1. Wisconsin (7-2, 3-2) – OK, now that the Badgers have gotten those back-to-back last-minute road losses out of their systems, it’s clear they’re still the most dangerous Big Ten team. While Purdue is far from a true measuring stick, Wisconsin thoroughly dominated on its way to amassing 605 total yards in its 62-17 rout at Camp Randall Stadium. Now, let’s see if they can do it on the road, where they are 0-2 and will spend the next two weeks.
Last week: T-No. 4
Next game: at Minnesota
2. Penn State (8-1, 5-0) – While watching the LSU-Alabama tussle Saturday night, I asked myself this question: If these two powerhouse teams can be so great with good offenses and terrific defenses, why can’t Penn State’s 8-1 start be legit? The Nittany Lions are on a different level than both of those SEC teams, admittedly, but a team that boasts a strong defense and an offense that doesn’t turn the ball over is one that has a recipe for winning.
Last week: No. 4
Next game: vs. Nebraska
3. Nebraska (7-2, 3-2) – Here’s a scenario for you: If someone told you Taylor Martinez would throw for a season-high 289 yards against a struggling Northwestern defense at home, you would have predicted a sure blowout. Right? Of course you would have, but no one could have predicted Northwestern’s soft defense limiting the Huskers to a season-low 122 rushing yards. As Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said, “They outplayed us, they outcoached us.”
Last week: No. 3
Next game: at Penn State
4. Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) – Kirk Cousins bounced back from one of the worst performances of his career (11 of 27, 86 yards, 1 INT at Nebraska) with a 296-yard, two-touchdown day in Michigan State’s comeback win over Minnesota. The senior quarterback even showed some emotion, drawing a rare unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. As well as Cousins recovered from the Nebraska loss, though, there has to be some slight worries about the defense, which allowed at least 24 points for the third consecutive game. The Spartans had allowed just 10.8 points per game before this streak.
Last week: T-No. 4
Next game: at Iowa
5. Michigan (7-2, 3-2) – Michigan’s defense is much improved over the last three units we saw under Rich Rodriguez, there’s no debating it. That said, Saturday’s game against Iowa and Marcus Coker marked the first of four games against solid run teams, which could pose problems for Greg Mattison’s group. Coker ran for 132 yards and a pair of scores Saturday, and now Michigan finishes up against Illinois’ balanced, while struggling, run game, followed by Nebraska and Ohio State’s impressive attacks.
Last week: No. 2
Next game: at Illinois
T-6. Iowa (6-3, 3-2) – In a season dominated by running backs, Marcus Coker, it seems, is going a little unnoticed. Montee Ball, Silas Redd and Rex Burkhead have garnered most of the attention, and perhaps for good reason based on team records. Still, Coker has been a machine the past four weeks, averaging 161.8 rushing yards per game and scoring two touchdowns in all of them.
Last week: No. 7
Next game: vs. Michigan State
T-6. Ohio State (6-3, 3-2) – Just imagine how good the Buckeyes would be if they could throw the ball with any success. During Ohio State’s three-game winning streak, true freshman Braxton Miller has completed a total of 13 passes for 161 yards – an average of 4.3 completions and 53.7 yards per game. Luckily, Miller can run, along with RB Boom Herron, who is playing out of his mind since returning from suspension three games ago, and Ohio State still has a strong defense.
Last week: No. 7
Next game: at Purdue
8. Northwestern (4-5, 2-4) – Kain Colter was great everywhere, Jeremy Ebert was electric in the pass game, however Northwestern has its previously struggling defense to thank for Saturday’s upset at Nebraska. Yes, the Wildcats allowed Taylor Martinez to throw for a season-high 289 yards, but the unit was physical (held Nebraska’s vaunted rush offense to a season-low 122 yards) and 0pportunistic (created two big turnovers). Moral of the story: Northwestern is a good team if its defense shows up.
Last week: No. 8
Next game: vs. Rice
9. Illinois (6-3, 2-3) – By the time the Illini host Michigan on Saturday, more than a month will have passed since their last win, Oct. 8 at Indiana. It’s been a fast fall for the team that started 6-0 and had many people thinking it was a contender in the Leaders Division. They’ll now have to settle for the role of spoiler.
Last week: No. 10
Next game: vs. Michigan
10. Purdue (4-5, 2-3) – The Boilers’ streak of rotating wins and losses every week finally came to an end in Saturday’s 62-17 loss at Wisconsin, the team’s second consecutive defeat. Purdue was manhandled in just about every department in the blowout — the lone exception being the kick game, where freshman Raheem Mostert had five returns for 206 yards.
Last week: No. 9
Next game: vs. Ohio State
11. Minnesota (2-7, 1-4) – Welcome to the 2011 football season, Da’Jon McKnight. After hauling in just one touchdown reception in the first eight games, McKnight, who had 10 scoring grabs last season, exploded for three scores and a career-high 173 receiving yards in Minnesota’s narrow defeat at Michigan State.
Last week: No. 11
Next game: vs. Wisconsin
12. Indiana (1-9, 0-6) – At this point, mired in a seven-game losing streak, all Indiana fans can do is point to true freshman quarterback Tre Roberson and realize the future should be a lot brighter.
Last week: No. 11
Next game: at Michigan State (Nov. 19)