The big dogs continue to impress. The bottom feeders continue to come up empty. The Big Ten is certainly rife with haves and have nots.
Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin are bolstering their chances at a BCS bowl game, something still available for all three despite a lack of respect from voters. Meanwhile, the Illinoises, Northwesterns and Purdues of the world just continue to amaze with their poor play.
That ought to give a few clues about how the power rankings shake out this week, but give them a look for yourself.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 1)
It was a strange day for the still-undefeated Buckeyes on Saturday. The result turned out how Ohio State's results have been turning out: a blowout win, this one over Illinois by a score of 60-35. But those 35 points were a season high allowed by the Buckeyes defense, which was pretty well attacked by Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who passed for 288 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It's wrong to say Ohio State struggled in Champaign — they did drop 60 points and win by 25 — but for a team looking for style points, it didn't do it with a whole lot of style. And, save for a few more Illinois mistakes — an Illini specialty — this could have been a very different game. But, of course, all that matters is the win. Running back Carlos Hyde scored five total touchdowns, and quarterback Braxton Miller threw two touchdown passes and rushed in for another score. It doesn't appear that Ohio State will jump either No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State unless one of those two teams were to lose. The Buckeyes' BCS title-game fate appears to be firmly out of their hands.
2. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 2)
Another week, another big win for the Spartans. For the second week in a row, Michigan State knocked off its closest competitor in the Legends Division, all but securing the division title this week with a 41-28 win over Nebraska. Running back Jeremy Langford had a huge day in this latest Spartan victory, rushing for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Sure, Michigan State allowed 28 points, which matched a season high for the vaunted Spartans defense, but, unlike perhaps what might have happened earlier in the season, the Michigan State offense bailed them out. The only way the Spartans don't wind up in the Big Ten championship game at this point is if they lose their final two games to Northwestern and Minnesota. If that happens (and the Gophers win out), that would send Minnesota to the Legends Division championship. So, given the way Michigan State is playing, things are looking good in East Lansing, particularly after this latest win.
3. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 3)
There was no more impressive showing this weekend than that of the Wisconsin Badgers, who not only racked up 51 points on the terrible Indiana defense but also held the explosive Indiana offense to just three points. That's unheard of, as the Hoosiers hadn't previously scored fewer than 28 points in a game this season. Wisconsin held Indiana to just 224 yards of total offense, and that's all while the Badgers offense piled up 676 yards of offense on its own, including 554 rushing. James White's first carry of the game went for a 93-yard touchdown. He ended the day with 205 yards and a touchdown. Melvin Gordon ran for 146 yards and a touchdown. Third-string back Corey Clement ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis ran — yes, ran — for 86 yards and two touchdowns. It was a banner day all around for Wisconsin, a team that seems to look stronger and stronger each week. Unfortunately, the Badgers have those two losses, and a lot would have to happen, it would seem, for them to make a BCS bowl game, something they'd certainly deserve.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 4)
No game this week for the Gophers, but they're still riding high on their four-game winning streak. It's already been an overachieving eight-win campaign in the Twin Cities, and the Gophers are likely to make a good bowl game. That might have to be the ultimate expectation, however, as Minnesota's final two games of the season come against Wisconsin and Michigan State, two of the conference's powers this year. Wins are unlikely, though of course so were wins in four straight games for this Cinderella team. An 8-4 season would be a great accomplishment for this team, so don't cry for the Gophers if they do drop their final two contests. Could they shock the world? Sure, the possibility is there, but they'll need some assistance. If they beat Wisconsin and Michigan State loses to Northwestern, a win in the season-finale over the Spartans would send the Gophers to the Big Ten title game. Unlikely, sure. But these Gophers can dream, can't they?
5. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 6)
Penn State gets the ol' Purdue bump this week, just the latest team to beat up on the Big Ten's basement dwellers. The Lions handed the Boilermakers a 45-21 defeat, with Zach Zwinak starring for the blue and white. The Penn State running back carried the ball 26 times for 149 yards and a trio of touchdowns, the leading man in a big offensive performance. Bill Belton also rushed for 81 yards and a score, while quarterback Christian Hackenberg passed for 212 yards and a TD. Allen Robinson hauled in eight passes for 98 yards. It's the kind of day we've come to expect when Purdue is the opposing defense. Penn State's win got the Lions to bowl eligibility and evened their Big Ten record at 3-3. Who knows how things will go against Nebraska next week, and a win isn't very likely in the closer vs. Wisconsin. But the Lions can very well make it to seven wins, and they will make it to a bowl game. Not the 10-win campaign Bill O'Brien turned in during his first season in State College, but a respectable one nonetheless.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 5)
Give Nebraska some credit for dropping 28 points on a dominant Michigan State defense, matching a season high vs. the Spartans this season. The Huskers certainly have something in freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who continues to fill in more than admirably for Taylor Martinez. He threw a pair of touchdown passes vs. the Spartans, and coupled with 173 rushing yards from Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross, it was a fine day at the office for the Nebraska offense. Unfortunately for the Lincoln faithful, Michigan State has rounded out its team quite well since the season's early going, and the Husker defense continued to underwhelm. That season long trend hurt the Huskers, who allowed 41 points despite out-gaining the Spartans, 392-361. Nebraska can wrap up its season with nine wins if the Huskers can hold off Penn State and Iowa in their final two games, but that's not really what Nebraska fans expect.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 7)
The Hawkeyes were also on a bye week this weekend coming off their win at Purdue in Week 11. A pair of Legends Division games remain for the already bowl-eligible Hawkeyes: vs. Michigan and at Nebraska. Those are two winnable games for Iowa, with probably the home bout with the Wolverines providing the best chance for another win. But the Huskers' defense has been atrocious for most of the season, meaning big days from the Hawkeyes could drastically improve their bowl destination.
8. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 8)
This time the Wolverines were on the winning end of a multi-overtime extravaganza, toppling flailing Northwestern, 27-19, in a trio of overtimes Saturday. Though it was a field-goal festival through the first 60 minutes, the overtimes were Devin Gardner's time to shine, and he made the big plays he needed to make. On the day, Gardner threw for 226 yards and a touchdown, rushing in for another, the game-winner in triple overtime. Of course, the game will most be remembered for the incredible timeout-less field-goal setup executed to perfection by Michigan and in particular receiver/placeholder Drew Dileo. Again, Northwestern's mistakes might have led to their loss more than their opponent's execution — the Wildcats defense played great all day — but Michigan got the win. And that's what matters most.
9. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 10)
Pat Fitzgerald keeps saying his Cats are close to snapping their abysmal six-game losing streak. And while he's right, the ways Northwestern is finding to lose games are just staggering at this point. The Wildcats get a jump in the rankings because of a whole different level of incompetence from Indiana this week, but make no mistake that Northwestern is stunning with its litany of losses. Most recently, the Cats let Michigan tie up a field-goal-kicking contest with a 3-pointer as time expired, sending the game to overtime, where Devin Gardner awoke and led the Wolverines to a win. Does that sound familiar? Like last-year familiar? It's mind-blowing. What's unfortunate for the Cats is that they turned in one of their best defensive efforts, if not their best defensive effort of the season, only for the offense to come up repeatedly empty. The conference winless streak marches on, and now Northwestern will have to win its last two games to make a bowl. Michigan State's up next. Good luck.
10. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 9)
Indiana has impressed all season long with an offense that was so good at scoring points it didn't matter how bad the defense was, as the Hoosiers remained in nearly every game. So though allowing 51 points to Wisconsin on Saturday wasn't terribly surprising, the fact that the dynamic Hoosier offense couldn't find the end zone and the team mustered just three points was very surprising. Criticize Indiana's defense all you'd like. It's deserved. But the team as a whole stayed in contests thanks to that point-scoring machine. When the machine broke down Saturday — or rather when it was smashed to pieces by Wisconsin's defense — there was nothing stopping a rout in the grandest of fashions. Indiana was out-gained 676-224, including a 554-102 Badgers edge in the rushing department. In the words of Hawk Harrelson, that's trouble.
[LAST WEEK: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 11]
11. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 11)
It's the same old song for the Illini but with a different feeling since Ohio State came to Champaign. No, the Buckeyes had nothing to do with the latest embarrassment in a 60-35 clobbering of Illinois because, as seems to be the new normal for the orange and blue, Illinois took care of that themselves. It wasn't expected to be much of a contest, but when the Illini offense showed some life after going down 28-0, back-to-back stops by the defense were answered with quick departures by the offense, ruining any chance at a comeback. The latter came when backup quarterback Reilly O'Toole was sacked on a third-down drop-back in his own end zone, leading to a safety in the third quarter. That spoiled any hopes of an upset and led to a heated exchange between head coach Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. Illinois actually got it down to 11 points in the second half before the Buckeyes exploded to make it look good on the scoreboard. It's been ugly for the second straight season in Champaign, and a lot suddenly rides on the next matchup with league-worst Purdue.
12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)
In what might be the highlight of Purdue's season, the Boilermakers got a 100-yard kickoff-return touchdown from Raheem Mostert just before halftime on Saturday. Just trying to start off with some Purdue poisitivity. Sadly there hasn't been much of that kind of thing in West Lafayette this season. Saturday was the latest in that trend, with the Boilermakers defense again gashed, this time for 45 points and 501 yards by Penn State. The Boilermakers rushed for just 41 yards on the day, and quarterback Danny Etling wasn't exactly great, either, throwing for 223 yards, a touchdown and an interception. If there's anything that might improve this so-far one-win season, it comes next week in the form of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Something's got to give in a battle between the conference's two worst teams. Can Purdue prevent a winless Big Ten campaign?