Penn State and Michigan went to four overtimes Saturday. Four!
It's games like that one that make college football such a wild and wacky and enjoyable world. But it might be a sign of things to come in the Legends Division, where the race is tightening incredibly. Michigan's loss, a surging Michigan State team, a seemingly righted Nebraska and a stumbling Northwestern throw this division up in the air. Who will emerge to head to the Big Ten Championship Game and likely take on Ohio State?
That's the thing. We might need four overtimes to figure it out.
Here's a look at this week's Big Ten power rankings.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 1)
Why was it good to be the Buckeyes this week? Well, because they didn't lose. They didn't play, either, but I'm sure they'll take it in a week that saw seven teams ranked in the top 25 fall, including a pair in the top 10. It's that time of year, folks, and while Ohio State looks great, college football magic can always strike. Until it does, though, the Buckeyes' BCS resume will be dissected. And so what does Northwestern's loss mean to Ohio State? That win in Evanston was supposed to provide the Buckeyes with a signature victory, and it still very well could be, but the Cats took quite a hit on Saturday. Thankfully for Ohio State, it has a win over the team that delivered that hit, too. If Northwestern continues to lose, it hurts Ohio State's strength of schedule, but what won't hurt it is if the Buckeyes just keep winning.
2. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 4)
This is the game the Badgers needed to open up some eyes. A win stolen from them at Arizona State and a one-touchdown defeat at the hands of the No. 4 team in the country shouldn't have sent Wisconsin out of the top 25 or the national consciousness. Now they have a signature win, a 35-6 throttling of a Northwestern team that was ranked in the top 20. Yes, the Wildcats did not look anywhere near the team that gave Ohio State all it could handle a week prior, but soak in the accomplishments of these Badgers. They limited a prolific offense to 241 total yards and posted 527 of their own, including strong days from quarterback Joel Stave (241 yards, three touchdowns) and the running back combo of Melvin Gordon and James White (a total of 273 rush yards and a touchdown apiece). There shouldn't remain any doubt that the Badgers are one of the Big Ten's best, no matter what their misleading record says.
3. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 5)
Should the Spartans be worried about Indiana's offensive output? After all, Michigan State's faced teams much better than the Hoosiers this season and surrendered far less. But Indiana actually might be the best offense Michigan State has seen — and maybe the most prolific it'll see all year — and so the numbers shouldn't indicate a broken Spartan D. What should excite the Spartans is this: Of the 92 rushing yards they allowed, much more than they're used to giving up, 64 came on one play. That means 26 attempts outside that big Tevin Coleman run yielded just 28 yards. That's more like it. Plus, Michigan State's offense, which started the season in complete disarray, had its best day against an FBS team yet, posting 473 yards of offense and 42 points. Quarterback Connor Cook threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns, with running back Jeremy Langford contributing 109 yards and three scores on the ground. With dates with Purdue and Illinois up next, the Spartans figure to cruise to a very impressive record.
4. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 2)
It was a wild one and a strange one in State College that left Michigan with its first loss of the season. In the end, a huge day for Devin Gardner — 240 passing yards, 121 rushing yards, three touchdown throws — was unfortunately left in the hands (feet?) of kicker Brendan Gibbons, who missed three field goals in the fourth quarter and overtimes to open the door for a Penn State win. This was an even-matched affair, and it could be argued that the Wolverines certainly deserved to walk away with a victory. It could also be argued that Michigan's demons finally caught up with it after those last-second escapes vs. Akron and UConn. The good news is that the Wolverines, as a team, are playing well — on offense and defense. If not for some miraculous catches by the Penn State receivers, Michigan would have staged a comeback win thanks to forcing Christian Hackenberg to turn the ball over.
5. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 3)
If the loss to Ohio State was disappointing, what do you call the loss to Wisconsin? The Wildcats were trounced, 35-6, in Madison on Saturday, posting a meager 241 yards and watching the Badger offense run and throw all over them. Pat Fitzgerald used the word "unacceptable" a lot after this one, and it's hard to think of anything that went right for this team. A supposedly strong rushing team — which lost running back Venric Mark, again — totaled just 44 yards on the ground, while the quarterback combo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian threw no touchdowns and one interception. The Wildcats mustered just a pair of field goals on the day. Then there's the defense, where not as much is expected, though it's not expected to yield 527 offensive yards. This was an embarrassing loss for a team looking to take the next step, and it'll pay for it in losing a coveted spot in the national rankings.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 6)
Another game against a lower-echelon Big Ten opponent, another huge day for the Husker offense. Nebraska gathered 435 total yards in its 44-7 drubbing of Purdue on Saturday, led again by running back Ameer Abdullah and his 126 yards. Don't look now, but the Huskers have turned some early concerns into a very impressive march to their 5-1 record. Among Big Ten teams, only Ohio State is averaging more points per game and only Wisconsin is rushing for more yards per game, while Abdullah is the second leading rusher in the conference. Though Nebraska certainly should be undefeated, that huge defensive collapse against UCLA looks less painful each week as the Bruins soar up the top-25 rankings. Nebraska figures to fatten up again when they next take on Minnesota before a tough stretch against division-mates Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 10)
This was a huge win for Penn State. After last week's embarrassing loss to Indiana, the Lions needed this win to potentially save their season. And, through some sort of divine college football intervention, they got it. Penn State had a 10-point halftime lead before Christian Hackenberg started turning the ball over. The Lions trailed by 10 midway through the fourth, but some ridiculous catches by Penn State receivers on Hackenberg heaves on the final timeout-less, game-tying drive forced OT. Michigan's kicker put the football everywhere but between the uprights, and the Lions somehow won the game. But, as improbable a win it was, give the Lions credit. Hackenberg threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns (his second straight game with 300-plus yards), and the receivers — led by Brandon Felder and Allen Robinson — put on a show. It's too soon to tell if Penn State is back, but it'll likely be a complete 180 in how folks are feeling in the now much Happier Valley.
8. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 9)
There are two things becoming increasingly apparent: Indiana has a pretty great offense and Indiana has a pretty terrible defense. Give the Hoosiers credit for dropping four touchdowns on a Michigan State defense that has been solid as a rock so far this season. That includes Tevin Coleman's 64-yard touchdown scamper on the fourth play of the game, which sent the Hoosiers over the average amount of rushing yards allowed by the Spartans per game in one play. Indiana also amassed 259 passing yards against this incredibly tough defense. But, the Michigan State offense scored 42 points on 473 yards of offense, unheard of for an offense that's coming around but hardly believed to be capable of those numbers prior to Saturday. Either the Spartans are rapidly becoming an all-around juggernaut or the Hoosiers had another day of porous defense. My bet's on the latter.
9. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 7)
Two wins. Two wins, and the Hawkeyes are bowl eligible. It's just hard to figure out where those wins come from. Three straight contests against Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin await Iowa out of its bye week, and after a respite against Purdue, it's back-to-back season-closing match ups with Michigan and Nebraska. One win seems pretty likely in there, but two? It's a challenge, for sure. Iowa has relied on the run pretty heavily to this point, getting beat by Michigan State when they couldn't use it effectively. There are favorable matchups for a run-heavy team on Iowa's schedule, though, namely against Northwestern, where the Hawkeyes could stage an upset. The Wildcats have struggled stopping the run in their last two games, both losses, and so that might be the must-win game for Kirk Ferentz's team that could be the difference between playing in the postseason and working on the 2014 schedule early.
10. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 8)
Not enough time seems to pass between Illinois' bye weeks for anyone to make any sense of them. But the Illini are truly at a turning point here. The next few weeks are about playing well and not getting blown out because Wisconsin and Michigan State at home is about as tough a back-to-back as anyone in the Big Ten could face right now. Illinois' incredibly difficult schedule, which also features trips to Happy Valley and Columbus, plus a season-closing date in Champaign with Northwestern, is not doing any favors for the Illini. That 3-1 start seems like a distant memory after just the fifth game. The good news is that this team already made some important strides during the non-conference schedule, and any more made during the conference schedule would be great news for Tim Beckman's team. And don't you think Beckman is eyeing that Nov. 23 matchup at Purdue to score his first Big Ten win?
[LAST WEEK: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 6]
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 11)
Things have really gone from bad to worse in the Twin Cities. It started so promising with a 4-0 non-conference record that featured a powerful Minnesota run game. But back-to-back blowouts against Iowa and Michigan saw the Gophers experience some tremendous struggles and turned a campaign from a quest for bowl eligibility into a hope to stay afloat. The biggest blow of all to the program is the indefinite leave of absence of head coach Jerry Kill, who is looking to spend more time dealing with his epilepsy. All the best wishes to him, of course, but on the field his football team has an uphill climb and a brutal schedule. Next up it's Northwestern and Nebraska, followed by the potent offense of Indiana, and the season wraps up with games against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. In other words, two more wins will be hard to come by for these Gophers, and bowl eligibility is looking less and less likely.
12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)
The Danny Etling experiment is off to a less-than-rousing start. Now, this is Purdue, and no one expected the team to transform overnight into a team that wasn't going to lose, 44-7, to Nebraska. But I think fans maybe expected a few more reasons to Boiler Up. Etling completed 14 of 35 passes for 184 yards, a touchdown and an interception. And that's with the Purdue run game being held to 32 yards (82 if you don't count Etling's stunning negative 50). That lone score came after the Boilermakers already trailed 44-0 and in the game's final minute, so it was hardly a meaningful one. Freshman quarterbacks are always works in progress, and this is still the same Purdue team that's lost at every turn against FBS opponents. Darrell Hazell has a laundry list of problems to fix with this program, though, not just the quarterbacking situation.