Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 14

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 14
December 1, 2013, 1:15 pm
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Vinnie Duber

And that's that.

The Big Ten regular season is in the books, completely through following 12 different eight-game schedules. For some teams that means their 2013 is over. For others, a spot in a bowl game still awaits. For two more, there's a shot at a conference championship and a spot in an illustrious BCS bowl.

Week 14 was simply astounding nationwide in college football, and the Big Ten was no exception. The latest edition of The Game — deserving of the "instant classic" label — headlined all the Legends and Leaders had to offer, which included a shocking upset at Camp Randall and a surprisingly entertaining shootout for the Land of Lincoln Trophy.

So, shall we get to the final batch of Big Ten power rankings for the 2013 season?

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 1)

The first thing that needs to be addressed about Ohio State's incredible 42-41 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor is that an undefeated Ohio State team should not have had so much trouble with a struggling Michigan team. The Wolverines have plenty of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, but they're the same team that on two separate occasions during the season put up a negative rushing day and went 60 minutes without a touchdown. So why did the Buckeye defense struggle so? That's a huge chink in the armor for Ohio State when it comes to the inevitable debate about whether or not they belong in the national title game. The good news, though, is that the Buckeyes won the game, and they are one of just three teams now with spotless records through 14 weeks, with Florida State and Northern Illinois being the others. NIU has no shot at playing for the title, so you'd think it'd be a Seminoles-Buckeyes battle if both take care of business in their respective championship games, right? Well, there's going to be an awful lot of clamoring for the eventual SEC champion — who will finish with one loss, regardless of whether it's Auburn or Missouri — to jump past the "weak-scheduled" Buckeyes. The bottom line: Hold on to your hats.

2. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 2)

There were no style points to be had in a rather pedestrian 14-3 defeat of Minnesota on Saturday. Not necessarily the dominant performance a team looking to make a BCS case needs to turn in. But, fortunately for the Spartans, Wisconsin lost, Clemson lost and the SEC went haywire, meaning that even a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game could get them into a BCS game. It appears to be good news for Michigan State, but there's no resting easy for Mark Dantonio's bunch. The Spartans will obviously be looking to clinch a Rose Bowl berth — and who knows if even more could be in store, given the wackiness displayed this season — with a win in Indianapolis. And, watching the Ohio State defense struggle against Michigan had to make Sparty real smiley. Michigan State not just demolished Michigan, holding Devin Gardner, the quarterback who limped his way to an awesome performance vs. the Buckeyes, to negative rush yards, but it saw the opportunity for their less-than-astounding offense to do some damage against a vulnerable Ohio State defense. It's going to be a fun week of speculation in East Lansing.

3. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 3)

While Michigan's out-of-nowhere performance vs. Ohio State was pleasantly surprising, the biggest shock of the weekend came in Madison, where the Badgers unbelievably fell to Penn State, 31-24. Since losing to Ohio State, there's been no more dominant team in the Big Ten than Wisconsin, but the Badgers picked the worst possible time to lose. The Penn State win all but eliminates Wisconsin from BCS bowl contention, as it sends the Badgers to three losses on the season. It was an uphill climb for the Badgers to earn some national respect to even get them in the conversation, and they finally cracked the top 15 this past week. But now? A Wisconsin defense that had been tremendous over the course of the conference season rolled over Saturday, surrendering 465 yards of total offense to Penn State, including 339 through the air from Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who threw four touchdown passes. Wisconsin still finishes the year with one of the best seasons in the Big Ten, losing just twice in conference play, but the thoughts of what could have been are what really sting.

