Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 9

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 9
October 27, 2013, 11:00 am
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Vinnie Duber

Week 9 brought the expected and the unexpected in the Big Ten.

As expected, Ohio State and Michigan State continued to dominate, with each of those teams delivering perhaps their most dominating performances of the season. The Buckeyes and Spartans are the only two teams remaining with unblemished conference records, and it's now up to them to get to Indianapolis.

As was unexpected, however, Northwestern continued its free fall with another ineffective performance and another loss — that's four in a row. Plus, Minnesota connected on a huge upset of Nebraska, the biggest Gophers win in a while and a huge blow to the Huskers.

So what does all this mean in this week's power rankings? Take a look.

[MORE: Northwestern continues downward spiral]

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 1)

Penn State isn't Alabama. The Lions entered Saturday night's matchup in Columbus with a pair of losses and no ranking, so the Buckeyes' 63-14 pounding was hardly the signature win everyone in the college football world is waiting for Ohio State to produce. But regardless, this might have been the most impressive victory for Urban Meyer's crew yet. The Buckeyes simply demolished the Penn State defense, racking up 686 yards of offense, including 408 on the ground. Braxton Miller threw three touchdown passes and rushed in for two more scores, while Carlos Hyde carried the ball just 16 times but piled up 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Plus, the Ohio State defense did a superb job keeping the Nittany Lions off the scoreboard, surrendering just 14 points and limiting Christian Hackenberg — who had been arguably the Big Ten's best quarterback through eight weeks — to 112 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Again, this likely wasn't enough to impress voters looking for a reason to put the Buckeyes ahead of Oregon and Florida State, but if this is the way Ohio State is going to keep taking care of its business, then wow.

2. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 2)

One of the third of the conference sitting out with a bye week on Saturday, Wisconsin doesn't deserve to drop for not playing a game. Though Michigan State is making quite the case to jump up to the No. 2 spot. The bad news for the Badgers is that loss to Ohio State that will likely keep them out of the Big Ten title game, even if the Buckeyes do trip up once before the end of the season. But, all Wisconsin can do is keep winning, and after back-to-back blowout wins over Northwestern and Illinois, it looks like it should do just that. The interesting matchup on the horizon is the Nov. 9 meeting with Brigham Young at Camp Randall Stadium. It's the lone non-conference game left on the Big Ten calendar, an odd one for the middle of November, but it should give the Badger defense quite the challenge. BYU, led by quarterback Taysom Hill, is putting up some big numbers this season. The Cougars lost twice in the season's first three weeks but have excelled since, winning five straight and averaging 38 points per game during that stretch.

[RELATED: Spartans sour homecoming for Illinois]

3. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 3)

The No. 1 defense in the country just got No. 1-ier. Saturday's 42-3 demolition of Illinois was one of Michigan State's more impressive victories of the season, and the Spartans did it behind another unsurprisingly amazing defensive effort. The Illini offense mustered just three points on 128 total yards including ... wait for it ... 25 rushing yards. Both teams spent much of the first half committing one mistake after another, but the Spartans scored a backbreaking touchdown right before the half and never looked back. Connor Cook threw three touchdown passes in this one, and Jeremy Langford had another big day, rushing for 104 yards and scoring twice. Sparty's defense seems to get better by the week, if that's even possible with how stout it's been all season. At 7-1 with a 4-0 record in conference play, it would be shocking to see them still excluded from the rankings this week. In fact, though games against Michigan and Nebraska await, the Spartans are now the clear-cut favorites to win the Legends Division, which looked wide open as recently as a week ago.

4. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 4)

No game holds more importance in the Big Ten this season — outside of that late-September tilt between Ohio State and Wisconsin — than this week's battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Michigan and Michigan State are the two favorites for the Legends Division title after Northwestern's collapse and Nebraska's surprising loss in the Twin Cities this week, so the stakes are certainly high. The winner of this game has the inside track on a trip to Indianapolis to take on (what would likely be) Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. While no one has been able to put up too much of a fight against the Spartans' No. 1 defense, Michigan certainly has the ability to do so. Devin Gardner and the rest of the offense seem to be getting better the further they get from those close calls against Akron and UConn, and if not for several fluky moments in that four-overtime loss vs. Penn State, the Wolverines would still be undefeated. Michigan State's defense going up against Fitzgerald Toussaint, Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon should be one of the best match ups of the year.

