Now it's time for the fun to really start in the Big Ten East.
The final two weeks will determine who plays for a conference championship.
Michigan State visits Ohio State this weekend, and if the Spartans win, they'll be a win away from the title game. Same goes for the Buckeyes, but they would need a win over Michigan in the season finale to get in. And the Wolverines, by the way, are rooting for the Buckeyes this weekend, as they can still make the Big Ten title game, too, but not if Sparty is victorious in Columbus.
Iowa could also clinch the Big Ten West and a spot in that bout with a win this weekend with a win over Purdue.
It's fun time, now.
Here's how the teams stacked up in this week's Big Ten power rankings:
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0)
Last week: 1
Continue to criticize if you wish, but the Buckeyes keep blowing out opponents and haven’t lost a game yet this season as the number of teams that can say that continues to shrink. The latest? A 28-3 thumping of Illinois. Now comes the hard part, as Ohio State faces Michigan State and Michigan in the final two regular-season games before a potential meeting with fellow undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten title game. Have the Buckeyes been America’s most dominant team this season? No. But wins in the next three weeks will make them as qualified for a College Football Playoff spot as anyone in the sport.
[MORE BIG TEN: Buckeyes keep blowing teams out, so why the hate?]
2. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-0, 6-0)
Last week: 2
The Hawkeyes remain undefeated through 10 games after beating Minnesota on Saturday, and they got some help with four top-10 teams losing this weekend. It sets up Iowa perfectly for a spot in the College Football Playoff should it win out. That’s easier said than done, though. The Hawkeyes will need to avoid missteps against Purdue and Nebraska before a tough test in the conference championship game. But if it finishes undefeated, Iowa will be in the final four.
3. Michigan Wolverines (8-2, 5-1)
Last week: 3
The Wolverines might not have looked especially dominant in a thrilling, high-scoring, double-overtime win over Indiana, a team that’s yet to win a conference game. But whatever luster Michigan lost defensively, it gained on the offensive side, with Jake Rudock throwing for six touchdowns and this Jim Harbaugh team looking like an air-raid juggernaut. Indiana’s horrendous pass defense helped with that, but it showed the Wolverines have all the tools in the toolbox to make a run at the Big Ten East Division title, which they can still win.
[MORE BIG TEN: Week 11 upsets help Big Ten's College Football Playoff chances]
4. Michigan State Spartans (9-1, 5-1)
Last week: 4
Will Connor Cook be healthy for this weekend’s massive showdown against Ohio State? That’s really the only question that matters after the conference’s best quarterback hurt his shoulder in Michigan State’s win over Maryland. The Spartans can still win the Big Ten East, but a win over the Buckeyes is necessary to do that, so having Cook as close to full strength as he can be will be key. So will replicating Saturday’s defensive performance. Ohio State won’t have the same awful quarterback play as Maryland did. But still, a solid showing for a defense that’s struggled this season.
5. Northwestern Wildcats (8-2, 4-2)
Last week: 5
Winning by the skin of their teeth seems to be the Wildcats’ way here in the latter stages of the season. They needed a late field goal to get by Penn State. They needed a late touchdown to get by Purdue. Two wins in the final two regular-season games against Wisconsin and Illinois will give Northwestern one of its best seasons in program history, a silently terrific accomplishment for a team that’s not getting too much love around the conference and around the country. Wisconsin’s defense, though, will provide a serious challenge, especially considering there’s a bit of a quarterback controversy in Evanston. Stay tuned on that front.
[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern wins as Purdue can't capitalize on turnovers]
6. Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 5-1)
Last week: 6
The Badgers were off this past weekend, readying themselves for a final two weeks featuring a tough Northwestern team and a not-as-tough Minnesota team. Wisconsin’s defense should have little trouble slowing Northwestern’s offense, but the flip side should present problems for the banged-up Badgers offense. Few teams in the country can boast the “quality” losses the Badgers have, against Alabama and Iowa, but Wisconsin has also yet to beat a ranked team. That opportunity comes against Northwestern.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-2)
Last week: 7
Penn State also had the week off, and it’s season ends on a challenging couple of notes. Games against Michigan and Michigan State await, and the Lions will be going up against a pair of desperate teams. Why? The Wolverines need to win — and help from Ohio State — to set up a play-in game for the Big Ten title game. If Michigan State wins against Ohio State, though, the Spartans will face the Lions needing a win to clinch their spot in the conference title game. The Lions are going to get those two teams’ best. Can they handle it?
