The three best teams in the league are the same. Despite disparate results last weekend it is difficult to argue with order staying the same, too. After that, it gets more interesting:
1. Penn State (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten)–Yeah, they totally whiffed in the fourth quarter against Iowa, but they remain no. 1 because they beat their closest competition on the road at night. Clark looked shockingly bad versus the Hawkeyes, throwing an interception at the moment when the Lions were about to put the game away. All of that makes you question whether he was fully recovered from the pounding he took against Ohio State. It is pretty clear they are not national title caliber, but they are the best the league can offer.
Final Games: v. Indiana, v. MSU
Predicted Losses & Record: none/11-1 (7-1)
Projected Bowl: Rose Bowl
2. Ohio State (8-2, 5-1)–I hesitate to say the Ohio State offense has finally figured it out, but Wells and Pryor each played great games together for the first time. The defense should get more credit than I give them. The Wildcats were one-dimensional because of the lack of a running back and Laurinaitis totally dominated Mike Kafka and NU. Last week, I thought the Illini would upend the Buckeyes but the stout Ohio State defense playing against Illinois’ haphazard offense is looking like a mismatch more each week.
If they win out, the sizable Buckeyes’ fan base and television ratings makes it likely that they will end up an at-large selection of a BCS Bowl (most likely the Sugar or Fiesta).
Final Games: @ Illinois, v. Michigan
Predicted Losses & Record: none/10-2 (6-1)
Projected Bowl: BCS Bowl TBD
3. Michigan State (9-2, 6-1)–Every time I think they are ready to remain improved, they play horribly. I know they beat Purdue, but Brian Hoyer and the passing attack still look poor. Hoyer played his worst game of the year and the offense turned it over four times. Ick. They will not come within 17 points of (any version) of the Nittany Lions in two weeks if they play like that. Javon Ringer will have to run for 200 yards for the Spartans to have a chance. Still, I just do not see PSU letting Joe Paterno go out on a losing note. So, the Spartans go from a bowl with a parade to one where 90% of its viewers are eating cereal at kickoff.
Final Game: @ Penn State
Predicted Losses & Record: Penn State/9-3 (6-2)
Projected Bowl: Capital One Bowl
4. Iowa (6-4, 3-3)–Do you realize that Iowa has lost four games by a total of 12 points? Two of those teams are currently ranked and tied for their conference lead (MSU and Pittsburgh). A few different bounces and we could have been talking about Iowa and the Rose Bowl. I can just as easily seen Iowa win or lose both its final two games. My guess is that they split, losing a letdown game against a reeling Boilermakers squad.
Final Games: v. Purdue, @ Minnesota
Predicted Losses & Record: Purdue/ 7-5 (4-4)
Projected Bowl: Breakfast Bowl
5. Northwestern (7-3, 3-3)–I only dropped these guys one spot after being pantsed by the Buckeyes, but that has more to do with the inconsistencies of the conference than my belief in Northwestern. The truth is this team has been totally depleted by injuries but they may still end up representing the Big Ten in the Alamo Bowl, which is typically reserved for the league’s fourth best team, against the likes of Oklahoma State. Ugh. The conference’s only hope is that the layoff prior to the bowls allows the Wildcats to find a running game.
Final Games: @ Michigan, v. Illinois
Predicted Losses & Record: v. Illinois/ 8-4 (4-4)
Projected Bowl: Alamo
6. Wisconsin (5-5, 2-5)–Dustin Sherer has not been amazing, but the Badgers seem to be better off with him taking the snaps. If it were not for a total meltdown versus Michigan State, the Badgers would have an opportunity to finish with a .500 record in league and a 5-game winning streak. You are probably wondering why they are ranked ahead of the Gophers with two fewer wins, but I think they are the better team at this point and will prove it this weekend against a Minnesota defense that cannot stop the run. The Badgers need to beat Minny to become bowl eligible because Cal Poly is I-AA.
Final Games: v. Minnesota, v. Cal Poly
Predicted Losses & Record: none/ 7-5 (3-5)
Projected Bowl: Champs
7. Minnesota (7-3, 3-3)–The wheels have really come off for the Gophers. Minnesota's offense is totally listless and has barely reached the endzone in the last two games. Now, Decker is with an ankle injury and the Gophers get surging (relatively speaking) and Iowa in its final two games. It was fun while it lasted.
Final Games: @ Wisconsin, v. Iowa
Predicted Losses & Record: @ Wisconsin, v. Iowa/7-5 (3-5)
Projected Bowl: Insight
8. Illinois (5-5, 3-3)–Illinois always seems to play Ohio State tough, but their win last November in Columbus might be their worst enemy. They are capable of pulling an upset this weekend but the Buckeyes are generally very good in revenge games. With Northwestern to finish the season, there is a real chance that Illinois misses bowl season entirely. If they are bowl eligible they will go to Detroit thanks largely to Ohio State’s at-large bid.
Final Games: v. Ohio State, @ NW
Predicted Losses & Record: Ohio State/ 6-6 (4-4)
Projected Bowl: Motor City
9. Michigan (3-7, 2-4)–It is splitting hairs putting Michigan ahead of Purdue (who defeated Michigan 48-42), but the defensive effort last weekend earns them this spot. Their offense was waaay better than I would have predicted with Nick Sheridan under center. He wasn’t spectacular, but he kept things moving, he didn’t make any major mistakes, and he ran the ball when needed. Perhaps the most intriguing element of the win over Minnesota was the play of Justin Feagin. If you saw any of him you have to believe he will be their starting quarterback next season.
Final 3 Games: v. NW, @ OSU
Predicted Losses & Record: NW, OSU/ 3-9 (2-6)
Projected Bowl: None
10. Purdue (3-7, 1-5)–This is not exactly how Joe Tiller envisioned his final season, but he has been doomed by his offense, especially his quarterbacks. Kory Sheets does what he can but that is hardly enough for a team that has no passing threat. Despite the horrible year, I think they snag Iowa and then win the pillow fight of the year versus Indiana.
Final Games: @ Iowa, v. Indiana
Predicted Losses & Record: none/ 5-7 (3-5)
Projected Bowl: none
11. Indiana (3-7, 1-5)–This season cannot end soon enough in Bloomington. The Kellen Lewis injury ruined the offense and the Hoosiers are now playing a fourth-string quarterback. It is not going to get any better in the final two games.
Final Games: @ PSU, @ Purdue
Predicted Losses & Record: PSU, Purdue/ 3-9 (1-7)
Projected Bowl: none