Last week: won vs. Illinois 26-6
Let's just get this out there up front. I have absolutely no idea how to rank these top four. I sat here for a solid 15 minutes trying to figure it out. Do you go with prior results? How these teams look right now? How I project them to end up in the future? It's the most difficult week of rankings I've had since I started doing these, for both football and basketball. I guess at the top, we'll stick with the only undefeated team who has now beaten an on-the-map Wisconsin and a better-than-you-think Illinois. But pay heed to the fact that Sparty has not left the state of Michigan yet. Wins at Iowa and Penn State are far from a certainty.
Next: at Northwestern, Sat. 11 a.m. ESPN
2a) No. 11 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1); last week's ranking, 1
Last week: lost at No. 18 Wisconsin 31-18
I came away very impressed with Terrelle Pryor, especially considering that, yes, his return to Camp Randall was not one of his best games. He's an incredible scrambler, a guy that just makes plays on third down. Obviously, the vaunted Buckeye defense and special teams units have to be concerned with their effort in defeat. But on the rushing D front, OSU doesn't have to see John Clay and James White again.
Next: vs. Purdue, Sat. 11 a.m. BTN
2b) No. 13 Iowa (5-1, 2-0); LW, 2
Last week: won at Michigan 38-28
Kept hearing on Sunday about how if MSU, OSU and Wisconsin run the table, the Badgers will get shut out of the BCS by the two-team-per-conference rule. Ummmm ... we didn't forget about the highly-ranked team that will host those three foes in October and November now, did we?
Next: vs. No. 10 Wisconsin, Sat. 2:30 p.m. ABC
2c) No. 10 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1); LW, 4
Last week: won vs. No. 1 Ohio State 31-18
I'm sure that placing Wisconsin right where it was last week - below MSU, OSU and Iowa - will upset some readers. And that's fair. Just know that the 2c notation is legitimate. The Badgers are tied for second with the Bucks and Hawks. If I have to pick between those three, I'm just not completely sold on Wisconsin's passing game and ability to get off the field on third downs.
Wisconsin won that game Saturday on pure emotion, feeding off a frenzied crowd. Camp Randall will have nothing to do with what Wisconsin does for an encore tomorrow.
Next: at No. 13 Iowa, Sat. 2:30 p.m. ABC
5) Illinois (3-3, 1-2); LW, 6
Last week: lost at No. 13 Michigan State 26-6
Obviously, there is a Gabe Carimi-sized gap between the top four and the bottom seven in this conference. But if we're evaluating the second tier, it's worth pointing out the Fighting Illini don't face another ranked opponent the rest of the way. An 8-4 finish is entirely possible for the Zooker.
Next: vs. Indiana, Sat. 11 a.m. BTN
6) Michigan (5-2, 1-2); LW, 5
Last week: lost vs. No. 15 Iowa 38-28
If there's a Big Ten game the rest of the way I can't wait to see (not including showdowns between any of the top four), it's on the weekend preceding Thanksgiving, when Bret Bielema takes his boys to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have been handing out wins like Baby Ruths on Halloween to conference opponents in Michigan Stadium, which has been a Big House of Horrors to Wisconsin.
7) Penn State (3-3, 0-2); LW, 7
Last week: Idle
Since the rest of the conference is irrelevant, and there were no important games over the weekend, we'll keep the rankings as is. For the optimists looking for possible threats to MSU's perfect season - particularly if the Spartans escape Kinnick alive in two weeks - look no further than the season finale, when MSU has to deal with Happy Valley, never an easy place to win.
Next: at Minnesota, Sat. 11 a.m. ESPNU
8) Purdue (4-2, 2-0); LW, 8
Last week: won vs. Minnesota 28-17
Hey, don't sleep on undefeated Purdue as Big Ten championship contenders! (Yeah, right.) If you're keeping score at home, it was the Boilermakers who sent Tim Brewster on his merry way. It was a nice, balanced effort for Purdue's offense, racking up just south of 400 yards.
Next: at No. 11 Ohio State, Sat. 11 a.m. BTN
9) Northwestern (5-1, 1-1); LW, 9
Last week: Idle
It's a little baffling that Northwestern is the No. 1 team in the USA Today poll's "receiving votes" portion. What exactly have the Wildcats done to inspire confidence? Was it the narrow escape act of a one-point win at Minnesota, or the home loss to Purdue?
Next: vs. No. 8 Michigan State, Sat. 11 a.m. ESPN
10) Indiana (4-2, 0-2); LW, 10
Last week: won vs. Arkansas State 36-34
Hey, anytime you want two teams to combine for a 37-point fourth quarter, Indiana's your team. Holding off Arkansas State for the win ... gotta love those Hoosiers and their non-conference scheduling.
Next: at Illinois, Sat. 11 a.m. BTN
11) Minnesota (1-6, 0-3); LW, 11
Last week: lost at Purdue 28-17
Here's something to do with 15 seconds of spare time: imagine you were present in the NBC studios when Tony Dungy received a call investigating his interest in the Minnesota gig. Then imagine Dungy guffawing like Dom DeLuise in History of the World: Part I, and hanging up faster than you can say "Teach me how to Bucky".
Next: vs. Penn State, Sat. 11 a.m. ESPNU