Big Ten Football Power Ranking: Michigan and Illinois Lasso the Lead in Week 2

JA AllenSenior Writer IOctober 14, 2011

Big Ten Football Power Ranking: Michigan and Illinois Lasso the Lead in Week 2

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    There were some mighty exciting games during Week 2 of the Big Ten season. 

    Nebraska stormed back to defeat Ohio State after being down by 21 points early in the second half. It was a bitter disappointment for the Buckeyes but saved the Cornhuskers from Big Ten oblivion.

    Penn State escaped Iowa in a “down in the trenches” slug fest—an ugly game but a beautiful ending for residents of Happy Valley. Losing to the Hawkeyes had become an annual thorn in the collective Nittany Lion paw. Nothing felt better for Penn State fans than ridding themselves of that irritation.

    Illinois upended Indiana after a slow start while Northwestern looked good in the first half against Michigan but fell hard in the end.

    Meanwhile Purdue stormed out to an early lead 24-0 lead over the Gophers in the first quarter—ending up ahead 31-3 at the half. Minnesota made it respectable, closing out the game 45-17.  But it was still a long afternoon for the Gophers.

    This article focuses on the most recent action and not the polls. Idle teams fall temporarily through no fault of their own. In the end, it all evens out. 

    Here is where the Big Ten teams stand after the second week and prior to Big Ten action in Week 3.

12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (Legends, 1-5, 0-2)

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    Minnesota is a team struggling with every aspect of its game. The good thing for the Gophers is that the only road they can travel is the one taking them up after this program hit rock bottom in 2010.  

    It will take time for Minnesota to turn things around. Jerry Kill and his coaches will go back to the drawing board and emphasize football fundamentals like blocking and tackling, simplifying the offense and beefing up the Gopher defense. 

    With a bye this coming week, Kill will use the time to prepare to host the Nebraska Cornhuskers on October 22 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Gophers will follow that game by hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes on October 29.  

    Even at home, the future does not look good.

11. Indiana Hoosiers (Leaders 1-4, 0-1)

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    The Indiana Hoosiers shot out to an early lead against Illinois but, the Hoosiers could not sustain their effort and fell for the third time in a row in the 2011 season. 

    After starting quarterback Edward Wright-Baker went out two weeks ago with an ankle injury, Dusty Kiel took over the helm but also suffered an ankle injury. Eventually Kiel was replaced by true freshman Tre Roberson. 

    Indiana opened the game by running the initial kick-off back for a 99-yard score. Indiana led 7-0.  During Illinois’ second possession, the Illini fumbled, leading to another score, a 44-yard field goal. The Hoosiers led 10-0.  

    After that, Illinois snapped to life and although the Hoosiers tried—they failed.  Illinois won big 41-20.

    This week the Hoosiers must travel to Madison to face the Badgers in Camp Randall.  That will not be a fun road trip. 

    In fact, there is nothing winnable on Indiana’s schedule until the end of the season when the Hoosier’s welcome Purdue into Bloomington.  

10. Northwestern Wildcats (Legends, 2-3, 0-2)

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    For a while it looked very good for Northwestern as they hosted the Michigan Wolverines last Saturday.

    Dan Persa was back in the pocket and the Cats were moving the ball, scoring easily in the beginning.

    It helped that Denard Robinson threw three interceptions in the first half, allowing Northwestern to take advantage

    But in the second half, Robinson came back, as Michigan scored on its first three possessions in the second half—erasing their 10-point deficit and surging ahead. 

    Northwestern did not score in the second half.

    Next Saturday Northwestern journeys to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes who were snuffed out in Happy Valley 13-3 by Penn State the previous weekend. The Wildcats have enjoyed huge success over Iowa of late. 

    But it could be a challenge for the Cats this year because Iowa will be smarting over their loss against Penn State. Also the Hawkeyes will recall their loss to Northwestern last year which started a loosing skid, ruining Iowa’s chances to stay in contention for the Big Ten Conference championship.

9. Ohio State Buckeyes (Leaders, 3-3, 0-2)

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    It was the biggest collapse in Ohio State history as the Buckeyes came out firing, reminding viewers that this team has power and potential. The Buckeyes took the early lead and seemed to erase memories of their offensive impotency in their previous game against Michigan State. 

    Under the leadership of freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, Ohio State scored and held a 27-6 lead.

    After Miller injured his right ankle, going out in the third quarter, the Buckeye offense self-imploded. At the same time, the Huskers wore out the Ohio State defense and began to gain some ground.

    The Cornhuskers took charge in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 points and winning the game 34-27 to save their season.

    This week the Buckeyes must travel to Champaign for a “Leader” Division game against the Illini. This game should either be the final nail in the Buckeye coffin or the beginning of a return to normalcy for the Ohio State faithful—a new lease on the future.

    Their odds should improve a bit because it looks like Miller will be cleared to play against Illinois.  

8. Purdue Boilermakers (Leaders, 3-2, 1-0)

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    Last Saturday, the Boilermakers hosted the Minnesota Gophers in West Lafayette, shooting out to a 30-3 lead at half-time. In fact the Boilers scored 24 points in the first quarter alone. 

    There were too many mistakes and turnovers to keep the Gophers in the game. The Boilermakers rolled up 372 yards of offense, including 22 first downs, six touchdowns and one field goal.

    It was a good win for Purdue who is seeking to improve its standing in the Big Ten. 

    But there is little comparison between the Nittany Lions and the Minnesota Gophers. While Penn State has problems scoring, their defense has picked up the offensive slack, providing turnovers and scores after miscues.

    Many predict that sometime this fall, the Boilers will upset a ranked team. Will this be the start of something big for Purdue? 

