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FBT's Week Ten Power Rankings: Gearing Up For Another Epic Buckeye-Nittany Lion Clash

Kristofer Green

The stage is set for another epic showdown in the Big Ten between title contenders Ohio State and Penn State this weekend.

Since 2005, the first year the two schools shared the Big Ten Championship, the teams have each won twice (once at home and once on the road). In both victories by the Lions, the Big Ten Championship was on the line and both times the Lions used a fumble by an Ohio State quarterback to propel them to victory.

In 2005, the Buckeyes were driving late in the fourth quarter, down by seven when Troy Smith fumbled trying to escape a sack. The Nits would run out the clock to preserve a 17-10 lead and secure the league's automatic BCS berth.

In 2008, the Buckeyes were clinging to a 6-3 lead in the fourth quarter and driving when Terrelle Pryor took a quarterback sneak to the edge and was stripped of the ball by a pouncing Nittany Lion defense. The Lions would go on to score 10 unanswered to win the game 13-6.

Saturday's game in Happy Valley is setting up to be another intense, defensive battle.

Joe Paterno's defense is eager to get after Pennsylvania native Terrelle Pryor and ready to prove that an easy schedule isn't the only reason why they are sitting at 8-1 and lead the conference in most defensive statistics.

Jim Tressel's defense sits right behind the Lions on all of those defensive statistic lists and after posting their third shut-out of the season are eager to prove that they are indeed the Big Ten's best defensive unit.

This important battle for position may just come down to another turnover... will the Buckeyes change history?

On to the Week Ten Power Rankings... 
1. Iowa Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes remind me of one of those cats with nine lives...but will they need THIRTEEN to finish undefeated? The danger for Kirk Ferentz's team is that they may start scoreboard watching and cheering against Florida, Alabama and Texas: can the veteran coach keep his squad's attention on Northwestern while the Buckeyes loom and BCS talk swirls?

Ricky Stanzi offered up another fourth quarter miracle for the Hawkeyes who seem to play at their best with their backs against the wall. Typically, a game like this week's contest with Northwestern in Iowa City, could be considered a trap game. But after a dismal three quarter performance against the Hoosiers last week, the Hawkeyes need to show they are a team that can put a full game together before they travel to Columbus to face some real competition.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions

The Lions took care of Northwestern after a slow start, and now it's time for the game everyone had circled on their calendar for 12 months: the rematch between last year's co-champions.  Penn State won the 2008 meeting in Columbus, so on paper, they should have the edge at home this weekend.  Of course, they don't play the games on paper anymore.

KG: Darryl Clark hasn't forgotten that he was on the sidelines watching as his team went up (for good) on the Buckeyes last season in the Horseshoe. Up to the point of Clark's exit because of a concussion, the quarterback had not been stellar and the offense had only managed 3 points. This season's rematch offers Clark the chance to be on the field for the victory... if Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes dont get in the way.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes easily disposed of New Mexico State Saturday, posting their third shutout of the 2009 campaign. The return of running back Daniel "Boom" Herron is a welcome addition for Ohio State, and the Bucks will need their running game to click in order for Pryor to succeed at Happy Valley Saturday.
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been made a pariah by the folks in Central Pennsylvania who still haven't forgiven the Pennsylvania native for scorning his home state in favor of the enemy. Pryor's former coaches insist the quarterback feeds off negative energy and thrives in pressure situations. Buckeye fans are still waiting to see that Pryor and Nittany Lion fans are praying he doesn't finally show up in Happy Valley. 

4. Wisconsin Badgers

TC:  The Badgers are bowl-eligible after pounding Purdue, and John Clay is as strong and punishing a tailback as ever.  Wisconsin's schedule sets up nicely for nine or ten wins, as long as they don't overlook a potential trap game in Bloomington this weekend.

KG: The Badgers went from being the league's most balanced team to being one of the league's most unbalanced after back to back losses to Ohio State and Iowa. Scott Tolzien has become nothing more than a tool to hand the ball off to John Clay who was fantiastic in last week's romp over Purdue.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers

After the top four teams, things get a bit muddy, but Minnesota deserves some recognition for disposing of Michigan State in a game no one figured they could win without Eric Decker. The Gophers continue their homestand with winnable contests against Illinois and South Dakota State, so they could be 7-4 when they head to Iowa City for the regular-season finale.

