We wanted to hold off on publishing our Big Ten power rankings until after conference play began. No, we didn't learn all that much about these teams after just one game, but as we all know, conference play offers a whole new beginning, especially for teams that underperformed mightily in September (read: pretty much all of them), and the early returns indicated that maybe it won't be so bad for some of the worst culprits. But for their counterparts, who skated through their nonconference schedule? Well, they may be starting to learn that Big Ten play is a totally different animal.
There's still a lot to learn about each of the Big Ten's twelve teams, but here's how we have them, after five weeks of football.
|1||(5-0, 1-0) Ohio State continued to prove that they're the class of the conference by going in to East Lansing and coming away still undefeated. There's really not much else to say. Like the rest of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes are a flawed team, but the gap between them and the rest of the conference seems pretty sizeable.|
|2||(4-1, 1-0) Nebraska played a nearly flawless second half to overcome a 20-3 deficit against Wisconsin, but this is far from a complete team. The skill positions on offense are loaded, but Taylor Martinez still looks like a glorified shot putter when he tries to throw. The defense swallowed up Montee Ball, but let Jared Abbrederis run wild. And there may be an issue of discipline: the Huskers took some horribly timed penalties Saturday. But all that said, Nebraska is pretty clearly the second best team in the conference. Whether that says more about them or their opposition, I'll let you decide.|
|3||(5-0, 1-0) Are the Wildcats as good as their 5-0 record seems to indicate? Well, four of the five wins have come over BCS teams, and the offense is firing on all cylinders right now--to the tune of 704 yards Saturday against Indiana. Saturday in Happy Valley, they get their first real test, but the dual-threat passing game of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian poses a major challenge for Penn State. For now at least, they've earned this spot, but they might be the Big Ten team we know the least about.|
|4||(3-1, 0-0) The other contender for that title: Purdue. The Boilermakers played Notre Dame closer than either Michigan or Michigan State, and unlike most of their conference peers, they actually beat up on their out-of-conference cupcakes. Don't let the 51-41 final over Marshall fool you, Purdue led 42-14 at the half before Marshall made the score respectable. They've earned this spot on resume, but...it's tough to feel confidence in slotting Purdue in the top half of the Big Ten. A loss Saturday against Michigan might portend a return of their same old struggles in the conference.|
|5||(3-2, 1-0) The Lions are a couple plays away from being 5-0, or at least 4-1, and they've played pretty flawless football the past three weeks. But those three performances came against a trio of pretty awful teams. Northwestern, with its efficient passing game, could prove a nightmare for Ted Roof's defense, and we're yet to see how Bill O'Brien's offense performs in a shootout. Oh, and there's still the minor matter of not having a kicker who can be trusted with anything longer than an extra point.|
|6||(3-2, 0-1) As good as the Spartan defense is--and it is very, very good--this team just doesn't have the offense to be an upper-echelon team. Andrew Maxwell will likely improve, but Le'Veon Bell needs some help: he's carried 134 times this season already, compared to just 16 for his top backup, Larry Caper. Bell's a strong runner, and a workhorse, but if he gets worn down or hurt, the Spartans are in for a whole lot of trouble.|
|7||(2-2, 0-0) The Wolverines looked about as bad as a team can look in their loss to Alabama...but so would all but a dozen or so teams in the country. And the loss to Notre Dame was ugly...but Michigan won the time of possession and yardage battles, and only lost by 7 despite Denard Robinson trying his hardest to throw to the wrong team. Brady Hoke's offense still deserves the benefit of the doubt and the Wolverines ought to return to form soon, but this team needs to reinvent itself after a nonconference showing that couldn't have gone much worse. With a win over Purdue, they'll shoot way up the rankings.|
|8||(3-2, 0-1) The good news: After a thoroughly uninspired pre-conference slate, which the Badgers were fortunate to escape 3-1 despite playing such worldbeaters as Northern Iowa, Utah State, and UTEP, the Badgers came out and dominated Nebraska, in Lincoln, for the first 35 minutes, as freshman Joel Stave looked great replacing the struggling Danny O'Brien. The bad? The last 25 minutes of the Nebraska game, and the fact that somehow, a Montee Ball-led offense ranks 98th nationally in rush yards.|
|9||(3-2, 1-0) A pair of embarrassing losses to inferior teams had Hawkeye fans hoping to get rid of Kirk Ferentz. Reclaiming the Floyd of Rosedale doesn't cure all ills, and the next three games--against Michigan State, Penn State, and Northwestern--should tell us whether the dismantling of Minnesota was a fluke. But if nothing else, the emergence of Mark Weisman these last couple weeks sure has been fun.|
|10||(4-1, 0-1) I hope Minnesota fans knew better than to expect that the Gophers' 4-0 pre-conference mark would translate into a winning season. Minnesota misses Indiana this year, and so it's tough to find two more wins on the schedule to get the Gophers bowl eligible. There's a ton of parity in the Big Ten, but Minnesota clearly belongs on the lowest rung of the ladder.|
|11||(2-2, 0-1) Give Indiana some credit: they're probably the worst team in the Big Ten, from a talent perspective, but the Hoosiers have some fight in them: They roared back from a 27-0 deficit Saturday against Northwestern and closed to within one score in the fourth quarter, and also rallied late, but fell just short, against Ball State. That's not much of a consolation, but hey, at least we can't rule out the Rose Bowl just yet.|
|12||(2-3, 0-1) Illinois has now been blown out three times, twice on their own home turf. The Illini are a severely flawed, dysfunctional, undisciplined football team that might be on the precipice of spiraling completely out of control. There's talent in Champaign, but it's being severely misutilized. And the impending 8 or 9-loss season couldn't happen to a better guy.|