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Big Ten bowl projections, Week 7: Ohio State ascends, Michigan State in free fall

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin lived up to the hype as J.T. Barrett led the Buckeyes to a win.

Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

1. Ohio State (6-0)

It takes grit to enter an atmosphere like Camp Randall, at night, with the crowd on fire, and withstand body blows from a gifted Wisconsin team. The Buckeyes did just that, as they made one more play than the Badgers, sneaking out of Madison with a 30-23 victory. Despite a 10 point deficient going into the third quarter, Urban Meyer had his talented group focused and performing precise football on both sides of the ball. J.T. Barrett was the feature throughout for the Buckeyes, tallying 21 rushing attempts and 29 passes thrown, en route to three total touchdowns. The Ohio State Buckeyes reclaim the top spot because they possess the most impressive two wins in the Big Ten so far (road/night game victories over Oklahoma and Wisconsin), while passing the eye test as an elite team. The Wolverines are on their heels in this list, but the Buckeyes are back on top, for now.

Up Next: at Penn State

Previous Ranking: No. 2

Bowl Projection: College Football Playoff

2. Michigan (6-0)

Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines were on bye in week 7 after obliterating a Rutgers team in historic fashion a week prior. Michigan is an elite team, a top 3 team nationally, but their schedule hasn’t allowed them to edge out their Ohio nemesis, but the gap between the two is almost negligible. Their schedule doesn’t get any tougher this week with a home game against a lowly Illinois team coming to Ann Arbor; expect the Wolverines to pummel their way to a 7th win in 2016, and to do so in extraordinary fashion.

Next Week: vs. Illinois

Previous Ranking: No. 1

Bowl Projection: Rose Bowl

3. Nebraska (6-0)

Despite a fast start from the Corner Huskers, leading 17-0 at the end of the first quarter, Mike Riley’s unit wasn’t able to sustain the large lead, as Indiana fought back to make this a close one throughout the last three quarters. As they have done a number of times this season, the Huskers found a way to win, prevailing with a 27-22 road win. Nebraska hops up a spot after their sixth win of the season, as they have proven they can win games in which they don’t play their best brand of football against a formidable opponent. The Huskers are still led by senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, but their tough running attack, and reliable defense round out the team. This is a squad that will have a lot riding on their night-time matchup in Madison in two weeks, but until then, Nebraska hopes to avoid an upset at home against Purdue.

Up Next: vs. Purdue

Previous Ranking: No. 4

Bowl Projection: Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl

4. Wisconsin (4-2)

For the second time in two games, Wisconsin fell to a top-ranked team after playing admirably throughout, this time losing a heart-breaker of a game to Ohio State, 30-23, in overtime. Paul Chryst had his Badgers prepared for the gladiator-like atmosphere in Camp Randall, as Wisconsin dominated the first half, penetrating the Buckeye defense through the ground and air. Still, Wisconsin settled for too many field goal attempts in the red-zone, especially when you consider the high talent level of Ohio State and how many points were necessary to win. On the defensive side, Wisconsin played darn well again, yet there were a number of tackles behind the line of scrimmage that J.T. Barrett was able to wiggle out of, en route to a big play for the Buckeyes. The taking was there for the Badgers, but in a game this close, J.T. Barrett proved to be too much for Wisconsin.

All is not lost in Madison, as Wisconsin has played impressive football all season, especially against elite competition. The Badgers will need to rebound quickly as they head into a rivalry game at Iowa in week 8, as every game is now a must win in Madison.

Up Next: at Iowa

Previous Ranking: No. 3

Bowl Projection: Outback Bowl

5. Penn State (4-2)

The Nittany Lions had the week off and thus stay put for the time being. Only the biggest matchup of their season awaits them in week 8: a night-time home game hosting the Buckeyes. Keeping this one close will go a long way for Penn State, while a win would undoubtedly be a program-changer.

