By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 13 Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Michigan State (10-2, 7-1) – Finally, the Spartans can look ahead to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. After handling the Northwestern Wildcats 31-17 for their 10th win of the season, Michigan State sets its sights on the Big Ten's version of "The Rematch." The Spartans and Badgers were clearly the top two teams in the conference this season as the two played the best game of the season back on October 22. The Kirk Cousins' game-winning Hail Mary toss to Keith Nichol was arguably the biggest scoring strike of his school-record 62 career touchdown passes. Sparty carries the Big Ten's No. 1 rushing defense, No. 1 total defense and the league's best pass rush (No. 1 at 3.08 sacks per game) into Lucas Oil Field Saturday night against what is probably the nation's top offensive line. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl to face Oregon, while the loser could fall past Michigan and Nebraska to the Outback Bowl.
2. Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2) – The Badgers were the most impressive team in the Big Ten conference this season, and after a 45-7 win over Penn State on Saturday, will have a chance to prove it in its rematch with Michigan State. The nation's leading passer, leading scorer and leading punt returner will enter the Oil Drum in Indy with revenge on the mind — and they could be tough to stop. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball leads the nation in scoring (17.0 ppg) and is second in the nation in rushing (1,622 yards). His 34 touchdowns trail only Barry Sanders' 39 on the all-time NCAA list and part of the reason UW lost to Michigan State in October was due to his absence (Ball missed most of the second and third quarters). The 220 yards rushing posted by the Badgers in East Lansing was the season-high allowed by the Big Ten's top rush defense. The win gave the Badgers their fifth 10-win season in seven years.
3. Michigan (10-2, 6-2) – The monkey is officially off the Maize and Blue backs. In the best rivalry game in college football, Michigan and Ohio State played one of the most exciting football games of the year. The Wolverines topped the Buckeyes 40-34 in a game that featured six lead changes and the two most athletic quarterbacks in the nation. Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller offered fans a potential glimpse of the 2012 Big Ten title game by combining for 672 yards of total offense, eight total touchdowns and only one turnover. The win for Brady Hoke likely landed Michigan an at-large BCS bowl bid and its first triumph over rival OSU in eight years. Most importantly, however, is that the Wolverines finished No. 2 in the Big Ten in rush defense (129.1 ypg) and ninth nationlly in scoring defense (17.2 ppg). It is one of the more remarkable defensive turnaronds in recent memory. The Sugar Bowl against an unbeaten Houston Cougars team appears to be the most likely holiday destination for Michigan.
4. Nebraska (9-3, 5-3) – A new rivarly was born when Nebraska toppled Iowa 20-7 in the final game of the regular season on Friday. The Huskers ran for 222 yards on 61 carries — Rex Burkhead getting a school-record 38 of those attempts and 160 of those yards — and held the ball for 37:47 minutes of possession. Meanwhile, the defense held Marcus Coker under 100 yards for only the second time in seven games. Burkhead ended his first season as the starter second in the Big Ten in rushing attempts (261) and third in yards (1,268). Nebraska finishes its first Big Ten season above .500 and will visit Florida this bowl season. It should land in either the Cap One or Outback Bowl, with the smart money on Orlando and the Cap One Bowl.
5. Penn State (9-3, 6-2) – The Nittany Lions have had a nightmarish last couple of weeks and it ended with a 45-7 thumping at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers. With a chance to win the Big Ten Leaders Division, Penn State showed just how far it has left to climb to reach the championship plateau. Penn State was outgained 450 to 233, completed just 11 of its 25 passes, went 4-15 on third and fourth down conversions, turned the ball over four times (to UW's one) and kept the football for a mere 21:43 minutes of possession. The loss drops PSU in the bowl pecking order, and with the radioactivity emanating from Happy Valley, a bowl selection commitees might be hesitant to tab the Lions. Look for the Nits to fall no lower than the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas — and for the coaching search to reach a rolling boil very shortly.