[MORE: Illini have to keep season from snowballing]

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 8)

How about these Gophers? Since Jerry Kill took his leave of absence, Minnesota's played an inspired brand of football. First the Gophers pulled off a road upset at Northwestern, but Saturday's upset win over Nebraska was the really impressing moment. The Huskers were ranked in the BCS standings and got quarterback Taylor Martinez back from injury, but that didn't matter to the Gophers, who ran all over the visitors for 271 yards. A total of 430 yards were piled up in the 34-23 win in the Twin Cities. David Cobb rushed for 138 yards, his second straight 100-plus-yard day, while quarterback Philip Nelson scored three total touchdowns. They're calling it the biggest win of the Jerry Kill Era, and with it, Minnesota is bowl eligible. The Gophers will go to the postseason for the second year in a row, the first time since back-to-back Insight Bowl appearances in 2008 and 2009. The Minnesota defense, which looked great against Nebraska, will get a stiff test next when it travels to Indiana, and games against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State follow. It could be tricky to get more than these six wins, but getting to a bowl in a year full of off-the-field tumult is quite the accomplishment.

6. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 7)

The Hoosiers still need three wins if they want to go bowling, and the offensive firepower of this team makes you think they'll be able to do it. Minnesota and Illinois are up next, good chances to get a pair before back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, and the season ends with Purdue, which unfortunately for the Boilermakers seems as close a thing to a sure win in a power conference as you'll find this season. The challenge, of course, remains whether Indiana can stop any of these opponents. The prolific offenses of Wisconsin and Ohio State — also still remaining on the Hoosiers' schedule — would seem to be in for the type of 63-point day Michigan posted in the Hoosiers' last high-scoring battle. And high-scoring is going to almost surely be used to describe any game featuring Indiana as it closes out the season. Minnesota can run, the Illini can throw. So while Indiana has impressed with its incredible offense, that porous defense could be a big problem.

[MORE NCAA: Lynch, No. 23 NIU hammer Eastern Michigan]

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 6)

Penn State's thorough beating at the hands of Ohio State — a 63-14 romp in Columbus — will do all but erase the memory of that thrilling four-overtime win against Michigan, now three weeks old. Plus, the Buckeye defense contributed to Christian Hackenberg's first real bad game as Penn State quarterback. The freshman threw for just 112 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions en route to being substituted out, mainly because of the lopsided score. The mission for Penn State now becomes to pick up the pieces from what will certainly be the best opponent they'll face all season and move on to more beatable competition. Illinois is up next, at home no less, which should provide a solid opportunity for Hackenberg to get back on track. Games against Minnesota and Purdue follow, meaning the Lions might be able to finish this already three-loss season without too many more games in the "L" column.

8. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 10)

Granted, the Hawkeyes looked significantly better against Ohio State than Penn State did, but Iowa's performance on Saturday was just a real head-scratcher. Sure, it was a 17-10 overtime win over Northwestern for Iowa, but it's very hard to figure out how it got to that point. The Hawkeyes' first drive was a thing of beauty, a clinic in running the ball against a bad rush defense, and it ended in a touchdown. Bing, bang, boom. Iowa looked like it was going to roll. But the Hawkeyes just seemed to stop clicking from there and didn't find the end zone again until overtime. Iowa was actually out-gained, 329-305, in its win, picking up only 136 yards on the ground against a Wildcats defense that had been gashed by opposing backs in three straight weeks. And it's not like Jake Rudock was tearing it up at quarterback, either. He threw for just 169 yards with a touchdown and an interception. It was a strange turn of events. Iowa's defense, meanwhile, looked quite strong. Its trio of senior linebackers and a strong pass rush made sure the Wildcats kept experiencing their offensive struggles.