[MORE BIG TEN: Illini's Karras on Cubit: 'It's time to pop the interim tag off']
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6, 3-4)
Last week: 10
A second straight win kept the Huskers’ bowl hopes alive ahead of their bye week, and it would be somewhat remarkable to think how this season could end for Nebraska. All these losses, six of them through the first nine games, and the final three games could feature wins to end undefeated seasons against Michigan State and Iowa and clinch a bowl game in the process. The first of those already happened. The opportunity for the second comes against the Hawkeyes in the regular season’s final week.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-6, 1-5)
Last week: 8
The Gophers didn’t win this past weekend but looked good enough against undefeated Iowa to warrant some praise. An Iowa defense that’s stopped just about everyone it’s come across this season was successfully exploited by Minnesota, of all teams, the Gophers’ passing attack doing a remarkable job, throwing for more than 300 yards in a high-scoring 40-35 game. That’s three weeks in a row now in which the previously inept Gophers offense has challenged top-flight defenses. Unfortunately, all those games ended in defeat.
10. Indiana Hoosiers (4-6, 0-6)
Last week: 9
It’s now must-win time for the Hoosiers. It was such a promising start to the season, a 4-0 beginning that took Indiana into conference play needing just a pair of wins to reach the program’s first bowl game since 2007 and just its second since 1993. But six Big Ten games have come and gone without a win, and now the Hoosiers need to win both to get to the postseason. It’s certainly doable, with the final games coming against Maryland and Purdue, the conference’s two worst teams. But Indiana’s defense has played abysmally during the league slate, meaning anything can happen.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-5, 2-4)
Last week: 11
The Illini looked really, really bad against Ohio State, and perhaps it’s unfair to judge too much when facing the No. 3 team in the country. But the Illinois offense has for the most part been totally ineffective during Big Ten play. You can blame a large amount of injuries — as head coach Bill Cubit does — or a hard schedule or just poor play. Regardless, the Illini are going to have to figure something out on that side of the ball (because the defense continues to play well) at least once in the final two games against Minnesota and Northwestern if they want to reach a bowl game and perhaps turn Cubit into the permanent head coach.
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-7, 1-6)
Last week: 14
Another loss for the Knights this past weekend, this one coming to Nebraska. If not for Indiana, Rutgers would be winless in conference play. So why the bump up in the power rankings this week? Really, Purdue and Maryland are just that bad. Rutgers gets to face one of those teams — plus Army — for a chance to end up with a somewhat fine (for Rutgers) five wins this season.
13. Purdue Boilermakers (2-8, 1-5)
Last week: 13
Purdue had its chances against Northwestern, but the inability to capitalize on any of them landed the Boilers right back where they always are: in the loss column. The Wildcats turned the ball over three times but came away with zero points off those turnovers, going three and out twice. Meanwhile, the Cats turned the only Purdue turnover into a touchdown. Hence the difference in the game. The Boilermakers are likely to get trounced against Iowa before a potentially winnable game against Indiana.
[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Purdue gear right here]
14. Maryland Terrapins (2-8, 0-6)
Last week: 12
The Terps are just a mess this season, unable to do much of anything on either side of the ball. Maryland scored just seven points against a defense that’d been exploited by many teams it’d faced this season. Similarly, the Maryland defense couldn’t do enough to slow down a Michigan State offense that was without its leader, the best quarterback in the Big Ten. Plus, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe combined to throw three more picks, bringing the season total for Terps quarterbacks to 28, worst in the nation. Just not good.