By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 9 Big Ten Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) – The recipe for success against Michigan State was simple: Establish the ground game, don't ask Taylor Martinez to do to much and rattle Kirk Cousins. Nebraska rushed for 190 yards, Martinez needed only 13 pass attempts and Cousins played flustered all game long in the Huskers' 24-3 win over Sparty. Rex Burkhead (who should be on more Heisman ballots) was the star of the offense with 36 touches for 157 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, while the Blackshirts defense made life miserable for Cousins. The Michigan State quarterback threw an INT on MSU's first drive and connected on only four of his first 16 attempts. Cousins finished 11-of-27 for only 86 yards and was lucky to toss only the one pick. Nebraska held Michigan State to 3-of-14 on third down, and controlled the clock with 80- and 89-yard third quarter scoring drives. Nebraska is now in full control of the Legends Division and is 6-0 against Sparty all-time. Northwestern comes to town this weekend.
2. Michigan State (6-2, 3-1) – "What a difference a week makes," Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio told the AP after Saturday's 24-3 loss to Nebraska. With the Legends Division championship essentially on the line, the Spartans played uninspired football. Quarterback Kirk Cousins once again played poorly on the road (86 yards, 0 TD, INT), the offensive line couldn't create running lanes (30 att., 101 yards, 3.4 ypc) and the receivers were not getting open. After beating Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, the Spartans couldn't win arguably the most important game of the month and will now need Nebraska to lose if they expect to get to Indianapolis in December. Things get easier for Michigan State, however, as the Spartans get Minnesota at home this weekend with Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern still left on the schedule.
3. Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2) – Pick your poison, Badgers fans: bad luck or miscommunication? A week after a lucky Hail Mary beat them with no time left on the clock, Wisconsin fell to Ohio State on another 40-yard touchdown pass in the final 30 seconds. Freshman Braxton Miller hit Devin Smith in the end zone with 20 seconds on the clock to beat UW 33-29. The Badgers, as is customary in the Horseshoe, could not run the football with any success and instead turned to Russell Wilson. The talented quarterback led Big Red to three touchdowns in the final 19:23 of play to take a 29-26 lead with 1:18 left in the game. Miller made the biggest play of all, however, by evading tacklers, rolling right and heaving it to a wide-open Smith for the game-winner. Wisconsin gets Purdue at home this week as its Leaders title hopes have shrunk to a glimmer.
4. Michigan (7-1, 3-1) – This is what Maize and Blue fans expected when they hired Brady Hoke. The Wolverines dominated the Boilermakers 36-14 by handing the ball to a tailback 20 times and by playing great defense — something that hasn't happened at Michigan in years. Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for a career-high 170 yards and scored twice to keep the Big Ten title hopes alive in Ann Arbor. The defense held Purdue to 89 yards rushing (106 yards below their average) and 3-of-13 on third downs. Michigan controlled the game with more than 36 minutes of possession and 339 yards rushing. Denard Robinson finished 9-of-14 for 170 yards and 63 yards rushing on 15 carries. Michigan now has back-to-back road trips against Iowa and Illinois before hosting Nebraska and Ohio State to finish.
5. Penn State (8-1, 5-0) – Who has the best record in the conference? Yup, the Penn State Nittany Lions. The only Big Ten team left unbeaten in conference play overcame poor weather, six fumbles and a game-tying field goal attempt to beat Illinois 10-7. After a Silas Redd touchdown run with 1:08 left in the fourth quarter, Illinois drove to Penn State's 25 yard-line. But a Derek Dimke 42-yard field goal plunked off the right upright as time expired, giving Joe Paterno an NCAA D-I all-time record 409th win. While Penn State owns the best record in the league at 5-0, the Nits have yet to play Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin, so there is plenty of work left to be done.
