the league usually loses to Michigan and Ohio State.  If IU can rebound and right the ship, they've got a shot at a rare (for Hoosiers, anyway) bowl game.

After dropping games to Michigan and Ohio State the Hoosiers could pack it in. but, something tells me that isn't what this Hoosier squad will do. Bill Lynch has his team playing hard and other than a run in with the Buckeye defense, his team has steadily improved from week to week. The next test will come this weekend when the Hoosiers go on the road to face ACC foe Virginia.

9. Northwestern Wildcats

After getting down 21-3 in the first half to one of the conference's worst teams, the Wildcats don't have a ton to smile about this week.  Well, except a win.  Somebody had to be on the receiving end for the half dozen Purdue turnovers, and Pat Fitzgerald will take it.

The Wildcats got enough help from the Boilermakers that they should have won the game going away. As it was, it took every one of Purdue's six turnovers and a couple of gutsy plays by Mike Kafka for the 'Cats to get the win. Pat Fitzgerald's defense stepped up big after a poor first quarter.

10. Purdue Boilermakers

Danny Hope's team has overachieved enough to be in every game so far this year.  Then again, the Boilermakers have self-destructed enough to lose most of them.  Ball security was laughable against Northwestern in a 27-21 defeat, and the new special teams coordinator won't be worth his money until the punt returners learn how to catch.

The Boilermakers came within a field goal of beating Oregon and Notre Dame. But, the Boilers got punched in the mouth by a Northern Illinois team that led the entire way and turned the ball over six times to a Northwestern team that trailed 21-3 after the first quarter. The schedule only gets more difficult with road games against Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and rival Indiana still remaining.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini

If there's any good news for Ron Zook and his anemic offensive team, it's that the new quarterback can't be much worse.  The runaway candidate for "2009 Disappointing Team of the Year" is spiraling the wrong direction.

Will Eddie McGee be the difference? The offense did show some improvement last week against a pretty solid Penn State defense, but Ron Zook has to find a spark on offense and changing signal callers may be what ignites this group.



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