Big Ten Football Tower of Power

Yeah, I didn’t feel like calling them the power rankings. I wanted to be special. I also wanted this post to make sense, and starting with the worst teams made more sense to me than starting with the best teams. It’s kind of like climbing a tower. Plus, now the readers have to scroll down to see the team ranked number one. Muahahahaha.

Anyway, imagine you are on a journey across the midwest. The first four weeks were tougher than expected, but at least the sun was shining in the sky and there was plenty of food to be had. Now, the days are turning colder and the wild beasts off the beaten path grow more aware of your group’s growing weakness. You’re looking for the next town on the road for some shelter and maybe even a good meal, but a wild hog crosses the path and you’re drawn away by your hunger for something other than rice and squirrel meat.

It’s Floyd. The legendary hog leads you on a wild chase through the woods and finally disappears into the brush. Exhausted, you decide that the group would be better off heading back to the path than continuing the hunt. Unfortunately, no one seems to know where the path is anymore. Luckily, there’s a beacon of light shining over the woods, piercing through the darkness. You look up, and there’s an ominous tower silhouetted against the night sky at the edge of the woods…

12. Minnesota
Nothing says “welcome to the show” quite like a 31-13 beatdown to open up conference play. To make matters worse, Minnesota lost their beloved pig, Floyd of Rosedale in enemy territory and now must head back to the land of the lakes empty-handed. Those cute little victories over UNLV and Syracuse were nice, and they may help Minnesota reach a bowl game for the first time since 2009, but now reality has set it.

The Gophers allowed former walk-on fullback Mark Weisman to rush for 177 yards on 21 carries, while their own leading rusher was their second most mobile quarterback, Max Shortell. Minnesota may have something for the future in Shortell, but he probably won’t grow fast enough to make up for this team’s shortcomings. Getting burned on a flea flicker like they did in today’s day and age is embarrassing.

11. Illinois
Sure, the Illini’s two big non-conference losses were both to quality opponents, but it would be nice if the orange and blue looked respectable in at least one of those games. Illinois came out of the gate similarly flat against Penn State on Saturday and got crushed 35-7 under the weight of their own middling offense.

Illinois did get their starting safeties back for the Penn State game, and they did a good job slowing down State’s aerial assault. However, the ground game was a completely different story, as the Illini were run over by backup Zach Zwinak to a tune of 5.3 yards per carry. With talented run stoppers like linebacker Jonathan Brown and defensive tackle Akeem Spence on the roster, Illinois needs to put a plug in its run defense in order to give the offense time to find itself.

10. Indiana
You have to like the resolve the Hoosiers showed in bouncing back from a 20-0 halftime deficit to make their 44-29 loss at Northwestern rather interesting. Indiana was shredded to pieces by both NU quarterbacks, surrendering 704 yards of total offense on Saturday afternoon. However, the Hoosiers have a little bit of pop themselves.

Freshman Nate Sudfeld looked great in relief for the second straight week and junior halfback Stephen Houston has averaged over eight yards per carry on 23 rushes over the past two games. Sudfeld will hopefully get the start next week at home vs. Michigan State, as he should continue to gain valuable experience while head coach Kevin Wilson does something about this defense.

9. Iowa
The Hawkeyes proved themselves superior to Minnesota on Saturday, which was a great surprise to me. After Iowa struggled to go 2-2 in a non-conference slate that was obviously set up to have it go undefeated, it looked like the game versus Minnesota was an even match. Instead, Floyd’s new residence was decided rather quickly as the Hawkeyes took a 24-0 lead into the half.

Quarterback James Vandenberg still hasn’t shown anything to make us think that he’ll be more than a mediocre quarterback, but fullback-turned-halfback Mark Weisman looks like a legitimate diamond in the rough after his third straight 100-yard rushing game (he had over 200 versus Central Michigan). Will Iowa be able to run the ball against the more stalwart defense in the Big Ten? We’ll find out in two weeks when the Hawkeyes take on the Spartans in East Lansing.

8. Purdue
I was going to rank the Boilermakers higher, but that became a difficult proposition when I realized their best win is a three-point loss to Notre Dame. Other than that, Purdue has defeated Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Marshall. The most recent game, a 51-41 win over the Thundering Herd, saw Purdue get outscored in the second half 27-9 after a ridiculous 42-point first half in which they brought back two interceptions for touchdowns.

The Purdue secondary should indeed be a forced to be reckoned with considering the talent of corners Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson, and the rush defense is anchored by the fearsome beast known as Kawann Short. Although starting quarterback Robert Marve is lost for the season, backup Caleb TerBush played plenty last season and should be competent enough. The problem on offense could be the running game, which had a tough time getting going against Notre Dame and Marshall.

7. Penn State
In the middle of the pack stand the Nittany Lions, who have battled through a frustrating start to the season and seem to improve with each passing week. Although head coach Bill O’Brien was quite pass happy in the opener against Ohio, he’s since shown more love to the running game and has made full use of Penn State’s entire stable of rushers. Quarterback Matt McGloin has thrived in O’Brien’s offense and is the surprise Big Ten passing yards leader after five weeks.

