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The Big Ten Football season nears its conclusion with just one week remaining in the regular season. Along with it comes the most-anticipated Big Ten game in recent memory — a matchup between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan in The Game, with the teams both meeting while undefeated for the first time since 2006

Week 11 brought multiple down-to-the-wire contests, including a couple near-upsets and a double overtime finish. Neither division has been decided as five teams remain in contention for a Big Ten Championship bid entering the last week of the regular season. 

Here’s how all 14 Big Ten Football teams stack up ahead of rivalry week:

1. Ohio State (11-0) Previous Rank: 2

A 43-30 victory over Maryland didn’t tell the whole story for the Buckeyes on Saturday. The Terrapins led at halftime and stuck with Ohio State throughout before a strip-sack with nine seconds left gifted the Buckeyes a double-digit victory. 

Ohio State struggled to stop junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who threw for 293 yards and a touchdown. He outplayed the Heisman frontrunner, Ohio State junior quarterback C.J. Stroud, helping the Terrapins outgain the vaunted Buckeye offense by one yard — 402 to 401. Thankfully for Ohio State, its rush attack stepped up even without its top two guys. Freshman running back Dallan Hayden had the best performance of his young career, rushing for 146 yards and three touchdowns. 

It was a look-ahead game for Ohio State, which returns to the No. 1 spot it enjoyed for most of the season. That’s because Michigan had an even rougher outing in its own look-ahead matchup, against Illinois. The Buckeye offense still produced 43 points while not playing at its best, and the defense held Maryland, which averages 147 rushing yards per game, to 84 yards on the ground. 

If Ohio State’s offense brings its A-game, even Michigan’s stout defense will be left in the dust. The Buckeyes didn't need a game-winning field goal to survive, so they jump the Wolverines ahead of the monumental contest. 

2. Michigan (11-0) Previous Rank: 1

The Buckeyes found themselves in a dogfight on Saturday but were never in full panic mode like Michigan was. The Wolverines trailed Illinois for most of the fourth quarter before a 35-yard Jake Moody field goal bailed them out for a 19-17 victory. The senior kicker provided all but six of Michigan’s points as it struggled to reach the endzone. 

Sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy has looked inconsistent this season, but he had an especially rough outing against the Fighting Illini. McCarthy completed just 18 of his 34 passes and missed receivers with regularity. 

The most concerning development, though, was an injury to junior running back Blake Corum, who left with a knee injury in the first half. He returned to the game for a few plays in the second, but his health is a major concern for Michigan which needs his production to beat Ohio State. Head coach Jim Harbaugh said his knee is “structurally sound,” but with questions surrounding the health of backup sophomore Donovan Edwards, the Buckeyes may be licking their chops. 

The Wolverines still tallied 168 yards on the ground, but McCarthy was forced to step up in Corum’s absence. Without a bell-cow back to rely on, Michigan's offense played poorly but did just enough to string together a game-winning drive. Michigan can’t settle for four field goals if they expect to beat the Buckeyes this week. 

3. Penn State (9-2) Previous Rank: 3

With all eyes on the two teams above them, the Nittany Lions quietly put together another dominant performance, as they have done all year. Penn State clobbered Rutgers 55-10, marking the third straight game it has won by 30+ points. Since their loss to Ohio State on Oct. 29, the Nittany Lions have outscored their opponents 130-24. They also have the nation’s sixth-highest point differential with 17.7 points per game.

Penn State outgained the Scarlet Knights by nearly 300 yards while leaning on the run game. Freshman running back Kaytron Allen enjoyed a career-high 117 rushing yards and a touchdown on only 11 carries. The Nittany Lions totaled 237 yards on the ground. 

The defense also stepped up, allowing just nine Rutgers first downs and forcing three turnovers. 

The Nittany Lions continue to climb in the AP Top 25, reaching No. 11 in its latest iteration. They have positioned themselves for a New Year’s Six Bowl appearance and still have a chance at reaching the Rose Bowl should Michigan and Ohio State both make the College Football Playoff.

4. Iowa (7-4) Previous Rank: 4

Against all odds, the Hawkeyes find themselves one win away from their second-straight Big Ten Championship appearance. They beat Minnesota 13-10 in true Iowa fashion while being outgained and losing the time-of-possession battle. 

The Hawkeyes once again relied on turnovers to carry them to victory, as Minnesota fumbled and threw an interception in Iowa territory on potential game-winning possessions. A 21-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the game sent the Hawkeyes home victorious and granted them full control of the Big Ten West. Despite holding the Big Ten’s 13th-best offense, four straight divisional wins have turned Iowa’s season around after a 3-3 start. 

5. Purdue (7-4) Previous Rank: 6

The Boilermakers need an Iowa loss next week, but they remain in the race for the Big Ten West title. It wasn’t pretty, but Purdue escaped with a 17-9 win over Northwestern despite gaining less than 300 yards. The Boilermakers needed three turnovers to swing the tide of a game that they never led by more than 11 points. 

