Big Ten Power Rankings: Hawks, Nits, and Bucks Push For the Title

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer IOctober 29, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 24:  Daryll Clark #17 of the Penn State Nittany Lions points out blocks during a fourth quarter run while playing the Michigan Wolverines on October 24, 2009 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Penn State won the game 35-10. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Hawkeyes got a touchdown with no time remaining to go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Nittany Lions, led by another brilliant performance from quarterback Darryl Clark, put the Wolverines in their their place.

The Buckeyes rebounded from rock bottom with a stellar performance from embattled quarterback Terrelle Pryor and emerging star receiver DeVier Posey and still control their own destiny in the title hunt.

Barring some pretty spectacular upsets, the Big Ten race is down to three.

Who gets to Pasadena?


The B/R Big Ten Players of the Week:

Offensive Player of the Week: QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State

Defensive Player of the Week: DE Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State

Special Teams Player of the Week: K Stefan Demos, Northwestern

The 2009 roundtable members are J.A. Allen , Tim Cary , Bret Feddern , Kristofer Green , Ryan Jelley , Jordan Krumrey , and Kevin Trahan

On to the rankings...


1. Iowa Hawkeyes (5) 55 points

The undefeated Hawkeyes look more and more like the conference's last national champion (the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes), finding ways to win close nail-biters, especially on the road.  Iowa didn't even take a lead until the fourth quarter at Michigan State, but they were ahead when the clock showed 0:00, and that's all that matters.  Great execution on the final drive, and obviously, the final play.

KT: The Hawkeyes keep finding ways to win and Ricky Stanzi's clutch performance in the closing 90 seconds in East Lansing helped prove Iowa to be a National Championship contender.

Just when you thought a gutsy hook-and-lateral call by Mark Dantonio might ruin Iowa's perfect season the Hawkeyes, led by steady quarterback Ricky Stanzi, marched 70 yards down the field and capped the drive with a scoring pass to Marvin McNutt with no time remaining. 

The Hawkeyes have lost leading rusher Adam Robinson for the season and now Kirk Ferentz must use upcoming games against Indiana and Northwestern to figure out a new running back rotation before traveling to Columbus for what could be a de facto Big Ten Championship game.


2. Penn State Nittany Lions 50 points

Daryll Clark and his wide receivers are starting to turn up the heat on Big Ten defenses. Clark threw for four touchdowns against Michigan, proving he is on a mission.

TC: JoePa's team erased more than a decade of frustration at the Big House, thumping Michigan by 25 points on the road in a game that really wasn't that close.  Iowa is the only team to come within 17 of the Nittany Lions all year, and Penn State's stellar defense has yielded a TOTAL of 13 points in the last three contests.  Hard to lose when your D holds the other team to 4.3 ppg, right?

KG: Penn State fans have to be excited about next week's showdown in Happy Valley with Ohio State, but JoePa's team must not look ahead to next week when the Lions travel to Evanston to take on a scrappy, upset minded Northwestern squad. The Nits seem to be peaking at the right time and quarterback Darryl Clark should be in the Heisman conversation after several brilliant performances since the loss to Iowa.


3. Ohio State Buckeyes 45 points

Ohio State made the Gophers pay 38-7 as Terrelle Pryor found the end zone twice with touchdown passes and once on foot. Minnesota’s turnovers aided the Buckeye cause adding 28 points to Ohio State’s coffers. Next weekend the Buckeyes host New Mexico State. They will need to concentrate hard on winning that contest and not worry about traveling to Happy Valley to face Penn State on November 7.

TC: The Bucks continue to control their own destiny for a fifth straight Big Ten championship, but they'll have to find some consistency if they want to knock off the league's best two teams back-to-back Saturdays in November.  And no, Terrelle Pryor should not move to receiver.  Next topic, please.

KG: The angst that hung around Buckeye Nation after another pitiful half of offensive football was quickly forgotten when Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes finally got it going against the Gophers in the second half. Pryor accounted for 343 yards of offense and three touchdowns in the win putting Buckeye fans at ease for the time being and the emergence of fullback-tailback hybrid Jermil Martin was a pleasant surprise. Martin gained 75 yards on only seven carries, including an impressive and bruising 39-yard touchdown run that reminded some old school fans of the great Keith Byars.


