It is entirely possible nine teams will have enough victories at this point to qualify for a bowl and that will make things very interesting in early December when it comes time to hand out invites. Right now no fewer than six teams have a chance at New Year's Day bowl or better, but only four will get one. People may say the conference is down, but I don't think a competitive conference where one team is clearly above the other necessarily means they are down.
In this week's rankings I will review my original prediction for each team and outline a best case plus worst case scenario for each team. I'll even try to predict what bowl each will go to, but things are still very fluid at this point because anyone can beat anyone from here on out. This week the number in parenthesis will not be last week's ranking, but my original prediction ranking with predicted record.
Mid-Season Big Ten Power Rankings:
1. (3. 10-2, 6-2) Ohio State (6-0, 3-0)
The Buckeyes will be here until someone beats them. They have tied a school record for consecutive conference wins and appear to be unstoppable. There is a ton of season to be played yet, but they just shut down what may end up being the second best team in the conference and most balanced offense they will face all year. The offense isn't scoring a ton, but it is scoring more than enough for that defense to finish the job if it keeps playing at a high level. Even the schedule plays out nicely as Illinois and Wisconsin both have to come to the Horseshoe later this year.
Penn State and Michigan are not playing well enough right now to pull off home wins against the Buckeyes, and I'm not sure anyone can score enough on that defense in order to beat them. After seeing them thoroughly dismantle Purdue in person Saturday night I have come to the conclusion that Ohio State will only beat themselves. Todd Boeckman's three interceptions were cause for future concern, but the defense made sure they weren't hurt by them.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 12-0 and the National title game. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 10-2 and the Capitol One Bowl.
2. (10. 4-8, 1-7) Illinois (5-1, 3-0)
Illinois is playing with the house's money at this point after two home wins against ranked teams have put them in the top 25 for the first time since 2001. This is the worst prediction I made of a team all year. I originally said they might compete for a bowl if they win three non-conference games and get to the Northwestern game having beaten Indiana and Minnesota in the conference. They've easily blown past my original prediction and until they run into a team that can stop their running game and make them pass they will continue to win.
With the way Iowa is playing right now Illinois should win this week to get to bowl eligibility, and there are still wins on the schedule against Minnesota and Ball State. Northwestern is such a wildcard that if they get in a crazy shootout with anyone you don't know what can happen. Right now the Illini will go as far as their running game can take them, and with everyone but Ohio State struggling to stop the run they can go pretty far.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 10-2 and an at large BCS Bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 8-4 and the Alamo Bowl.
3. (4. 10-2, 6-2) Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1)
Wisconsin ran into a hot team at the wrong time on the road. Still, a good Wisconsin team is not playing well if it gives up nearly 300 yards on the ground no matter who they are playing. Something is not right with the Badgers right now, but there is no reason they cannot be 8-1 by the time they travel to Ohio State. On Saturday the Badgers fell behind 17-0 and simply didn't have enough to catch up. Wisconsin came close, but Illinois always seemed to have an answer and the running game kept churning away.
There is so little separation at this point that Wisconsin could easily go on a slide as much as they could get on a roll. Right now Wisconsin is the team that I absolutely cannot figure out in any way, shape, or form. With the number of close games they have had they could have lost to UNLV, Michigan State, and Iowa if not for a handful of plays. They let bad teams hang around, but they have more than enough talent to beat anyone.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 10-2 and a BCS at large bid. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 8-4 and the Alamo Bowl.
4. (5. 9-3, 5-3) Purdue (5-1, 1-1)
Ah the Boilermakers, the team that can't win the big game, but can beat the mediocre. If everyone aside from the three teams above this ranking are mediocre Purdue should be in for a banner year then! I tend to believe that what happened Saturday night was 75% a result of a great Ohio State defense, 10% from bad execution, and 15% from bad coaching. Once again Purdue got pantsed on national TV, and hopefully they can turn it around at Michigan this week.
There is not a single team left on the schedule that Purdue cannot beat. I am sick and ashamed of the fans of my own team right now though first for selling thousands of tickets to Ohio State fans, then for turning on them because they got beat by a really, really good team. This team can still have a great year, and there's absolutely no excuse to finish less than 9-3 with that offense and an improving defense. I don't think we'll win both games at Michigan and Penn State, but we can certainly win one. We have no reason to lose at home the rest of the year either and I know we can beat Indiana.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 10-2 and the Capitol One Bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 8-4 and the Alamo Bowl.
5. (1. 11-1, 7-1) Michigan (4-2, 2-0)
Michigan may be one of the ugliest 4-2 teams in the country. Their offense has been able to score some, but only against sub-par teams. The defense is still susceptible to a spread attack, and only stopped Northwestern because the Wildcats continued to shoot themselves in the foot. Because of the talent factor alone this team can run the table, but a few Michigan blogs I have read have said they are playing very uninspired football. They are ripe to lose a few games to some teams on the rise.
