1. Ohio State, 10-0 (6-0 Big Ten). No. 6/Ineligible for Coaches/BCS polls. Last Week: Bye. Next: at Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. Ohio State not only has to defeat Wisconsin and Michigan to round out the season, but the Buckeyes need to do so with style if they want a chance at the AP National Title. Ohio State’s defense probably won’t let Wisconsin get away with throwing the ball only seven times the entire game.
2. Nebraska, 8-2 (5-1). No. 16/No. 14/No. 14. Last Week: W 32-23 over Penn State. Next: vs. Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. Nebraska came back from its fourth double-digit deficit of the season. Running back Ameer Abdullah extended his streak of 100-yard games to four as he carried the ball a career-high 31 times. The Cornhuskers won the turnover battle with a Penn State team that rarely turns the ball over. It would be scary to see what Nebraska could do if the Huskers stopped shooting themselves in the foot. There are slightly louder rumblings about Rex Burkhead’s return this week. Minnesota may seem like a speed bump to the Big Ten Championship, but the Golden Gophers bring a scrappy defense, decent running back and a freshman quarterback who likes to run around a little bit.
3. Wisconsin, 7-3 (4-2). Last Week: W 62-14 over Indiana. Next: vs. Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. The question last week was whether Indiana could slow down Wisconsin’s stable of running backs. That stable was unleashed and a school-record stampede ensued. Montee Ball ran 27 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns, James White ran 14 times for 161 yards and two TDs, and Melvin Gordon added 8 runs for 96 yards and a TD. Ball now stands at second on the NCAA career TD list with 77, one shy of Travis Prentice’s record of 78. Stand-in QB Curt Phillips went a whopping 4-for-7 passing for 41 yards and a TD. The Badgers may have clinched the Leaders crown with the win, but must now run a gauntlet of Ohio State and Penn State that should have them nicely tenderized for the Big Ten Championship game.
4. Michigan, 7-3 (5-1). No. 23/No. 23/No. 21. Last Week: W 38-31, OT over Northwestern. Next: vs. Iowa, 11 a.m. The Wolverines needed a crazy circus catch of a tipped pass by Roy Roundtree to help force overtime and knock Northwestern out of contention for the Legends Division while remaining in that hunt themselves. Michigan better not overlook slumping Iowa before the big finale against Ohio State.
5. Northwestern, 7-3 (3-3). Last Week: L 38-31, OT to Michigan. Next: at Michigan State, 11 a.m. The Wildcats played the game of their lives only to come up short again. Northwestern can prove it belongs in the upper echelon of the Big Ten with a win over the Spartans. A loss, however, would do little to silence critics who say Northwestern lacks a signature win this season.
6. Penn State, 6-4 (4-2). Last Week: L 32-23 to Nebraska. Next: vs. Indiana, 11 a.m. Penn State came out inspired, disciplined and hit Nebraska right in the mouth in the first half. Then the Nittany Lions began to wear out and were outscored 26-3 in the second half. QB Matt McGloin was pressured, sacked thrice, picked off and flagged for a critical intentional grounding penalty in the end zone for a safety. McGloin was not as efficient as advertised as he went 18-for-37 passing for 240 yards and a TD with a 48.6 percent completion rate. RB Zach Zwinak tore off a 50-yard TD run down the middle on his way to 141 tough yards on 21 carries. Indiana literally got ran over by Wisconsin last week so Zwinak might be due for another big day.
7. Michigan State, 5-5 (2-4). Last Week: Bye. Next: vs. Northwestern, 11 a.m. Northwestern gave Michigan all it could handle last week. Michigan State has underachieved this season, second only to Purdue in the Big Ten. The Spartans can silence some critics and get into a decent bowl with a strong finish to the season.
8. Indiana, 4-6 (2-4). Last Week: L 62-14 to Wisconsin. Next: at Penn State, 11 a.m. Indiana’s offense couldn’t get anything going in its most important game of the year. Penn State will most likely knock the Hoosiers out of bowl eligibility this week.
9. Minnesota, 6-4 (2-4). Last Week: W 17-3 over Illinois. Next: at Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. Jerry Kill has coached the Golden Gophers to bowl eligibility on a diet of cupcakes. It will take a miracle for Minnesota’s rushing attack to keep up with Nebraska’s and playing from behind would turn Minnesota away from what it does best: run the ball.
10. Purdue, 4-6 (1-5). Last Week: W 27-24 over Iowa. Next: at Illinois, 2:30 p.m. A win streak against fellow Big Ten cellar dwellers Illinois and Indiana could make Purdue bowl eligible, and maybe save Danny Hope’s job.
11. Iowa, 4-6 (2-4). Last Week: L 27-24 to Purdue. Next: at Michigan, 11 a.m. Kirk Ferentz didn’t seem to have any answers during the press conference after Iowa gave Purdue its first Big Ten win of the season. Bowl eligibility may not be in the cards after facing Michigan and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks.
12. Illinois, 2-8 (0-6). Last Week: L 17-3 to Minnesota. Next: vs. Purdue, 2:30 p.m. Purdue may be Illinois’ last hope of winning a conference game.
By Steve Siedlik