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Big Ten bowl projection, Week 9: Ohio State escapes; Wisconsin prevails over Nebraska

Big Ten West remains murky, at least for one more week.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

1. Michigan Wolverines (8-0)

At this point in the season, Michigan has asserted itself as the clear favorite for the Big Ten championship. The Wolverines weren’t able to blow out their rivals from East Lansing, yet they were still in control throughout by leaning on their ferocious defense and steady offense, beating Michigan State 32-23. The Spartans were able to run on the vaunted Michigan defense in spurts, but head coach Jim Harbaugh’s offensive and defensive line proved once again to elite. Still, Mark Dantonio’s 2016 Michigan State squad is far from a formidable foe for the Wolverines, and there is a tad of concern that Michigan didn’t hold on to their big lead (30-10 in the 4th quarter). The Wolverines hold steady on top almost exclusively due to the eye test; it has been quite some time since a Michigan team has looked this good.

Up Next: vs. Maryland

Previous Ranking: No. 1

Bowl Projection: College Football Playoff

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1)

After taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, and then a 17-7 advantage mid-way into the second, the Buckeyes appeared to have righted their wrongs after being upset by Penn State a week earlier. That narrative didn’t hold true, as Northwestern fought back time and time again, and even had a number opportunities to leave Columbus with a victory. Despite Northwestern’s best effort, Ohio State was able to hold on for a 24-20 victory, due almost solely to their talented defense. As talented as Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes are this year, they continue to have a glaring weakness: the down field passing attack. For the fourth consecutive week, J.T. Barrett has seriously struggled to push the ball down the field. Ohio State remains very much in play for a Big Ten Championship birth, but they need to improve their downfield attack quickly, as their last four games of the season are almost all against competent Big Ten Competition, including next week when No. 9 Nebraska rolls into town.

Next Week: vs. No. 9 Nebraska

Previous Ranking: No. 2

Bowl Projection: Rose Bowl

3. Wisconsin Badgers (6-2)

In their fifth matchup against a top-10 ranked opponent in 2016, Wisconsin outlasted Nebraska, prevailing over the Cornhuskers in a 23-17 overtime victory. This was a game of highs and lows for the Badgers: Justin Wilcox’s defense played incredible once again while senior running back, Dare Ogunbowale, had one of the best running games of his collegiate career — yet the quarterback situation is legitimately holding the team back. After losing All-American candidate at inside linebacker, Jack Cichy, a week prior, the Badgers saw two reserve linebackers (Leon Jacobs and Ryan Connelly) play at a very high level, as each notched 11 tackles. Ogunbowale was undoubtedly the star of the night on offense, his 120 rushing yards (on an even more impressive 11 carries) accounted for more than a third of the team’s overall yardage output, and his 11-yard touchdown scamper in overtime won the game for Wisconsin. All the positives were almost for naught, as the two quarterback system failed head coach Paul Chryst in Week 9. Hornibrook and Houston combined for 114 yards, and two fourth quarter interceptions that almost broke the Badgers figurative back. Despite the incredible amount of injuries to the Badgers defense, they continue to excel and hold this team together. One question remains as week 10 approaches: can Wisconsin figure out their quarterback situation in time to avoid another disappointment in Evanston on Saturday?

Up Next: at Northwestern

Previous Ranking: No. 3

Bowl Projection: Capital One Orange Bowl

4. Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-1)

The Cornhuskers missed out on an incredible opportunity to take a commanding lead in the Big Ten West, dropping a grind-it-out contest at Wisconsin, 23-17. Nebraska needs more out of Tommy Armstrong in games of this magnitude, as he only mustered 153 yards through the air and another 39 on the ground. To make matters worse, his two first quarter interceptions would have been lethal, if it wasn’t for multiple turnovers by Wisconsin in the fourth quarter. On a positive note, the Huskers defense played admirably in hostile territory. On the offensive side of the ball, they were able to run the ball fairly well against against stout defense. Mike Riley will need to rally the troops quick, as Nebraska heads to Ohio State in week 10 for another top-10 match-up on the road.

