Commentary: Big Ten Midseason Power Rankings
by Jonathan Hodges

With the season half over for most teams, it's time to revisit the Big Ten power rankings with the heart of the conference slate coming up.

Many preseason expectations came true: Ohio State is formidable as usual and Penn State is playing at a high level, while Iowa has continued its success from the second half of last season by making good on its dark horse status in the conference.

Other predictions weren't as accurate: Illinois has seemingly fallen apart, Michigan State faltered early and doesn't look like a possible title contender, while Wisconsin broke out to a fast start after a disappointing 2008 season.

The finish to the 2009 Big Ten football season looks to be an exciting one; the conference title will be up for grabs and the battle for bowl berths will kick into full gear.  First up, some awards, followed by the mid-year power rankings.

Game of the First Half:

Iowa 21 - Penn State 10:  This game legitimized Iowa as a conference title contender and potential national power, and set up a potentially huge matchup between Iowa and Ohio State on November 14th.  While USC at Ohio State had the hype, this game will likely have a much bigger impact on the conference race since USC subsequently lost to Washington and Ohio State is slowly climbing back up the top 10.

Player of the First Half:

Michigan QB Tate Forcier (57.2% completion rate for 988 yards passing and 9 TDs, 180 yards rushing and 2 TDs)  Rodriguez has finally found the QB for his system, and Forcier helped put Michigan back on the map in the early part of the season with a 4-0 start, including a come-from-behind win over Notre Dame.  While many other players have had an impact on the first half of the season, the Wolverines desperately needed a quarterback (see last year's 3-9 debacle) and this true freshman has fit the bill so far and put Michigan on the path to a bowl.

Potential Game of the Second Half:

Iowa @ Ohio State (November 14)  Both teams must pass tests prior to that date (Iowa's trip to Wisconsin this week and Ohio State's visit to Penn State on November 7), but this could potentially be a de facto Big Ten title game in Columbus.  There's a lot of football left to play, but this game will have a large impact on the conference title race.

Mid Season Power Rankings:

1. Ohio State (5-1, 3-0)  OSU is just one defensive stop away from being undefeated and ranked in the top four nationally and has been playing very solid football, particularly on defense.  Yes, the offense hasn't been overly impressive, but this squad is looking more and more like the 2002 edition that could rely on its defense and special teams to take over games (like this past week's big victory over Wisconsin where the Buckeyes scored three non-offensive touchdowns).

2. Iowa (6-0, 2-0)  Like Ohio State, Iowa's defense is impressive and has bailed out their offense on multiple occasions.  But, at least in the Big Ten, defense wins championships, and the Hawkeyes look like they have what it takes to stay in the thick of the conference race.  They did come up with enough firepower to take down Michigan last week but will be tested down the stretch starting this week with a visit to Madison along with trips to East Lansing and Columbus.

3. Penn State (5-1, 1-1)  Outside of their brain freeze against Iowa, PSU is playing great football in all aspects of the game, and are getting a dual-headed rushing attack going along with Daryll Clark's solid QB play.  Like the top two, they garner a solid defense and will be looking to get back into the conference race and they want that November 7 home game versus OSU to mean something.

4. Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1)  The Badgers were a relative surprise team, jumping out to a 5-0 start before falling to OSU last week despite outplaying the Buckeyes (they held the OSU offense to just 10 points but watched the Buckeyes' defense score 14 and the special teams add another seven).  They'll have a shot to climb back up the rankings starting this week with a home game against Iowa followed by a relatively easy schedule to finish the year.

5. Michigan State (3-3, 2-1)  After being upset by Central Michigan, losing a heartbreaker at Notre Dame, and falling victim to Wisconsin, MSU has picked themselves back up with a big OT win over in-state rival Michigan and a beating of Illinois.  While they aren't the dark horse team many were expecting, they are playing solid football in all aspects of the game and are looking to move up in the standings during the second half of the season.

6. Michigan (4-2, 1-2)  Michigan surprised many with an offensive-driven 4-0 start to the year to climb back into the national rankings after a dismal 2008 season.  Over the past two weeks they've dropped an overtime game to MSU and lost by two points against a driven Iowa team, but don't expect them to fall off the map.  The Wolverines have three win-able games left on the slate and could still make noise against Penn State, Wisconsin, or even Ohio State with a now-potent offensive attack.

7. Minnesota (4-2, 2-1)  The Gophers have fared well after a disappointing five game losing streak to finish last season, and have re-established a running game behind a more traditional offensive system.  They have a brutal remaining schedule though, including trips to Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa (all ranked in the top 15 right now) and will need a maximum effort to reach a bowl berth.

8. Northwestern (4-2, 1-1)  The 'Cats have had a relatively disappointing first half.  They've faced one of the easiest first half schedules in the nation and still lost two games.  NU has yet to put together a "complete" game against FBS/I-A competition and now face a tougher conference slate to finish the year.  Like the Gophers, the Wildcats will need a strong finish in order to make it to a bowl game.

9. Indiana (3-3, 0-2)  Once again, a 3-0 start was just an aberration as the Hoosiers have fallen and fallen hard with three straight losses, including a brutal 47-7 loss at the hands of Virginia (who have had many issues of their own this year).  They could still make it to six wins, but that will likely depend on an all important trip to Northwestern on October 24 that will likely decide who can slip into the bottom of the Big Ten bowl slate this year.  Although, if their current slide continues, they may be fighting to stay out of the Big Ten basement.

10. Purdue (1-5, 0-2)  Purdue is probably the best 1-5 team in the country, but they are still 1-5.  They've lost those six games by an average of just 6.6 points per game, but the fact is that they haven't been able to close the deal.  RB Ralph Bolden looked like a world-beater through the first two games, but hasn't eclipsed 70 yards in a game since then.  Their defense is alright, but has allowed teams to come from behind in multiple games.  With this bad of a start, they'll be looking to games against Illinois and Indiana to stay out of the 11th spot.

11. Illinois (1-4, 0-3)  The Illini responded to their preseason dark horse status by promptly going into a shell on offense and being unable to stop anyone on defense.  They are thanking the NCAA for the ability to schedule FCS/I-AA opponents since their win over Illinois State has been their only victory of the year.  Against FBS teams, the highly touted offense has scored just 10 points per game, while the defense is suffering after losing key middle linebacker Martez Wilson in the first game of the year.  Like Purdue, they'll be fighting for a semblance of respect the rest of the way.

Too Early Bowl Projections:

There's a lot of football left to be played, but the bowl pecking order is beginning to form and here is the current rundown:

Rose Bowl: Ohio State
BCS At-Large: Iowa
Capital One: Penn State
Outback: Wisconsin
Champs Sports: Michigan
Alamo: Michigan State
Insight: Northwestern
Pizza: Minnesota

Ineligible: Indiana, Purdue, Illinois.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

Previous jhodges commentary

jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.