Up Next: vs. no. 2 Ohio State

Previous Rank: No. 5

Bowl Projection: Holiday Bowl

6. Iowa (5-2)

2016 has been a let down for the Hawkeyes thus far, but in a 49-35 thumper over Purdue (this one wasn’t as close as the scoreboard made it appear), Iowa appears to be putting things together as a unit. Thus far, the Hawks don’t appear to be a team that will blow anyone out, rather a team that can hang around with most opponents, keeping it close while waiting on the other team to make a mistake. Iowa will need more from both sides of the ball against a very good Wisconsin team in week 8; C.J. Beathard and the impressive Iowa run game will need to have their best game of the season, keeping the pressure off the Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes have a legit chance to climb this list in week 8, as this will certainly be the biggest test for the reigning Big Ten West champs in 2016.

Up Next: vs. no. 10 Wisconsin

Previous Rank: No. 7

Bowl Projection: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

7. Indiana (3-3)

The Hoosiers were unable to grind out a winnable game against a good Nebraska team in week 7, falling to the Corn Huskers 27-22. The Hoosiers make it this far up the list due to their performance against strong competition the last two weeks, despite their overall record. If Indiana keeps this level of play up, the wins will start to come for Kevin Wilson and his improved Hoosier unit.

Up Next: at Northwestern

Previous Rank: No. 6

Bowl Projection: Music City Bowl

8. Minnesota (4-2)

The Gophers bounced back against Maryland, securing a dominating 31-10 victory for their first Big Ten win of the season. Minnesota’s defense played strong football once again, and their run game overwhelmed Maryland; Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for 230 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Still, Minnesota needs to prove they can pass the ball to beat super competition and to move up this list.

Up Next: vs. Rutgers

Previous Rank: No. 8

Bowl Projection: Quick Lane Bowl

9. Northwestern (3-3)

It appears that Pat Fitzgerald has turned his nightmare season around, after his second road victory in as many games, cruising past a helpless Michigan State team, 54-40. The Wildcat offense is all of a sudden firing on all cylinders, as they piled up 490 yards in East Lansing.

Up Next: vs. Indiana

Previous Rank: No. 10

Bowl Projection: None

10. Maryland (4-2)

Without starting quarterback Perry Hills, the Maryland offense looked noticeably stagnant, as the Terrapins fell to the Gophers 31-10 in an ugly outing.

Up Next: vs. Michigan State

Previous Rank: No. 9

Bowl Projection: None

11. Michigan State (2-4)

With a fourth consecutive loss, and three straight in conference play, Mark Dantonio and his Spartans are in more trouble than hurting their season’s bowl chances: they are doing damage to their national reputation that took a number of years to build. National power-houses don’t lose 54-40 against Northwestern, at home, ever. Michigan State’s final six games of the season are worth following to see how they respond, and how far this train wreck travels.

Up Next: at Maryland

Previous Rank: No. 11

Bowl Projection: Foster Farms Bowl

12. Illinois (2-4)

Illinois beat out an even worse Rutgers team for their first Big Ten victory of 2016, winning a 24-7 snooze-fest. They’ll need a miracle to win at Michigan in week 8.

Up Next: at no. 3 Michigan

Previous Rank: No. 14

Bowl Projection: None

13. Purdue

The Boilermakers were not prepared for Iowa, as they trailed 35-7 at half, and finished with a deceptive 49-35 loss. Head Coach Darrell Hazell lost his job after the matchup, as he went 9-33 in just over three seasons. All is far from well in West Lafayette.

Up Next: vs. no. 8 Nebraska

Previous Rank: No. 12

Bowl Projection: None

14. Rutgers (2-5)

Chris Ash and his Scarlett Knights lost convincingly to a well below average Illinois team in week 7, 24-7. A win in conference will be a surprise for Rutgers in 2016.

Up Next: at Minnesota

Previous Rank: No. 13

Bowl Projection: None