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Big Ten bowl projections, Week 8: Ohio State drops; Nebraska-Wisconsin to have major implications

The race for the Big Ten West takes shape with Nebraska-Wisconsin on deck.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Michigan Wolverines (7-0)

Jim Harbaugh and his impressive Wolverines completely overwhelmed Illinois in Week 8, leading by a margin of 31-0 at half en route to a 41-8 final. Most impressively, Michigan appears to have developed an elite offense to go along side its vaunted defense. Wilson Speight hit his stride against Illinois, playing a near-perfect game (16of-23, 253 yards, two touchdowns) by utilizing all the receiving talent the roster has to offer. Combined with Ohio State’s loss to Penn State, Michigan’s consistent dominance clearly anoints the Wolverines as the Big Ten favorite going forward.

Stat of the Week: Michigan has outscored its Big Ten opponents thus far by a whopping 182-25 margin.

Up Next: at Michigan State

Previous Ranking: No. 2

Bowl Projection: College Football Playoff

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (6-1)

In Ohio State’s third road night game against a strong opponent in 2016, the home team finally found magic, as Penn State shockingly upset the Buckeyes. J.T. Barrett has struggled to lead a consistent passing attack for a number of weeks now, yet he has been able to move the ball by using his feet to bail out the offense. Penn State did its homework and executed; Barrett only mustered 26 yards on 17 rushing attempts.

Still, Ohio State’s incredible defense put the team in a position to win, as the Buckeyes looked to take a seven-point lead late in the four quarter, only to have an attempted field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown. This was stuff of Big Ten legend. For Ohio State, it was a sizable set back, especially considering how good Michigan looks. The Buckeyes need to bounce back quick, as an up-start Northwestern team rolls into Columbus in Week 9 as one of the nation’s hottest teams.

Next Week: vs. Northwestern

Previous Ranking: No. 1

Bowl Projection: Rose Bowl

3. Wisconsin Badgers (5-2)

In fitting fashion, the Badgers leaned on their run game and stingy defense in order to squeak out a narrow victory in Iowa City. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox deserves all the praise he will get this season, as the Wisconsin defense absolutely stuffed Iowa throughout the game. Most impressively, Wisconsin was able to hold Iowa without a touchdown and to only 83 rushing yards, all accomplished without starting nose tackle Olive Sagapolu.

While the accomplished defense played strong once again, the Wisconsin offense was unable to convert on multiple opportunities to widen its lead. A fumble on Iowa’s 1-yard line (for the second consecutive year against the Hawkeyes) and two missed field goals almost came back to haunt the Badgers. Also, somewhat surprisingly, Wisconsin used both quarterbacks in a strategic move on Saturday, and it appears Paul Chryst plans to do so moving forward. The plan worked against Iowa: Bart Houston provided a spark off the bench, while Alex Hornibrook, the starter, was able to hit just enough big plays throughout the game.

The Badgers will need to be more efficient on offense in Week 9 as they play host to Nebraska in a nighttime matchup. Still, Wisconsin boast at least two or three more impressive wins than the Huskers, which puts them just ahead in this week’s list.

Up Next: vs. No. 7 Nebraska

Previous Ranking: No. 4

Bowl Projection: Capital One Orange Bowl

4. Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-0)

Despite Nebraska’s No. 7 ranking in the AP Top 25 and its 7-0 record, the Huskers continue to struggle against mediocre competition. This trend continued in Week 8 as they trailed 14-10 at half against a Purdue team whose head coach was fired a week before, needing a second-half surge to claim a 27-14 victory. As Nebraska prepares for its biggest test of the season at Wisconsin, the Huskers will need to play more polished on both sides of the ball. Specifically, the Wisconsin defense will be a huge test for senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who will need to use his legs to sustain drives and his arm to limit turnovers (see: J.T. Barrett in week 7). Week 9 will be incredibly telling for Nebraska, and if the Huskers can pull off a win in Madison, they will be overwhelming favorites to win the Big Ten West.