Penn State’s 35-7 thumping of Illinois was a good step for the team after they stumbled in their only other road contest against the Wahoos, but there should be tougher tests ahead for the Lions. This week, they take on Northwestern, a team that may be able to exploit Penn State’s soft secondary.

6. Wisconsin
I wonder what head coach Bret Bielema saw in Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien that would cause the newcomer to seize the starting quarterback job so quickly. Wisconsin would be ranked lower on this list if not for the appearance of Joel Stave and his ability to make the Badgers semi-dangerous through the air. Although Montee Ball appears mortal this season, Stave has been able to make up for that in the past two games by stretching the field vertically.

That passing game helped the Badgers jump out to a 27-10 lead on Saturday night, and for a moment it appeared as though they had returned to the Big Ten elite. However, the offense stalled in the second half, and the defense softened, allowing Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and halfback Ameer Abdullah to run wild. Nebraska triumphed 30-27 to keep Wisconsin in the middle of the pack for now. It seems there’s not as much room for error on defense without Russell Wilson behind center.

5. Michigan State
The Spartans sure can defend, but quarterback Andrew Maxwell and the passing game aren’t up to speed yet. Halfback Le’Veon Bell’s 2.6 yards per carry is the only stat you needed to guess the outcome of Saturday’s 17-16 loss to Ohio State. Don’t let the closeness of the score fool you either. If the Buckeyes didn’t turn the ball over three times in this one, they probably would have won a bit more comfortably. The Spartans are going to have a tough time against teams that can slow down their running game.

The good news for Michigan State is that Maxwell is a first year starter and should improve as the season goes on. Plus, it’s not as though he’s horrible. He’s just not good enough to sustain the offense when Bell isn’t gaining five yards at a time. A good rushing attack and a solid defense will keep the Spartans in all of their games, but this home loss to Ohio State is disheartening, especially considering that the Buckeyes are not yet elite on a national scale.

4. Northwestern
Remember folks, YOU CAN’T WIN WITH TWO QUARTERBACKS. That is to say, you can’t win with two quarterbacks unless you’re winning with two quarterbacks. The fact is, most teams with a “quarterback controversy” have two bad signal callers, but Northwestern has one that’s good at passing the ball in Trevor Siemian and one that’s good at running it in Kain Colter. The Wildcats’ offense looks like what the New York Jets’ offense would look like if Mark Sanchez was good at throwing the ball. JETS!

Anyway, against Indiana on Saturday, Siemian completed two-thirds of his passes for 308 yards, while Colter combined with halfbacks Venric Mark and Mark Trumpy to rush for an absurd 387 yards. Things probably won’t go as swimmingly against the rest of the Big Ten, but the Cats have enough versatility to find ways to score on anyone. That said, the defense is still a question mark for Northwestern, and it should get a good test this week against Penn State.

3. Michigan
The Wolverines had last week off, so the last game we have to go on is their disappointing 13-6 loss at Notre Dame. Denard Robinson came into the season with Heisman hype, but that’s been extinguished rather quickly with tepid performances versus Alabama and the Irish. It has begun to seem like Robinson’s shtick doesn’t play well in front of solid defenses. Against Notre Dame, he threw four interceptions and only gained 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.

The good news for Michigan is that there aren’t too many good defenses left on the schedule. The Wolverines should have an easier time in conference play than they did against their top non-conference opponents. If they can win at home against Michigan State and at Nebraska, they could have the Legends Division wrapped up by the time “The Game” kicks off. That said, no one should be counting their chickens until we see how Michigan handles Purdue this week.

2. Nebraska
Their loss at UCLA took away any hopes of a national title run, but the Huskers are still the favorite in the Legends Division right now. Quarterback Taylor Martinez already has about half as many completions and passing yards as he did all of last season while throwing just one interception. Against Wisconsin, he threw for 181 yards in addition to gaining 107 on the ground to spearhead a season-saving comeback bid. No rest for the weary, though. Nebraska heads to Ohio State this week for a clash of Big Ten titans.

The Huskers may not have any household names at the wide receiver position, but Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah are as good as any halfback combo in the country. When you take into consideration Martinez’s talents, Nebraska should be able to run on any opponent they face. That’s good news, because the Blackshirt Defense hasn’t exactly been impenetrable so far.

1. Ohio State
Yeah, they’ve struggled a bit more than they should have in the non-conference part of the schedule, but Ohio State is still undefeated and fresh off of a tough road win in East Lansing. Braxton Miller looks much more comfortable throwing the ball than he did last season, which is good, because it was kind of sad to watch the Bucks beat teams last year with barely any semblance of a passing attack.

The way Ohio State shut down Le’Veon Bell and the Michigan State running game dispelled any fears that may have been brought up when Brendan Bigelow ran wild in the Cal game. That run defense will undergo the ultimate test this Saturday when Ohio State takes on Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead and Nebraska. It’s nice that those two teams meet in the regular season because Ohio State isn’t allowed to appear in the Big Ten title game this season.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s Power Tower. If you want, you can follow me on Twitter @apy5000.

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