4. Wisconsin Badgers 39 points

The Badgers grab the four spot by default after an off week and are still fighting for a January Bowl.

TC: Coming off their bye week, the 5-2 Badgers appear to be on track for a nice holiday destination.  The remainder of the schedule is full of winnable games (Purdue, at Indiana, Michigan, at Northwestern, and at Hawaii), and realistically, the only question left for Wisconsin is if they'll be 6-6, 10-2, or somewhere in between.

KG: The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Badgers. After back-to-back losses to conference leaders Ohio State and Iowa, Bret Bielema's squad must regroup at home against a surging Boilermaker squad.


5. Michigan State Spartans 35 points

TC: The Spartans were one play away from a season-defining win, which would have been their fourth straight victory.  Now Mark Dantonio's team finds itself sitting squarely at .500 and really needing to bounce back and play well in Minneapolis.  Time to find out how if the 2009 edition of Michigan State is more mentally tough than the 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, and...well, you get the idea.

BF: I lost a lot of respect for Michigan State fans after this one. I don’t mind that they disagreed with the helmet to helmet call, but was there really a need to boo the downed player when he got up and was walked off the field? It’s sad, because Michigan State played a great game against Iowa.

KG: Turning a three game losing streak into a three game winning streak was not an easy feat for the Spartans, but recovering from such a disappointing loss to the Hawkeyes may be even more difficult. The Spartans used a suffocating defense to thwart the Hawkeyes for almost the entire game, but when it came down to one play for the game, the Spartans couldn't stand up.


6. Northwestern Wildcats 27 points

The Northwestern Defense shut down the Indiana offense, allowing Northwestern to get back into the game. With a last second field goal, the Wildcats pulled off the victory in a dramatic fashion. This will provide some much needed momentum before Penn State comes to town.

TC: The Wildcats couldn't have played much worse than they did against Indiana in the first 23 minutes of their Homecoming game, as they fell behind 28-3.  On the flip side, they probably couldn't play much better than they did in the last 37 minutes, when they used 26 unanswered points to shock the Hoosiers, 29-28. 

My only complaint about Northwestern right now is the unofficial "Cardiac Cats" moniker; there has to be a better way to describe the exciting brand of football in Evanston so soon after the tragic loss of Randy Walker.

KG: The Wildcats have played their best when it seems that all hope is lost. Down 25 points midway through the second quarter to a streaky Indiana squad, the 'Cats rallied with 26 unanswered points for the win. Since Pat Fitzgerald called the Wildcats' inability to finish games "shocking" and called the defensive play "awful" the team has responded. But, a brutal final stretch that includes home games against Penn State and Wisconsin and a tough road game at Iowa will be difficult to manage.


7. Michigan Wolverines 24 points

There were a lot of good vibes around the Wolverines' football program after a 4-0 start.  Those are long gone, thanks to three straight losses to FBS programs.  Rich Rodriguez's team got beaten soundly at home this weekend, and faces a dangerous trap game at Illinois next.  Time to stop the bleeding...or else.

JA: When Michigan took the field against Penn State last Saturday, they marched down the field 70 yards and scored. After that, Penn State got very stingy and did not allow the Wolverines any more points except for a field goal late in the first half. The Penn State defense shut them down completely in the second half and the Michigan defense could not contain the Penn State offense.

Remarkably, Penn State had not won in Ann Arbor in 13 years until last Saturday. 

Michigan plays at Illinois next weekend and should win that contest. But left on their schedule is a trip to Wisconsin and a visit by Ohio State for the last game of the season on November 21.

Football fortunes turn tortuous the last two weeks for the Wolverines.

KG: The Wolverines have gone from the "feel good surprise of the conference" to "not ready for prime time" in a matter of weeks. Rich Rodriguez's squad has dropped three of the last four games (the only win was over FCS Delaware State) and the luster has started to fade from Tate Forcier's magical first few games.

Games against Illinois and Purdue should give the Wolverines an opportunity to right the ship before the final two big games, a revenge match-up with the Badgers in Madison and the season closer with archrival Ohio State in the Big House.


