October 2, 2012

Power Rankings: Week five

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

All is fair in love and Big Ten football. The first week of conference play did not disappoint, with the majority of the games coming down to the wire. Outside of a few programs, the Big Ten appears to be balanced and will provide entertaining football for the rest of the season. Let's see who's rising and falling in this week's Power Rankings.

12. Illinois - The Illini have gone from a contender to a team that just lost to Penn State by 28 points. So sending them to the cellar was more than fair. Nathan Scheelhaase set season highs against the Nittany Lions but he's still not 100 percent. The elusive quarterback has been held to a mere four rushing yards this year. The defense continues to underachieve, surrendering 19 touchdowns in five games. With road trips to Madison and Ann Arbor over the next two weeks, coach Tim Beckman has to right his ship quickly before the season sails away.(Last week: #10)

11. Indiana - Last Saturday proved that the Hoosiers will battle to the final whistle, regardless of the deficit. Which is good because based on their performance in Evanston, they will have uphill climbs all year long. The defense was shredded for 704 yards, which was a Northwestern record, including nearly 400 yards from the ground game. On the plus side, Nate Sudfeld outperformed Cameron Coffman and appears to be their best option at quarterback going forward. (Last week: #12)

10. Minnesota - We're not ready to label "fluke" on the Gophers 4-0 start but their loss to Iowa was an eye-opener. The offensive line was dominated all game and failed to give Max Shortell the needed time in the pocket to make plays. It was the type of game where an athlete like MarQueis Gray was needed. In the losing effort, wide receiver A.J. Barker continues to produce and sits fourth in the Big Ten, averaging 71.4 receiving yards per game. Will the upcoming bye week be enough to get Gray back on the field?(Last week:#6)

9. Iowa - Mark Weisman is easily my favorite story in the first half of the season. The walk-on fullback currently sits fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards and tops in rushing touchdowns. His 177 yards performance against a scrappy Gopher defense was just more proof that the throwback runner is for real. After a couple of rough outings, the defense got back on track and forced four turnovers, including a 68 yard INT TD from Christian Kirksey. Now the Hawkeyes can enjoy a weekend of rest before a tough stretch of Big Ten ball.(Last week: #11)

8. Wisconsin - "This is the worst feeling ever. We had it. We clearly had it." Judging from Montee Ball's quote, the star running back didn't get much sleep Saturday night. Yes the loss will linger a bit but on a positive note, the offense has come alive since Joel Stave took over at quarterback. If they can establish Stave as a passing threat, it will prevent opponents from loading the box, with their focus on stopping Ball and the run game. Wisconsin will get an opportunity to take out their rage on the hapless Illini in Madison this weekend.(Last week: #9)

7. Penn State - I sent a text to my old college roommate, asking him what the atmosphere was like at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. His response was "Quiet…like they're preparing for the beat down." The win over the Illini was fitting but to see Michael Mauti snag two picks was the cherry on top. The Nittany Lions are beginning to build something here, despite their issues on special teams. Another big win this weekend could lead to an interest battle against Ohio State on October 27. (Last week: #8)

6. Michigan State - The Spartans were a dependable receiver and a missing whistle away from a win over the Buckeyes. I suppose that's something to hang your hat on. Michigan State suffered another tough loss at home but Andrew Maxwell is beginning to look more comfortable with his throws. The junior QB was arguably the only reason why the Spartans has a chance at victory late in the fourth quarter. Le'Veon Bell, who was been their unsung hero all year, was a non-factor with only 45 rushing yards in the loss. I am intrigued to see how this team response Saturday against the Hooisers..(Last week: #5)

5. Michigan - That was a good weekend to take off. Not only were the Wolverines able to rest up before conference play but they gained a step up on Legends contender Michigan State without a snap. The Maize and Blue, especially Denard Robinson, need to figure out a way to cut down on turnovers and wake up the dormant Fitzgerald Toussaint. Almost 60 percent of Michigan's rushing yards have come from Robinson. Michigan ran for 339 yards last year against the Boilermakers but as we all know, they will see a much different defense in West Lafayette. (Last week: #7)

4. Purdue - Whatever you can do, I can do better. That was the game corners Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson were playing Saturday against the Thundering Herd. After Allen ran back a pick six from 39 yards out, Johnson answered the call and returned an interception 74 yards to paydirt. Now for the bad news. Rakeem Cato and the Marshall offense generated over 500 yards of offense on a highly regarded Boiler defense. The majority of it came through the air, which has been the weaker component to this otherwise steady defense. Purdue's next three weeks will decide if they're in the hunt or still a year away.(Last week: #3)

3. Northwestern - It might be a little harsh to drop them two spots after a win but the Wildcats were unable to hold a large lead on the pitiful Hoosiers, who outscored Northwestern 29-14 in the second half. Trevor Siemian handled the majority of the snaps in the win and tossed for a career high 308 yards. Fellow QB Kain Colter was utilized in the run game, picking up 161 rushing yards and four touchdowns. As long as the defense does not relapse again in Happy Valley, Pat Fitzgerald's squad will be bowl eligible.(Last week: #1)

2. Nebraska - I couldn't believe my eyes when the Badgers lead by 17 early in the third quarter. The same team that barely beat Utah State and UTEP was taking it to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. Then the Huskers decided it was time to play. The three point win over Wisconsin showcased the experience and skill level Bo Pelini's squad possesses. Taylor Martinez is leaps and bounds better compared to a year ago while the rest of the offense continues to put up big time numbers. Now they just need to beat the top team in the Power Rankings this weekend…(Last week: #4)

1. Ohio State - ESPN's Brian Bennett deemed the Buckeyes "the best flawed team out of an enormously flawed Big Ten." While he is dead on with this comment, fans should still be excited with the future of this program. All these gutsy wins continue to build experience and confidence for the youthful depth chart. Also is anyone more clutch than Devin Smith aka, "The Closer" ? The sophomore constantly finds himself in the right place at the right time, late in games. The other notable surprise in the 12 month turnaround goes to the offensive line. Pieced together like a junk car, this group of non names are becoming one of the best lines they've had in some time. (Last week: #2)

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