By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) – The Spartans had a pretty good weekend. Michigan State grabbed the Old Brass Spittoon from the Indiana Hoosiers in the not-so competitive rivalry. More importantly, the 55-3 drubbing of Indiana (and eventual Nebraska loss) clinched a spot in the first-ever Big Ten Championship game for Mark Dantonio. The game against Indiana was merely a formality, as MSU outgained IU 470 to 236 and had a 48-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins needed just over one half of action to throw for 272 yards and three touchdowns — bringing him to 60 for his career. With one more scoring strike, Cousins will tie Jeff Smoker for the career TD pass lead in East Lansing. Michigan State now heads to Northwestern for the regular-season finale before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game on December 3.
2. Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2) – Wisconsin, as it has all season, struggled to get started on the road against Illinois. But an impassioned halftime speech by head coach Bret Bielema trailing 17-7 lit an appropriate fire under the Badgers offense. Montee Ball and the Badgers scored 21 unanswered points to pull off the 28-17 come-from-behind victory. Ball finished with 224 yards (164 in the second half) and three total touchdowns on 40 touches. He is third in the nation in rushing and became only the fifth player in NCAA history to score 30 touchdowns. Wisconsin's defense also played inspired football in the second half, forcing three of its four turnovers on the day. Wisconsin now welcomes Penn State to Camp Randall in what has become a Big Ten Championship semifinal. The winner of the game at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday in Madison, Wisc., will head to Indianapolis for the debut of the Big Ten title game.
3. Penn State (9-2, 6-1) – Technically, the outcome of the Penn State-Ohio State game had little impact on the Nittany Lions' search for a Big Ten title. Either way, Penn State was going to have to beat the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison this weekend. But the 20-14 win was nonetheless very impressive — and it marked the beginning of a new era. It was the first time PSU won a football without Joe Paterno stalking the sidelines since December 1965 (1950 if you count his years as an assistant). Penn State rushed for 239 yards against the league's No. 3 rush defense (119.3 ypg entering Saturday). The diminuative but speedy Stephfon Green, not Silas Redd, led the way with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Niether team scored a point in the second half as both quarterbacks struggled mightily to produce big plays in the passing game. Matt McGloin will have to play better than his 10-of-18, 88 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT line indicates if he expects to keep pace with the Badgers.
4. Michigan (9-2, 5-2) – In one of the most impressive performances by any team this season, Michigan dominated the line of scrimmage in a 45-17 win over new divisional rival Nebraska. The Wolverines rushed for 238 yards while holding Rex Burkhead to only 36 yards on 10 carries. The Maize and Blue set the tone for the second half when, leading only 17-10, Michigan scored two touchdowns in six minutes to blow the game open in the third quarter. Denard Robinson finished a tidy 11-of-18 for 180 yards and two scores to go with his 23 carries, 83 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. His 33 career rushing touchdowns are sixth all-time in UM history. All the momentum points to Michigan finally snapping its seven-game losing streak to that school from down south this weekend in the best rivalry game in college football.
5. Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) – The wheels are starting to come off the Huskers' 2011 campaign. Losing two out of three isn't all that bad in the modern Big Ten, but how it happened is a bit concerning. Getting upset at home by Northwestern and then getting smoked along the line of scrimmage 45-17 at Michigan is borderline unacceptable. Michigan nearly doubled the Huskers' rushing output (238 to 138) and failed to play inspired football in the second half, getting outscored 28-7 in the latter segment of the game. Taylor Martinez completed only 9-of-23 passes, Rex Burkhead totalled 36 yards from scrimmage and the Huskers lost three of four fumbles. The battle for the whole ear of corn against Iowa should've carried more weight than their combined six Big Ten losses indicate. That said, if Nebraska can beat Iowa in the newly minted season-ending rivalry and then win its bowl game, it will have reached ten wins in its maiden voyage through the Big Ten.
6. Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) – The future is very bright for the Buckeyes, but the end of 2011 could be tough to swallow for The Ohio State University. After losing to Purdue, Ohio State came out flat on defense and got beat 20-14 against Penn State. With a trip to Ann Arbor against a hungry, hot and prepared Michigan team looming this weekend, the Bucks are staring at a 6-6 season. That said, it appears that Urban Meyer will be leading the Scarlet and Gray ship next fall, and he will have a developing star at quarteback in Braxton Miller and a talent-laden defense. Miller has rushed for 352 yards and four touchdowns over the last four games.
7. Iowa (7-4, 4-3) – Iowa got its first road win of the 2011 season by defeating Purdue 31-21 in West Lafayette on Saturday. James Vandenberg continued his impressive development by throwing three touchdowns passes and 273 yards on 22-of-32 passing. Vandenberg is now No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency at 149.02. Two of his scoring strikes hit Marvin McNutt, who finished with nine catches and 151 yards. Marcus Coker continued his hot play as well, spearheading the Hawkeyes' ground game with 139 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Kirk Ferentz's defense forced four turnovers and held the Boilermakers to 282 yards of offense. Iowa enters the season finale at Nebraska aiming for an eight-win season.
8. Northwestern (6-5, 3-4) – Pat Fitzgerald's bunch stayed hot by winning their fourth straight game, 28-13 over Minnesota. Special teams set the tone early for Northwestern with two big kickoff returns by Venric Mark, allowing the Wildcats to score touchdowns on each of their first three possessions. Dan Persa played wire-to-wire, completing 22-of-31 passes with two scoring throws, and the ground game offered a nice complement by producing 152 yards. After losing five straight, the Cats are now bow-eligbile with a home game against Legends Division Champion Michigan State waiting this Saturday.
9. Illinois (6-5, 2-5) – The 2011 campaign for Illinois has been a tale of two halves. And never was this theme more evident than in the 28-17 home loss to the Wisconsin Badgers this weekend. Ron Zook carried a 17-7 lead into halftime before getting outscored 21-0 over the final 30 minutes. Three second-half turnovers aided the Badgers' Montee Ball, who rushed for 164 yards against Illinois in the second half alone. It was the fifth straight loss for the Illini, who will visit a two-win Minnesota team this weekend. A loss to the Gophers would likely be the final straw for Zook as the head coach in Champaign-Urbana.
10. Purdue (5-6, 3-4) – Senior Day in West Lafayette didn't exactly play out like the Boilermakers hoped. Purdue got outgained 408 to 282 yards, out-possessed 33:30 to 26:30 and turned the ball over four times in a 31-21 loss to Iowa. Three of those turnovers came at the hands of quarterback Roberts Marve, who completed 7-of-18 passes for 95 yards and no touchdowns. Caleb TerBush was the better of the two signal-callers, completing 10-of-16 passes and throwing a first-quarter touchdown to Gabe Holmes. Ralph Bolden rushed for 71 yards and a garbage-time touchdown on 14 carries in a game that was never really in doubt for the Hawkeyes. Purdue now will battle for the Old Oaken Bucket when it visits rival Indiana, which is winless in Big Ten play.
11. Minnesota (2-9, 1-6) – The Gophers managed to roll up 269 yards rushing behind 100-yard performances from quarterback MarQueis Gray (26 att., 147 yards, TD) and Duane Bennett (23 att., 127 yards). Yet the defense and special teams could not overcome the electric start by Northwestern. The Wildcats scored on their first three possessions, and the Gophers managed only two field goals over the final 45 minutes. The Gophers host the Illini in the season finale with a chance to end Ron Zook's coaching career at Illinois.
12. Indiana (1-10, 0-7) – The Hoosiers were on bye last week and enter the final weekend of play with their best shot at a Big Ten win to date. Purdue comes to town in the Hoosier State battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. Indiana's lone win this season came against South Carolina State, and it is safe to say that the Hoosiers are the worst team in the conference.