No Gopher could have envisioned that the offense would actually be better without superstar receiver Eric Decker, but it was. Adam Weber had the game of his career and the "Imaaculate Deflection" has become the signature play in the young history of the Gophers new TCF Bank Stadium. The question remains as to whether Tim Brewster's squad can do it again.

6. Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans suffered through a predictable hangover in Minneapolis and now need to right the ship with Western Michigan up next.  Coach Mark Dantonio will have his squad's full attention in practice this week, considering what happened the last time a "Directional-Michigan" MAC school came to town.

The Spartans have a right to be furious over the Big Ten officials' horrible call on the play before the "Immaculate Deflection". The ball was clearly fumbled and recovered by the Spartans and would have given Michigan State an opportunity to win the game with a field goal. However, that play isn't an excuse for awful tackling and sketchy play by the secondary for most of the game on Saturday.  

7. Northwestern Wildcats

Losing quarterback Mike Kafka Saturday afternoon hurt the Wildcats, who played Penn State tough at home before fading in the second half.  At 5-4, the 'Cats seem to have a good shot a bowl berth, but the schedule does them no favors over the next three weeks: at Iowa, at Illinois, and Wisconsin.

KG:  Sure, the Wildcats missed quarterback Mike Kafka after he left because of injury in the second half, but Kafka doesn't play defense. The Nittany Lions were able to move the ball on the Northwestern defense, who failed to adjust to the Lions in the second half.  The 'Cats will have another chance at a huge upset this weekend, but collapsing in the fourth quarter against the Hawkeyes could be frightening.

8. Indiana Hoosiers

While there's no such thing as moral victories, the Hoosiers still impressed me with their performance on the road at Iowa. However, does Bill Lynch's team have the mental toughness to shake off a heartbreaking defeat and snap a disappointing string of five losses in six games?  Things don't get any easier with the now-ranked Badgers looming.

It is remarkable that the Hoosiers still had a chance to win the game heading into the fourth quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Despite having an obvious touchdown overturned by the increasingly inept Big Ten replay officials, the Hoosiers led through three quarters. Then it all fell apart. Allowing a goal line pick-six and two long touchdown passes will kill you everytime.

9. Michigan Wolverines

The Wolverines are officially in free-fall mode after an embarrassing one-sided loss to Illinois.  Hard to imagine after the Maize and Blue's 4-0 start, but Saturday against Purdue looks like a must-win for bowl eligibility, since difficult matchups against Wisconsin and Ohio State remain.

KG: No Big Ten team started hotter than the young Wolverines. But after four losses in five games, Rich Rodriguez's team is reeling and suddenly faces a must win situation Saturday against the Boilermakers. Michigan's loss to an Illinois team that had yet to win a game against FBS competition was shocking. The fact that the Illini blew the Wolverines out of the water, holding a suddenly stagnant Michigan offense scoreless in the second half, should be of great concern with Wisconsin and Ohio State still to come.

10. Purdue Boilermakers

TC: The Boilermakers reached the low point of their season Saturday, dropping a 37-0 blowout loss to Wisconsin.  Purdue hasn't won a road game since 2007 and now needs to win out to be bowl-eligible.  Let's just say that probably won't be happening, considering their next game is in Ann Arbor.  If you need a brief history lesson, the last time Purdue won at Michigan, Boilermaker alum Neil Armstrong hadn't landed on the moon yet.

KG: I guess one week of turnover free football is all that can be expected from this Purdue team, who have fallen back to earth after a pair of victories. Joey Elliott and the Purdue offense managed 141 total yards of offense for the game, nine fewer than Wisconsin rolled up in a 150-yard first quarter.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini

TC: The streaky Illini offense finally clicked: now it's up to Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Ron Zook to prove Saturday's beatdown of Michigan wasn't a fluke.  How's this for going out on a limb: if Illinois can get past Minnesota and Northwestern the next couple of weeks, they could have enough momentum to throw a scare into undefeated Cincinnati later in November.  That would make some scoreboard-watching Hawkeyes very happy.

KG: With the win over Michigan on Saturday, the Illini have officially rekindled their bowl aspirations. If Juice Williams and company can figure out a way to win against Minnesota and Northwestern, momentum (and a bit of luck) may swing the Illinis' way on a trip to Cincinnati. Then it would all come down to winning a final home game, in December, against some California boys from Fresno State to secure bowl eligibilty. Illini fans can dream right?



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