Big Ten Power Rankings: How Far Do the Iowa Hawkeyes and Illinois Illini Rise?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst ISeptember 18, 2011

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 14:  Quarterback James Vandenberg #16 of the Iowa Hawkeyes gets ready to pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Iowa had one of the best comebacks in its history in coming back from a fourth quarter 27-10 deficit against Pittsburgh.  James Vandenberg may have emerged to the elite level of Big Ten quarterbacks with his three touchdown fourth quarter performance in Iowa’s 31-27 victory.

Illinois' 17-14 win over No. 22 Arizona State wasn’t as dramatic, but their defensive performance was attention grabbing especially given their six sacks, constant pressure and turnovers.   Illinois may be ready to seriously contend for a BCS bowl bid.

Below, the Big Ten Power Rankings heading into the last week in September:


Leaders Division

No. 6 Indiana (1-2)—The Hoosiers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter and were never seriously challenged in defeating South Carolina State 38-21.  Sophomore quarterback Edwin Wright-Baker had a monster day passing for 443 yards and two touchdowns; Wright-Baker also had 60 rushing yards.  Next up—Indiana should be able to extend its winning streak one more week as they travel to North Texas (0-3).

No. 5 Purdue (2-1)—The Boilermakers pummeled Southeast Missouri State 59-0 in a contest that resembled a spring practice game.  Purdue had 626 yards of total offense and had 393 yards on the ground.  The Boilermakers defense was also impressive as they held the Redhawks to only 153 yards of total offense and nine first downs.  Notre Dame in two weeks may present a more difficult challenge.  Next up—Purdue has a bye week.

Scheelhaase and Illinois could be ready to take the next step
Scheelhaase and Illinois could be ready to take the next stepDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

No. 4 Penn State (2-1)—The Nittany Lions survived the upset bid of the Temple Owls winning 14-10 at Lincoln Financial.  Penn State trailed the Owls for the entire game and only took the lead against Temple at the 2:42 mark in the fourth quarter.  Matt McGloin struggled passing for only 124 yards and generating no rushing yards.  Rob Bolden seized his opportunity and led Penn State on the game winning drive.  Next up—Will Bolden get the start against Eastern Michigan (2-1) next week over McGloin?

No. 3  Ohio State (2-1)—The Buckeyes looked overmatched in losing to the Hurricanes 24-6 as they couldn’t generate any consistent offense against the swarming Miami defense.  Ohio State could only muster 209 yards of total offense; the Buckeyes passing game was particularly anemic as they only generated 35 yards of passing offense.  Next up—Buckeyes fans are hoping home cooking will do their team some good when Colorado (1-2) comes to town.

No. 2  Illinois (3-0)—The Illini upset No. 22 Arizona State 17-14 by flexing their defensive muscles.  Illinois sacked Arizona State’s 6'8'' quarterback Brock Osweiler six times, hurried him just as often and created three turnovers in keeping Arizona State's offense off balance.  Nathan Scheelhaase had his moments trying to keep his wits about him but engineered a solid fourth quarter drive in taking advantage of an Arizona State turnover.  Could this be the breakthrough year for Coach Ron Zook in Champaign?  Next up—Western Michigan (2-1) should be a good test to see if Illinois is going to let success go to their head.

No. 1  Wisconsin (3-0)—Wisconsin easily routed Northern Illinois 49-7 at Soldier Field.  The Badgers are clearly the best team in the Big Ten and the question appears to be whether they can run the table.  Wisconsin put up 621 yards of offense and the Huskies had to feel helpless with the number of weapons coming at them.  Russell Wilson threw for 347 yards and accounted for three touchdowns.  The dynamic backfield of Montee Ball, a pair of touchdowns and 91 yards, and James White, 126 yards of total offense and a touchdown, could not be stopped.  Next up—Wisconsin takes on South Dakota (2-1) before the showdown game against Nebraska the following week.


Legends Division

No. 6 Minnesota (1-2)—Head Coach Jerry Kill secured his first win at the helm as Safety Kim Royston broke up a pass thrown into the end zone as time expired preserving the Gophers' 29-23 win over Miami (OH).  Royston, who received a medical redshirt, is leading the Gophers in tackles.  Quarterback MarQueis Gray had a huge game rushing for 171 yards, passing for 163 yards and throwing for one touchdown.  Next up—North Dakota State (2-0), the Gophers will be in for another hard fought game.

No. 5 Northwestern (2-1)—Northwestern lost 21-14 to Army because they couldn’t take advantage of the porous Black Knight secondary and had no answers for Army’s one dimensional run offense.  Army threw the ball seven times and amassed only six yards by the forward pass.  Unfortunately for Northwestern, the Black Knights was devastating on the ground as they rambled for 381 yards.  The return of quarterback Dan Persa in two weeks against Illinois will be a welcome site for the Wildcat faithful.   Next up—Wildcats have a bye next week.

No. 4 Michigan State (2-1)—The Spartans were their own worst enemy in losing 31-13 to Notre Dame in South Bend.   After taking advantage of a Notre Dame turnover to cut the lead to 7-3, Michigan State allowed the Irish to return the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.  The Spartans committed 12 turnovers which ended too many drives and allowed the Irish too many opportunities. Quarterback Kirk Cousins ensured there would be no miracle comeback against the Irish this week when he threw an interception at the Notre Dame three yard line in the fourth quarter.  Next up—Central Michigan (1-2), Spartans should get back on track against the Chippewas.

Russell Wilson could be Big Ten Player of the Year
Russell Wilson could be Big Ten Player of the YearJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No. 3 Iowa (2-1)—This may be the break through game for Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg.  Iowa trailed Pittsburgh 27-10 early in the fourth quarter and it is an understatement to say that the prospect for an Iowa comeback was bleak.  Vandenberg was not deterred by the dire situation as he went on to throw three touchdowns; the last touchdown pass was a deft toss over the outstretched hand of the defender.   Iowa’s defense had a key fourth quarter interception to preserve the 31-27 victory but in giving up 422 yards they allowed the Panthers too many opportunities.  Next up—Louisiana-Monroe (1-2), Iowa’s defense should get a chance to fix what is not working.

No. 2 Michigan (3-0) – Denard did it by air against Notre Dame last week, this week he decided to inflict his damage against Eastern Michigan on the ground as he ran for 198 yards.  Michigan started sluggish against the Eagles but finished strong winning 31-3.  Robinson wasn’t the only one having fun running the ball as the Eagles rushed for 206 yards against the Wolverines.  Stopping the run will likely be on the chalkboard this week at practice as Michigan allowed the Irish to rush for 198 yards the previous week.  Next up—San Diego State (3-0), Michigan better not overlook the Aztecs as the Aztecs had few problems with Washington State last week.

No. 1 Nebraska (3-0)—The Cornhuskers won 51-38 over Washington but the score is not indicative of how well Nebraska played in the first three quarters or how poorly Big Red played in the last quarter.  Nebraska had 309 rushing yards and 464 yards of total offense; Nebraska led Washington 44-17 with only 12:18 left in the game.   Big Red however took their foot off of the gas and the Huskies took advantage by scoring three touchdowns.  Next up—Nebraska travels to Laramie to take on Wyoming (3-0), a possible trap game for the Cornhuskers who might be looking ahead to matchup against Wisconsin.