1. Ohio State, 10-0 (6-0 Big Ten). No. 5 AP Poll/Ineligible for Coaches and BCS Polls. Last Week: W 52-22 over Illinois. Next: Bye. The Buckeyes get a breather before taking on two teams with new quarterbacks in Wisconsin and Michigan to finish out the season. Nebraska fans are sure to be chanting O-H! I-O! on November 24th if Michigan makes it through the next two games unscathed.
2. Nebraska, 7-2 (4-1). No. 18/No. 16/No. 16. Last Week: W 28-24 over Michigan State. Next: vs. Penn State, 2:30 p.m. Quarterback Taylor Martinez became the all-time leader for career total offense at Nebraska despite a rough day passing. Martinez had runs of 35, 59 and 71 on his way to 205 rushing yards and two touchdowns. RB Ameer Abdullah ran 22 times for 110 yards as he recorded his third straight 100-yard game. It should be noted that the Spartan defense had been allowing an average of 91.2 rushing yards per game. Nebraska’s defense leads the nation in passing percentage, allowing opposing QBs a 46.04% average completion rate. The Cornhuskers are in for another game against a tough defense as they host Penn State. There are whispers of Rex Burkhead returning for this game. Nebraska could sure use him, even if he doesn’t start.
3. Michigan, 6-3 (4-1). Last Week: W 35-13 over Minnesota. Next: vs. Northwestern, 11 a.m. Generally speaking, a team usually doesn’t lose its starting senior QB, start a wide receiver in his place and see an improvement in the passing game. Devin Gardner did it. The quarterback who converted to wide receiver converted back to quarterback after Russell Bellomy’s terrible performance against Nebraska the week before. Gardner went 12-for-18 passing with two TDs and an INT against a decent Minnesota defense. Even if Denard Robinson is unable to go, Michigan still has a great defense and will find ways to stick around in games. Michigan needs to keep winning for a chance to back into the Legends division lead.
4. Penn State, 6-3 (4-1). Last Week: W 34-9 over Purdue. Next: at Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. Pocket quarterback Matt McGloin has been throwing for a lot of yards and not a lot of interceptions this season. Yet McGloin only has a 62.1 percent completion rate. Penn State has a good defense, but seems to have some trouble against talented runners. And the Nittany Lions travel to Lincoln. All these things play to Nebraska’s strengths, right? Except that Penn State has been brilliant on the road and plays extremely well late in games. Nebraska has been a late-bloomer, as well. This one could be a really interesting shootout, but Nebraska’s run game has the chance to really take this one by the horns.
5. Northwestern, 7-2 (3-2). Unranked/No. 21/No. 24. Last Week: Bye. Next: at Michigan, 11 a.m. The two best teams the Wildcats have played both rallied in the fourth quarter to win. Now Northwestern takes on the top two defenses in the Big Ten back to back. A Wildcat win against Michigan would give Nebraska a little insurance in the Legends race. The next two weeks are put up or shut up time for a team that needs to prove it’s as good as its record indicates and not just the benefactor of bad football. Northwestern needs to win out and two Nebraska losses to win the Legends.
6. Wisconsin, 6-3 (3-2). Last Week: Bye. Next: at Indiana, 11 a.m. Something you probably won’t hear again for a long time: The winner of Wisconsin-Indiana is in the driver’s seat to win the Leaders division. Wisconsin doesn’t have an easy road to travel. Indiana is a rising star on offense, followed by Ohio State and at Penn State. That road is made even more treacherous by the Badgers losing quarterback Joel Stave to a collarbone injury. Wisconsin has two options that have been weighed during the bye week. Junior transfer Danny O’Brien and fifth-year senior Curt Phillips. O’Brien earned the starting job in fall camp only to lose it to Stave after he stunk up the field. He didn’t exactly show improvement after Stave was injured, either. Phillips has had three separate ACL surgeries on his right leg and hasn’t played much since 2009. Bucky’s buddies might be in trouble if the Hoosiers can turn this one into a shootout.
7. Michigan State, 5-5 (2-4). Last Week: L 28-24 to Nebraska. Next: Bye. Husker haters and Spartan players have come out of the woodwork saying that the refs jobbed MSU. Look at the photo this week and judge for yourself. Penalties were dead even at nine apiece with questionable calls against both sides throughout the game. The Huskers made Le’Veon Bell look like a Heisman finalist for most of the game, but clamped down hard on him at the end when the Spartans needed to run out the clock. Bell finished with 36 carries for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell was 9-for-27 passing with one score. Avoidable mistakes cost the Spartans when all was said and done. MSU has a week off before playing in two winnable games against Northwestern and at Minnesota in an attempt to become bowl eligible.
8. Indiana, 4-5 (2-3). Last Week: W 24-21 over Iowa. Next: vs. Wisconsin, 11 a.m. QB Cameron Coffman went 21-for-33 passing for 315 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Hoosiers’ postseason hopes alive. Indiana’s defense needs to step up and make an inexperienced Wisconsin QB pay for his mistakes while stopping the Badgers’ stable of running backs. Indiana will move the ball, but can they stop it?
9. Minnesota, 5-4 (1-4). Last Week: L 35-13 to Michigan. Next: at Illinois, 2:30 p.m. The Golden Gophers had a golden opportunity slip through their fingers as Michigan’s defense tightened up as the game went on. Minnesota seems to be planning for the future, playing true freshman Philip Nelson at quarterback while senior MarQueis Gray saw time at receiver. Nelson seems to be coming into his own. While not as mobile as Gray, Nelson runs around a bit like a mini Tim Tebow or Collin Klein when he scrambles, more like a fullback than a QB. Minnesota can avoid a losing record against a very beatable Illinois this week.
10. Iowa, 4-5 (2-3). Last Week: L 24-21 to Indiana. Next: vs. Purdue, 11 a.m. The Hawkeyes struggled again without Mark Weisman. Kevonte Martin-Manley had 7 receptions for 131 yards and a score. Iowa has a difficult path to bowl eligibility with a trip to the Big House and a visit from Nebraska after this week. Time for coach Kirk Ferentz to show why they pay him so much money in Iowa City.
11. Purdue, 3-6 (0-5). Last Week: L 34-9 to Penn State. Next: at Iowa, 11 a.m. Preseason aspirations now seem like delusions of grandeur as loss to Penn State has the Boilermakers mathematically eliminated from the Big Ten Championship game. Even if Wisconsin loses out the Badgers hold the tiebreaker. Purdue needs to win the next two games to avoid being the worst team in the conference. Rumors are flying that coach Danny Hope may be fired at the end of the year. Hope as a 19-27 (10-19) record with one winning season (7-6), one bowl and no winning seasons in-conference over four years. Somewhere Ron Zook is saying, “What gives, man? I did better than that!”
12. Illinois, 2-7 (0-5). Last Week: L 52-22 to Ohio State. Next: vs. Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. Speaking of bad Illinois teams, coach Tim Beckman doesn’t even have his team competing in conference play. The Illini have given up 32 sacks this season. It’s amazing that Nathan Scheelhaase hasn’t been killed. The plan is to have Scheelhaase use his feet more on rollouts and such. He’s good, but it’s hard to run while carrying the entire team on your back.
By Steve Siedlik