It’s been a long time since we did an arbitrary BS Power Rankings report and since I’d much rather talk about other programs (see what you’ve done to me, Purdue??), away we go…
1.) An Ohio State University
The Bucknuts are clearly the top team in the Big Ten. There’s really no other way to say it and despite people (mainly from outside the Big Ten) claiming that OSU doesn’t play a tough enough schedule, the fact is they have won 18 straight and Ubran is unbeaten as their HC. I don’t care how much of a sordid past you have – that’s still impressive. Even cheaters don’t win all the time, you know? Also, they’ve won games that were expected to test them and all you have to do is answer the bell when you’re the champ.
2.) Michigan State
You might be surprised to find them this high on the list, but I’m not. Anyone familiar with my admiration for Coach Dantonio knows I always expect MSU to be 11-1. Seriously, though, they looked to be heading in the wrong direction last year and at the start of this year (for example, when they had four QBs listed as co-starters) but Sparty has found a way and is quietly 5-1. They’ll lay waste to Purdue and Illinois and be 7-1 heading into back to back weeks vs Michigan and @ Nebraska, so they very much have their path to the conference title games in their hands. Don’t be surprised if the Spartans win 10 games this year.
The corn violators earn this spot because, as much as we all mock their defense, they’ve been improving this season and are looking kind of scary now. Assuming Taylor Martinez comes back healthy, what’s stopping Nebraska? They have a stretch of three tough tests @ Michigan, vs MSU and @ PSU, but they’ll be cruising into those at 7-1. Their much maligned defense has given up a lot of yards, but has employed a bend-but-don’t-break strategy (as opposed to Purdue’s less popular, bend-and-then-break approach) allowing them to win games comfortably. And the points allowed has decreased in each week over the past month, going from 21 to 20 to 19 to 7. So Minnesota will somehow score negative points this week against them.
I’ll go ahead and say it – I’ve never thought Hoke was much of a coach. I think he’s one of those guys who surrounds himself with good assistants and, of course, talent also helps. He plays things conservatively until he has to take a shot and because of his athletic QBs, that has worked out in his time at Michigan. But he’s a lesser coach on the road and seems to sometimes freeze up in his big-game decision-making. I’ve felt the Wolvies are a bit of a paper tiger for a while now and their bed-wetting against PSU only further cements that. They’ll get their requisite eight wins and keep the Blue Crew happy (enough) and they have OSU at home this year which helps their cause. If it were in Columbus, I would predict a Buckeye romp.
I think Wisconsin should be higher on this list but it’s their own fault that they aren’t. Oooh, the refs “screwed” us against Az State! No, they didn’t. They did a shoddy job at a key moment – is that so unheard of by college referees? Suck it up and move on. If Stave doesn’t stand there arguing about it, the Badgers probably get their FG attempt off and win the game. There was no shame in losing to OSU, but that puts the Badgers at two losses and thus in fifth position on this vaunted list.
6.) Penn State
Like so many, I’ve kind of loathed Penn State and their football-obsessed, coach-deifying, excuse-making fanbase since the Sandusky revelations. I’ve also not liked Bill O’Brien because he’s kind of a prick, cut as he is from the mold of Bill Belichick. However, that impassioned victory over Michigan under the lights during the white-out on Saturday night was something to behold. If you’re a student at PSU, I’m sure there was nothing better than being in that crowd that night. I yearn for those evenings for Purdue’s current students. And I softened a bit on the current students, players and coaches there. Just stop demanding everyone respect your false god Paterno and we’ll be on our way, PSUers.
It feels kind of mean to put OMHR this low on the list, but the conference has some good teams (despite what Paul Finebaum might say). Once again, Kirk Ferentz is doing what Kirk Ferentz does. Just as the final few believers had seemingly jumped ship on the expensive coach, he begins to cobble together another something-out-of-nothing magic trick. A team that lost at home to a Danny Hope team that was on life support last season is now 4-2 and has shown signs of life. They have a tough bunch of games remaining, so it’s definitely possible that this team could spiral again (they were 4-2 last year, after all, and finished 4-8), but thus far they’ve been more than respectable.
Kevin Wilson has to get the Hoosiers to a bowl this season or he’s in some trouble. Sure, it’s IU, but he’s now in year three and the Hoosiers have to get better. They have, too, as their offense is reminiscent of the mid 2000s Purdue offenses that could rack up points on lousy teams but had trouble holding down good programs. It’s hard to outscore other teams when your defense is weak. The funny thing about that approach – especially in the Big Ten – is that other programs can run with you more than you think (witness MSU outshooting the Hoosiers this past weekend). They just may not prefer to play that way until they have to. IU will continue to stay alive the rest of the way and will likely need to beat the Boilers to get to that elusive bowl game.
Oh, you adorable little harmless kittens. Here the Cats are, cruising along, 4-0, up to a #16 ranking, and with GameDay in town. All is well on Lake Michigan! With just four minutes to go in the third quarter, the purple warriors were up 23-13 on the undefeated and #4-ranked Buckeyes. And then the wheels came off. The Wildcats fought valiantly but ultimately lost 40-30. When it happened, I asked on Twitter if this was going to be that watershed moment for Northwestern fans like the 2004 Kyle Orton fumble is for Purdue fans. Were they going to be able to look back and pinpoint the apex of their football program’s success arc? Time will tell, but it doesn’t look good right now. The Cats lost the following weekend in a listless performance against Wisconsin. They’ve now been outscored 62-13 since that moment in the third quarter against OSU and have the same 0-2 conference record as your Boilermakers. They have a couple of games to right the ship coming up (vs Minn and @ Iowa) but then they go @ Neb, vs Mich, vs MSU before finishing on the road at the Illini. Look for another midpack, 7-5 kind of season out the adorable kittens of Northwestern.
Let me depart from my frequent sarcasm here to sincerely say we hope Jerry Kill gets better and gets his epilepsy under control. As someone who has witnessed too many seizures in my life, it’s one of the most frightening things you can see happen to someone. As for football, the Gophers have clearly made progress under Kill and should feel good about that. But there is a lot of work to be done, as will be evidenced by the fact that Minnesota likely isn’t going to win another game in 2013.
The Illini started the season looking like a much-improved program over last season’s debacle. However, this will turn out to be an aberration, as the currently 3-2 Illinois program will probably only win one more game this season (likely over Purdue). Their schedule gets brutal, with even the winnable games being on the road (IU, Purdue). There have been rumblings about Beckman getting canned if this season is as atrocious as last. It hasn’t been thus far but there’s plenty of time left.
And here lies Purdue. The Boilermakers have been a disappointment even during a time when disappointing seasons have become the norm. Sure, we all owe Coach Hazell a lot more than half a season before casting complete judgment – but we can cast partial judgment. And from what we’ve seen so far, it’s understandable that people are wondering what is going on behind closed doors. It doesn’t seem possible for a coach this respected, this organized, this good at being a part of a winning approach to have this bad a product on the field. And yet there it is – the Boilermakers are unquestionably the worst team – by far – in the Big Ten. They probably would be among the worst in the MAC or the Sun Belt, at this point. That’s unacceptable.