The Big Ten title race didn’t change much Saturday, but there’s always some shuffling in the power rankings. Both Michigan schools make a positive move, while the Illinois schools backslide after tough road losses.
Penn State is back among the league's top half after three consecutive wins. It'll be interesting to see how the Nittany Lions fare against improved competition down the stretch.
Remember, the power rankings reflect how a team is playing right now and will change week to week.
1. Wisconsin (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten): I really believe that when healthy, Wisconsin is the Big Ten's best team. The Badgers have had to fight through injuries in their past two games, not to mention bye week hangover in a sluggish first half at Purdue. But reserves like running back Montee Ball are stepping up, and Wisconsin’s defense made a ton of plays to lead a second-half surge.
2. Michigan State (9-1, 5-1): The Spartans took care of business against last-place Minnesota and revived their rushing attack behind dynamic sophomore Edwin Baker. Linebacker Greg Jones and the defense also regained its swagger. The team's offense in the second half was less than stellar, but it didn't need to be. Michigan State now gets a well-earned open week.
3. Ohio State (8-1, 4-1): Holding steady at No. 3 for now, Ohio State has a chance to move up as it enters its signature month under head coach Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes' Big Ten dominance can be directly traced to their November dominance. Star linebacker Ross Homan (foot) could return this week as Ohio State hosts surging Penn State before its signature showdown Nov. 20 at Iowa.
4. Iowa (7-2, 4-1): Iowa drops in the rankings after its lackluster performance at Indiana. The Hawkeyes couldn’t finish drives for most of the game and were extremely fortunate to escape with a win after Indiana's Damarlo Belcher dropped the ball in the end zone with less than a minute remaining. I liked what I saw from Ricky Stanzi in crunch time, but Iowa really dodged a bullet Saturday.
5. Penn State (6-3, 3-2): I really like what I've seen from Penn State since the bye week, especially on offense. Running back Evan Royster is rolling, and quarterback Matt McGloin has provided a jolt to a lifeless unit. A banged-up defense also showed some teeth Saturday by shutting out Northwestern in the second half. Penn State’s competition goes up quite a few notches this week in Columbus.
6. Michigan (6-3, 2-3): A great offense can carry a team at times, and Michigan's offense has helped the Wolverines become bowl eligible for the first time in coach Rich Rodriguez's tenure. The Michigan-Illinois game might have defied Big Ten tradition, but it was damn fun to watch. Everyone knows the Wolverines are an incomplete team, but their offense should strike fear in every opponent the rest of the season.
7. Illinois (5-4, 3-3): What happened to the Illinois defense? A unit that had held teams like Ohio State and Michigan State in check was no match for Michigan, which piled up 67 points, 676 offensive yards and 33 first downs. I wouldn’t like to be in the film room with coordinator Vic Koenning right now. The good news is Illinois continues to see growth from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
8. Northwestern (6-3, 2-3): The Wildcats haven't put together a complete game against an FBS opponent, a troubling trend that continued Saturday in Happy Valley. Northwestern has showed it can play with more talented teams like Michigan State and Penn State, but the Wildcats are struggling to finish, especially on defense. Quarterback Dan Persa has filled the void left by Mike Kafka, but Northwestern is really missing the defensive backs it lost to graduation.
9. Indiana (4-5, 0-5): It’s the same old story for coach Bill Lynch and the Hoosiers, who did several good things Saturday but couldn’t emerge with a Big Ten victory. Indiana's defense has played noticeably better since the Ohio State loss, but the offense still isn’t putting the ball in the end zone enough. You have to feel for Belcher, an outstanding receiver who makes that catch nine out of 10 times. Things don't get easier this week with a trip to Wisconsin.
10. Purdue (4-5, 2-3): Purdue controlled the pace in the first half, forcing mistakes from Wisconsin and making several nice plays of its own. But quarterback Sean Robinson's youth caught up to the Boilers after halftime, as Purdue lost the momentum and never regained it. Turnovers kill you against good teams, and the injury-plagued Boilers have had too many miscues since the Minnesota win.
11. Minnesota (1-9, 0-6): The Gophers had to know what was coming in East Lansing, and yet they still had no answer for Baker, who racked up 179 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Minnesota's offensive inconsistency continued as it couldn't finish drives. At least only two more games remain in this death march, and Minnesota’s best chance for a win comes this week at Illinois.