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October 9, 2012

Power Rankings: Week six

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

It doesn't take much for a heavy shakeup. Just need a few upsets, a few blowouts and maybe just a hint of a slightly noticed winning streak. When you review the top three of this week's Power Rankings, don't pinch yourself. You may at first think it's the late 90's but surprisingly the once dominant three of the Big Ten have found themselves back on top again…of course for now.

12. Illinois - Nathan Scheelhaase attempted to do it all by himself Saturday but as we all know, in the Big Ten you're not going to get far with that type of scheme. The junior carried the ball 22 times, completed 62 percent of his passes and produced 92 percent of the total yards. Yet the offense, aka Scheelhaase, was unable to muster more than two touchdowns against the Badgers. I willing to bet Tim Beckman a can of Skoal that the Illini's struggles will continue this week against the Wolverines. (Last week: #12)

11. Indiana - Kevin Wilson was mere minutes away from his first conference victory before the favored Spartans rallied and escaped with the four point win. The Hoosiers' offense went into hibernation in the second half, giving Sparty plenty of time and opportunity for the comeback. Cameron Coffman tossed three touchdowns but was only able to convert 4-of-15 on third downs. The defense was unable to hold down the fort in the final quarter when the offense sputtered. It will be interesting to see how the Hoosiers respond against the Buckeyes after such a draining loss.(Last week: #11)

10. Minnesota - The Gophers' bye week came at a perfect time. After suffering their first loss in 2012 against Iowa, Jerry Kill and his crew took the weekend to heal up and prepare for the next part of the season. All eyes are still on the availability of quarterback MarQueis Gray, who has missed the last two games due to injury. Max Shortell has filled in admirably but does not bring the same set of skills to the table like Gray. Their upcoming opponent, Northwestern, is coming off their first loss as well. If they follow Penn State's suit, limit the Wildcat running game and control ball possession, Minnesota could find themselves one game away from bowl eligibility.(Last week:#10)

9. Iowa - Another team benefitting from a weekend off was the Hawkeyes. "Underachieved" would be a good word to describe this team's first half of the season. Outside of tailback Mark Weisman, there really isn't anyone playing up to par. Now their win over Minnesota wasn't convincing but it got our attention. James Vandenberg's funk has to end if they plan to make any noise in the next part of their schedule. Speaking of funks, the Spartans are next on the docket. (Last week: #9)

8. Michigan State - Playing hard for one quarter may get you a win against Indiana but it won't work against the rest of the Big Ten. The Spartans barely got by "thee" bottom feeder in the conference, which has folks in East Lansing on edge. With positive news, freshman Aaron Burbridge excelled in his first start with 134 receiving yards on eight catches. Le'Veon Bell was forced to carry the load again with 37 carries but responded from the poor start a week ago with 121 yards. The Hawkeyes have giving State troubles in the past so sleeping in this Saturday may be a death sentence for Mark Dantonio's group.(Last week: #6)

7. Purdue - Their home opener against Michigan wasn't a must win but the Boilermakers needed to prove they can hang with a top tier program, like the one from Ann Arbor. Clearly they were unable to fulfill this task. It was amateur hour on offense, which showcased three different quarterbacks, a little over 200 yards of offense and 1-for-11 on third down conversions. The defense also played their part in the 31 point loss by surrendering over 300 rushing yards to the Wolverines. With the Badgers on the horizon, how will Danny Hope get this once promising season back on track?(Last week: #4)

6. Wisconsin - It may be pre-mature to say "back on track" but this was a win the Badgers needed to at least heal some of the wombs from the loss a week before. Montee Ball might be still hurting a bit but the tough runner picked up 116 on the ground and two touchdowns against the Illini. Joel Stave and Jared Abbrederis have found a rhythm through the air, with Abbrederis being the only receiver from the Big Ten averaging over 100 yards per game. The next four games are all winnable, which would give Wisky an 8-2 record before the showdown against Ohio State.(Last week: #8)

5. Nebraska - Putting up 38 points and over 400 yards of offense usually gets you a win…well unless your defense gives up 63 and nearly 500 yards. The Cornhuskers were able to move the ball on the Buckeyes with surprising ease but turnovers and miss-steps sparked the comeback for Ohio State. Taylor Martinez tossed a career high three interceptions, with one of them getting returned for a touchdown. The defense was shredded by Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde for a combined 326 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Nebraska's bye week comes at a perfect time after such a lackluster effort in Columbus.(Last week: #2)

4. Northwestern - So close yet so far away. The Wildcats came close to bowl eligibility in Happy Valley but both sides of the ball faltered in the final quarter, leading to the 11 point loss. Trevor Siemian once again handled all the snaps under center but was held to only 135 yards. Jack-of-all-trades Kain Colter also struggled with only 41 all purpose yards. Even with the lack of production, the Wildcats entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead. The defense was unable to hold the lead and surrendered 22 points in the final 10 minutes. A refreshed Gopher squad in Minneapolis could keep Northwestern still one game away.(Last week: #3)

3. Penn State - Less than a month ago, the Nittany Lions were sitting at the bottom of our Power Rankings with hopes of a strong season slipping away. Now their "nothing-to-lose" attitude has led to four straight wins and respect among the conference. Matt McGloin continues to excel through the air as he leads the Big Ten in numerous passing categories. The Lions have also found their workhorse in tailback Zach Zwinak. The throwback runner has averaged 105 rushing yards over the last three games. We'll see if their winning ways will continue after the upcoming bye week. (Last week: #7)

2. Michigan - Of all the Big Ten teams to play this past Saturday, the Wolverines were the most impressive. Stellar defensive play and an efficient Denard Robinson led to the complete shellacking on Purdue. The senior quarterback produced more rushing yards (235) than the Boilermakers' total offense yards (213), plus he minimized his turnovers to just one. Against a better defense, Robinson will need a running mate and right now, Fitzgerald Toussaint is not that guy. I wouldn't be surprised to see Thomas Rawls get a few more carries in Champaign this weekend. Greg Mattison's influence on the defense continues to show as they sit second in the Big Ten in total defense and tops against the run game. (Last week: #5)

1. Ohio State - With a typical Buckeye defense, this team could contend for a National Title now. Miller is beginning to receive Heisman attention, Hyde is coming off the best game of his career and the receivers continue to improve. While the offense rivals anyone in the country, the defense has failed to live up to expectations. They currently sit 10 in total defense, 11 in pass defense and give up an average of 5.4 yards per play. Despite the growing pains on D, the Buckeyes have a great shot to be 11-0 before "The Game" on November 24. (Last week: #1)

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