The Big Ten is coming down the home stretch as we fully get into the month of November.
Most teams have just two or three games remaining and are either keeping themselves in contention (Minnesota, Nebraska) or rapidly falling out of it (looking at you, Michigan). Though the conference's two biggest dogs were off this weekend, there was plenty of noise made and plenty determined about the future of the Big Ten race.
Who rose, who fell and where does your favorite team sit in this week's power rankings?
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 1)
The Buckeyes are still undefeated. What else is new? Ohio State didn't have a game this week, so of course it's still rocking its unblemished record. The biggest news for Urban Meyer's team, though, had nothing to do with the Big Ten. That would be Oregon's loss to Stanford on Thursday night. The Ducks were one of just three teams ranked ahead of the Buckeyes in the most recent BCS standings, and their loss would figure to inch Ohio State closer to a spot in the national title game. But hold the phone because the Buckeyes have been penalized by voters all year long thanks to the perceived weakness of the Big Ten. There's talk that Stanford, a one-loss team, and undefeated Baylor could potentially jump Ohio State when the newest batch of standings are released Sunday night. You never like to see a team penalized for winning, but that's the nature of the BCS discussion. Of course, there's still plenty of football left to be played, and it's quite possible Ohio State will get to the national title game. And, with Michigan losing two games in a row, only the Big Ten title game would seem to provide a hurdle for the Buckeyes to a second straight undefeated season.
2. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 2)
No game for the Spartans this week, either. But could Michigan State be in a better position right now? Well, they could have not lost to Notre Dame — a loss that doesn't look so good anymore after the Irish's Saturday night loss to Pitt — but other than that, they're in a pretty great spot. Win out, and the Spartans are going to the Rose Bowl. Three regular-season contests remain: at Nebraska, at Northwestern and home against Minnesota. Win them all, and it's a date with Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Now, the Huskers and Gophers won't roll over for the Spartans (nor will the Wildcats, but Northwestern is on a slightly different level than those other two when it comes to threatening Michigan State). But the Spartans are the best defensive team in the nation, and if they stay that way, perhaps those threats won't be so serious. A spotless remaining regular season would set up quite a showdown for the Big Ten title with the Buckeyes and would provide either team with its biggest win of the season.
3. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 3)
Now, on to the teams that actually did play Saturday. Wisconsin had that goofy November non-conference matchup with BYU, winning it despite an early challenge from the quality Cougars. That early challenge, however, consisted mainly of neither offense being able to produce any points. It wasn't until the final four minutes of the second quarter that the Badgers switched things on, and they went on to win, 27-17, behind a big day on the ground from James White. Melvin Gordon has fallen off quite a bit from the numbers he was posting through the season's first half (though 86 yards as the No. 2 back against BYU was certainly fine). Thankfully for the Badgers, they also have White, who put up his second huge day in a row, carrying 23 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns and catching six passes for 47 more yards and another touchdown. The Wisconsin defense also stood strong, limiting Taysom Hill, the dual-threat BYU quarterback, to just 53 yards on the ground. Sure, Hill went for 207 yards passing, but holding this team to just 17 points was one heck of an accomplishment. Now if Wisconsin could only get some national respect.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 4)
Minnesota? More like Winnesota. It was another victorious Saturday for the Golden Gophers, with their fourth straight win coming over Penn State, 24-10. It's the first time Minnesota's won four straight Big Ten games in 40 years, and they're doing it in convincing fashion at that. After two dreadful performances to open conference play, the Minnesota offense has been excellent. Running back David Cobb has posted four straight 100-yard rushing days, averaging more than 141 yards during the streak. And quarterback Philip Nelson has turned things around, too. He has scored 10 total touchdowns in the four wins and has gone 31-for-47 for 484 yards passing in the last two. As impressive as the Gophers have been, though, their final two contests will be tough ones to win. Minnesota hosts Wisconsin and travels to Michigan State, meaning that this magical eight-win season might end as an eight-win season. That's totally fine with the Minnesota faithful, who likely expected much less. Let's not naysay, though. It's too good a story to do that.
[BIG TEN HOOPS: Big Ten basketball preview: Iowa Hawkeyes]
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 7)
With all the doomsday talk coming out of Lincoln this season, it's sometimes hard to realize this is only a two-loss team. And, the more UCLA and Minnesota keep winning, the better those losses look. And, believe it or not, the Huskers' Rose Bowl hopes are actually quite alive. If Nebraska can upset Michigan State, they'll leap up to first place in the Legends Division. (They lost to Minnesota, yes, but they have one conference loss compared to the Gophers' two.) That would mean a trip to the Big Ten title game and a chance to upset Ohio State. All that doesn't seem likely, but that, as they say, is why they play the games. The Huskers took a big step on that path Saturday, knocking off Michigan, 17-13, and proving themselves kings of the disappointing Big Ten powerhouses. Ameer Abdullah had another big day — 27 carries, 105 yards, touchdown — and seems to have established himself as the best running back in the Big Ten this season, what with a few off weeks from Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. That date with the Spartans comes up next, and it becomes the latest game that will decide the fate of the Legends Division.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 6)
It's around this point in the power rankings (perhaps earlier) where the critics of Big Ten strength get their ammo. The Nittany Lions are 5-4 with a 2-3 conference record, the latest a 24-10 loss to red-hot Minnesota. While no one in recent weeks has been able to avoid the Golden Gopher buzz saw, the Lions weren't able to put up much of a fight Saturday. Only a Zach Zwinak run with a minute left in the first half got Penn State into the end zone on the day, and Zwinak's 150-yard afternoon was the only real bright spot for the Nittany Lions offense. Bill Belton, who went for more than 200 yards on the ground the week prior vs. Illinois, picked up only 47 vs. the Gophers and fumbled on the goal line for the second straight game. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg passed for just 163 yards. The good news for Penn State is that there should be no trouble righting the ship next week vs. Purdue, as close a thing as there is to a sure win in the Big Ten this year.
