Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 6

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 6
October 6, 2013, 7:00 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was right to call Saturday night's showdown between his Wildcats and the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes a "heavyweight fight."

In the end, the heaviest heavyweight in the conference came out on top.

Ohio State grabbed the big comeback win to highlight this week's Big Ten slate. But Michigan recovered from a rocky few weeks to come away with the Little Brown Jug, Michigan State's offense found the end zone multiple times and Indiana beat Penn State, a sentence that had never been written before Saturday.

Statements were made all across the conference this week. Let's see where everyone shakes out.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 1)

The Buckeyes' offense was being described as unstoppable pretty much in hyperbole before Saturday's game in Evanston, but after coming back to beat the Wildcats, 40-30, perhaps there's some truth to that term. Northwestern's defense effectively shut down quarterback Braxton Miller, keeping him out of the end zone as a passer and a runner and forcing him to turn the ball over three times. But Ohio State utilized that next-man-up mentality they've showcased all season and turned to running back Carlos Hyde, who carried the ball 26 times for 168 yards and three touchdowns, all coming in the second half. The Cats couldn't stop Hyde, and it showed that Ohio State — even with its most dangerous weapon ineffective — has more than enough firepower to overcome almost any challenge. The Buckeyes have back-to-back wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern and likely won't face a threat to their march to the Big Ten Championship Game until the regular-season finale at Michigan. Pending a major upset, there's little chance Ohio State leaves the No. 1 spot for the majority of the remainder of this season.

2. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 3)

The only team besides the Buckeyes that remains undefeated, Michigan rebounded in a big way Saturday. After a pair of major scares that ended in escape-act victories against Akron and Connecticut, the Wolverines dominated Minnesota with a 42-13 win to capture the Little Brown Jug. Michigan outscored the Gophers 28-6 in the second half in what was far and away the team's best performance since its Week 2 win over Notre Dame. Quarterback Devin Gardner, who threw five picks in the pair of close calls, completed 13 of 17 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown and added a rushing touchdown, as well. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint scored twice, and tight end Devin Funchess caught seven passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. The Michigan defense held the Gophers to just 281 total yards of offense. So are the Wolverines back? It's hard to say, as Minnesota is hardly a high-caliber opponent. But, at the same time, those are the types of teams Michigan was struggling against.

[MORE: Northwestern put the nation on notice Saturday]

3. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 2)

It's only one loss, one loss to a great team, what Pat Fitzgerald called "a momentary lapse." It was a winnable game, one with some clear-cut reasons as to why the Wildcats lost, but in the end there were plenty of positives and many impressive moments that Northwestern can take from its 40-30 loss to Ohio State. How about 343 passing yards by the combo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian? The duo even hooked up with each other at one point, with Siemian throwing to Colter for a touchdown, and the pair threw just five incompletions. Venric Mark returned and showed off some physicality while rushing and receiving for more than 100 yards. Rashad Lawrence caught eight passes for 149 yards, and the defense took the ball away from Braxton Miller three times. For the most part, everything went pretty well except for the result. Yes, a win would have allowed Fitzgerald's program to take the next step, but the Cats want to win a Big Ten championship. And that's still very, very possible.

4. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 4)

No game for the Badgers this week, but it's hard to think of a better time for Wisconsin to get a bye. After losing a hard-fought battle to Ohio State in Week 5, Gary Andersen's crew will welcome Northwestern to Madison next week. The Wildcats will bring a big test and plenty of challenges, namely on offense, where the Badgers had trouble slowing down Ohio State's attack. But, the Badger running game won't face nearly as strong a run defense as it did against the Buckeyes. Northwestern has had a tendency to let up plenty of points, and this week's shredding by Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde should have Melvin Gordon & Co. licking their chops. Both teams will be trying to bounce back from losses to the undefeated Buckeyes, but the Badgers will be considerably more rested.

[RELATED: Northwestern comes up short against Ohio State]

5. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 8)

Where did this Spartan offense come from? Michigan State racked up 412 yards of total offense Saturday in a 26-14 victory against an Iowa defense that had performed pretty well up to that point. Connor Cook threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, with a pair of Spartan wideouts going for more than 90 receiving yards. But, as has been the case all year, the Michigan State defense was the story. They held Iowa to 23 rushing yards, an astounding number given the Hawkeyes' prolific rushing attack. Mark Weisman, who led the nation in carries entering Saturday, had just seven rushes for nine yards. The Iowa team as a whole rushed just 16 times. This Michigan State defense is simply astounding, and it's the reason this team has just one loss and could be a factor in this Big Ten race.

