By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 Big Ten Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Nebraska (6-1, 2-1) – Almost by default, and after an easy 41-14 win over Minnesota, the Cornhuskers take over the top spot in Athlon Sports' Big Ten Power Rankings. Big Red rushed for 346 yards and three touchdowns on 56 attempts while allowing a measly 254 yards of total offense to the Gophers. Rex Burkhead topped the century mark for the fourth time in five games and has scored a touchdown in every game this fall. With the Michigan State Spartans coming to town this weekend, not only is the top spot on this list on the line, but a Big Ten championship and potential BCS Bowl bid also hang in the balance in Memorial Stadium.
2. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) – In what was the most exciting game of the 2011 season, the Spartans and Keith Nichol inched their way past the Wisconsin Badgers 37-31 on a 44-yard Hail Mary with no time remaining. Michigan State now brings the nation's No. 2 total defense, and the Big Ten's top rush defense, into Lincoln to square off with the Big Ten's top rushing offense. A second straight Big Ten championship is likely on the line when Sparty heads to Nebraska this weekend.
3. Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) – The Badgers suffered arguably the most painful loss in school history on Saturday night when a deflected Hail Mary heave from midfield was caught by Keith Nichol before a goalline tug-of-war went the way of the Spartans. The Badgers jumped to an early 14-0 lead, but an injury to the nation's leading scorer Montee Ball — and some inexplicable special teams blunders — allowed the Spartans to roll off 23 unanswered points. The Badgers, with Ball back in the lineup, scored 14 fourth-quarter points to tie the game before the heartbreaking heave ended their national championship hopes. Wisconsin still controls its own destiny but has to rebound quickly as it heads to Ohio State and the Horseshoe this weekend.
4. Michigan (6-1, 2-1) – Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines sat back and watched the madness this weekenad as Brady Hoke's bunch prepares for a brutal stretch run in Big Ten play. The Maize and Blue host Purdue this weekend before finishing with road trips to Iowa and Illinois and home tests against Nebraska and Ohio State.
5. Penn State (7-1, 4-0) – Is there a quieter 4-0 conference team in the nation than Penn State? The Nittany Lions control their own destiny after taking care of business on the road against Northwestern 34-24. The Nits played balanced offensive football (192 yards passing, 197 yards rushing) and stuck with one quarterback, Matt McGloin, for the entire game. He played quality football by passing for 17-of-26 passes for 192 yards, two scores and no interceptions. Tailback Silas Redd ran for a career-high 164 yards and a touchdown of his own while the defense kept the Wildcats to only 94 yards rushing on 37 carries. Penn State now hosts Illinois and Nebraska before finishing 2011 with road trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
6. Ohio State (4-3, 1-2) – Without playing a game, the Buckeyes were one of the Big Ten's biggest winners in Week 8. With the Badgers losing, the Bucks now control their own Leaders Divison destiny. They will have two weeks to prepare for a visit from a Wisconsin team that is reeling after the devastaing defeat at the hands of the Spartans. With a win over Illinois already under their belt and the Badgers, Nittany Lions and Boilermakers still left on the schedule, Ohio State still has a very real shot at playing in Indianapolis in December.
7. Illinois (6-2, 2-2) – The Fighting Illini have played uninspired football two weeks in a row, and it has dropped them nearly out of the Leaders Divison race. With a 21-14 loss to Purdue, the Illini are now sitting in fourth (really fifth, since Ohio State owns the tiebreaker) place in the division. Nathan Scheelhaase struggled to complete passes all game and finished with only 16 yards on 13 carries (he is the team's leading rusher). The dynamic quarterback has rushed 29 times for 65 yards over his last two games as his team has posted only 21 points over the last two weeks. If it were not for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the score would have been much worse. Illinois now travels to Penn State to face the Big Ten's top scoring defense.
8. Iowa (5-2, 2-1) – Iowa kept its Leaders Division title hopes alive with a 45-24 win over Indiana this weekend. After struggling two weeks ago against Penn State, quarterback James Vanderberg has played flawless football. He had as many touchdowns (4) as he did incompletions this weekend and has totalled 26-of-38 passing for 477 yards and six touchdowns in the Hawkeyes' last two wins. With division games with Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska still looming, Kirk Ferentz and company must travel north to Minnesota this weekend and get a win.
9. Northwestern (2-5, 0-4) – After two heartbreaking losses to Army and Illinois, Northwestern has struggled to stop anyone in three straight losses to Michigan, Iowa and Penn State. The Wildcats allowed Penn State tailback Silas Redd to set a career high in yards and actually made Matt McGloin look like an efficient passer. It has been a rough season for Northwestern, but the Wildcats should be able to get back on track this weekend with a trip to Bloomington.
10. Purdue (4-3, 2-1) – The Boilermakers might have saved Danny Hope's job by pulling the 21-14 upset over Illinois last Saturday. Caleb TerBush played efficient football, completing 16-of-25 passes for 178 yards, two scores and no interceptions. The Boilers led 21-0 for essentially the entire game, and the final score was not really indicative of how easily they handled the dynamic Illini offensive attack.
11. Indiana (1-7, 0-4) – The Hoosiers lost 45-24 against Iowa this weekend and have yet to defeat an FBS opponent under new head coach Kevin Wilson. In Tre Roberson, Indiana started a true freshman at quarterback for the first time in school history. Roberson showed reasons for optimism as he completed 16-of-24 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown while rushing 16 times for 84 yards on the ground. However, as if starting 1-7 weren't hard enough for Wilson, the IU coaching staff learned this week that the No. 2 quarterback recruit in the nation, Gunner Kiel, has reopened his recruitment and will likely end up at Notre Dame or Alabama instead of Bloomington.
12. Minnesota (1-6, 0-3) – There isn't much to say about a 41-14 home loss to Nebraska. Minnesota now ranks dead last in the Big Ten in total offense, scoring offense, scoring defense, turnover margin, passing efficiency and sacks. The Gophers are 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense and total defense. With Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois left on the schedule, it is hard to see the Gophers winning again in 2011.