Up Next: at No. 11 Wisconsin

Previous Ranking: No. 3

Bowl Projection: Holiday Bowl

5. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-2)

James Franklin led Penn State to its biggest victory since the Joe Paterno era ended and the biggest upset victory of the Big Ten season. The offense didn’t have much success via the passing game (Trace McSorley only completed eight passes) and used a rushing attack that almost entirely featured McSorle, and running back Saquon Barkley (both combined for 31 carries). The game-changer was Grant Haley’s incredible return of a block field goal with 4:27 to go in the game, resulting in the game-winning field goal. This was a program-changer for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions’ outlook for the season has turned on a dime.

Up Next: at Purdue

Previous Rank: No. 5

Bowl Projection: Outback Bowl

6. Northwestern Wildcats (4-3)

The Wildcats took a major step in their mid-season turnaround in Week 8 as they dominated an improved Indiana team. This one wasn’t as close as the final score indicated, as Northwestern held a 24-3 lead at half, and their lead was never seriously in jeopardy. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad has found a balanced offense after initially struggling in its 1-3 start; Clayton Thorson tossed for 285 yards and three touchdowns, while lead running back Justin Jackson added 94 yards on the ground. After three straight Big Ten wins, Northwestern is once again in the mix for the Big Ten West crown.

Up Next: at No. 6 Ohio State

Previous Rank: No. 9

Bowl Projection: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

7. Iowa Hawkeyes (5-3)

A wildly successful 2015 season seems a distant past for Kirk Ferentz and Iowa, as the Hawkeyes seemed helpless on offense in their 17-9 loss to Wisconsin. The Badgers failed to convert on multiple opportunities, which kept the Hawkeyes within striking distance, but with negligible output from their offense (83 yards rushing and only one play of over 20 yards, a 21-yard reception) the Hawkeyes were unable to do anything with the opportunity.

Up Next: at no. 24 Penn State

Previous Rank: No. 6

Bowl Projection: Music City Bowl

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-2)

The Gophers rolled out to a 21-3 lead on Saturday, yet barely held on to the win as Minnesota needed a game-winning field goal with less than 10 seconds to play to finish with a 34-32 victory.

Up Next: at Illinois

Previous Rank: No. 8

Bowl Projection: Quick Lane Bowl

9. Indiana Hoosiers (3-4)

The Hoosiers struggled mightily against Northwestern, falling 24-14 in disappointing fashion. After such a step back, a home game against Maryland in Week 8 is an absolute must-win.

Up Next: vs. Maryland

Previous Rank: No. 7

Bowl Projection: None

10. Maryland Terrapins (5-2)

The return of Perry Hills was meaningful for Maryland, as the Terps took care of Michigan State en route to a 28-17 victory.

Up Next: at Indiana

Previous Rank: No. 10

Bowl Projection: Foster Farms Bowl

11. Purdue Boilermakers (3-4)

The Boilermakers played tough for interim head coach Gerad Parker, but a slight halftime lead wasn’t enough for Purdue.

Up Next: vs. No. 24 Penn State

Previous Rank: No. 13

Bowl Projection: Foster Farms Bowl

12. Michigan State Spartans (2-5)

The Spartans don’t drop further only due to the quality of the bottom two, but Michigan State isn’t far off. Another Big Ten game meant another disappointing loss in Week 8, as the Spartans fell again, this time to Maryland.

Up Next: at no. 2 Michigan

Previous Rank: No. 11

Bowl Projection: None

13. Illinois Fighting Illini (2-5)

Lovie Smith’s Illini got ambushed by an incredibly good Michigan squad, losing 41-8. A victory at home over Minnesota would be a huge deal for the program.

Up Next: vs. Minnesota

Previous Rank: No. 12

Bowl Projection: None

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-6)

Week 8 was definitely an improvement for Rutgers, as they almost escaped Minneapolis with a win, losing 34-32 in the final seconds to the Gophers. Still, the rebuilding project remains massive for head coach Chris Ash.

Up Next: Bye

Previous Rank: No. 14

Bowl Projection: None