Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 2

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 2
September 8, 2013, 12:30 pm
Vinnie Duber

It was a pretty good week for the Big Ten.

Though the highlight was Michigan's big win in the Big House over Notre Dame, plenty of other teams from around the conference impressed. Wisconsin staged another shutout, Northwestern piled on the points, and the Fighting Illini are 2-0. Let's take a look at how the Big Ten teams stack up.

1. Michigan Wolverines (Last week: 3)

Michigan vaults to the top of the Big Ten heap following its very impressive 41-30 win over Notre Dame, certainly the strongest opponent a Big Ten team has faced and likely the strongest one will face in the remainder of the non-conference schedule. But Devin Gardner and Michigan were so good Saturday, they made sure the Fighting Irish didn't look that strong. Ol' No. 98 — potentially Gardner's new nickname and one of several Brent Musberger highlights from the ESPN broadcast Saturday — looked absolutely incredible, throwing for 294 yards and four touchdowns and leading the Wolverines on the ground with 82 yards and another touchdown. Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon had a huge day, too, catching eight passes for 184 yards and three TDs. Michigan poured on the points and showed off impressive drive after impressive drive against what supposedly was a strong Notre Dame defense. There were plenty of Big Ten victories Saturday, but none were as big as Michigan's, and it'll be hard to dethrone the Wolverines before conference play begins.

2. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 1)

Nothing against the Badgers, who for the second week in a row had the most dominating performance in the conference, but they beat Tennessee Tech and Michigan beat Notre Dame. It's as simple as that. That's not to take anything away from Wisconsin, which won its game against an FCS opponent, 48-0, topping their 45-0 shutout of UMass in Week 1. For the second straight week, three — yes, three — Badger running backs went over 100 yards each. This week, James White ran for 109 yards and a touchdown, Melvin Gordon went for 140 yards and a touchdown and third-stringer Corey Clement led the way with 149 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to the rushing onslaught, quarterback Joel Stave bounced back rom a mediocre Week 1 to complete 24 of 29 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns. It was another incredible performance by the Badgers, who will finally get a test when they play on the road at Arizona State next week.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes (LW: 2)

After a dominant-but-not-dominant-enough win to open their season vs. Buffalo last week, the Buckeyes tried to acquire some style points Saturday with a 42-7 win over San Diego State. While last week's win cost them a spot in the AP poll (as did this week's, as they fell down to No. 4), this week's win could cost them something much greater: quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller sprained his MCL early in Ohio State's win and did not return. Back-up Kenny Guiton played well in Miller's absence, but the extended loss of a Hesiman-candidate quarterback would be crushing for the Buckeyes' hopes of a second straight undefeated season. The loss of a player as dynamic as Miller — who coach Urban Meyer said had evolved into a bigger leadership role during the offseason — could even demote the Buckeyes from their spot of Big Ten conference championship favorites. Keep an incredibly close eye on Miller's prognosis.

[MORE: Quarterbacks lead the way as Northwestern pounds Syracuse]

4. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 5)

While the Wildcats were still missing a key player in injured running back Venric Mark, they did see the return of quarterback Kain Colter on Saturday, and the combination of Colter and second quarterback Trevor Siemian staged an offensive explosion in Northwestern's 48-27 win over Syracuse. Pat Fitzgerald's dual-QB system worked to perfection Saturday, with Colter and Siemian combining to complete 30 of 37 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns. Colter also rushed for a team-high 87 yards and a touchdown. While Colter provided a dual-threat attack — including his awesome, highlight-reel stretch to secure his rushing TD after getting stood up at the goal line — Siemian came in for the air raid, with six of his 15 completions and two of his touchdown passes going for more than 15 yards. Northwestern has now taken down opponents from the Pac-12 and ACC and scored a total of 92 points in its first two games. The Cats are firmly establishing themselves as one of the conference's teams to beat.

5. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 4)

No disrespect to the Lions, who beat up on Eastern Michigan for a big 45-7 win, but they squeaked by Syracuse in a low-scoring Week 1 contest, while Northwestern dropped 48 points on the Orange in Week 2. That's the difference here. Saturday, Penn State looked great, with a pair of 100-yard rushers in Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton and a big day from freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. While he's still not a polished product yet — Hackenberg had a ball fly out of the back of his hand that ended up as a fumble returned for a touchdown — the Penn State quarterback had an overall great game, completing 23 of 33 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown. There was still one pesky interception, but if the Lions' young QB can play like this when conference play rolls around, Penn State will be just fine.

6. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 10)

There might be no team in the conference turning as many heads as the Illini. Yes, it's been just two games, but the Illinois offense under new coordinator Bill Cubit is seemingly unstoppable. It was perfectly reasonable to believe that the huge numbers put up in the season-opener vs. Southern Illinois were inflated by the FCS-level competition, but the Illini did it again in Week 2 against Cincinnati, a legitimate opponent and one that beat Purdue, 42-7, in its Week 1 matchup. Illinois routed the Bearcats, 45-17, Saturday with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase again putting up those video-game numbers. He was 26-of-37 for 312 yards and four touchdowns. He hasn't thrown an interception in the first two weeks, and his receivers are reaping the benefits, with five different Illini pass-catchers going over 30 yards. And, unlike in the opener, the Illinois defense looked equally impressive Saturday, limiting Cincinnati to just 17 points. Through two weeks, the Illini have definitely put the "wow" in "Oskee-Wow-Wow."

[RELATED: Illini offense revs to life for second week]

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 6)

The Huskers answered their critics after Week 1 by dominating on defense in Week 2 against Southern Miss. Nebraska's D scored two first-quarter touchdowns, both via the interception return, and they held the Golden Eagles to just 13 points in the team's 56-13 blowout win. In fact the Nebraska defense intercepted four passes Saturday and limited their opponent to just 284 offensive yards. Throw in quarterback Taylor Martinez's three touchdown passes and Ameer Abdullah's two touchdown runs, and everything would seem to be right in Lincoln. The level of competition still causes some concern — for the entire Big Ten, not just for Nebraska — as Southern Miss' Saturday defeat was its 14th straight loss. But those concerns should be alleviated, one way or the other, come next week when the Huskers host UCLA.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 8)

An injury to the Gophers' top running back, Donnell Kirkwood, didn't slow down the Minnesota running game one iota Saturday on the road against New Mexico State. The Gophers ran for 342 yards, including 148 yards from Rodrick Williams Jr. and 122 more from quarterback Philip Nelson. The 44-21 win in the desert allowed for a bit of revenge for Jerry Kill's team after the Gophers fell to the Aggies at home back in 2011. But while wins against UNLV and New Mexico State might not put the Gophers at the top of any polls, this Minnesota team is 2-0, the exact way that Kill wanted this season to start. The remaining non-conference slate features Western Illinois and San Jose State coming to the Twin Cities, so a perfect 4-0 beginning is hardly out of the question.

9. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 9)

If you're a fan of offense, there's no way you would have sat through Michigan State's 21-6 win over South Florida on Saturday. The Spartans continue to experience an offensive disaster, as Mark Dantonio again trotted out three quarterbacks in Week 2, none of which impressed at all. Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor combined for just 12 completions and 94 yards, and the starter of the season-opener, Maxwell, didn't see any playing time until the second half. The running game was also mediocre, and all this against a USF team that gave up more than 50 points to FCS opponent McNeese State in Week 1. Thankfully for the Spartans, they again got a pair of defensive touchdowns, both from Shilique Calhoun, who now has three touchdowns on the season. The Michigan State offense has two.

[LAST WEEK: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 1]

10. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 11)

Jake Rudock and Iowa need to watch these fourth quarters. In Week 1, Rudock's interception with a minute and a half left in the game set up a game-winning field goal for Northern Illinois. Saturday, Iowa had a comfortable 21-0 lead over Missouri State heading to the fourth before the visiting Bears scored two touchdowns — including one on a return of a Rudock interception — in the fourth's opening minute, making it a one-score game. Iowa got down the field and scored again, eventually winning 28-14, but Rudock now has one touchdown compared to three interceptions in the season's first two weeks. Thankfully, the Hawkeyes got a huge performance from running back Mark Weisman, who ran for 180 yards and two touchdowns, really bringing some punch to that Iowa offense.

11. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 7)

We all marveled at Indiana's offense dropping 73 points on Indiana State in its season-opening win. We also had concerns over the Hoosiers' defense allowing 35 points to an FCS team. Well, it turns out those concerns were warranted. The Indiana D was beat up by Navy on Saturday, with the Midshipmen tallying 41 points on 515 total yards in their 41-35 win in Bloomington. Even though quarterback Nate Sudfeld had another huge day with 363 yards and four touchdowns — and in doing so has clearly separated himself from his fellow Hoosier QBs — the defense failed the explosive Indiana offense this time.

12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)

The Darrell Hazell Era at Purdue is hardly off to a rip-roaring start. After getting obliterated in Week 1 on the road vs. Cincinnati, Hazell did manage to pick up his first win Saturday, as the Boilermakers topped FCS foe Indiana State, 20-14. But Purdue didn't look much better than they did against Cincinnati. After a trick-play reverse on the opening kickoff that led to the first Purdue touchdown, the Boilermakers were outscored, 14-13, and quarterback Rob Henry completed just 15 passes for 150 yards and no scores. Even with the win, Purdue was out-gained 295-284. Things won't get easier, either, as the Boilermakers host Notre Dame next week.