Ohio State continued its quest for a second consecutive undefeated season under Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes overcame a challenge from Iowa on Saturday, trailing in the second half for the second straight game before fighting back to a 34-24 victory that extended their winning streak to 19 games.
The rabid fan base desperately wants to the Buckeyes to run the table and reach the BCS national championship game. Performances like the one on Saturday do not help their case. With the Big Ten at No. 5 on conference power rankings, anything less than a dominating victory weakens the national perception of the Buckeyes.
That's reflected in the latest polls after Florida State jumped past Ohio State to No. 3 in the Associated Press and coaches' rankings after the Seminoles' convincing victory at Clemson on Saturday night. The Buckeyes remained at No. 4 in the AP and dropped one spot in the coaches' poll.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that there's still time to boost their stock. A win in a prime-time home game on Saturday night against Penn State would help. Then come Purdue, Illinois and Indiana before the traditional regular-season finale against Michigan. And there's a chance the Buckeyes could meet a one-loss Michigan State, Michigan or Nebraska in the conference championship game, which would be a plus.
The pollsters were a little kinder to the Big Ten this week. Michigan and Nebraska moved back into the Top 25 at No. 24 and 25, joining No. 22 Wisconsin and Ohio State. A week ago, only two conferences teams were ranked.
Michigan State is flying under the radar, lurking just outside the Top 25 in the two polls with its lone loss to Notre Dame. A lackluster 14-0 win over Purdue on Saturday likely kept the Spartans out of the rankings. But they stand atop the Legends Division at 3-0, followed by Nebraska at 2-0.
Northwestern has completely fallen off the map with three straight losses. The Wildcats were unbeaten and ranked No. 16 three weeks ago before losing a second-half lead to Ohio State, getting crushed by Wisconsin and on Saturday falling at home to Minnesota. They now occupy the Legends basement with a 0-3 conference record.
That leaves Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois to fight for bowl eligibility the rest of the way.
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 7 IN THE BIG TEN
1. Michigan's offense has explosive capability with multiple weapons. Quarterback Devin Gardner and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon went off against Indiana with a record-breaking performance. Gardner is a talented playmaker who is prone to turnovers, but he didn't give the ball away on Saturday and that makes the Wolverines even more dangerous.
2. Michigan State's offense is a work in progress. It appeared to be improving the past two weeks before the shipwreck against Purdue. The Spartans' points in the 14-0 win came from the defense on a fumble return in the second quarter and a wide receiver pass in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Connor Cook was equally inept with 107 yards passing against the 1-6 Boilermakers, who entered the game last in the Big Ten in scoring defense.
3. Ohio State is vulnerable to an upset. But there aren't enough teams in the Big Ten capable of pushing the Buckeyes for four quarters. Iowa and Northwestern came close, but their bids ran out of steam and the 19-game winning streak under coach Urban Meyer continues. Three more victories tie a school record of 22 straight set in 1967-69.
4. Minnesota is not dead. Before the 12-point underdog Gophers upset Northwestern on Saturday, it seemed like everything was going against them. They lost their first two Big Ten games after going 4-0 in non-conference play. Add to that the absence of coach Jerry Kill to deal with his seizures and the uncertainty of when he might return. The players blocked all that out and now need one win to become bowl eligible.
5. Northwestern has one foot in the grave. Three weeks ago, the Wildcats were receiving national attention and poised to contend for a Legends Division title. Three straight losses, including a stunner at home to Minnesota on Saturday, have dashed those hopes. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has a difficult task ahead to salvage the once-promising season.