Senior quarterback Aiden O’Connell has finished under 300 passing yards for three-straight games for the first time since week three of 2021. The Boilermakers amassed 140 yards on the ground by committee, with no rusher reaching 50 yards individually. 

Purdue has been wildly inconsistent over the last month but has strung together two divisional wins, enough to jump Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin in these rankings. The Boilermakers have a winnable game next week against in-state rival Indiana, which could give them back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 2007.

6. Illinois (7-4) Previous Rank: 7

The Fighting Illini lost a heartbreaker to Michigan for their third-straight loss, furthering a disappointing November to follow a 7-1 start. However, Illinois jumps up a spot because it became not only the first team to challenge Michigan but the first to lead the Wolverines in the fourth quarter.

That loss may be the toughest to stomach for the Fighting Illini, but it exemplifies a massive improvement for a team that has traditionally been a free win for the Big Ten’s heavyweights. Illinois has a chance to nab its first eight-win season since 2007 with a victory over Northwestern next week, although losses to Michigan State and Purdue will haunt the Fighting Illini who are all but eliminated from Big Ten West contention. 

7. Minnesota (7-4) Previous Rank: 5

The Golden Gophers are the Big Ten West’s fourth and final 7-4 team in these rankings after a disappointing loss to Iowa. Minnesota had multiple opportunities to put the game away, but turnovers killed them. Freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis had a rough day against the Big Ten’s second-best passing defense and threw the eventual game-losing interception late. 

Senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim may wonder what else he has to do after rushing for a career-high 263 yards and a touchdown. However, he fumbled on Iowa’s nine-yard line in the fourth quarter on a drive that could have put the game away for Minnesota. 

The Golden Gophers were officially eliminated from the Big Ten West race with the loss. It has been a largely disappointing season for Minnesota, which lost three winnable games to Purdue, Illinois and now Iowa. 

8. Wisconsin (6-5) Previous Rank: 8

The Badgers became the ninth Big Ten team to clinch a bowl game appearance, after squeaking by Nebraska on Saturday. Wisconsin trailed 14-3 in the fourth quarter but strung together two late touchdown drives to win 15-14. 

It was the Badgers’ run game that made the difference, as the unit combined for 235 yards on the ground. Sophomore running back Braelon Allen, who dealt with injury throughout, and senior Chez Mellusi split the bulk of the carries. They helped alleviate the shortcomings of junior quarterback Graham Mertz, who threw for just 83 yards with an interception on 18 attempts. However, he did contribute to both of Wisconsin’s scores, throwing for one and rushing for the other on a quarterback sneak. 

Wisconsin’s defense had a great day, holding Nebraska to 171 total yards and just 12 first downs. After taking a 14-3 lead in the third quarter, the Huskers mustered just 27 yards for the remainder of the contest. Interim head coach Jim Leonhard has earned a chance to be the Badgers’ official leader by going 4-2 after taking over a 2-3 squad. 

9. Maryland (6-5) Previous Rank: 9

Maryland has played its two best games against Michigan and Ohio State, losing to both by a combined 20 points, the best of any common opponent of the two juggernauts. The aforementioned Taulia Tagovailoa played lights out, giving his team a legitimate shot to beat the Buckeyes. 

Maryland’s defense played well too, allowing just one passing touchdown, a rare occurrence for Ohio State. Although they came up just short, it’s a positive development for Maryland, who had been outscored 416-151 by Ohio State all-time before Saturday’s matchup. 

10. Nebraska (3-8) Previous Rank: 11

The Huskers fell to 3-8 on Saturday after yet another close loss to a divisional opponent. Nebraska has fallen to Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin by a combined 14 points even with junior quarterback Casey Thompson not at full strength over that stretch. The Huskers have been competitive this season but have yet to break through into the Big Ten West win column. 

Nebraska has looked better under interim head coach Mickey Joseph, but not quite as good as Wisconsin has under Leonhard. It was a one-point difference this time around, but Nebraska still has not beaten the Badgers since 2012. 

11. Indiana (4-7) Previous Rank: 13

Indiana jumps up two spots after its first Big Ten victory since 2020. The Hoosiers managed to beat Michigan State 39-31 in double overtime despite completing just two passes. 257 rushing yards made the difference for Indiana in a game in which it was outgained by over 250 yards.

12. Michigan State (5-6) Previous Rank: 10

The Spartans displayed a pitiful effort against the Hoosiers on Saturday, missing two potential game-winning field goals to hand Indiana an improbable victory. Neither team seemed to want to win, but the Spartans were ultimately the more incompetent team. Head coach Mel Tucker will need to redeem himself next season after an extremely underwhelming 2022. 

13. Rutgers (4-6) Previous Rank: 12

Rutgers fell to Penn State in dominant fashion to officially eliminate it from bowl game contention. It was the Scarlet Knights’ third 30+ point loss in the last month.

14. Northwestern (1-10) Previous Rank: 14

No surprise here as the Wildcats remain at the bottom of the Big Ten after their 10th-straight loss. Northwestern’s defense has steadily improved as of late, but its offense still scores the Big Ten’s fewest points. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com