Up Next: vs. No. 6 Ohio State

Previous Ranking: No. 4

Bowl Projection: Holiday Bowl

5. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2)

Led by their talented quarterback-running back duo, the Nittany Lions pummeled an inferior opponent in Purdue, cruising to a 62-24 win. Trace McSorley threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns, while Saquon Barkley knifed through the Boilermakers defense for 207 yards (on 11 carries) and two touchdowns himself. Penn State blew this open in the second half, as they outscored Purdue 45-7 in the final two quarters. Keep tabs on the Nittany Lions as the season comes to a finish, they are trending way up.

Up Next: vs. Iowa

Previous Rank: No. 5

Bowl Projection: Outback Bowl

6. Northwestern Wildcats (4-4)

Pat Fitzgerald’s squad played valiantly in week 9, taking a very talented Ohio State squad down to the wire, yet still losing to the Buckeyes in a hard-fought contest, 24-20. Quarterback Clayton Thorson has turned things around, and the Wildcats defense is playing good football. All is not lost toward the race to the Big Ten West crown, but a home game against Wisconsin is a must-win.

Up Next: vs. No. 8 Wisconsin

Previous Rank: No. 6

Bowl Projection: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

7. Iowa Hawkeyes (5-3)

Iowa was on bye in week 9, and they stay put on this list due to a lack of impressive football from the teams below, and a head-to-head victory at Minnesota. The Hawkeyes start a brutal four-game stretch to finish the season, starting at Penn State in week 10. An upset win could save the season, while a loss would eliminate Iowa from Big Ten West contention.

Up Next: at No. 20 Penn State

Previous Rank: No. 7

Bowl Projection: Quick Lane Bowl

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-2)

We learned little about the Gophers in week 9, as they outmatched an Illinois team that struggles to do just about anything these days, winning 40-17.

Up Next: vs. Purdue

Previous Rank: No. 8

Bowl Projection: Music City Bowl

9. Indiana Hoosiers (4-4)

Kevin Wilson and his Hoosiers notched a need victory to their 2016 resume, as they pulled out a narrow victory over an improved Maryland team, finishing 42-36.

Up Next: at Rutgers

Previous Rank: No. 9

Bowl Projection: None

10. Maryland Terrapins (5-3)

Coach Durkin and his Terrapins are certainly trending in the right direction, despite a tough 42-36 loss to Indiana. We will learn how Maryland fares against elite competition as they take on No. 2 Michigan in week 10.

Up Next: at No. 2 Michigan

Previous Rank: No. 10

Bowl Projection: Foster Farms Bowl

11. Purdue Boilermakers (3-5)

Purdue played tough in the first half against Penn State, but were absolutely run out of the stadium in the second, falling to the Nittany Lions 62-24.

Up Next: vs. No. 24 Penn State

Previous Rank: No. 13

Bowl Projection: None

12. Michigan State Spartans (2-6)

Mark Dantonio is in the midst of his worst season as the head coach of Michigan State, even though his team played decent ball against their rival, mighty Michigan. Still, the Spartans’ 32-23 loss wasn’t as close as it seemed, and their downward spiral into the depths of Big Ten mediocrity continue.

Up Next: at Illinois

Previous Rank: No. 12

Bowl Projection: None

13. Illinois Fighting Illini (2-6)

Lovie Smith has no answers for his Illini squad, as Illinois fell hard against Minnesota, 40-17.

Up Next: vs. Michigan State

Previous Rank: No. 13

Bowl Projection: None

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-6)

Rutgers was on a much needed bye in week nine, as they have yet to win a conference match-up. The Scarlet Knights will look for anything positive in week 10, a conference win would be welcomed with open arms by Chris Ash & Co.

Up Next: vs. Indiana

Previous Rank: No. 14

Bowl Projection: None