But how do you pick that number three team. Is it Illinois? Not until they find a passing game. Penn State? They put a hurt on Wisconsin but they're still shaky. Wisconsin? They've lost two in a row before facing Michigan and Ohio State. Purdue? Maybe, but they must hold serve at home the next two weeks to gain a measure of respectability. Michigan State? They are a lot like Wisconsin. Indiana? Let's get by Wisconsin and Penn State the next two weeks before we move them there. I'll try to address the state of the conference with my projected bowl for each time right now in this week's Power Rankings.
WEEK 7 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
1. (1) Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) Projected bowl: Rose (at minimum)
After the bye week (what else would you call a 48-3 stomping) they face Michigan State, who has twice before ruined perfect seasons in the Horseshoe. The new number 1 team in all the land is now being talked about like a paper tiger since Purdue and Washington, the Buckeyes' two best wins, have stumbled of late. With that defense however the Buckeyes will be in every game. This team is better than most realize and since no one outside of Michigan seems to want to separate themselves from the pack right now you have to consider them in the driver's seat for New Orleans.
The two remaining road games stand out as stumbling blocks since Illinois and Wisconsin have yet to play well on the road. The trip to Penn State could be tricky if the Nittany Lions continue to improve, and the same is true for the trip to Michigan. The Buckeyes have perhaps the most difficult remaining schedule in the Big Ten, but with everyone else already at two losses they can afford a stumble and still get to at least Pasadena unless that stumble is against Illinois or Michigan. Even then the Wolverines and Illini have to be perfect the rest of the way.
2. (5) Michigan (5-2, 3-0) Projected bowl: Capitol One
Either Michigan was asleep or Appalachian State played absolutely out of their minds in week one. The Wolverines sure looked impressive on Saturday, but they were helped by four Purdue turnovers in Purdue territory that led to touchdowns. Michigan is simply too good of a team when you leave them with a short field like that, and a dropped interception by Dan Bick would have taken another three points off the board. Purdue pretty much handed the Wolverines 31 points on mistakes, and no one is going to lose at home when that happens.
While everything went wrong for the Boilermakers in Ann Arbor everything went right for the Wolverines. Now Michigan must go on the road and face an Illinois that has cooled off, but has already taken down a pair of ranked teams at home. They also have a difficult remaining schedule, but at least should have a breather in two weeks when Minnesota comes to town in the battle for the Little Brown Jug.
3. (7) Penn State (5-2, 2-2) Projected bowl: Outback
Penn State may have had the best week of anyone considering all that was going on off the field for them. Unfortunately it is at this point in the power rankings that you can really start drawing teams out of a hat. The week ahead will help, but everyone from here on in is even in my eyes. No one for the Nittany Lions had real eye-popping numbers this week, but it was a solid game offensively all around. The story was the defense as they stifled the Wisconsin running game.
With Temple left on the schedule Penn State gets its six wins, and if the Penn State of this past Saturday shows up they probably win four of their games and even give Ohio State a good run. If the Penn State of earlier in the season shows up a split will of the four remaining conference games could prove to be difficult. I tend to agree with the earlier sentiment, as defense is the name of the game right now in the Big Ten. If you can stop someone you can win.
4. (4) Purdue (5-2, 1-2) Projected bowl: Alamo
We don't deserve this, but I am not giving up on this team. I still think nine wins is a real possibility, and will only begin to panic if we struggle against a bad, bad Iowa team this week. I refuse to believe we'll lose to a team that lost at Iowa State. Northwestern, Michigan State, and Indiana can still be wins as well, and three of those four winnable games are all at home. It's important to remember that Michigan and Ohio State are gone and won't be back this year. Everyone else outside of Penn State was before the season started and can still be projected as a win. Purdue is also here because, unlike hte teams below them, they have not had an unexpected loss so far. Only the margins have been ugly.
I'll admit it, we looked like absolute crap on Saturday. We needed to play a much cleaner game than we did in order to win, didn't do so, and because of that it turned into a blowout. Right now Iowa is still beatable. Our M.O. this season has been to build an early lead and then coast, well, what better team to do that against than Iowa, who has struggled to score points all year. I said before the season anything less than nine wins should be considered a failure and I am sticking to it. Nine wins will put us in Texas in late December, so this ranking is based more on projections than actual results. Now if we crap the bed again against Iowa I am dropping us at least four spots, but if we're 7-2 in two weeks things will look much better.
5. (2) Illinois (5-2, 3-1) Projected bowl: Champs Sports
Was Illinois looking ahead this week? I don't know. I've been saying it for weeks though; if you make Illinois have to pass the ball they suddenly aren't nearly as good of a football team. Iowa did just that and made the Illini pay. It didn't help that the old Ron Zook showed up with just some dumb, dumb coaching moves. Never give a team a second chance at completing a third down, but Illinois did just that on the play before Iowa's touchdown. Now Ron Zook has gone from saying, "Juice Williams is our quarterback," to, "Juice will start, but Eddie McGee will play." Come on Ron, why not announce to the world that you have zero confidence with your starter throwing the football.