6. Ohio State (5-3, 2-2) – The Ohio State University is still alive for a BCS bowl bid after an electrifying 33-29 win over the Badgers. Buckeyes fans watched true frosh quarterback Braxton Miller, with a little help from an inspired Boom Herron (33 att., 160 yards), come of age Saturday night. The talented youngster was impossible to tackle all night long, scoring twice on the ground to go with his 99 yards rushing. Yet, the biggest play he made all night involved his right arm. Miller, after Ohio State surrendered a 26-14 fourth-quarter lead in less than three minutes, slid right along the line of scrimmage past UW defenders before throwing across his body to a wide-open Devin Smith in the end zone with 20 seconds left on the clock. The 40-yard touchdown pass gave Ohio State the win — and kept OSU's Big Ten title hopes alive in the process. The Bucks tour the Hoosier State over the next two weeks with Indiana and Purdue as the next two before finishing with huge games against Penn State and that school up North.
7. Illinois (6-3, 2-3) – The Illini's 6-0 start feels like a decade ago. Illinois lost its third straight game this weekend when a Derek Dimke 42-yard field goal attempt struck the right upright with no time remaining in snowy Beaver Stadium. The defense has played solid football of late, but the offense has laid three eggs in a row. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 63 yards and led the team to 286 total yards of offense and 3.8 yards per carry on 50 attempts. Still, Illinois had its chances. Penn State needed a fourth-down pass interference penalty to score its only touchdown with 1:08 left, and Dimke missed the game-tying field goal by inches. Illinois fans, after four total touchdowns in three games, are left to wonder "what if" about 2011. Michigan and Wisconsin come to town next.
8. Iowa (5-3, 2-2) – Iowa had a chance to enter November as a co-leader atop the Legends Division but choked on apple sauce in Minneapolis. Iowa outgained Minnesota 446 to 371, picked up six more first downs, turned the ball over only once and won the time-of-possession battle but lost the only statistic that matters in the 22-21 loss. Marcus Coker had his best game since his breakout bowl performance, running for 252 yards on 32 carries. It was the Hawkeye defense that couldn't get the job done in crunch time as they watched MarQueis Gray's fourth-down two-yard sprint to the endzone win the game for Minnesota with 2:48 left in the game. Iowa is now one game behind the Michigan schools and Nebraska in the Legends standings with all three left on the schedule. The Wolverines come to Iowa City this weekend.
9. Northwestern (3-5, 1-4) – The Wildcats were one yard away from the rare 300-300 game in their 59-38 win over Indiana this weekend. With 317 yards rushing and 299 yards passing, Northwestern picked up its first Big Ten win of the season. Backup quarterback Kain Colter is developing into a quality receiving option for Dan Persa, catching six passes for 115 yards against the Hoosiers. However, tight end Drake Dunsmore, with his 112 receiving yards, was the star of the offense as four of his seven catches went for touchdowns. The Wildcats now visit Nebraska.
10. Purdue (4-4, 2-2) – The Boilermakers have alternated wins and losses every single week of the 2011 season. So after a 36-14 thumping at the hands of Michigan, conventional wisdom would point to a win for Danny Hope's bunch this weekend. A trip to Camp Randall to face what has to be the nation's most unlucky (and likely angriest) team puts the trend in jeopardy. Purdue allowed 339 yards rushing to Michigan and mustered only 89 yards on the ground. Expect more of the same this weekend.
11. Minnesota (2-6, 1-3) – Throw out the records when the Floyd of Rosedale is on the line. For the second straight year, Minnesota has upset the Iowa Hawkeyes in dramatic fashion. MarQueis Gray, who scored in last season's upset as a running back/wide receiver, led the way in the 22-21 win as the man under center this time. Gray completed 11-of-17 passes for 193 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions to go with 62 yards rushing and the game's winning touchdown run with less than three minutes to play. Jerry Kill has Mr. Gray to thank for his first Big Ten win of 2011.
12. Indiana (1-8, 0-5) – The good news in Bloomington is that Indiana scored a season-high 38 points on offense. The bad news in Bloomington is that it allowed a season-high 59 points to Northwestern. The Hoosiers rank last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. Quarterback Tre Roberson is the lone bright spot, as the freshman rushed for 121 yards, threw for 169 yards and scored two touchdowns.