Big Ten Power Rankings

College football is finally back and Wisconsin and Michigan State were so excited to start that they couldn't wait until Saturday. With the Badgers and Spartans already in the win column, nine more teams kick off the season, and we kick off our power rankings.

1) No. 11 Wisconsin (11-2, 7-1 Big Ten in 2010); Ended last year, 1

This week: won vs. UNLV 51-17

If I had to nitpick - other than offering the obligatory reminder that, hey, it was UNLV - it would be the possibility that Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and James White might have shown their cards to Big Ten foes a tad more than maybe Bret Bielema would've hoped. And with the missed extra point, the backup kicker situation is clearly unsettled. Other than that, Wisconsin's offense makes last year's Scott Tolzien-led crew look ordinary. You know, the crew that only put up 70 points thrice. Wilson looks like a keeper and as long as the defense doesn't completely collapse, 10 wins are in the bag, a Rose Bowl should be the goal, and a national title game appearance shouldn't be out of the realm.

Next: vs. Oregon State, Sept. 10, 11 a.m.

2) No. 10 Nebraska (10-4, 6-2 Big XII)

Welcome, friends. The mothership has finally landed, since the Cornhuskers' style of play is perfect for this conference. Stepping right in and playing the bully might torque off traditionalists, but Nebraska injects new life into a league that has been harassed with "overrated" claims for a number of years. And with those ol' boys Ohio State and Michigan in relative disarray, Nebraska should come in feeling confident as a conference favorite. But one little problem: Russell Wilson's wearing the wrong shade of red.

Next: vs. Chattanooga, Sat. 2:30 p.m. BTN

3) Iowa (8-5, 4-4); LY, 6

Prime candidate No.1 for a bounce-back year. I am proud to announce I covered the Hawkeyes' media day and managed to escape without rhabdomyolysis. But seriously, the offense should be balanced, the defense will be improved and some of Iowa's misfortune will turn into good luck. It's a memory foam-soft road schedule until Nebraska after Turkey Day. By then, Iowa should have locked up a very nice bowl assignment.

Next: vs. Tennessee Tech, Sat. 11 a.m. BTN

4) No. 18 Ohio State (12-1, 7-1 Big Ten); LY, 2

‘Twill be an interesting season in Columbus - and frankly, the Buckeyes' fans would give their Tressel-trademarked vests for a boring four months. The madness continued Thursday night when three players were suspended for taking illegal benefits. Ohio State still retains many of its mainstays, however, and the conference top to bottom shouldn't stop OSU from winning six or seven games in the league.

Next: vs. Akron, Sat. 11 a.m. ESPN

5) No. 17 Michigan State (11-2, 7-1); LY, 3

This week: won vs. Youngstown State 20-6

Kirk Cousins will be a beast, surefire Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year candidate. The Badgers-Spartans rematch in East Lansing should be interesting, especially since so many MSU fans still feel raw over Wisconsin getting the Pasadena trip. But trips to South Bend, Columbus, Lincoln and Iowa City make this year a challenge.

Next: vs. Florida Atlantic, Sat, Sept.11 11 a.m.

6) Illinois (7-6, 4-4); LY, 5

Prime candidate No.2 for a bounce-back year. Losing Mikel Leshoure surely will hurt, but check out the Fighting Illini's week-by-week assignment, and ... geez, can this team go 10-2? Can't it? If Nate Scheelhaase keeps progressing, why not?

Next: vs. Arkansas State, Sat. 2:30 p.m. BTN

7) Michigan (7-6, 3-5); LY, 7

Denard Robinson alone is worth the price of admission, and about six or seven wins. You just know one of these years, the Wolverines are going to put it back together.

Next: vs. Western Michigan, Sat. 2:30 p.m. ABC/ESPN

8) Penn State (7-6, 4-4); LY, 4

The Nittany Lions are excited about Silas Reed and Brandon Beachum, which could be a poor man's Ball-White combo. But the quarterback and defense remain questions. Call me a non-believer.

Next: vs. Indiana State, Sat. 11 a.m. BTN

9) Northwestern (7-6, 3-5); LY, 9

Where'd all these talented Northwestern quarterbacks come from? Now it's Dan Persa's grand return from a 2,500-yard passing season, and the Wildcats could once again be the ultimate trap game for title-dreaming squads. However, the league as a whole is improving, and consistently beating more talented teams is a taller task.

Next: at Boston College, Sat. 11 a.m. ESPNU

10) Purdue (4-8, 2-6); LY, 10

I think the Boilermaker football team's emblematic slogan is, "meh." Purdue will rotate quarterbacks this year, it will beat the dregs of the league, it will provide fodder for the mediocre and elite teams, and much like the autumnal equinox, this team will go on for another year without many people noticing.

Next: vs. Middle Tennessee State, Sat. 11 a.m. BTN

11) Minnesota (3-9, 2-6); LY, 10

Hang on, let me consult my two-point conversion chart ... yeah. Just what I thought. Another long year at the Bank. Again.

Next: at No. 25 USC, Sat. 2:30 p.m. ABC/ESPN

12) Indiana (5-7, 1-7); LY, 11

It's not gonna be pretty. Again.

Next: vs. Ball State (at Indianapolis), Sat. 6 p.m.

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