Shake-up in the national rankings for the Big Ten

David McCoy

When the preseason AP Top 25 poll was released, four Big Ten teams were ranked in the top 15 – No. 4 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 11 Iowa and No. 15 Purdue.

Now there are five Big Ten teams in the Top 25, as the conference has basically been flipped from the top down in terms of who is leading the pack.

No. 8 Ohio State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) is still on top in this week’s poll, but the rest of the Big Ten’s preseason best have been beating each other up early on.

No. 18 Minnesota (4-0, 1-0) moved into the Top 25 after beating Purdue 42-35 on Saturday and play at Penn State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC.

The Boilermakers (2-1, 0-1) dropped to No. 22, while Michigan (2-2, 0-1) and Iowa (2-2, 0-1) dropped out of the poll altogether after respective losses to Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) and Ohio State.

Now the Big Ten’s top teams behind Ohio State – the only preseason favorite still holding true to form – are No. 11 Michigan State with No. 17 Wisconsin in front of the Gophers and Boilermakers.

While all this means nothing after just one conference week, it does mean the Gophers at least have a head start.

“It just let us know that the Big Ten is wide open this year,” running back Laurence Maroney said. “Anybody can win it. So it just gives us more to fight for.”

Last year’s best defense

At his Tuesday news conference, Minnesota coach Glen Mason said Penn State had the best defense the Gophers faced last year.

The Nittany Lions are 16th in rushing defense, 61st in pass defense and 32nd in the nation in total defense and scoring defense.

But Mason gave Penn State much higher praise.

“They have a top 10 defense that virtually returns everybody from last year,” Mason said.

Gophers injury update

Mason said Justin Valentine, who returned to action Saturday against Purdue, was held out of the Sept. 17 game against Florida Atlantic after pulling his hamstring.

Right offensive tackle Joe Ainslie dressed Saturday but did not see the field.

Mason said that even though Steve Shidell has been solid thus far, he has not replaced Ainslie in the lineup and he expects Ainslie to be ready to play this weekend.

“He was ready for action, though I wouldn’t think he was 100 percent,” Mason said. “The injury to Joe has given Shidell a chance to play and he’s played pretty well. So we’ve got a little more depth than we thought.”

Carr not concerned

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said he is not concerned about his team’s confidence after losing to No. 13 Notre Dame and No. 17 Wisconsin and dropping out of the AP Top 25.

“We just have to play better together and stop making the mistakes,” Carr said at his Monday news conference. “It begins with turnovers and penalties. We’ve lost the turnover battle in both of our defeats. We certainly had too many penalties on Saturday. Those things have a way of really impacting a game sometimes in a way that’s not so obvious.”

Carr said he’s not yet sure whether sophomore running back Mike Hart, who has been out since Sept. 10 with a hamstring injury, will be able to play Saturday against No. 11 Michigan State.

Calhoun a workhorse, duh

Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez chided a reporter at his Monday news conference after the reporter asked if Alvarez was worried about the durability of running back Brian Calhoun, who is on pace to carry the ball almost 400 times this year.

“That’s an original question,” Alvarez said. “You put a lot of thought into that, didn’t you? We’ve kind of addressed that every week since we’ve started – How many carries he has? And how many he will have? Can he hold up? He feels good.”