After five weeks, the Big Ten title race is starting to take shape and the games that will decide the 2009 champion are beginning to become more and more clear.
Ohio State and Penn State, the preseason favorites, are both still in the hunt (though the Nittany Lions chances now hinge on the performance of others.)
The darkhorse Iowa Hawkeyes have already taken down one preseason favorite en route to a 5-0 record and the surprising 5-0 Wisconsin Badgers will try to take down the other this week.
Then there are the wildcard Wolverines. With one Big Ten loss already on their resume, Michigan will be fighting to keep their title hopes alive in Iowa City this week.
The fact that this ranking has had four different number one teams in as many weeks speaks volumes about how competitive it is at the top of the conference right now. And many of those top teams are facing each other in the next few weeks.
Notable matchups in Big Ten play this week include 5-0 Wisconsin trying to stay alive against the suffocating Buckeyes in Columbus, Michigan hoping to bounce back after a close loss at No. 12 Iowa, and Indiana representing the conference against ACC foe Virginia.
Which team will be eliminated from the title race this week?
The B/R Big Ten Players of the Week:
Offensive Player of the Week: RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Defensive Player of the Week: DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Special Teams Player of the Week: K Jeremy Boone, Penn State
On to the rankings...
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (4) 74 points
BF: Despite being 4-for-12 on third down conversions against Indiana, Ohio State is definitely the team to beat in the Big Ten.
TC: The Buckeyes took care of business on the road, setting up a monster showdown with undefeated Wisconsin. With Dan Herron banged up, Brandon Saine performed well with a 100-yard game on the ground.
JA: As we suspected Ohio State was too much for the Indiana Hoosiers to handle. The Buckeyes scored early and led 10-0 at the midpoint of the first quarter. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State’s quarterback, threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another—he seemed unstoppable.
KG: The Buckeyes, picked by some as primed for the upset against the Hoosiers, showed why they are still the team to beat in the Big Ten with another dominating performance. Terrelle Pryor spread the ball around to eight different receivers.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes (3) 72 points
RJ: The Hawkeyes didn't look great in their win over Arkansas St. this weekend, but if they take Michigan down next week then the Hawkeyes should be the clear favorite for the Big Ten.
TC: The Hawkeyes are this year's candidate for "plays to the level of their competition each week." The good news for Iowa fans is their team's still unbeaten...the bad news is the closest games have come against Northern Iowa and Arkansas State.
KT: The Hawkeyes will once again get to prove their legitimacy to the nation with a win over Michigan.
KG: The Hawkeyes defense is as solid as it gets. The defensive front is excellent, linebacker play has been outstanding, and the secondary has been solid.
But offensively, there are more signs of trouble than there are flashes of greatness. Ricky Stanzi is erratic and turns the ball over too much, the wide receivers are talented, but inconsistent, and the running game has been solid but not outstanding.
3. Wisconsin Badgers 63 points
JK: They have a W on their helmet and got a W on the field versus rival Minnesota to go along with it. Closer than Wisconsin would have liked, but it's a rivalry so they get the benefit of the doubt.
TC: After playing their first four games at home, Wisconsin showed their 4-0 start was no fluke by disposing of the Gophers in Minneapolis. John Clay has responded to his preseason benching by posting some big numbers. He'll have to step it up even more for Bielema's crew to win in Columbus.
RJ: At the beginning of the season nobody could've expected the Wisconsin-Ohio State game could play a pivotal role in deciding the Big Ten. Now it looks like it will. If the Badgers win, the Big Ten should look out.
KG: The steady Badgers started the season without much hype and have quietly built their record to 5-0. Badger quarterback Scott Tolzien has taken a backseat to Pryor, Clark, and Forcier. But Tolzien has been nearly flawless in leading the Big Ten's best offense. The Wisconsin defense has been steady, but not spectacular.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions 57 points
BF: Penn State got over its loss to Iowa. In fact, their offensive line learned a lot from their loss and came out with a dominating performance. Penn State put up 513 yards of offense, with 338 of those on the ground. Impressive.
TC: Lions can be declared state champions of Illinois in a few days after defeating the Illini and (most likely) Eastern Illinois this coming weekend. Penn State looked good in Champaign, but who hasn't looked good playing the Orange and Blue?
RJ: The Nittany Lions bounced back nicely and shouldn't be challenged again until they visit Ann Arbor later this month.
KG: The Penn State offensive line finally showed up for a game and tailbacks Evan Royster and Stephfon Green can thank them for the 100 yard games each had. But let's not forget this was accomplished against an Illini defense that had allowed 84 points and 1,158 total yards in its previous three outings.
5. Michigan Wolverines 47 points
BF: Michigan fans are real quick to defend the loss to Michigan State. But the loss did show a few weak spots in the Michigan offense that the Wolverines will need to work on before facing a defense like Iowa’s.
TC: Down 20-6 with less than five minutes to play, the Wolverines shouldn't have made it to overtime. But Tate Forcier is a big-time quarterback. Michigan needs to be more consistent moving the ball if they have championship hopes in 2009. They can't wait until crunch time every week.
JK: Looked bad and couldn't find their rhythm vs. rival MSU. Considering the team's youth, they played rather well, especially in the fourth quarter when freshman QB Tate Forcier led yet another remarkable comeback that fell just short in OT.
KG: Tate Forcier has more than proven worthy of any praise that comes his way. His performance in the last five minutes against the rival Spartans last weekend was awe inspiring. It's too bad that his final pass was the interception that sealed. Wolverine fans should be concerned about this Wolverine defense.
