World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten Conference as published in The World-Herald on Oct. 7.
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1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0)
Last week: beat Northwestern 40-30. This week: Idle. Buckeyes deserve your applause for handling back-to-back weeks of prime-time spotlight games and remaining undefeated. The streak should hit 23 before the trip to Michigan.
2. Northwestern (4-1, 0-1)
Last week: lost to Ohio State 40-30. This week: at Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m., ABC. The Wildcats can't afford to feel bad about the loss to Ohio State. This week's trip to Wisconsin will be a monster test in trying to avoid a 0-2 start in the Big Ten.
3. Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1)
Last week: Idle. This week: Northwestern, 2:30 p.m., ABC. The Badgers have no leeway in trying to chase down Ohio State for the Leaders Division title, so look for a wide-open playbook this week, especially after an open date.
4. Michigan (5-0, 1-0)
Last week: beat Minnesota 42-13. This week: at Penn State, 4 p.m., ESPN. Quarterback Devin Gardner, after committing seven turnovers in the previous two games, played without a miscue against Minnesota. But this is still a work in progress. UM rushed for 3.2 yards a carry.
5. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0)
Last week: beat Iowa 26-14. This week: Indiana, 11 a.m., ESPN2. Suddenly, the Spartans are smiling big. Seeing new starting quarterback Connor Cook play smart and well in his first Big Ten road game to complement a powerhouse defense makes MSU much more of a legit title threat.
6. Nebraska (4-1, 1-0)
Last week: beat Illinois 39-19. This week: at Purdue, 11 a.m., BTN. The Huskers did what you're supposed to after an open date — throttle a lesser opponent and show that you made progress in fixing your deficiencies. The Legends Division remains wide open.
7. Indiana (3-2, 1-0)
Last week: beat Penn State 44-24. This week: at Michigan State, 11 a.m., ESPN2. The Hoosiers deserve a ratings boost after routing Penn State in a must-win for bowl hopes. The last time Indiana opened Big Ten play 1-0? It was 2000.
8. Penn State (3-2, 0-1)
Last week: lost to Indiana 44-24. This week: Michigan, 4 p.m., ESPN. Reality is hitting hard in Happy Valley. The seniors who guided PSU through last season are gone, the scholarship count is down to about 60 active players and injuries are piling up.
9. Iowa (4-2, 1-1)
Last week: lost to Michigan State 26-14. This week: Idle. Few teams can suck the life out of a good party better than the Hawkeyes. After finally gaining some momentum in September, it all vanished in a forgettable effort — 23 yards rushing — at home against Michigan State.
10. Illinois (3-2, 0-1)
Last week: lost to Nebraska 39-19. This week: Idle. The Illini, losers of 15 straight Big Ten games, have made some progress, but are so limited in playmaking ability on defense that it will be difficult to move up much.
11. Minnesota (4-2, 0-2)
Last week: lost to Michigan 42-13. This week: Idle. With coach Jerry Kill missing another game because of an epileptic seizure — the second in four weeks — questions will come around again about whether he can effectively lead the Gopher program.
12. Purdue (1-4, 0-1)
Last week: Idle. This week: Nebraska, 11 a.m., BTN. True freshman quarterback Danny Etling gets his first career start against Nebraska, while previous starter Rob Henry will play as a safety. That's proof of an extreme makeover.