World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht rates the Big Ten. Published in The World-Herald on Monday, Nov. 26.
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1. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0)
Last week: beat Michigan 26-21. Up next: season over because of NCAA sanctions. Do the Buckeyes start campaigning to be voted No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, just in case Notre Dame loses in the BCS title game? They can try, but it won't work. The Big Ten was too watered down this season.
2. Nebraska (10-2, 7-1)
Last week: beat Iowa 13-7. Up next: Big Ten championship game vs. Wisconsin. Lucky or not, the Huskers took advantage of the opportunity presented in this down season and claimed a division title. But a league title is the real goal. That ugly 12-year drought needs to end.
3. Northwestern (9-3, 5-3)
Last week: beat Illinois 50-14. Up next: bowl game. Even after one of the best seasons in school history, coach Pat Fitzgerald will be dogged by questions about how double-digit leads in the second half against Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan freakishly slipped away.
4. Penn State (8-4, 6-2)
Last week: beat Wisconsin 24-21 in OT. Up next: season over because of NCAA sanctions. This is one of the great coaching jobs in many years. Bill O'Brien and his senior class used their toughness and smarts to basically will an undermanned roster into an applause-worthy season.
5. Michigan (8-4, 6-2)
Last week: lost to Ohio State 26-21. Up next: bowl game. The Wolverines never wanted senior quarterback Denard Robinson to get injured. But when he did, they found the road map to their offense of the future. Devin Gardner's rollout skills and deep-ball accuracy will mesh well with some pro-style sets.
6. Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4)
Last week: lost to Penn State 24-21 in OT. Up next: Big Ten championship game vs. Nebraska. Wisconsin's four league victories are against four of the bottom five teams. So even though the Badgers have experience in the title game and two straight Rose Bowl appearances, that lack of “finish” will hound them this week.
7. Michigan State (6-6, 3-5)
Last week: beat Minnesota 26-10. Up next: bowl game. Nobody in the nation carried the ball more this season than Spartan tailback Le'Veon Bell. His 35 carries for 266 yards against Minnesota got him to 350 total totes. Now, will he leave a year early for the NFL?
8. Purdue (6-6, 3-5)
Last week: beat Indiana 56-35. Up next: bowl game. As expected, fourth-year coach Danny Hope got the ax Sunday. Purdue, which is last in the league in salary for its head coach and assistants, needs to make a financial commitment to football if it truly wants to get out of the league's bottom third.
9. Minnesota (6-6, 2-6)
Last week: lost to Michigan State 26-10. Up next: bowl game. The Gophers deserve their bowl bid, but the program can't shake the worries about coach Jerry Kill's health. He suffered another epileptic seizure at halftime Saturday — his third in two years. When does that impact recruiting and long-term planning?
10. Indiana (4-8, 2-6)
Last week: lost to Purdue 56-35. Up next: season over. The Hoosiers overcame a season-ending injury to quarterback Tre Roberson in the second game to cause a brief stir in the Leaders Division by getting within a game of controlling their destiny to Indy. It was good progress after 0-8 the year before.
11. Iowa (4-8, 2-6)
Last week: lost to Nebraska 13-7. Up next: season over. What's left to say? The oxygen has been sucked out of this program, and Kirk Ferentz's ridiculous contract is blocking any lifelines. Add another alcohol-related arrest for a player over the weekend; is this a bad movie that won't stop rewinding?
12. Illinois (2-10, 0-8)
Last week: lost to Northwestern 50-14. Up next: season over. This is the fourth time in the past 15 years that the Illini have gone 0-8 in the league. But this one feels like the worst. The only time Illinois held the lead at the end of any of its 32 quarters in league play was 3-0 against Minnesota after the first quarter.