Illinois will still make a bowl game, but Michigan and Ohio State are still looming. They are good enough to take away the ground game and make the Illini throw. That's two losses for the Illini even before they get a nutty Northwestern team to finish the season. Don't count out Ball State either, who has nothing to lose when they play the Illini.
6. (3) Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2) Projected bowl: Insight
Yes I know Purdue lost two in a row, but at least they were to teams they weren't expected to beat. Wisconsin probably was the better team in each of their last two games and they looked bad in both games. Something is definitely off with the Badgers right now, and if they struggle with Indiana in two weeks a five loss season may be in order for a team that some said would contend for the National Championship.
P.J. Hill is a bit banged up and Penn State held him in check. The Badgers are also being held to the same standard of still having to face both Michigan and Ohio State with those games being projected as losses. If they win one of those they will definitely move up, but right now they are falling.
7. (8) Michigan State (5-2, 1-2) Projected bowl: Motor City
That was a very nice bounce back win by the Spartans to get the Old Brass Spittoon back from Indiana. Closing the season with Purdue and Penn State also gives them two excellent chances to slot themselves ahead of other teams bowl-wise. That is also what makes the win over Indiana even more important, as it gives them leverage over the Hoosiers come selection time. There are still some causes for concern though.
Michigan State is a run heavy offense and Iowa proved it can slow down run-heavy offenses. Michigan State passes the ball better than the Illini giving them an edge against Iowa. The way Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick were running the ball on Saturday gives them a chance against anyone in the country if they can keep going. A shocking win against Ohio State in Columbus (when the number 1 team has gone down each of the last two weeks) would cause a big jump to occur and make me officially give up figuring out this conference.
8. (6) Indiana (5-2, 2-2) Projected bowl: eligible, but spot may not be available.
No one has been hurt by the supposed struggle of the Big Ten as much as the Hoosiers. Since everyone in the conference not named Ohio State has at least two losses overall it is unlikely that the conference will get two BCS bids to move everyone up one slot unless someone knocks off Ohio State to win the conference and the Buckeyes get tabbed as an at large at 11-1. That means there are only seven slots this year for as many as ten teams, and Indiana missed a chance to slot themselves ahead of someone with the loss to Michigan State.
Now they must face Penn State at home and Wisconsin on the road. A win in either would guarantee a bowl because of the slotting system, but a loss in each game might mean that even with as many as seven wins (assuming wins over Ball State and Northwestern) the Hoosiers could be forced to stay home if they lose the Bucket to Purdue. They wouldn't be chosen in a tie over someone they lost to, and right now they don't have a win against anyone ahead of them.
9. (9) Northwestern (4-3, 2-2) Projected bowl: Eligible, but spot may not be available.
Northwestern is in the same boat as Indiana above them, but a spot back because of the Duke loss. They face a Friday night game against Eastern Michigan in Detroit this week, but the Wildcats simply must beat Iowa and Indiana to have any real shot at a bowl. Getting to six wins would slot them as ninth at best in the mix. Much like Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State are already behind them, and they don't have to face more talented teams in Penn State or Wisconsin this year. In the overtime win over Minnesota Northwestern at least gave me one correct prediction in a week where I went 1-4 in the intra-conference predictions.
There is the minor detail of the defense being compared to the French Army the past two weeks, but as long as C.J. Bacher throws for more than 500 yards a game they are at least fun to watch. An upset at Purdue is not impossible and if the Boilers continue to play like crap I would say it is downright probable. They can also beat Indiana and Iowa to put them at eight wins and that would definitely send them somewhere for the holidays.
10. (10) Iowa (3-4, 1-3) Projected bowl: Not eligible
The band Slipknot is from the state of Iowa and they have a song entitled Skin Ticket that mentions (rather shouts) the line, "Keeping myself alive through your empathy." That is appropriate because that is what Iowa did this past week in beating Illinois as far as its bowl hopes. I still don't think they have enough of an offense to score if Purdue wakes up this week at home or against teams like Northwestern or Michigan State. If the Hawkeyes win in West Lafayette this week they will really make themselves alive while sending Purdue into even more of a tailspin, so it is a critical game for both teams.
The defense is obviously not that bad if it can slow down the Illinois running game. Unfortunately Purdue, Michigan State, and Northwestern can throw the ball just a little and I still say just three touchdowns is a safe margin against the Hawkeyes.
11. Minnesota (1-6, 0-4) Projected bowl: Not eligible
Well, Minnesota was at 3-6 last year on the brink of elimination facing North Dakota State before turning things around with an unbeaten run to a bowl game. That will not happen this year unless Minnesota figures out very quickly how to hold someone under 30 points. At least Goldy can relax a bit knowing that his best defensive effort (30 points against Ohio State) came against the current number 1 team in the country.