A look at the final Big Ten power rankings of the regular
1: Ohio State (12-0, 8-0; Last Week - 1): The 26-21 victory over arch-rival Michigan was ugly at times, with only six points being scored in the entire second half (all by the Buckeyes). But like many games this season, OSU made big plays when available and grinded out tough yards when necessary.
This was not exactly a banner season for the Big Ten, but for a team battling the stigma of NCAA sanctions, depth issues and the steep learning curve associated with Urban Meyer's offense, this was a perfect year in Columbus.
2: Nebraska (10-1, 7-1; Last Week - 2): The mighty Husker offense struggled in Iowa City, barely squeaking out a 13-7 win over an Iowa side that hasn't demonstrated much fight in recent weeks. But a win is a win, especially when it vaults you to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Nebraska's current six-game win streak hasn't always been pretty, but a Blackshirt defense that underachieved early in the season has found an identity, and the return of senior I-Back Rex Burkhead, who scored the game winning touchdown against the Hawkeyes, should provide yet another weapon for a powerful NU ground attack.
3: Michigan (8-4, 6-2; Last Week - 3): If star quarterback Denard Robinson doesn't get hurt in Lincoln, Michigan is most likely the Legends Division representative in Indianapolis. And if U-M's coaching staff consistently and effectively utilized Robinson alongside quarterback Devin Gardner in the backfield at the same time in Columbus, the disposition may be vastly different in Ann Arbor.
The defense kept the Wolverines in the game, and its progression throughout the season provides hope for the future, but lingering deficiencies along the offensive line need to be remedied as the Maize and Blue prepare for a bowl tilt against a top-10 SEC squad.
4: Northwestern (9-3, 5-3; Last Week - 6): It's been a cruel, yet wonderful, season for Northwestern. At 9-3 - the program's second nine-win regular season since 1995 - Pat Fitzgerald's inexperienced squad surpassed expectations, yet still squandered double-digit halftime leads in each of its three losses. The thought of what could have been will haunt NU faithful for months to come.
Still, the Wildcats can look forward to a New Year's Day bowl against a high-profile SEC team, and with versatile quarterback Kain Colter and explosive running back Venric Mark at its disposal, Northwestern has the opportunity end a nine-game bowl losing streak, the longest in FBS history.
5: Penn State (8-4, 6-2; Last Week - 4): The Nittany Lions capped the season by outlasting Wisconsin 24-21 in overtime in what essentially amounted to their bowl game on an emotional Senior Day at Beaver Stadium. Who would have that, amidst all of the turmoil permeating Happy Valley during the offseason, and following a 0-2 start, Penn State would finish the season by winning eight of its final 10 games.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Matt McGloin was brilliant throughout the year, topping all Big Ten passers with 3,271 yards and 24 touchdown, and sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson led the conference with 77 receptions, 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns.
6: Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4; Last Week - 5): Despite being the only the third best team in its division, the Badgers will be clawing for the Big Ten title Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.
Wisconsin's inability to thrive in winning time, as illustrated by three overtime losses this year, shaky quarterback play and inconsistent defense are all points of concern heading into the postseason, but Bret Bielema's squad still possesses the most prolific touchdown scorer in NCAA history in running back Montee Ball.
7: Michigan State (6-6, 3-5; Last Week - 8): : Defense and a solid ground attack wins championships, at least most of the time. Running back Le'Veon Bell , the Big Ten's top rusher (1,648 yards) has amassed three 200-yard outings this season and the Spartans employ undoubtedly the top defense in the conference, yet MSU was fighting for its postseason lives against Minnesota last week.
The Spartans prevailed 26-10 behind Bell's career-best 266-yard performance, and now find themselves projected to make an appearance in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (yes that's a real thing). Michigan State, a preseason Legends Division favorite by many, lost its five conference games by a total of 13 points.
8: Purdue (6-6. 3-5; Last Week - 9) The Boilermakers barely snuck into the postseason party with three straight wins to close the season, but it was ultimately an 0-5 start in Big Ten play that doomed head coach Danny Hope, who was fired Sunday.
With multiple potential NFL talents on defense, Purdue greatly underachieved in 2012, and it wasn't until Hope made the move to start senior Robert Marve under center that PU's offense started to click. Marve and senior running back Akeem Shavers have been outstanding over the current three-game tear, raising questions as to why Marve wasn't inserted into the starting line up earlier.
9: Minnesota (6-6, 2-6; Last Week - 7): Minnesota already had a bowl berth locked up heading into last weekend's matchup against Michigan State, and played like it. The Gophers were absolutely dominated in the trenches on both sides of the ball, rushing for only four yards and yielding a career-high 266 yards to MSU running back Le'Veon Bell.
The quarterback position has been a question mark all season, and freshman Philip Nelson has not proven to be the answer, yet, after throwing five interceptions in his last two games. The Gophers have made strides in 2012, but need a bowl victory to regain momentum after a lackluster regular-season finish.
10: Iowa (4-8, 2-6; Last Week - 11): The Hawkeyes displayed a semblance of pride on Senior Day, at least until the second half. The defense fought with vigor against an explosive Nebraska offense, and Iowa even carried a 7-3 lead into halftime. But, to the chagrin of those in Iowa City, offensive coordinator Greg Davis's outdated offense struck again and UI was stifled, and shutout, in the second half.
The Hawkeyes underachieved both offensively and defensively throughout the season, and with the Legends Division continuing to improve, it will undoubtedly be a long offseason for the Iowa coaching staff.
11: Indiana (4-8, 2-6; Last Week - 10): Indiana sits atop the conference in passing yards (311.2 yards per game), but has struggled in every other aspect of the game. The Hoosiers rank dead last in the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, and 10th in pass defense.
The 56-35 loss to Purdue was a microcosm of IU's season. A powerful offense, led by sophomore Cameron Coffman's 348 yard through the air, kept the Hoosiers in the game up until the fourth quarter before the Boilermakers exploded for 21 points in under five minutes to crush Kevin Wilson's team.
12: Illinois (2-10, 0-8; Last Week - 12): At least they scored? Illinois cemented itself as the worst team in the Big Ten weeks ago, and the only thing surprising about the 50-14 loss to Northwestern is that Tim Beckman's squad didn't lose by more. Since Sept. 22, the Illini have kept only one game within seven points, and have lost by an average score 37-13.
The Illini won't have a chance to break their 14-game conference losing streak until the meet with Nebraska in Lincoln Oct. 5, 2013, and by that time 727 days will have passed since their last conference triumph.
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