8. Purdue Boilermakers 23 points

Not sure which is more surprising, that the Boilermakers have a winning streak going or that they played a turnover-free football game.  Purdue re-dedicated itself to the run with solid results against Illinois, and the Boilers can once again begin to dream of a bowl trip (although they will have to win in Madison or Ann Arbor to have a chance.)

JA: The Purdue Boilermakers followed up their fantastic upset over Ohio State with a win over Illinois. After triumphing big in front of the home town fans, traveling to Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium will be a true test of the fitness of this Purdue team to finish out the season in winning fashion. Against Illinois, quarterback Joey Elliot provided 228 yards of offense, 166 through the air and 62 on the ground. This team is finally beginning to jell.

KG: The Boilermakers will try to assume the persona of Spoilermakers for the rest of the season. Purdue needs three wins to become bowl eligible and a quick look at their schedule reveals how difficult that might be to obtain. Back to back road games in Madison and Ann Arbor, a home date with the Spartans, and yet another road game to rival Indiana make for a daunting slate, but the Spoilermakers do play for Coach Hope, after all.


9. Minnesota Golden Gophers 15 points

The Gophers' defensive backfield had a great day in Columbus Saturday, except for a complete failure to cover receivers.  Okay, I guess that's a bad day.  With Eric Decker leaving in the first quarter due to injury, Minnesota didn't have a chance of outscoring Pryor and company, especially when Buckeye receivers got behind the secondary any time they wanted to.

BF: You can’t win football games without a consistent defense. In the first half, it looked like the Minnesota D was capable of anything. In the second half, they weren’t capable of much.

KG: Adam Weber has been great for the Gophers over the years, but he may not give Tim Brewster the best opportunity to win anymore. When Eric Decker left in the first quarter of the Ohio State game, Weber was visibly flustered and looked lost without his go to guy throughout the second half.

The spark (and the only score) on offense for the Gophers came with MarQueis Gray behind center. With an anemic running game, a shaky offensive line, and mediocre receivers Gray would give the Gophers an offensive weapon they desperately need.


10. Indiana Hoosiers 11 points

Indiana had the game all sewn up against Northwestern and then pulled the wrong thread and let the victory unravel. It must be a bitter pill to swallow for the Hoosiers who led by 25 points and then let the Wildcats up off the floor and back into the contest. It was an excellent opportunity for Indiana to enhance their record in the 2009 season.

Next weekend the Hoosiers must travel to Iowa City to face the 8-0 Iowa Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium. That cannot be a pleasant prospect—although they surprised Iowa last season, they probably won't this year.

TC: There are meltdowns, and then there are what Indiana did in Evanston Saturday afternoon.  After squandering a 28-3 lead, the Hoosiers have dropped four of five (only beating Illinois in that stretch), and may not win another game all season...which begs the question, did a 3-0 start for Bill Lynch actually hurt his 2010 job prospects because the season crumbled so fast?

KG: Bill Lynch should take Jim Tressel's class on coaching that we have been hearing so much about this season.

The several questionable decisions made by Lynch down the stretch were a big reason the Hoosiers squandered a four score lead in Evanston last week. That and the fact that after the midway point in the second quarter the Hoosier offense couldn't move the ball at all. Even when handed three second half interceptions, Indiana sputtered.

Getting to a bowl game now means having to upset Iowa, Penn State, or Wisconsin. Good luck with that Hoosier fans.


11. Illinois Fighting Illini 6 points

TC: Ron Zook has now seen Juice Williams, Eddie McGee, and Jacob Charest at quarterback, after all three completed passes against Purdue.  With the Illini 1-6, is there a fourth-stringer available?

KG: Ron Zook now knows that his job is safe for at least one more season. What else is there to say about a team that has no wins against FBS competition this season? A team that had a plethora of returning offensive talent? A team that has regressed dramatically from a fluke 9-win season and Rose Bowl appearance? I guess, for the Illini Athletic Administration, the only thing to say is keep it up and we'll see you next year.

KT: Another week, another loss; this time to Purdue. If Ron Zook is still in Champaign next year, there is seriously something wrong with Illinois football.