Last week: won at Michigan 48-28
Three and only three things can possibly spook Badgers fans heading into Saturday. One: Ohio State loses to Michigan, thus handing the conference to Michigan State on account of head-to-head. (Not gonna happen; the Buckeyes own The Game.) Two: Each of the Big Ten's Big Three wins, possibly vaulting OSU over Bucky in the final BCS standings. Well, if this were to happen, note that a MSU win (and subsequent Penn State loss) would greatly enhance UW's strength of schedule (Badgers played MSU, didn't play PSU) while hurting that of the Buckeyes (who played PSU, but not MSU). Three: Northwestern pulls the upset of all upsets. (Ummmmm ... yeah. If the Badgers blow this, there might not be any alcohol left in Wisconsin from all the sorrow.)
Next: vs. Northwestern, 2:30 p.m. ABC
2) No. 8 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1); LW, 2
Last week: won at No. 20 Iowa 20-17
Like I said, Ohio State has tormented Michigan lately, winning the last six battles and 8 of 9. Denard Robinson figures to be held down by Ohio State's dominating D, and Terrelle Pryor has become an official playmaker on any stage. But it's looking like OSU is going to have to settle for a split title and a Orange/Fiesta consolation prize.
Next: vs. Michigan, 11 a.m. ABC
3) No. 10 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1); LW, 3
Last week: won vs. Purdue 35-31
How many times is Michigan State going to escape? This trip to State College is looking more than just treacherous. The Spartans have to come into this thing with a underdog's mentality, because their previous road endeavors aren't very encouraging.
Next: at Penn State, 11 a.m., ESPN2
4) No. 24 Iowa (7-4, 4-3); LW, 4
Last week: lost vs. No. 9 Ohio State 20-17
A lost season for the Hawkeyes, as they've now slipped back into that middle group of the conference. The strength of schedule and a final kick at Minnesota should keep Iowa in a respectable bowl, but it should be nothing more than a final hurrah for the exodus of seniors leaving Iowa City before next season.
Next: at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m.
5) Penn State (7-4, 4-3); LW, 7
Last week: won at Indiana 41-24
Bold prediction: the team who I dogged all year in these rankings will complete the year at No. 3 in this space. Such is the marathon life in college football.
Next: vs. No. 10 Michigan State, 11 a.m., ESPN2
6) Michigan (7-4, 3-4); LW, 6
Last week: lost vs. No. 7 Wisconsin 48-28
Good to see Michigan fans enjoying Mr. Robinson in all his dual-threat goodness. But Rich Rodriguez and cronies must figure out how to coax the defense into simple matters like, you know, covering and tackling.
Next: at No. 8 Ohio State, 11 a.m. ABC
7) Illinois (6-5, 4-4); LW, 8
Last week: won vs. Northwestern 48-27
You might say Mikel Leshoure hit a home run! (You don't have to boo, I'll get off the stage myself.) But seriously, 330 rushing yards and two touchdowns is quite an accomplishment at Wrigley Field. And in a potentially underrated note that absolutely nobody in the national media evaluated, they were all facing one direction!
Next: at Fresno State, Dec. 3
8) Purdue (4-7, 2-5); LW, 9
Last week: lost at No. 12 Michigan State 35-31
Can't blow those types of games if you want to be taken seriously in a big-boy conference (allowing a blocked punt in your own red zone? Really?), but the Boilermakers have some nice things going on there. They nearly made this Big Ten race a lot easier in the spoiler role.
Next: vs. Indiana, 11 a.m.
9) Northwestern (7-4, 3-4); LW, 5
Last week: lost vs. Illinois 48-27
Don't get it backwards, folks: this team is markedly, significantly worse without Dan Persa. Northwestern will be an interesting squad in 2011, but not for the rest of this season. (I'm sure Badgers fans are thinking massive jinx here. I just don't see it.)
Next: at No. 7 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. ABC
10) Minnesota (2-9, 1-6); LW, 10
Last week: Idle
If only Tim Brewster had been fired one week earlier - as in, just after the Wisconsin loss and not after the Purdue loss - that would make THREE coaches this year who have met their demise directly at the hands of football teams in Wisconsin (Wade Phillips, Cowboys and Brad Childress, Vikings). Um, Minnesotans, you might want to steer clear of those herds of Sconnies with protruded chests for awhile.
Next: vs. No. 24 Iowa, 2:30 p.m.
11) Indiana (4-7, 0-7); LW, 11
Last week: lost vs. Penn State 41-24
Well, one last rousing try at a conference win, but if Purdue shows any pride after its near-miss, it'll be another oh-fer for the Hoosiers.
Next: at Purdue, 11 a.m.