October 9, 2012

Around the Big Ten: Week 7 power rankings

Ohio State and Penn State have been two of the more impressive Big Ten squad's in recent weeks, yet neither are eligible to participate in the conference championship game.

Michigan makes a huge leap following a dominant performance at Purdue, while the Wisconsin-led Leaders Division continues to be the Big Ten's weak link (at least among the league's eligible teams) ...

1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten), Last Week - 1: The Buckeyes just continue to win.

Jump-started by a 28-point second quarter, OSU destroyed a formidable Nebraska squad 63-38 to further cement themselves as the class of the Big Ten.

The strong effort by sophomore signal caller Braxton Miller (313 total yards, two touchdowns) is to be expected in a quarterback-focused Urban Meyer offense, but junior running back Carlos Hyde's 140-yard, four-touchdown performance should provide great concern for conference foes moving forward.

The Buckeyes outscored the Huskers 56-24 over the last three periods, and a stout OSU defense intercepted three passes, one of which was returned 41 yards by sophomore Bradley Roby for a score.

Senior defensive tackle John Simon was also dominant, notching seven tackles, including five tackles for loss and two sacks, and forced two fumbles.

2. Michigan (3-2, 1-0), Last Week - 4: Head coach Brady Hoke has always maintained that U-M's goal every year is to win the Big Ten championship, and the Wolverines looked like a different team in the first game of the conference slate.

The Wolverines shut down Purdue's offense, which was averaging 51.0 point per game at Ross-Aide Stadium, and senior quarterback Denard Robinson (105 passing yards, 235 rushing yards) was efficient and effective - proving that he remains one of the most dangerous players in the nation.

Much is yet to be learned about the competitive Legends Division at this point, but after two weeks of conference play, U-M looks to be the favorite.

3. Penn State (4-2, 2-0), Last Week - 5: This was a team that was written off before the season started, and completely given up on after season-opening losses to Ohio and Virginia.

Yet, in the past four weeks, Bill O'Brien's resilient squad has done something that only Ohio State has replicated in the conference - win every game.

The Nittany Lions are on an absolute tear, averaging 39.0 points per game over their four-game win streak, and scored 22-consecutive fourth quarter points to down Northwestern 39-28.

The PSU defense - led by senior Gerald Hodges, who tallied 11 tackles, including 1.5 for loss and forced a fumble - yielded merely 247 yards to an undefeated NU squad that gained a school-record 704 yards a week ago.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Matt McGloin continued his solid play, completing a school-record 35 passes on 51 attempts (68.6 percent) for 282 yards and two scores.

4. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1), Last Week - 2: Nebraska's deficiencies on defense were fully exploited in an embarrassing 63-38 loss to Ohio State.

Former Buckeye Bo Pelini's happy homecoming was short-lived, and a Husker team that has prided itself on defense yielded six-consecutive touchdown drives, while also giving up touchdowns to OSU's defense and punt return units.

Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who appeared to make massive strides coming into his third season as NU's starter, tossed three interceptions and lost a fumble.

Senior I-Back Rex Burkhead was effective (119 yards), but the Black Shirt defense needs to improve greatly if the Huskers are going to continue to contend in the Legends Division.

5. Michigan State (4-2, 1-1), Last Week - 7: Michigan State was bombarded early, falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter against a below-average Indiana squad.

Still, much maligned offensive coordinator Dan Roushar dialed up the right plays down the stretch, and the Spartans outscored the Hoosiers 17-0 in the second half to avoid an unthinkable upset.

Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell continued to gain confidence under center, completing 24-of-40 passes (60.0 percent) for 290 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman wide receiver Aaron Burbridge had a breakout performance, catching eight balls for 134 yards (16.8 yards per reception).

Junior running back Le'Veon Bell returned to his workhorse form, lugging the ball 37 times for 121 yards (3.3 yards per carry) and two scores.

MSU's tenacious defense held a prolific IU offense to a season-low 317 total yards, including on 35 yards on the ground.

6. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1), Last Week - 3: Ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in four years, a confident Wildcat squad stormed into Happy Valley with plenty of momentum following a 5-0 start.

A 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by versatile junior running back Venric Mark, who finished with 189 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, gave the Wildcats a 28-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but NU's defensive inadequacies were exploited by the Nittany Lions in the final period.

Northwestern was outscored 22-0 in the fourth quarter, and, after bullying poor defenses over its first five contests, the Pat Fitzgerald's team was brought back down to earth by a solid PSU defensive unit.

NU was out-gained 443-227, and earned only 14 first downs to Penn State's 30. They were out-possessed 39:17-20:43 and converted on only 4-of-13 third-down attempts (30.8 percent).

8. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1), Last Week - 8: Wisconsin may have destroyed Illinois, but who hasn't?

The victory over the conference's most miserable squad did, however, offer an opportunity for senior running back Montee Ball (116 yards, two touchdowns), and junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (117 yards, one touchdown) to get back to to return to form.

Despite their struggles, the Badgers compete in a division in which the top two squads are ineligible for post season competition, and are in a neck-and-neck race with Purdue, which didn't show much fight this week.

UW remains the favorite in its league, but that is not exactly a resounding statement.

9. Iowa (3-1, 1-0), Last Week - 9: Following a big homecoming triumph over Minnesota two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes enjoyed bye leading up to this weekend's key inter-divisional matchup with Michigan State.

The week off was far from uneventful, however, as as senior cornerback Micah Hyde was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication. He remains listed as a starter on the depth chart. Hyde has compiled 195 tackles, three forced fumbles, and seven interceptions in his collegiate career.

9. Purdue (4-2, 0-1), Last Week - 6: The Boilermakers were exposed by Denard Robinson and Michigan. It was never a contest, as the Wolverines jumped out to a 28-3 first-half lead, and PU's lauded defensive front was annihilated by U-M's offensive line.

Senior quarterback Caleb TerBush's starting status is in question moving forward, even with senior Robert Marve battling through a torn ACL,and a Purdue defense that is allowing 25.6 points per game must stiffen up if the Boilermakers are going to make a run towards Indianapolis.

10. Indiana (2-3, 0-2): Indiana displayed why it ranks second in the conference in total offense (471.4 yards per game) and passing offense (305.2 yards per game), and then showed exactly why it is winless in conference play, squandering a 17-0 first-quarter lead against a struggling Michigan State squad.

IU's offense was utterly useless in the second half, getting outscored 17-0, and needs to figure out how to produce against tough-nosed, athletic Big Ten defenses.

Indiana's defense has been porous, to say the least, allowing a league-worst 441.0 total yards and 194.8 yards on the ground.

11. Minnesota (4-1, 0-1): A 4-1 team ranked 11th in the conference?

It's been that kind of year in a weak Big Ten.

The Gophers are coming off of a bye but, although sophomore quarterback Max Shortell has been serviceable under center, the health of senior signal caller MarQueis Gray is a huge factor for a UM team looking to make a run in a weak Leaders Division.

Gray, who is still recovering from a high-ankle sprain suffered earlier in the year, remains questionable for Minnesota's matchup against a potent Northwestern squad.

12. Illinois (2-4, 0-2): Tim Beckman's squad is easily the worst team in the conference. Over the Illini's past four games against FBS conference foes, they cannot score (14.8 points per game), and cannot stop anybody (40.8 points allowed per game).

The Orange and Blue have dropped its last eight conference games, and I don't see that trend changing any time soon.

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