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Ineligibles Ohio State, Penn State are Big Ten’s hottest teams

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinsstill could make run for Big Ten player year. | Michael Conroy~AP

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson still could make a run for Big Ten player of the year. | Michael Conroy~AP

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Wisconsin vs. Purdue on ­Saturday for Leaders supremacy. It’s a good thing games can’t end in ties.


1. Ohio State (6-0) 1

2. Penn State (4-2) 5

3. Michigan (3-2) 3

4. Nebraska (4-2) 2

5. Michigan State (4-2) 6

6. Northwestern (5-1) 4

7. Wisconsin (4-2) 7

8. Purdue (3-2) 8

9. Iowa (3-2) 9

10. Indiana (2-3) 11

11. Minnesota (4-1) 10

12. Illinois (2-4) 12

Updated: November 9, 2012 6:21AM

Never mind that Legends-and-Leaders hooey. There’s nothing like a scandal to rally the troops.

With the halfway point here for most Big Ten teams, the two biggest winners are bad boys Ohio State and Penn State, who are ineligible for postseason play.

Ohio State, punished for a memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal, grabbed bragging rights as the league’s best team by throttling Nebraska 63-38 on Saturday. New coach Urban Meyer is off to a splendid start in reviving the Buckeyes (6-0), who should be favored in the rest of their games.

In a sign of the times, the Big Ten does not have a team ranked in the Top 25 of the coaches poll for the first time. Nebraska and Northwestern dropped out, and Ohio State’s probation makes it ineligible.

Two teams, No. 8 Ohio State and No. 25 Michigan, are ranked in the Associated Press poll.

Penn State, which had its foundation shaken by a child sex-abuse scandal, stated its case by rallying to hand Northwestern its first loss. With an early break or two, the Nittany Lions (4-2), who have won four in a row, could be 6-0.

That’s a tribute to coach Bill O’Brien, who has done a remarkable job of healing as well as winning.

Looking up

Beyond the fine starts of Ohio State and Penn State, there were some other positives for an undeniably underachieving Big Ten.

Northwestern and Purdue, which was whipped by Michigan 44-13, looked more like pretenders than contenders Saturday. But if they keep on keeping on, they’re in position for good seasons.

The Boilers even could land in the Big Ten title game without shocking anyone, thanks to the Ohio State/Penn State chicanery. Wisconsin’s trip to Purdue on Saturday will tell a lot.

Looking down

The league’s biggest underachievers are Wisconsin and Michigan State, who met in the inaugural Big Ten championship game last December. Both are 4-2, but they could be 2-4.

The Spartans were down 17-0 at Indiana before escaping 31-27. The Badgers were letting Illinois hang around, leading 10-7 into the fourth quarter, before escaping 31-14.

Even with great running backs, Wisconsin’s offensive line is so messy it looks like the Badgers are going to keep running into trouble. The Spartans, who have had trouble throwing the ball, now must wrestle with shaky defense.

Running. Passing. Defense. That pretty much covers it.

Looking ahead

While one division should boil down to Wisconsin and Purdue, the other should be a duel between Michigan and Nebraska.

Give the nod to the Wolverines. Quarterback Denard Robinson still could give Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller a battle for Big Ten player of the year. The Michigan defense also is flexing its muscle.

The Cornhuskers can’t be ruled out, though. While they were no match for the Buckeyes, they’ll run and defend better against their remaining opponents. They also will have the home field against Michigan, which also must play at Ohio State.

Don’t look now

The key question at Illinois: Will the Illini win another game? Homecoming against Indiana is the best bet, but the Hoosiers’ offense gives them a chance.

With Illinois playing two of its next three at Michigan and Ohio State, it’s no wonder coach Tim Beckman turned to smokeless tobacco to calm his nerves. A lot of people in his orange-and-blue shoes would turn to much stronger things.

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