T6. Michigan State Spartans 38 points
JA: After their overtime victory over in-state rival Michigan, the Spartans may move forward with some renewed confidence. This week they travel to Illinois to meet a team that has been rocked to its foundation.
Michigan State played the Wolverines tough and persisted, refusing to give up the victory to Big Blue, as is their custom. They need to carry that motivation forward for their remaining games and finish strong in the Big 10, as preseason hype predicted.
KT: The Spartans are still 2-3, but got back on the right track with a win over in-state rival Michigan.
TC: The Spartans got a win they desperately needed after trying exceptionally hard in the last five minutes of regulation to give it away. MSU could get back on the road to a bowl game and even their record at .500 with a win in Champaign this Saturday.
KG: The Spartans turned in their best performance of the season for 55 minutes on Saturday. But, the game is 60 minutes.
The Spartans may have gotten just a little too confident during those last five minutes, and Tate Forcier made them pay. Winning the toss in overtime was the lucky break the Spartans needed because it kept an exhausted Forcier on the field.
T6. Minnesota Golden Gophers 38 points
TC: The Gophers haven't quit in any of their games, their new home-field advantage is a big asset, and they may have the best player in the conference in Eric Decker. That's about all.
KT: A loss to Wisconsin isn't bad, but it shows the Gophers aren't the great team they thought they were.
JK: Played tough vs. rival Wisconsin but fell short at home. Adam Weber needs to be more consistent at QB if this team expects to win during Big 10 play. A 53 percent completion rate isn't going to cut it.
KG: The Gophers are good enough to beat the lower half of the conference, but not good enough to beat the upper half. Bad news for a Minnesota team that must travel to Happy Valley and Columbus in consecutive weeks and must travel to Iowa City to close the season.
The Halloween showdown with the Spartans could decide whether the Gophers go bowling this season.
8. Northwestern Wildcats 29 points
TC: After getting down 21-3 in the first half to one of the conference's worst teams, the Wildcats don't have a ton to smile about this week. Well, except a win. Somebody had to be on the receiving end for the half dozen Purdue turnovers, and Pat Fitzgerald will take it.
BF: The come from behind win was impressive, but it was a come from behind win against a 1-3 Purdue. The Wildcats are better than their record states, but I am not impressed.
KT: The Wildcats should have lost to Purdue and they haven't shown any reason to be taken seriously in the Big Ten.
KG: The Wildcats got enough help from the Boilermakers that they should have won the game going away. As it was, it took every one of Purdue's six turnovers and a couple of gutsy plays by Mike Kafka for the 'Cats to get the win.
Pat Fitzgerald's defense stepped up big after a poor first quarter.
9. Indiana Hoosiers 22 points
BF: They ended the Ohio State D’s shutout streak. But 18 yards rushing? Really?
JA: There was not much the Indiana Hoosiers could have done against the Ohio State Buckeyes, but they certainly would have improved their lot had they held onto the ball and not turned it over three times.
Those kinds of mistakes are nails in the coffin against a powerful team like the Buckeyes.
Indiana travels this week to Virginia to take on the Cavaliers. It is a game they definitely have a chance to win if they do not shoot themselves in the foot.
TC: Hoosiers have come back down to earth with losses to Michigan and Ohio State. Then again, most of the league usually loses to Michigan and Ohio State. If IU can rebound and right the ship, they've got a shot at a rare (for Hoosiers, anyway) bowl game.
KG: After dropping games to Michigan and Ohio State the Hoosiers could pack it in. but, something tells me that isn't what this Hoosier squad will do.
Bill Lynch has his team playing hard and other than a run in with the Buckeye defense, his team has steadily improved from week to week.
The next test will come this weekend when the Hoosiers go on the road to face ACC foe Virginia.
10. Purdue Boilermakers 13 points
TC: Danny Hope's team has overachieved enough to be in every game so far this year. Then again, the Boilermakers have self-destructed enough to lose most of them.
Ball security was laughable against Northwestern in a 27-21 defeat, and the new special teams coordinator won't be worth his money until the punt returners learn how to catch.
KT: The Boilermakers could be in the top five in the Big Ten if they just learned how to close games. Instead they're 1-4.
JA: The hapless Boilermakers continue to stir up misery for themselves. This week they led early in their contest with Northwestern then let the Cats off the hook by self-destructing.
They have yet to put together all the ingredients of their game and come up with a whole product that allows them to win.
KG: The Boilermakers came within a field goal of beating Oregon and Notre Dame. But, the Boilers got punched in the mouth by a Northern Illinois team that led the entire way, and turned the ball over six times to a Northwestern team that trailed 21-3 after the first quarter.
The schedule only gets more difficult with road games against Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and rival Indiana still remaining.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini 8 points
JA: Illinois has yet to cause anything really good happen on the football field. Their defense has proven AWOL and their offense has failed to jell. They need a win in the conference to establish some positive momentum.
Otherwise we will see the end of the Illini chances to go bowling and more than likely the end of Ron Zook as their coach.
BF: This team has played some tough teams, but they haven’t really been in the game for any of their loses. Michigan State won’t be an easy game for them this week, either.
TC: If there's any good news for Ron Zook and his anemic offensive team, it's that the new quarterback can't be much worse. The runaway candidate for "2009 Disappointing Team of the Year" is spiraling the wrong direction.
KG: Will Eddie McGee be the difference? The offense did show some improvement last week against a pretty solid Penn State defense. But Ron Zook has to find a spark on offense, and changing signal callers may be what ignites this group.
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