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Michigan Wolverines football coach Jim Harbaugh speaks to the media after the 38-7 win over Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press

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For the first time this season, Minnesota will have the opportunity to prove it’s for real.

The Golden Gophers have the spent the first 10 weeks piling up victories against weak competition while climbing into the polls and then up them.

On Saturday, they will face undefeated Penn State in one of the most intriguing Big Ten matchups of the year.

If the Golden Gophers can prevail, they will quiet the skeptics.

Now, onto the rankings …

1.  Ohio State (8-0)

Last week: 1. The rest of the Big Ten peeked around the wall and then exhaled. Nope, Ohio State wasn’t coming. The Buckeyes were off after spending the better part season terrorizing the league while outscoring its conference opponents, 223-37. Maryland drew the short straw next Saturday though.  

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

New USA TODAY coaches poll: Michigan moves up one spot to No. 14

2. Penn State (8-0)

Last week: 2. As the season nears the final stretch, the Nittany Lions have a great shot at making their first appearance in the College Football Playoff. Ranked fifth in both polls, Penn State is knocking on the door. But James Franklin’s bunch still has work to do. There is a stiff test this weekend at No. 13 Minnesota and a game against No. 4 Ohio State also looms.

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

3. Minnesota (8-0)

Last week: 3. Minnesota’s hype man, err…head coach, P.J. Fleck wanted College GameDay to drop by Minneapolis next weekend. But Rece Davis and Co. will be in Tuscaloosa for Alabama-LSU instead. Fleck can take solace, knowing that the Golden Gophers’ game against Penn State is still appointment viewing. A victory could vault his program into the top ten, a sector of the polls where Minnesota hasn’t finished since 1962.

Next up: vs. Penn State, 11 a.m. Saturday, ABC

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4. Michigan (7-2)

Last week: 4. Although U-M has faced its share of adversity – much that was self-inflicted – it has shown some intestinal fortitude. The Wolverines are 5-1 since they were trounced by Wisconsin and have leaned on a defense that has been revitalized since that defeat. Michigan is playing its best football of the season. And it’s a shame Jim Harbaugh’s squad must sit idle this weekend with the momentum now in its favor.

Next up: Bye.

5. Wisconsin (6-2)

Last week: 5. The Badgers took the week off after a rough eight-day stretch that featured a shocking loss to Illinois and a whipping by Ohio State. And now, the No. 18 Hawkeyes are coming to town. Both Iowa and Wisconsin have the same 3-2 league record, making this game a significant one.  

Next up: vs. Iowa, 3 p.m. Saturday, Fox.

6. Iowa (6-2)

Last week: 6. The Hawkeyes are ranked seventh in the FBS in time of possession. But as much as Iowa has been on offense this year, it hasn’t scored very much. The Hawkeyes are averaging 24.1 points per game. Ninety-five other teams are producing more.

Next up: at Wisconsin, 3 p.m. Saturday, Fox.

7. Indiana (7-2)

Last week: 7. The Hoosiers dusted Northwestern over the weekend, sprinting away with a 31-point win. They now have seven victories, four in the Big Ten. It’s been a great year in Bloomington. And now the Hoosiers can rest on their laurels a bit. They have a bye with games against Penn State and Michigan on the horizon.

Next up: Bye.

8. Illinois (5-4)

Last week: 8. One of the hottest teams in the Big Ten right now. The Illini just won their third consecutive game, crushing Rutgers. Consequently, they are one victory away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014 — two years before current coach Lovie Smith took the reins.

Next up: at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1.

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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

9. Michigan State (4-4)

Last week: 9. Somehow, MSU managed to lose its bye week. Mark Dantonio’s program took another hit when linebacker and team captain Joe Bachie was declared ineligible by the Big Ten for a failed drug test last week. The Spartans have been reeling for quite some time, and there is no sign their lot is going to improve in the near future. This Saturday, Illinois could drop Michigan State below .500 for the first time this season.

Next up: vs. Illinois, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1.

More on Spartans: After second bye in three weeks, what to watch vs. Illinois

10. Purdue (3-6)

Last week: 11. Drew Brees gave a pep talk and Purdue beat Nebraska last Saturday. The Boilermakers overcame more hardship as their backup-turned-starting quarterback Jack Plummer hurt his right ankle, forcing third-stringer Aidan O’Connell into action. Purdue has only won three games, but its record is impressive considering what it has endured this year.

Next up: at Northwestern, 11 a.m. Saturday, BTN.

11. Nebraska (4-5)

Last week: 11. Which Nebraska loss has been the worst this season? There was the beatdown by Ohio State in Lincoln. There was the rout at Minnesota and the nail-biter at Colorado, which is 3-6. Oh, and the latest one was a real doozy – a 31-27 defeat to a patchwork Purdue team. All of it adds up to yuck, which is the word that describes the Scott Frost era (error?) so far.

Next up: Bye.

12. Maryland (3-6)

Last week: 12. Yes, there are two teams worse than Maryland in this conference. It’s hard to believe considering the Terrapins have lost six of their last seven and have been outscored, 90-17, in their last two Big Ten games. Head coach Mike Locksley, in his first full year with the Terps, has his work cut out for him to revive this program. But first he and his team must absorb some more blows against Ohio State.

Next up: at Ohio State, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.

13. Northwestern (1-7)

Last week: 13. Think back to last season and Northwestern was in the Big Ten title game. In less than a year, the Wildcats have transformed into one of the worst teams in college football. Northwestern’s scoring offense is ranked dead last in the FBS, as the Wildcats have only reached the end zone eight times this year. It’s been a rapid and stunning collapse.

Next up: vs. Purdue, 11 a.m. Saturday, BTN.

14. Rutgers (2-7)

Last week: 14. After stepping out of conference play and defeating over Liberty, Rutgers became reacquainted with its miserable reality last Saturday. Illinois roughed up the Scarlet Knights, keeping them squarely in the Big Ten dungeon. They’ll continue to hang there during their bye week before Ohio State drops in to push them into a chamber beneath that.  

Next up: Bye.

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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