4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 4)

It appeared after the Gophers grabbed their eighth win of the year that eight would be all they would get, and that's exactly what happened. But 8-4 is still an incredible finish for the conference's biggest (positive) surprise in 2013. It was going to be a tall task to push it to nine or 10 wins with the final two games coming against Wisconsin and Michigan State. The 14-3 loss to the Spartans on Saturday went as many other losses to the Spartans have gone this season: a low-scoring contest in which the opposing offense, in this case Minnesota, couldn't get anything done. Though the Gopher offense didn't score a touchdown in the season's final two games, there'll be more than plenty to be proud of as Minnesota preps for a bowl and eventually closes the book on 2013. A great story, Minnesota rattled off four straight wins after head coach Jerry Kill took a leave of absence to better handle his epilepsy. As the coach watched from the press box each week, the Gophers kept winning. Give Kill and his ever-loyal staff a ton of credit. This dream season signifies they have this program moving in the right direction.

[MORE: Northwestern fends off Illini for first conference win]

5. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 6)

As Minnesota grabbed all the headlines from its improbable 8-4 run in the Big Ten, Iowa deserved to turn plenty of heads, too. Kirk Ferentz's team flipped its record from the season before, transforming an extremely disappointing 4-8 2012 into an 8-4 2013. Iowa got good seasons on both sides of the ball, including the emergence of sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock, who threw a pair of touchdown passes in Friday's 38-17 win over Nebraska. Ferentz will have a bowl game to get the Hawkeyes to nine wins, something not seen since the Orange Bowl-winning season of 2009. If Michigan State makes the BCS, expect Iowa to be playing on New Year's Day against good competition. It's a nice reward for a strong season in Iowa City.

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 5)

The only story in Lincoln in the immediate future will be Bo Pelini's fate. And, though this year's team could reach the nine-win mark for the sixth time in Pelini's six years as the head man for Big Red, many supporters see that as not enough. An emotionally charged post game presser followed Nebraska's 38-17 loss to Iowa on Friday, and statements released Saturday put on the public face of wanting to keep Pelini on board. It's unknown how this will play out, but those making the decisions should realize that Pelini's record certainly does speak for itself. He's fielded teams that have shots at Big Ten championships. That would have included this season had the defense played better in certain games — remember, the Huskers lost just four times, hardly the end of the world — and injuries not piled up on both sides of the ball, including senior quarterback Taylor Martinez. An underachieving season? Sure. Grounds for termination? That might be pushing it.

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 7)

What was sauntering along as a mediocre, ho-hum campaign for the Lions turned into something exciting in the season's final week thanks to a stunning 31-24 upset over Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. In the end, this season, which despite the 7-5 final record won't end in a bowl appearance, will perhaps best be remembered as the year Christian Hackenberg got a jump on his learning process. Hackenberg finished his true freshman season with his best game of the year, torching the previously believed untorchable Badger defense for 339 passing yards and four touchdown passes. It was the biggest part of a huge 465-yard day for Penn State. Hackenberg finishes the year with a 58.9-percent completion rate 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns to go along with 10 interceptions. It's one of the finer campaigns by a Big Ten quarterback this year and should give the Happy Valley faithful high hopes heading into 2014.

8. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 8)

Brady Hoke said last week that an upset win could "never" erase the disappointment of this season. But what about that 42-41 loss? Could that do it? No one was expecting that kind of instant-classic edition of The Game, and most of the credit goes to Michigan, who despite having little to play for put up more than just a fight against undefeated Ohio State. The two teams combined for 1,129 yards of offense and 83 points. And though Alabama and Auburn stole the thunder with their 1-vs.-4 matchup down south, it's quite possible that Ann Arbor hosted the best game of the day. The incredible back-and-forth battle featured three Michigan touchdowns in the fourth quarter and a sensational duel between quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Braxton Miller. While Miller is a phenomenal player, Gardner's performance was more impressive, as he continued to play through pain like he has all year. As Michigan has nosedived, the Wolverines have done an awful job of protecting their QB. Gardner took more shots Saturday and limped around the whole second half but stayed on the field and nearly led Michigan to a shocking upset win. Overanalyze Hoke's game-deciding decision to go for two all you'd like, but in the end, this was an exceptional college football game and one that did a great deal to put a silver lining on Michigan's overall upsetting season.