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 9)

Where did this Husker defense come from? The much-maligned Nebraska D showed up in a big way in the Big Ten opener, holding the leading passer in the conference to 135 yards and no touchdowns. Illinois had been one of the Big Ten's most explosive offenses in non-conference play, with Nebraska having one of the Big Ten's worst passing defenses. But the tables totally turned in Saturday's 39-19 win for the Huskers. Plus, with quarterback Taylor Martinez missing his second straight game with an injury, the Nebraska offense went off for huge numbers, posting 521 yards of total offense. Ameer Abdullah had a jaw-droppingly good day, rushing 20 times for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps it was the Illini facing inferior competition that inflated their offensive totals, but I'd still be proud if I was Bo Pelini, as his defense finally showed up to play in a big way.

[MORE:Northwestern drops three spots]

7. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 6)

What a roller coaster this season is turning out to be for the Hawkeyes. A disappointing loss to Northern Illinois was followed by three straight non-conference wins. Then a huge win over Minnesota opened Big Ten play, but now a big loss has followed that up. The Iowa offense was practically non-existent in its 26-14 loss to Michigan State on Saturday, and most of that can be attributed to the Spartans' defense being one of the nation's best. But a previously potent Iowa rushing attack that includes running back Mark Weisman, who entered Saturday as the country's leader in carries, was held to 23 yards. That's incredible. Jake Rudock did throw for 241 yards and two touchdowns but also tossed two interceptions. This Iowa team runs on running, and with that aspect of the game completely snuffed out Saturday, the Hawkeyes simply had no chance.

8. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 5)

So much for that favorable matchup for the Illini. With Nathan Scheelhaase, the conference's leading passer coming into Saturday, and a bad Nebraska defense colliding, you'd figure there was a clear advantage. Well, Scheelhaase performed like the 2012 version of himself in Illinois' 39-19 loss in Lincoln. He was just 13-of-26 for 135 yards and threw an interception, contributing only 11 rushing yards on nine carries. Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young combined for a fine day on the ground, but Bill Cubit's supposedly revamped offense looked much more like the one that was one of the country's worst last season. Plus, the Illinois defense, which has struggled, continued to do so, allowing Ameer Abdullah to rack up 225 yards on the ground and a pair of backup quarterbacks to lead a monstrous offensive day for Nebraska. The Illini are in limbo now — either incurring a bad day against a superior team or being exposed after a misleading start. We'll find out for sure which was the correct scenario.

[RELATED: Illinois steamrolled by Nebraska in conference opener]

9. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 11)

Indiana had never emerged victorious from a game against Penn State. Never. Not once. That was good for an 0-16 record against the Nittany Lions before Saturday, when the Hoosiers not just beat but blew out Penn State, 44-24. Indiana piled up 486 yards of offense, with quarterback Nate Sudfeld completing 23 of 38 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns. And backup quarterback Tre Roberson scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, too. And, while the Indiana defense was again torched through the air, the rush defense remained pretty stout, limiting Penn State to 70 yards. Indiana gets Michigan State next, a team that should significantly shut down their offense, but the Hoosiers are half way to bowl eligibility, which would be a big step in the right direction for this program.

10. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 7)

The good news is that Christian Hackenberg might have had his biggest game as Penn State's quarterback. The bad news is that the Nittany Lions lost for the first time ever to Indiana. The first time ever. Hackenberg had a huge day, compelting 30 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns (plus no interceptions). But the Penn State defense was unable to do much of anything when it came to stopping Indiana's offense. The Hoosiers gained 486 yards of total offense, sending the Lions to their second loss of the season. And, with a contest with a resurgent Michigan team on the docket next, they'll need to figure out things on the defensive side in a hurry.

[LAST WEEK: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 5]

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 10)

Another Big Ten game, another shellacking for the Gophers. After going undefeated in non-conference play, conference play has been a disaster so far, with the latest blow being Saturday's 42-13 loss at Michigan. Sure, the Wolverines are a strong team, but for the second week in a row the Gophers were practically shut down on the offensive side of the ball. Minnesota mustered just 136 yards on the ground, with quarterback Mitch Leidner having a mediocre day with 145 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The Gopher defense, meanwhile, couldn't stop Devin Gardner, who threw for 235 yards and scored two total touchdowns. Things won't get easier for Minnesota, either, which travels to Northwestern in its next contest.

12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)

The great news for the Boilermakers is that they didn't lose this week. But, in all seriousness, Purdue should feel a little better coming out of its bye week. Darrell Hazell made a quarterback switch in the team's last game against Northern Illinois, replacing Rob Henry with freshman Danny Etling. The freshman threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns after subbing in during that contest, and perhaps he's the guy that can provide fans in West Lafayette with a little hope. Purdue hosts Nebraska next, though the Husker defense might not seem quite as vulnerable as it did before this week's strong showing. It's going to be an uphill climb for the Boilermakers if they're going to get another win this season, but the switch to Etling can only help, right?