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Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was pleased with the things he saw on offense and defense in the Hawkeyes' 20-0 win in Evanston. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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As the final month of the season approaches, three Big Ten football teams remain undefeated: Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota.

They occupy the top three spots in the latest edition of the USA TODAY Sports Network's weekly Big Ten power rankings.

But not far behind them is Michigan, which has regained its footing and appears to be playing its best football of the season. Iowa continues to hover amid the pack as well and within striking distance. 

Here are the rankings:

Why'd it take so long for Michigan football to look this good? ]

1.  Ohio State (8-0)

Last week: 1. The scores have been outrageous. Ohio State has dominated its competition, and on Saturday its latest victim was a ranked Wisconsin squad that not long ago appeared rather formidable. The Buckeyes outmuscled the Badgers and raced past them, too, during a 38-7 victory. So far, this season, it’s Ohio State 223, the rest of the Big Ten 37. Ridiculous.

Next up: Bye.

2. Penn State (8-0)

Last week: 2. Only one team was stuck in the mud on a rain-drenched field in East Lansing. It certainly wasn’t Penn State. The Nittany Lions gained 302 yards and capitalized on a series of mistakes by Michigan State to claim their latest victory. The defense also came to play which is no surprise to anyone who has followed this team. Penn State has conceded nine touchdowns in eight games.

Next up: Bye.

3. Minnesota (8-0)

Last week: 3. The Golden Gophers will enter the final month of the season with their record unblemished. Perhaps only the spunky optimist P.J. Fleck saw this coming. Fleck has helped Minnesota navigate an easy stretch in their schedule that concluded Saturday with a 52-10 demolition of Maryland. Now, it starts to get tough. Following a bye, Minnesota plays Penn State and Iowa in consecutive weeks with a matchup against Wisconsin looming shortly thereafter. Time to get out the paddles.

Next up: Bye.

4. Michigan (6-2)

Last week: 5. A defeat against Penn State may have ended Michigan’s dreams of winning trophies this season, but not all was lost that evening in State College. In fact, a lot was found. The Wolverines may have discovered themselves during a comeback attempt that came up short. They certainly seemed like a new team Saturday during a 45-14 rout of No. 7 Notre Dame, adopting the physical identity on offense that powered coach Jim Harbaugh’s squads in years past.

Next up: at Maryland, 11 a.m. Saturday, ABC.

Analysis: U-M bounces back strong against ND; what to watch at Maryland

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5. Wisconsin (6-2)

Last week: 4. It wasn’t long ago that something special appeared to be percolating in Madison. Some wondered if the Badgers had a forged a generational defense that would be the backbone of a real contender. But that was not the case. Wisconsin is just another decent team. Two losses in consecutive weeks have dimmed the Badgers’ outlook and the last defeat, a 38-7 whipping given by Ohio State, reinforced the idea that Wisconsin isn’t ready to compete with the elite.

Next up: Bye.

6. Iowa (6-2)

Last week: 6. Iowa may be the quintessential Big Ten team. It’s equipped with a rugged, grind-it-out offense and a stiff, unrelenting defense. The Hawkeyes continued to use that combo to beat up on the conference’s weaklings. Northwestern was Iowa's latest conquest after it prevailed over Purdue and Rutgers in their previous Big Ten victories. Whether the Hawkeyes can steal a win against a good Big Ten team remains a question. They’ll get another shot against Wisconsin on Nov. 9.

Next up: Bye.

Analysis: Crucial November awaits Hawkeyes

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7. Indiana (6-2)

Last week: 8. These are interesting times in Bloomington. It’s not even November, and Indiana has already qualified for a bowl game. Even stranger is how the Hoosiers reached the required benchmark of six wins; they went into Lincoln and beat Nebraska on Saturday by a touchdown. It was their third straight Big Ten victory – a streak Indiana hasn’t realized since 1993. Laissez les bon temps rouler, Hoosiers.

Next up: vs. Northwestern, 6 p.m. Saturday, FS1.

8. Illinois (4-4)

Last week: 10. In Year 4 of the Lovie Smith era, the Illini finally have some momentum. A shocking upset over Wisconsin on Oct. 19 was followed up by a convincing road victory at Purdue last Saturday during which Illinois complete only three passes. The path to victory may have been strange. But a win is a win. And lately the Illini have been adding them to their record, causing them to quickly move up these rankings.  

Next up: vs. Rutgers, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN.

9. Michigan State (4-4)

Last week: 7. The scene Saturday at Spartan Stadium was a depressing one. The stands were empty. The skies were gray as a steady downpour soaked the field. Michigan State looked miserable as its offense sputtered in the wet conditions. So too did its coach Mark Dantonio, who glowered as his team suffered a third-straight loss by a margin of at least three touchdowns. The energy appears to have been sucked out of this program.

Next up: Bye.

MSU football, Dantonio sinking after latest blowout loss: 'Can't abandon ship' ]

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Analyzing the state of Michigan State football, after a 3rd straight blowout loss, this time to Penn State, 28-7, at Spartan Stadium, Oct. 26, 2019. Chris Solari and Graham Couch, Detroit Free Press

10. Nebraska (4-4)

Last week: 9. The Cornhuskers aren’t particularly bad. They just aren’t very good. Scott Frost, their coach, said Nebraska is just “OK.” That won’t fly in Lincoln, where the challenge to revive this once-great program and restore it to the level it once was appears increasingly difficult. Frost was viewed as the savior, but he’s 8-12 at his alma mater.

Next up: at Purdue, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.

11. Purdue (2-6)

Last week: 11. Injuries derailed Purdue and now the Boilermakers look like a mess. Coach Jeff Brohm has tried to keep this team together, but it’s been an uphill battle. To create a spark last Saturday in a loss to Illinois, he benched quarterback Jack Plummer, the replacement for injured starter Elijah Sindelar. But that didn’t work, and it seems as if Brohm is running out of answers.

Next up: vs. Nebraska, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.

12. Maryland (3-5)

Last week: 12. As each week passes, Maryland sinks further into the abyss. A program that had a promising start in Mike Locksley’s first full year as the Terrapins’ coach has hit the skids. Nothing is going right. The defense is hemorrhaging points. The offense can’t produce on a consistent basis. And it’s about to get worse with consecutive games against Michigan and Ohio State on the horizon.

Next up: vs. Michigan, 11 a.m. Saturday, ABC.

13. Northwestern (1-6)

Last week: 13. Many Michigan State fans think their offense is painful to watch. Northwestern’s faithful would like a word with them. The Wildcats have been banished from the end zone for much of the season. In seven games, they have scored eight touchdowns. Eight! It seems impossible in this age of spread attacks and high scores. But Pat Fitzgerald’s bunch has managed to pull off this dubious feat.

Next up: at Indiana, 6 p.m. Saturday, FS1.

14. Rutgers (2-6)

Last week: 14. Hello, win column. Rutgers is back in it, baby. Boom! The Scarlet Knights took down Liberty, showing those Flames they’re not good enough to hang in the Big Ten basement. It’s a deflating outcome for Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, whose purgatory in the badlands of college football will persist a bit longer.

Next up: at Illinois, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN.

Contact Rainer Sabin at rsabin@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Big Ten newsletter

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