By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 11 Big Ten Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) – The Spartans cleared one of their final hurdles in the race for Indianapolis with a dominating road win over Iowa, 37-21. Kirk Cousins threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns (without an interception) to cure his road woes while Le'Veon Bell rushed 20 times for 112 yards and a score of his own. Michigan State kicked a field goal halfway through the third quarter to take a 34-7 lead and put the game out of reach. The Spartans will face lowly Indiana before a key road trip to Evanston to take on the cagey Northwestern Wildcats in the season finale. Michigan State is all but locked into a Legends Division title.
2. Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2) – Wisconsin knew exactly what was at stake when it took the field Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis: A Big Ten championship, Paul Bunyan's Axe and long-standing school and conference records. None of it got in the way of the Badgers, who dismantled arch-rival Minnesota 42-13. The Badgers control their own destiny now after losses by Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers' Montee Ball set a Big Ten record for touchdowns with his 25th, 26th and 27th trips to paydirt. The Axe remains in Madtown for the eighth consectutive season after Russell Wilson threw his school-record 25th touchdown pass in the win (John Stocco, 21). Wilson, who also has a touchdown in 34 consecutive games (two short of the NCAA record), completed his first 16 pass attempts and actually increased his would-be NCAA single-season efficiency record to 201.58. If Wisconsin can beat Illinois on the road and handle Penn State at home, the Badgers will be headed to Indy on December 3.
3. Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) – The most innocent of bystanders this weekend, Nebraska faced the attention of the nation when it walked into Beaver Stadium on Saturday. After an incredibly emotional and heart-felt battle with the inspired Nittany Lions, the Huskers headed home victorious after outlasting PSU 17-14. Rex Burkhead was the leader NU fans have grown to love, carrying 25 times for 121 yards and a key third quarter touchdown. He lined up at wideout, under center, in the wildcat, at running back and was easily the most important offensive player on either team. Nebraska kept its slim Big Ten title hopes alive with the victory and has to win two difficult games against Michigan and Iowa while hoping for Michigan State to slip up along the way.
4. Penn State (8-2, 5-1) – There may not have been a more surreal opening scene in college football history than when the Penn State Nittany Lions walked arm-in-arm onto the field Saturday morning to face the Cornhuskers. The 17-14 hard-fought loss was secondary to the beginning of the healing process that is fully underway in State College. Both teams played incredibly hard, but in the end PSU came up just short. However, be it the pre-game prayer circle that included both teams or the personal welcomes visiting fans got from PSU faithful, everyone was a winner in Beaver Stadium. The power of athletic competition has long been a healer of souls, and the intrinsic value of sport was no more apparent than at Penn State on Saturday. To top it off, the Lions can still win their division if they can beat Ohio State and Wisconsin in a brutal two-game finish to the year.
5. Michigan (8-2, 4-2) – No Denard Robinson? No problem. The electric quarterback left the game in the third quarter with a bruised wrist, but the Wolverines' dominant defense and replacement Devin Gardner managed to put away Illinois 31-14 on Saturday. The Illini had 30 yards of offense at halftime and were held to 214 on the day. Fitzgerald Toussaint had his second 170+ yard game in three weeks by rushing for 192 yards on 27 carries. Gardner threw one big fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Big Blue has quickly returned to its historic roots by playing shutdown defense and pounding the football on offense. Michigan hosts Nebraska and Ohio State to finish the season.
6. Ohio State (6-4, 3-3) – Who would have thought that Purdue would turn out to be the Buckeyes' most dangerous Leaders Division rival? For the second straight trip to West Lafayette, the Ohio State Buckeyes headed home with a loss. This time, it was a heartbreaking 26-23 overtime defeat. After trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Bucks rallied to tie the game at 20 with less than a minute to play. But Purdue miraculously blocked the extra point to send it to overtime. A Robert Marve one-yard touchdown run sealed the Bucks' fate, as Purdue outgained the mighty Buckeyes 363-295. Now OSU needs help to reach the Big Ten title game as it faces Penn State and Michigan to close things out.
7. Iowa (6-4, 3-3) – The Hawkeyes completely failed to show up for the first half of their 37-21 loss to Michigan State, entering the break down 31-7. Iowa also failed to establish the ground game that had afforded it so much success in previous weeks. The Hawks mustered only 87 yards on 30 carries — 57 yards on 21 carries for Marcus Coker — and turned the ball over three times as Kirk Ferentz and company watched their Big Ten title hopes fall by the wayside. James Vandenberg attempted 47 passes — not a desired ingredient for Ferentz's offense. Iowa finishes with road trips to feisty Purdue and new divisional rival Nebraska.
8. Illinois (6-4, 2-4) – The bye week did nothing to help the Illini's offensive woes as Illinois managed only 30 yards of total offense in the first half of the 31-14 loss to Michigan. Even after his team knocked out star quarterback Denard Robinson, Ron Zook could not figure out a way to produce enough offense to win for the first time in more than a month. Illinois finished with 214 total yards — 37 rushing on 33 carries — and carry a four-game losing streak into the home test against Wisconsin this weekend. Zook's team has scored six total touchdowns in those four games, while the Badgers have scored 14 touchdowns in their last two games.
9. Northwestern (5-5, 2-4) – Don't look now, but the Wildcats have won three straight games after an easy 28-6 win over non-con foe Rice. Dan Persa returned to action and played his best game of the year by completing 25-of-32 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Jeremy Ebert was the primary beneficiary, catching seven passes for 208 yards and two scores. Renaissance man Cain Kolter completed one pass, rushed nine times, caught five passes and scored a touchdown of his own in the win. The Wildcats now need to win against either Minnesota or Michigan State to reach their fourth straight bowl game.
10. Purdue (5-5, 3-3) – After blowout losses to Wisconsin and Michigan, Danny Hope once again proved his mettle with a huge 26-23 overtime upset over Ohio State. It was Purdue's second straight win over the Buckeyes in West Lafayette, even if it took a blocked extra point with less than a minute to pull it off. The two-quarterback system worked to perfection as Robert Marve (10-of-13, 94 yards) and Caleb TerBush (15-of-24, 140 yards) did just enough to outlast OSU. It was Marve's key third-and-12 conversion on the penultimate play of the game that led to the one-yard game-winning QB sneak from the former Miami Hurricane. With Iowa and Indiana remaining, Hope has a great chance at a bowl game in 2011.
11. Minnesota (2-8, 1-5) – The Gophers played valiantly two weeks in a row, upsetting Iowa and playing tight with Michigan State. That wasn't the case this weekend against the powerful Wisconsin attack. The Badgers did whatever they wanted on offense to the tune of 6.3 yards per carry on 45 rushes and 16-of-17 passing. The Gophers managed 156 yards of total offense.
12. Indiana (1-9, 0-6) – The Hoosiers didn't lose this weekend. They didn't take the field, either. Indiana played arguably its best game in the 34-20 loss to Ohio State and will look to build on that performance against Michigan State and Purdue to the end the year. Two solid showings would give Kevin Wilson something positive to build on in the offseason.