Badgers answer critics. Buckeyes lurking. Wolverines stifled.

The concentration of wealth continues in the Great Midwest.

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Ohio State put Illinois through its misery 52-14, locking up the Big Ten East. Meanwhile, if No. 5 Wisconsin didn’t silence the critics of its schedule by notching a convincing victory over No. 24 Michigan, it lowered the decibels of the doubters a bit.

Now, it’s official: the Buckeyes and the Badgers will meet in the Big Ten championship game.

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Wisconsin does not earn a berth in the College Football Playoff if it adds a victory over the mighty Buckeyes.

And if Ohio State wins, there are scenarios in which it sneaks into the playoffs despite its two losses.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Penn State (9-2) and Michigan (8-3) are having years that would be considered good on many campuses. Ask Northwestern, which is 8-3 after walloping Minnesota 39-0 and will move to 9-3, barring a Lovie Smith miracle, when it finishes its season at Illinois.

Hats off to Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats, who are tracking to finish the season with a seven-game winning streak, their best since they won seven in a row when Fitz was a senior in 1996.

Also enjoying a solid season is Michigan State, which can get to 9-3 with a final victory at Rutgers. It’s a good bounce-back for Mark Dantonio after last year’s 9-3 messiness. And his team, which beat Michigan(!), is very young.

NOT HAPPY IN HAPPY VALLEY

The 9-2 and 8-3 marks are not considered good at Penn State and Michigan. These birthright schools expect more.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

After six years of wallowing in the mire of the Sandusky troubles, the Nittany Lions are tracking for their second straight double-digit-win season. Not good enough.

At Michigan, which has a promising young roster that bodes well for the future, dissenters are talking about how Harbaugh, who is 0-2 against Ohio State and 1-2 against Michigan State, can’t win the big ones.

Here in Chicago, sportswriters are beating the drum for Harbaugh to replace Bears coach John Fox. Harbaugh, you may recall, began his pro playing career as a Monster of the Midway.

More importantly, they mention that Harbaugh, who’s in his third year in Ann Arbor, stayed only four years at Stanford and with the 49ers. So he’s nearing the time for a change.

Let me go on record with this: I believe Michigan is a very different situation. I expect Harbaugh to stay in Ann Arbor far beyond his four-year routine.

Why? College football is different. Michigan is more than a job for Harbaugh. It’s home. And college football is where his particular brand of off-beat eccentricity belongs. Most importantly, he knows all of that.

M GO BLUES

Michigan can salvage a lot with an upset of Ohio State on Saturday. Harbaugh is 0-2 against the hated Buckeyes, losing 42-13 in 2015 and 30-27 in 2016. The loss a year ago might have been tougher to swalow than the blowout. Harbaugh was fined for trashing the refs after the game.

Admittedly, it was only a $10,000 fine, which is just minutes out of his workweek. But maize-and-blue natives are getting restless for a victory over the Buckeyes, who have won an intolerable five in a row and 12 of the last 13 meetings.

That’s not only hard to believe and nasty. In many cases, it would remove the word ``rivalry,’’ if you believe athlets who say it takes two to make a rivalry.

Not in this case.

YOUR TMG BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS

The last time Wisconsin and Ohio State squared off in the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers were humiliated 59-0 by Ohio State, which went on to sneak into the College Football Playoff and win the 2014 national championship. That’s not happening again. . . the 59-0 part. The Badgers are for real. And if the Buckeyes beat them, they will be, too.

1, Wisconsin (1 last week): Nicely done, Alex Hornibrook. Big-time performance in big-time showdown with Michigan.

2, Ohio State (2): Yup. They are lurking in the College Football Playoff. Maybe it’s because the rules are different for schools like Ohio State and Alabama. But good luck proving that.

3, Penn State (3): Can a 56-44 win over Nebraska not be impressive? Yup. That’s how irrelevant the Huskers are right now.

4, Northwestern (4): Would those early losses to Penn State and Wisconsin play out differently if the Wildcats, who have won six in a row, had gotten their act together earlier? Probably not. but we’ll never know.

5, Michigan State (5): Raise your hand if you knew that the heat would be off Mark Dantonio and on Jim Harbaugh at this point in the season.

6, Michigan (6): Even with Ohio State coming to the Big House, The Game is looking like a tall order for the Wolverines. But what an opportunity.

7, Purdue (10): If we’re going to give Iowa credit for thumping Ohio State in Nile Kinnick Stadium, we’re going to give the Boilermakers credit for shutting down Iowa in Nile Kinnick Stadium.

8, Iowa (7): The Hawkeyes really ought to move down even more after making another case against offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz in a 24-15 loss to Purdue. The problem? Finding somebody to move up.

9, Indiana (12): That’s two in a row for the Hoosiers, and never mind that it was Illinois and Rutgers. When IU goes to Purdue on Saturday, the winner will receive a playoff trip as well as the Old Oaken Bucket.

10, Minnesota (9): A week after pounding Nebraska 54-21, the Gophers get pounded 39-0 by Northwestern. And now he faces the Badgers. Being P.J. Fleck isn't as easy as he makes it look. But he's still off to a good start.

11, Nebraska (13): Are the optics of the 56-44 loss at Penn State are better than the optics of the 54-21 loss at Minnesota? In a way. But in a bigger way, these are troubled times for a program with Nebraska’s tradition.

12, Maryland (11): Give the Terrapins credit for hanging around in 17-7 loss on a sloppy weather day at Michigan State. Wonder what D.J. Durkin will do when he’s playing with a full deck. Big give them the loss.

13, Rutgers (8): Leave it to the red-faced Scarlet Knights, who had been beating teams in their weight class, to make Indiana look like a juggernaut in a 41-0 loss.

14, Illinois (14): Oh, for the halcyon days of 2016, when the Illini went 2-7 in Big Ten play. They now have lost 11 league games in a row. Barring a miracle against Northwestern, they’ll finish 0-9 in the Big Ten for the first time. In 1983, by the way, the Illini went 9-0. They are the first (and only) school to beat every other Big Ten team in the same season. Since '83, they have had four 0-8 conference miseries, not including this one.[/membership]

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