6. Ohio State (6-6, 3-5) – Did any Buckeyes fan really notice the football game in Ann Arbor this weekend? Fans are already pointing to what could be a special 2012 team as its new head coach Urban Meyer was officially presented to Scarlet and Gray nation on Monday afternoon. With Braxton Miller and a host of talented defenders returning, Ohio State is your likely preseason pick to win the Leaders Division in 2012. Miller finished the final five games of the season with 452 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground to match his developing passing game (450 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT over his last three games). The 6-6 record was the first non-winning season for OSU since 1999 and it appears the Buckeyes are headed for the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
7. Iowa (7-5, 4-4) – With the 20-7 loss to Nebraska last weekend, the Hawkeyes ended the 2011 campaign with three losses in five games. Despite having the league's No. 2 rusher in Marcus Coker, the Hawkeyes finished 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense. There are plenty of bright spots, however, as Marvin McNutt led the Big Ten in receiving (105.8 yards per game) and set school receiving touchdown records for a career and season. Additionally, James Vandenberg established himself as a playmaker for 2012. The seven win season again proves the dependability, yet mediocrity, of Kirk Ferentz' tenure at Iowa. It was the sixth time in seven years in which the Hawkeyes finished the regular season between six and eight wins and between four and six losses. Iowa looks to be headed to the Insight Bowl.
8. Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) – The Wildcats were no match for the focused Spartans as they lost 31-17 in the regular season finale. But Pat Fitzgerald's team will be bowling — likely the TicketCity Bowl — for the fourth time in his six-year tenure as head coach. In fact, Fitzgerald owns four of the school's ten total postseason apperances. Look for the Big Ten's top-rated passing offense to take full advantage of whichever Big 12 defense it faces in the TicketCity Bowl.
10. Purdue (6-6, 4-4) – With the 33-25 win over Indiana, the Boilermakers became the 10th Big Ten to earn bowl eligibility in 2011. By winning the Old Oaken Bucket over its in-state rival, Purdue should be playing in the postseason for the first time since 2007. The Little Ceasrs Pizza Bowl on December 27 looks like the right fit — especially considering how unattrative Illinois looks at the moment (see below). The question still reamins: Did Danny Hope do enough to keep his job?
9. Illinois (6-6, 2-6) – One of the most epic collapes in NCAA history came to fruition when Illinois went into Minneapolis and laid one of the largest, smelliest Big Ten eggs in history. In an effort to avoid a six-game losing streak, the not-so-Fighting Illini mustered a pathetic 160 yards of total offense, convereted on 2-of-15 third downs, rushed for 2.6 yards per carry and waited until they were down 27-0 before scoring any points against Minnesota. It turns out, the 27-7 loss to the Gophers was the final straw for Illinois, who handed Ron Zook his walking papers shortly thereafter. After the 6-0 start, the Illini are still bowl eligible, but won't be very attractive to any bowl committee after the terrible showing this weekend, no head coach and a six-game losing streak.
11. Minnesota (3-9, 2-6) – Ron Zook doesn't deserve all of the credit for the atrocious showing of the Illini in the 27-7 loss to Minnesota this weekend. Jerry Kill and the Gophers get plenty of kudos for showing up with nothing to play for and controling the game from the get-go. Quarterback MarQueis Gray topped the 160 yard mark rushing for the second straight weekend and the third time this season as he carried 27 times for 167 yards and two scores to lead Minnesota. The Gophers won two of its last five games and showed marked improvement over the course of the season. Could things finally be looking up in the Twin Cities?
12. Indiana (1-11, 0-8) – Indiana lost the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket 33-25 to in-state rival Purdue. The Hoosiers are one of five teams in the nation who failed to win a conference game this season. Yet, if there is any silver lining, it is the development of the running game over the second half. Indiana averaged 118.8 yards rushing per game in the first six games. It posted an average of 203.2 yards per game on the ground over the second half. On defense, however, IU finished last in the Big Ten in rushing, passing efficiency, scoring and total defense. Kevin Wilson has his work cut out for him this offseason.