Heading into Week 9 there are four fairly equal teams topping the Big Ten Conference: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa.
Wisconsin has already passed its biggest tests, getting by Ohio State and Iowa, while losing to Michigan State.
The Badgers only conceivable pitfall could come at Michigan if they forget to play to their full potential.
Michigan State has defeated Wisconsin and faces Iowa this weekend in their last big test. If they win against the Hawkeyes, the rest of their season seems secure.
With a win on Saturday, it is likely Michigan State would capture the Big Ten Conference title outright–– especially since the Spartans do not play Ohio State this season.
Iowa must win this Saturday to remain in the hunt for the Big Ten title. They have already lost to Wisconsin and cannot afford a loss against Michigan State or later to Ohio State on November 20 .
Both these big-stake games for Iowa will be played at home in Kinnick Stadium.
Ohio State lost to Wisconsin and now must win out including against Iowa on the road on November 20. Formerly ranked No. 1 in the BCS, Ohio State suffered the fate of all teams who have so far been ranked No. 1.
1. Michigan State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten):
Michigan State has ridden the wave so far to stay ahead of the rest of the teams in Big Ten Conference.
The Spartans began their campaign by daring to beat Notre Dame causing their coach to have a heart-attack.
Next as underdogs they beat back Wisconsin in Week 5, and followed that up by hanging on to beat Michigan in Week 6.
They have survived week by week to retain their undefeated status––they need one more big win to retain the inside track to the Big Ten title.
The Spartans will play Iowa on the road in Iowa City this Saturday for all the marbles.
2. Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten):
Wisconsin stole one away in Iowa City 31-30 as time ran out on the hapless Hawkeyes.
During the Badger’s final drive Iowa remained powerless to stop Wisconsin as well as the clock on the Hawkeye’s last ditch effort to score.
Wisconsin with one loss to Michigan State will be praying that the Hawkeyes can derail the Spartans who will have the inside track to the Big Ten title if the Spartans win the contest in Iowa City.
Wisconsin has already taken care of business and only needs to have the other three self-destruct.
3. Ohio State (7-1, 3-1, Big Ten):
The Buckeyes took it out on the depleted forces of the Purdue Boilermakers to the tune of 49-0 in Columbus.
It was not as if anybody expected Purdue to rise to the occasion after losing their starting quarterback, tailback and wide receiver.
Every week seems to bring more injuries, further eroding the Purdue roster of healthy players.
Even so, the contest was important to the Buckeyes after losing to Wisconsin the previous week.
The Badgers needed to stabilize their forces, right the ship and get ready to go after the Big Ten Championship.
Ohio State faces Minnesota on Saturday but the next real hurdle appears to be awaiting them in Iowa City.
4. Iowa (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten):
The loss to Arizona on the road during Week 3 was a huge disappointment to the Iowa faithful; but last week’s loss to Wisconsin was a real blow to the hopes many held for this team.
The Hawkeyes seemed to offer so much promise coming into the season.
Unlike last year, Iowa set out immediately to contain their errors, especially giveaways.
The high-flying Hawkeyes appeared ready for a real run.
While the Arizona loss was by a touchdown and the loss to Wisconsin by a missed PAT, they were still losses in the record book.
Iowa cannot afford another defeat, close or otherwise, another coaching lapse or another special teams snafu.
They face Michigan State at home this Saturday in a crucial Big Ten contest.
5. Michigan (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten):
Michigan suffered back to back losses to Michigan State and Iowa.
This dropped the Wolverines out of the rankings and the “undefeated” category which had propelled QB Denard Robinson temporarily up the ladder of potential Heisman hopefuls.
Now grounded again in reality, Michigan is located in the middle tier of the Big Ten Conference football programs.
They have a very good chance of doing well enough to go to a bowl, perhaps even ending up in a prestigious bowl with a few big wins down the stretch.
All they must do is win one more game to become bowl eligible.
One more would mean a win over Penn State on the road, or Illinois at home, or Purdue on the road, or Wisconsin at home or Ohio State on the road. Prestige would mean three more wins.
This weekend the Wolverines head into Happy Valley to face Penn State.
This is definitely not a gimme game for the Wolverines.
6. Illinois (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten):
Illinois who started the pre-season power rankings as the bottom-ranked team, has been the surprise of the Big Ten season.
Illinois continues to improve as the season progresses behind the leadership of freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and a retooled defense.
The Fighting Illini defeated Penn State in Happy Valley in Week 6, establishing the upward momentum of this team.
Illinois, too, has a great chance to end their season well, and become bowl eligible.
In the process Illinois will continue to refine their offense for the 2011 season.
7. Northwestern (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten):
Give the ball to Dan Persa and pray seems to be the recent offensive strategy of the Northwestern Wildcats.
Their loss to Purdue 20-17 at home in Week 6 was the dip that lost Northwestern their undefeated status.
The Cats followed that up by losing to Michigan State.
Northwestern appeared to have momentum against the Spartans but could not capitalize with the end zone within their grasp.
The Cats will be on the road traveling to Indiana this weekend.
In order to win, Northwestern needs to right the ship by protecting Persa and donning a proper defense when push comes to shove.
8. Penn State (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten):
The grumbles continue to build as Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions find new holes in their offense and their defense.
The Lions loss to Illinois at home was the real crusher so far this season.
Now it looks as though the health of their freshman quarterback Rob Bolden is in doubt.
He suffered what appeared to be a concussion in last week’s game against Minnesota.
This week’s game against the Michigan Wolverines is the real line in the sand for the Penn State team, which still has games against Ohio State and Michigan State awaiting them.
Winning this game at home might salvage the rest of the season for Penn State.
9. Purdue (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten):
The Boilermakers got a severe lashing at the hands of the humiliated Buckeyes last weekend.
Ohio State had witnessed the ruin of their perfect season during a loss to Wisconsin the previous week which cost the Buckeyes their No. 1 BCS ranking.
Despite losing their starting quarterback, their No. 1 wide receiver and tailback, Purdue was doing fairly well heading into their contest in the Horseshoe.
They left Columbus after a 49-0 beat-down with the most recent Purdue QB also suffering a potential injury to the index finger on his right hand.
This week Purdue travels to Illinois for the Fighting Illini's homecoming weekend.
10. Indiana (4-3, 0-3 Big Ten):
Indiana needs to stop the bleeding now.
They turned the ball over 5 times and allowed two blocked punts on special teams during their game last week against Illinois.
This team which seemed to have a chance at success early on in the season is self-destructing as Hoosier fans watch on.
Indiana will play host to Northwestern in Bloomington on Saturday for homecoming weekend.
The Hoosiers need to win this contest at home to turn around the recent losing streak and salvage their fading season.
11. Minnesota (1-7, 0-4 Big Ten):
At this point all you can say about the Gophers is that they have nothing to lose.
To brighten up the outlook, this week they welcome in the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The University has hired a consultant to help them look for a replacement for Head Coach Tim Brewster, now fired by Minnesota.
The best thing for the Gophers is to work on fundamentals, as they begin to try to forge ahead, looking at 2011.