[BIG TEN HOOPS: Big Ten basketball previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers]
7. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 8)
Kudos to the Hawkeyes for scoring 38 points this week, though fewer kudos for their doing it against Purdue. Iowa became the latest Big Ten team to destroy Purdue, racking up a remarkable 509 total yards. This is Iowa, remember, hardly the explosive-offense type. The Hawkeyes ran for 318 yards, led by 165 from Jordan Canzeri, one of three different Iowans to run in for a touchdown. Quarterback Jake Rudock threw for an additional 191 yards and a couple of touchdowns. The Hawkeyes are now bowl-eligible with the win, and who knows how many more wins will come with Michigan and Nebraska the final two games on the schedule. Both those games are toss-ups really, with neither of these three teams playing all that well. But confidence and momentum are king. Iowa has that after beating up on Purdue. Michigan doesn't after losing to the Huskers. We'll see what happens in two weeks.
8. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 5)
What has happened to Michigan? The Wolverines have dropped three of their last four games, the latest a 17-13 defeat at the hands of Nebraska that snapped Brady Hoke's unbeaten streak at the Big House. The four-overtime loss to Penn State? One of those fluky college football things. The pounding at Michigan State? Somewhat expected given the Spartans' defensive dominance this season. But this? Nebraska has not been its usual self, and obviously neither has Michigan. Devin Gardner, who looked like one of the nation's finest talents back when the Wolverines beat Notre Dame in Week 2. But since, he's been lackluster to say the least. There were those back-to-back rough performances against Akron and UConn that nearly resulted in losses, and now these two straight losses to Michigan State and Nebraska have seen Gardner go for -30 rushing yards or worse both times. It's been a strange stumble for Michigan, and things might not get better. Northwestern and Iowa could be opportunities for wins, sure, but a season finale vs. Ohio State won't. A four-loss season is all but guaranteed. A six-loss season is not out of the question.
[BIG TEN HOOPS: Big Ten basketball previews: Purdue Boilermakers]
9. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 9)
Another Saturday, another shootout for the Hoosiers, only this one was different because they actually won. The electric final was 52-35 in favor of Indiana over Illinois on Saturday, as the Hoosiers finally ran into a defense as bad as their own. They amassed a jaw-dropping 650 total yards including a shocking 371 rushing. Tevin Coleman ran for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Stephen Houston ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Nate Sudfeld threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns. And though the Indiana defense allowed more than 600 yards to Illinois, all that matters in shootouts is who scores more. Typically, that hasn't happened for Indiana, but it did this time. The Hoosiers would need to win out to make a bowl game, improbable given Wisconsin is their next opponent, but they should set some scoring records vs. Purdue. Perhaps a nice consolation prize?
10. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 10)
Though there was no game for Northwestern this weekend, the Wildcats are still mired in their long losing streak, at five games for those who needed a refresher. A stumbling Michigan team is up next, though going up against another struggling team hasn't helped Northwestern in any of its last three games. With only three games left on the Cats' schedule, they need two wins to reach a bowl, a scenario undreamed of when the season started. But that's the way this bad-tasting cookie has crumbled, and this next game vs. Michigan becomes extremely important. Nov. 23's game against Michigan State is very unlikely to end with Northwestern on top. Nov. 30's date with Illinois would figure to be very winnable for the Cats. That means the bowl future could come down to Saturday's matchup with the Wolverines. A win could help avoid some embarrassment, a loss would add quite a bit more.
[LAST WEEK: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 10]
11. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 11)
Indiana seemed like a beatable opponent, considering the Hoosiers' ugly defensive track record and the Illini's strong offensive showing throughout the season. But instead Illinois went into Bloomington and lost by nearly 20 points. The orange-and-blue defense was thrashed, allowing 52 points on 650 yards. It seemed every run went for dozens of yards and every drive ended with the Hoosiers celebrating in the end zone. Even a remarkable statistical day for several Illini couldn't do much. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 450 yards, and Steve Hull caught nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. That's nuts. Unfortunately for Illinois, the mistakes kept coming, low-lighted by a head-scratching decision to fake a punt on a second-half fourth down with the Illini trailing by just a touchdown. With the defense playing as if it wasn't even on the field at times, that decision was nowhere close to why the Illini lost, but it was yet another example of how this team can't seem to get out of its own way. And because of it, their Big Ten losing streak stretched to 19 consecutive defeats.
12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)
If you've made it this far, you know how miserable a campaign it's been for Purdue, and Saturday was no exception. The Boilermakers were out-gained, 509-266, in its 38-14 loss to Iowa. The good news? Purdue actually scored a touchdown (two!) for the first time since Oct. 12 against Nebraska. Surely Boilermakers fans will take the silver linings where they can get them this year. But that was about it Saturday. The Boilermakers rushed for only 53 yards on the day. The chances for Purdue to score a conference win are looking slim, even though struggling Big Ten teams Penn State, Illinois and Indiana make up the remainder of its schedule. That home game against the Illini could actually prove the perfect storm with the Boilermakers going up against a real bad defense. But even still, the way Purdue has played this season, that is looking like a long shot.