The wuss fans on Purdue's own message board have given up hope of winning at Michigan this week because of history, but right now we can beat them as they have struggled mightily against the spread this year. Even Michigan fans don't know what to think of the Wolverines at mid-season, and they could be one more loss from total collapse.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 9-3 and the Capitol One Bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 6-6 and the Insight Bowl.
6. (7. 7-5, 3-5) Indiana (5-1, 2-1)
This week's game at Michigan State will go a long way to deciding exactly where both teams rank in the conference. An Indiana win suddenly means eight or nine wins is a real possibility. Even 10 isn't outside the realm of thought if they stay hot. The Hoosiers are playing with confidence, poise, and a surprisingly good pass rush that can disrupt a lot of teams. They also have the factor of teams overlooking them thinking they are the same old Hoosiers. I fear Purdue may do just that in the Bucket game and find themselves bucketless for the first time in six years.
When every game is competitive suddenly on a level playing field emotion can give you that extra edge, and right now the Hoosiers have it. As well as they are playing the only game I think that may be out of their reach is the trip to Wisconsin. At the very least a fun shootout in East Lansing Saturday night is in order. There is no way this team doesn't go bowling now.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 9-3 and the Outback Bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 7-5 and the Insight Bowl.
7. (2. 11-1, 7-1) Penn State (4-2, 1-2)
Penn State finally broke through and won a conference game, but lost a running back this week due to a nasty off the field incident. Austin Scott was already in the doghouse for fumbling issues, but this latest development eliminates him as an option. Penn State is a team much like Michigan that based on talent alone can hang with anyone else in the conference, but they have so far not shown that needed killer instinct. It's because of that that they can be beaten by almost anyone in the conference.
In looking at the rest of Penn State's schedule the only near certain win is the game at Temple. Outside of that each game could be a struggle for a team that is severely underachieving and has as many issues on offense as Penn State. Can Penn State score enough to beat Indiana on the road or Purdue at home if the defense has a lapse? Right now Penn State is in the exact same boat as Michigan, only I feel the Wolverines are just beginning to get over some issues while Penn State's are still fresh.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 9-3 and the Outback Bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 6-6 and the Insight Bowl.
8. (11. 2-10, 0-8) Michigan State (4-2, 0-2)
Michigan State is a prime example of everyone putting too much stock in the non-conference season. At least with Purdue people were guarded and had a wait and see approach. With the Spartans a 4-0 start already had some people putting them in a New Year's Day game. Despite the weakness of that schedule Michigan State was the hot team on the rise, and now one shootout loss to Northwestern has caused the replays of Michigan State collapses to coming out.
This is a good, talented team, but they are still unproven and it shows. They face a must win game at home against Indiana this week or an 0-4 conference start will find them suddenly fighting to even reach a bowl game. If that happens they would need to get at least one of a finishing kick against Michigan, Purdue, and Penn State to stay alive. You have to think Spartan fans are rocking back and forth right now nervously.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 8-4 and the Alamo Bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 5-7 and no bowl.
9. (8. 6-6, 2-6) Northwestern (3-3, 1-2)
With one mild upset the Wildcats are alive and kicking. C.J. Bacher just put the fear of God into defensive coordinators around the conference with a nutty 520 yard, 5 TD passing performance that will make Northwestern a dangerous team to face the rest of the year. Michigan State's defense has played much better than this against better competition and Bacher completely torched them. If not for the Duke loss I would have the Wildcats a lot higher right now.
With Minnesota, Eastern Michigan, and an Iowa team that won't be able to score enough to beat the Wildcats six wins and a possible bowl are on the horizon. The Michigan State win also means they would be a slot ahead of the Spartans come selection time if they finish with even records. Since there is no Wisconsin or Penn State on the schedule Northwestern may not be out of it in any game it has left except maybe Illinois and Purdue, even then that offense can still erupt for enough points.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 6-6 and the Motor City Bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 5-7 and no bowl.
10. (6. 9-3, 5-3) Iowa (2-4, 0-3)
The Hawkeyes are all but done now, as they have to go at least 4-2 with a struggling offense down the stretch to make any bowl game. With Illinois and a trip to Purdue ahead it looks like a strong possibility that the losing streak will be extended to six games before things can begin to get better. What will the morale be like by then? This is a dead team walking with no offense at all and a defense that is very overworked.
It's time for Iowa to play with some pride as Illinois comes to town a big winning streak. If they can't come together and pull that game out this season will be all but officially over, and the BGNMOS curse will continue for another year.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 6-6 and the Motor City Bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 4-8 and no bowl.
11. (9. 5-7, 1-7) Minnesota (1-5, 0-3)
Minnesota is improving, but with the number of road games they have remaining there is no hope for a bowl. Even the home date against North Dakota State is difficult if you follow the following logic train: ND State waxed Central Michigan, who also got beat by Purdue. It's simply time for Minnesota to work on things for next year, as there are some nice young pieces to build around. They also still could come out and pull off a major upset just to mess with people.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: 4-8 and no bowl. WORST CASE SCENARIO: 1-11 (yes, it could get that bad.)