The 2010 college football season is over, and the interminable wait for 2011 now begins.
Before taking a peek ahead at next fall, here's the final installment of the 2010 Big Ten power rankings.
1. Ohio State (12-1): The Buckeyes once again sit atop the rankings after holding on to beat Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Although the circumstances surrounding the game sparked a lot of controversy, Ohio State showed tremendous focus and executed well on both sides of the ball against a good SEC opponent.
2. Wisconsin (11-2): There's no shame in losing to a team like TCU, but Wisconsin left Pasadena especially disappointed after veering ever so slightly off course in the Rose Bowl. If the Badgers had fully committed to between-the-tackles running, they likely would have celebrated another Rose Bowl championship. Still a great season for Bret Bielema's crew.
3. Michigan State (11-2): I'm reluctant to put the Spartans here after a non-competitive performance against 9-3 Alabama in the Capital One Bowl, but they still had three more wins than any other Big Ten squad. Michigan State had a special season with a sorry ending, but the program is undoubtedly on the rise under coach Mark Dantonio.
4. Iowa (8-5): We saw a little bit of everything from Iowa in the Insight Bowl, but Micah Hyde's electrifying pick-six ensured a third consecutive bowl win and dulled the disappointment from the regular season. Returning players like Hyde and running back Marcus Coker fueled Iowa's win, and the Hawkeyes should be right at home under the radar entering 2011.
5. Illinois (7-6): No Big Ten team delivered a more complete postseason performance than Illinois, which outclassed Baylor and cruised to a 38-14 victory in the Texas Bowl. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase came of age in the bowl and the defense contained Baylor star Robert Griffin III. Illinois could be dangerous this coming season but the NFL departures will hurt.
6. Penn State (7-6): Florida gave Penn State every opportunity to build a big lead in the first half, but the Nittany Lions fell victim to too many mistakes. The Lions defense made strides during bowl practice and should be a solid unit in 2011. Penn State's quarterback race will open up this spring, and it'll be interesting to see how much better this team gets during the offseason.
7. Northwestern (7-6): Thanks to Kain Colter, the Wildcats found enough offense to keep pace with Texas Tech despite not having star quarterback Dan Persa. But it's pretty odd that Persa's injury seemed to take any life out of Northwestern's defense, which allowed 163 points in its final three games. Pat Fitzgerald and Mike Hankwitz need to get the D on track for 2011.
8. Michigan (7-6): Speaking of defense, Michigan had none against Mississippi State in the Progressive Gator Bowl. Rich Rodriguez's fate might already have been sealed at the school, but the lack of improvement on defense made the decision pretty easy after the worst bowl loss in team history. Michigan has some pieces in place on offense, but the next coach must address the defensive woes to get the program back on track.
9. Minnesota (4-8): No changes to the bottom three and the Gophers deserve to be here after ending the season with victories against two of the Big Ten's three bowl winners (Illinois and Iowa). I'm excited to see how MarQueis Gray fares in Jerry Kill's offense as he moves back to quarterback from receiver.
10. Indiana (5-7): Despite Brent Pease's about-face, new Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is assembling a solid staff of assistants as he tries to change the culture in Bloomington. The Hoosiers have to figure out a way to compete better on defense in Big Ten play, especially since the offense likely will take a step back as quarterback Ben Chappell departs.
11. Purdue (4-8): Danny Hope's teams have played hard amid adversity, but the results haven't shown up in his two years as head coach. Purdue gets a lot healthier during the offseason and should boast a dynamic offense in 2011. The potential for a big jump forward is here, but Purdue must reduce major mistakes, particularly in the kicking game.