[RELATED: Nebraska's Bo Pelini: "If they want to fire me, go ahead"]

9. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 9)

Along the course of the 2013 season, the Hoosiers' identity rarely changed: They were going to score a ton of points, and they were going to give up a ton of points. So why should it have been any different in the final game of the Indiana's season? The highest-scoring shootout of the day came not at the Big House but in Bloomington, where Indiana grabbed a 56-36 win over in-state rival Purdue. The Hoosiers racked up a whopping 692 yards of total offense, including 401 on the ground, and quarterback Tre Roberson threw six touchdown passes. Three Hoosier rushers went over 100 yards, including Roberson. Heading into next season, Kevin Wilson doesn't have to worry about changing a thing on the offensive side of the ball. There was no more explosive team in the conference than Indiana. But, if he wants his team to reach the postseason and compete with the big boys — Indiana was just one win away from bowl eligibility — he's going to have to do something, anything to stop teams. Purdue finished 1-11 this year and dropped 36 points on the Hoosiers. Back to the defensive drawing board this offseason.

10. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 11)

Boy, did the Cats need that. A 37-34 win over a four-win team isn't usually something worth partying about, but with the season Northwestern had, it wasn't surprising to see the sheer joy on Pat Fitzgerald's face as he lifted his arms in victory after beating Illinois. This time there were no surprises, no Hail Marys, no sliding last-second field goals, no fourth-quarter pick sixes. The Northwestern offense played very well against a crummy Illinois defense, and the Wildcats emerged victorious for the first time since September. They snapped their seven-game losing streak thanks to a huge day from quarterback Trevor Siemian, who finished with gaudy numbers: 414 passing yards and four TD passes. But it was the Northwestern receivers who really stole the show, bailing out Siemian on iffy throw after iffy throw. Christian Jones caught 13 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns, plus a ridiculous diving grab of the game-winning TD. Rashad Lawrence also hauled in five passes for 112 yards and a TD. The expectations weren't met, not by a long shot, this season in Evanston. But, even still, going out on a win and being able to say you didn't finish the conference season winless is something.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 10)

All the offseason goals that applied to Indiana's Kevin Wilson could certainly apply to Tim Beckman, as the Illini offense again looked great while the defense was completely dismantled by Northwestern in a 37-34 loss Saturday. Give Bill Cubit all the credit in the world: His revamped offense was pretty strong this season, and Saturday was no exception. Nathan Scheelhaase became Illinois' all-time leader in all-purpose yardage, accumulating 362 against the Wildcats, as he also completed a couple of touchdown passes. Running back Josh Ferguson had a big day, rushing for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And, of course, Steve Hull had another huge day at the office, racking up 155 receiving yards and catching a touchdown pass while on his back in the end zone. But, as has plagued them all year, the defense was atrocious for the Illini on Saturday, as Northwestern went for 560 offensive yards, including 414 passing yards and four touchdown throws from Trevor Siemian. Despite an encouraging start, it was another letdown of a season in Champaign, and there's sure to be plenty of speculation over the security of Beckman's head-coaching job to follow.

12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)

Purdue gained 516 yards of offense Saturday, and no that's not a typo. A date with the terrible Indiana defense was all that Danny Etling needed to have his biggest day of the season. You might not even believe it when you read he threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns — no interceptions, either. Two Boilermaker wideouts had receiving days of 125 yards or better, and star defensive back Ricardo Allen grabbed a pair of interceptions. So why so glum in West Lafayette? Well, this one ended in another Purdue loss, 56-36 in favor of the Hoosiers. There'll be no "P" affixed to the Old Oaken Bucket this season, just as there weren't many "W's" affixed to the Boilermakers' record. There was just one, in fact, a win over FCS opponent Indiana State, and it looks like Darrell Hazell has a long way to go if he wants to pick Purdue up off the mat in the Big Ten. Fixes are needed everywhere, but the main focus should be the running game, where Purdue struggled to break 60 yards on most days. That includes Saturday, when the Boilers ran for just 31 against a porous Indiana D.