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November 6, 2012

Power Rankings: Week 10

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

In a weekend that featured numerous "must-see" matchups from other conferences, the Big Ten played the role of the wallflower and accepted their place in the final minutes of Sportscenter.

Two games came down the wire, giving Big Ten fans something to enjoy but the rest were decided by the third quarter. Thankfully "Judgment Week" has come with six of the top eight teams in our Power Rankings battling this Saturday. Unlike the Sopranos' finale, questions will be answered shortly.

12. Illinois - Tim Beckman may never get his first Big Ten conference win. Let's be honest, they were not going to upset the Buckeyes but even bottom feeder teams demonstrate some signs of fight. I have yet to see this team show life since their loss against Arizona State. Nathan Scheelhaase completed 19 passes against Ohio State for a mere 96 yards. His longest pass of the day was a 12 yard strike to Dami Ayoola. For a nothing-to-lose team, they played rather conservative on the road. I think Beckman is an excellent coach but this marriage was doomed for the start. (Last week: #12)

11. Purdue - The sad thing is I still feel this is one of the better team in the Big Ten. They just lost all confidence and chemistry, especially after the Ohio State game. The Boilermakers' once against played three quarterbacks against Penn State. All three weren't horrible but provided little in the loss. The defense is a mess and sits near the bottom in almost every stat. The Nittany Lions barely broke a sweat in Ross-Ade, which is a perfect description of the last three games played in this stadium. But before firing the entire staff thus starting the re-build process, keep in mind that Purdue could still reach six wins. The final three games are winnable, even though the next two weeks are on the road. (Last week: 11)

10. Iowa - It's official…the losing streak is on. After starting off 2-0 in conference play, the Hawkeyes have dropped three straight, with the most recent defeat coming from surprise Leaders' contender Indiana. Kirk Ferentz's boys jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead but failed to do much after that. The defense gave up nearly 500 yards, the running game suffered without Mark Weisman but James Vandenberg finally added to his touchdown total, which now sits at four. Saturday's battle against the Boilermakers will be their last shot at victory this regular season. (Last week: #9)

9. Minnesota - I would understand if Gopher fans are disappointed after their loss to Michigan but they shouldn't be discouraged. A "Denardless" Wolverine team came into TCF Bank Stadium and walked away with an easy victory but Minnesota showed a lot of good things in the 22-point loss. Philip Nelson may be 18 years old but he's outplaying a lot of veteran QB's in the conference. His numbers were so-so last weekend but it didn't help that leading receiver A.J. Barker was out with an injury. Plus the freshman faced statistically the best pass defense in the country. Once the Gophers get past their little brown jug blues, they'll find happiness on the horizon through bowl eligibility. The Illini are next on the schedule. (Last week:#8)

8. Indiana - They're far from a sure thing but I'm starting to believe Indiana can win two of their final three and play for the conference title. It's crazy to make that statement about a 4-5 team. The Hoosiers are hitting their stride at the right time and face the beatable Badgers at home in four days. The best passing attack in the conference continues to pump out large numbers, including Cameron Coffman's 315 yard showing against Iowa. Coffman and Nate Sudfeld must stay sharp against Wisconsin if they hope to jump them in the Leaders' division. (Last week: #10)

7. Wisconsin - Life without Joel Stave starts this weekend in possibly the most pivotal game for the Badgers. Normally the Hoosiers' are an automatic "W" but times are changing in Bloomington and the little team that could are beginning to believe they can pull this thing off. Under Stave, the Badgers were hitting a groove on offense, playing their best football all year but now with Danny O'Brien" back under center, many wonder how this team will finish the regular season with three tough opponents awaiting them. I imagine their success on offense will be determined by the run game's productivity. Montee Ball and James White have been great against the bottom half of the conference but struggled to replicate those numbers against the likes of Nebraska and Michigan State. (Last week: #7)

6. Michigan State - How much heartache can the Spartans deal with? Their losses against Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State all came late and within three points. This past weekend against the Cornhuskers wasn't any different as State relinquished a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter and added their fifth loss of the year. Just when I start singing the praises of Andrew Maxwell, the junior's numbers fell under par and had minimal impact against the black shirts. At least Le'Veon Bell is back on track, snagging his first 100 yard rushing performance in three weeks. Probably the most deflating fact from the recent loss was the defense's inability to keep a double digit lead with seven minutes to go. Maybe the players will reflect a bit during the bye week on what could have been in 2012, although they better get back into the present quickly as bowl eligibility is in question. (Last week: #6)

5. Penn State - That's one way of getting over a tough loss. The game against the Buckeyes may sting for awhile but the blowout win against Purdue should provide some relief. Matt McGloin passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns, which gave him the lead in passing TD's among Big Ten quarterbacks. A few players enjoyed career days (Zach Zwinak with 134 rushing yards and Brandon Moseby-Felder with 129 receiving yards) in the 500-plus yard day from the Penn State offense. The Cornhuskers will be the best test in November.(Last week: #5)

4. Michigan - So why didn't he play against Nebraska? That would be my question to Brady Hoke if I was a fan. Gardner got the surprising start against Minnesota and shined in the position he was recruited to play. The junior tossed for 234 yards and two touchdowns, including a spectacular 45 yard bomb to Drew Dileo. You could argue a lack of reps led to the decision to play Russell Bellomy over Gardner in Lincoln 10 days ago but the dual threat athlete played a good bit last season and knows the system well. To me, the decision to go with Bellomy is still puzzling, especially after Gardner's performance against the Gophers. If they wish to win against Northwestern, the defense needs to stay on task and continue to dominate the line of scrimmage. Their starting linebackers may be the best in the Big Ten.(Last week: #4)

3. Northwestern - After enjoying a weekend off, the Wildcats find themselves ranked in the Coaches poll and the BCS. I would call that a successful vacation. Still, the Cats have plenty to accomplish in the month of November, including a possible shot at the conference championship. If they wish to sneak into the title game, they must go into Ann Arbor Saturday and upset the favored Wolverines. Kain Colter has to be more than a great athlete against Michigan, as they possess maybe the best defense in the conference. To be able to throw the ball this Saturday, the offense will need Venric Mark to meet or do better than his 119.7 YPG average. (Last week: #3)

2. Nebraska - It looks like the Cornhuskers have obtained a new nickname, "The Comeback Kids". Of their four conference wins, three of them featured double digit second half deficits, including this past week against Michigan State. It can be argued that certain calls aided the late second comeback (just read any Spartan player's twitter account) but the Huskers' deserve credit for a near flawless final drive, including two great throws from Taylor Martinez on a fourth down completion and the game-winning score. The junior QB wasn't perfect against Sparty but he found a rhythm in the final eight minutes. If they find a way to get by Penn State this weekend, fans should begin booking flights to Indy.(Last week: #2)

1. Ohio State - The first quarter caused a "here we go again" reaction from the Buckeye fan base but once the defense slowed down the Illini and let the offense do their thing, it was smooth sailing to 10-0. The running game continues to shine and leads the Big Ten with 34 rushing touchdowns. Probably the most encouraging stat came from the defense, which held Illinois to under 200 yards, although it doesn't take much to dominate the worst offense in the conference. Getting this weekend off is much deserved. (Last week: #1)

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