7. Iowa Hawkeyes (Legends, 3-2, 0-1)

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    Last week's loss against Penn State was painful for the Hawkeyes but perhaps a good lesson for the high flying offense.

    Without a balanced attack clicking, the Hawkeyes were pressed into mistakes. Penn State suffocated them with a brutal defensive effort. 

    To date, Iowa has lost one game in the Big Ten—but they cannot afford to lose two in a row.

    This week’s contest, of course, is against the Northwestern Wildcats who have proven to be a perennial thorn for Iowa. The Wildcats seem to find a way to win over the Hawkeyes—at least, in the past few years. 

    As fellow “Legend” opponents, neither team can afford a loss on Saturday. This is a must win for the Hawkeyes at home.

6. (14) Nebraska Cornhuskers (Legends, 5-1, 1-1)

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    What started out to be a disaster in the making last Saturday night, turned around abruptly in the fourth quarter as the Cornhuskers were able to overcome a 21-point deficit to turn back the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

    As the game began, Ohio State resembled the great team we were used to seeing on the gridiron.

    Under the direction of quarterback Braxton Miller the Buckeyes led 27-6 before Nebraska fought their way back into contention.

    But Miller got hurt and had to leave the game in the third quarter and as the Buckeye offense sputtered without him, Nebraska began to move the ball on the ground against a tired Ohio State defense.

    It was a huge win for the Huskers and, perhaps, an affirmation for beleaguered Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez. 

    This is a bye week for Nebraska, giving them an extra week to regroup before they head off to Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Gophers.

5. (23) Michigan State Spartans (Legends 4-1, 1-0)

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    Idle last week, the Michigan State Spartans have had an extra week to prepare for their instate rivals, the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines.

    This is a pivotal game for both programs. Each has a chance to take the early lead in the race to win the first “Leaders” Divisional championship. 

    Last year, of course, the Spartans defeated Michigan in Ann Arbor 3-17. This year, however, Michigan is much stronger—but the game is being held in East Lansing.

    No game is more important to the Spartan faithful than the one against the often superior team from Ann Arbor. 

    While Michigan State has the toughest defense, they will be tested by the offensive weapons Denard Robinson and company can throw at them.

    By the same token, the Michigan defense has also been a significant factor in 2011.

    The knock against the Spartans has been their inability to score—something they must overcome if they are going to win the “Legends” championship. 

4. Penn State Nittany Lions (Leaders, 5-1, 2-0)

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    The Penn State offense did just enough to secure a win over Iowa on Saturday. 

    The Hawkeyes, who had won eight of their last nine contests, could not get past a suffocating Penn State defense last Saturday.

    The Lion defense, which caused turnovers and miscues, was totally responsible for this victory on Saturday.

    Penn State seemingly has solved their quarterback issue with Matt McGloin coming in late again to force the offense forward. Rob Bolden, however, continues to be the starting quarterback. Paterno must have a reason for continuing in this fashion.

    This week the Lions welcome the Purdue Boilermakers who are coming off a big win over the Minnesota Gophers. Life on the road is never easy in the Big Ten but Purdue will be looking for a big upset.  

    This is not a game the Nittany Lions will be overlooking.  

3. (4) Wisconsin Badgers (Leaders, 5-0, 1-0)

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    The Wisconsin Badgers were idle last week and therefore did not get an opportunity to keep pace with the rest of their division in the Big Ten race.

    While still the highest ranked team in the Big Ten and still the undisputed leaders at the moment, being idle this week bumps them back a bit because the power rankings look at last week’s action plus their overall record at the moment.

    This week the Badgers play host to the Indiana Hoosiers who must journey to Madison to play inside Camp Randall.

    In their last game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers the Badgers looked unbeatable. So far, Wisconsin appears to have no equals in the Big Ten.

    That may change, however, as the season progresses. 

    For Wisconsin, the worst of their season is yet to come as they must travel to Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois.

    Still they only have four Big Ten road games for the entire season and that bodes well for the Badgers.

2. (16) Illinois Illini (Leaders, 6-0, 2-0)

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    The Illini remain undefeated so far in 2011. Last week Illinois traveled to Bloomington where they defeated Indiana 41-20.

    The Illini, however, did not begin their campaign well, falling behind by ten points early as the Hoosiers made the most of Illinois miscues.

    Behind quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, however, the Illini got back on track and began to roll up the score. It was their first road win of the season and nerves were obvious early in the contest. 

    This week the Illini welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes into Champaign for a “Leaders” Division contest. Illinois, of course, has every opportunity to be in mix as the "Leaders" champion is crowned next month.

    Playing the Buckeyes at home will give the Illini an advantage—plus the obvious downturn of Buckeye fortunes in 2011.  

1. (11) Michigan Wolverines (Legends, 6-0, 2-0)

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    Michigan looked to be in trouble as they faced Northwestern in Evanston last Saturday.

    With Dan Persa back in the pocket, leading the Wildcat offense, it looked like the Wolverines might stumble for the first time in the 2011 season. 

    It did not help that Denard Robinson tossed up three early interceptions; but, eventually, the Michigan quarterback settled into the offense, regaining the rhythm and poise that makes him a winner.

    Eventually, Michigan took control but Northwestern did not go away easily in their defeat 42-24 even as the Wolverine defense kept them scoreless in the second half. 

    This week, Michigan must travel to East Lansing to face the Michigan State Spartans. This is a key game for both squads who remain undefeated in Big Ten action.

    By the time the dust settles on Saturday, the winner of this game will have a huge leg up on the “Legends” Division championship. 

    The loser can look forward to one of those “almost great” seasons.