[MORE NCAA: Tommy Rees throws 5 TDs as Notre Dame throttles Air Force]

9. Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 5)

The return of Taylor Martinez was supposed to be a good thing. But in the quarterback's comeback from a long injury-induced absence, Nebraska looked flatter than ever. The offense had clicked while Martinez was away, though not against great competition. Still, it looked fantastic. Not so much Saturday in a 34-23 loss to Minnesota, a defeat that will likely rev up the talk of whether Bo Pelini should remain as the head man in Lincoln. That's perhaps a little extreme, but there's no doubting the Huskers looked poor against Minnesota. The defense was practically non-existent as the Gophers piled up 430 yards of offense, including 271 on the ground. And while Ameer Abdullah had another stellar afternoon, carrying the ball 19 times for 165 yards, Martinez was nowhere as effective as replacement Tommy Armstrong, throwing for 139 yards, a touchdown and an interception and mustering just 16 yards on eight carries. Quarterback controversy in Lincoln is doubtful, as Martinez has proven himself over what seems like a decade under center for the Huskers. But with back-to-back matchups against Michigan and Michigan State starting Nov. 9, the upcoming game against Northwestern might be the final opportunity for Pelini to right the ship.

10. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 9)

It's about time a picture of Northwestern's offense starts getting placed on Chicagoland milk cartons. Perhaps that was necessary sooner than now, but the unit that racked up so many points and so many big plays for the Wildcats through the season's first five games has been nonexistent in the last three weeks. First came that touchdown-less blowout loss at Wisconsin, then last week's embarrassing defeat vs. Minnesota, and now it's a 17-10 overtime loss at Iowa. Kain Colter's return did add a little to the lifeless attack, though it didn't make the offense any more effective, as it still found the end zone just once. The Northwestern rushing attack showed flashes of its former self, with Colter and running backs Stephen Buckley and Mike Trumpy gaining 210 yards on the ground. But whenever obvious passing situations arose, Colter was immediately swarmed by the Iowa pass rush and couldn't make a play. Sometimes it was his fault, a lot of times it was the offensive line's fault. Regardless, the Wildcats never looked as hapless as they did in the overtime period, with Colter getting twice dropped for a loss and a bad third-down drop all but ending things. The purple haze continues, and the Cats are now 0-4 and could legitimately be fighting for their bowl eligibility down the stretch.

[LAST WEEK: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 8]

11. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 11)

That silver lining of some offensive success in that blowout loss to Wisconsin was short lived for the Illini, as the No. 1 Michigan State defense performed just as expected, allowing Illinois to do nothing in a 42-3 whitewashing. It could've been a different game if the Illini had taken advantage of numerous opportunities in the first half, but they made too many of their own mistakes to capitalize on the Spartans' errors. The game's first drive was a beauty by the Illinois offense, but a Nathan Scheelhaase touchdown pass was negated and the Illini had to settle for a field goal — their only points of the day. Michigan State was committing a ton of penalties early, and Connor Cook fumbled in the end zone, turning the ball over. Still no points for Illinois. When a Michigan State drive ended in a touchdown pass that was twice tipped by Illinois defenders right before halftime, it — even though it only put the Spartans up, 14-3 — signaled the end. Bill Cubit's offense was getting nothing done, posting 128 yards of offense and just 25 rushing yards. That's not good.

12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)

Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, there is no light at the end of the tunnel this season. Darrell Hazell is building for the future, no doubt, but his inaugural campaign in West Lafayette is not going well and doesn't look to improve soon. The upcoming week brings a matchup with Ohio State, which could see the Buckeyes pour on even more points than the 63 they scored Saturday against Penn State. Iowa, Penn State, Illinois and Indiana finish up the Purdue schedule, and if this was a team competing for a Big Ten championship, that'd be a nice lineup of teams. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, it looks like an absolute gauntlet.