FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2016, file photo, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh cheers on his players after a Michigan touchdown in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. Clearly, No. 2 Ohio
Tony Ding, File
October 11, 2016

Clearly, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan have been the class of the Big Ten so far.

No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 10 Nebraska will get a chance to prove the conference isn't the Big Two and Little Eight like it used to be years ago when Woody Hayes was leading the Buckeyes and Bo Schembechler was coaching the Wolverines.

Sure, the conference has four teams in the top 10 of The Associated Press college football poll for the first time since 1960 during the regular season.

The Badgers , though, have to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday at home to stay highly ranked and to prove they belong among the Big Ten's best after a closely contested loss at Michigan .

''You hope to earn that right to be in those conversations,'' Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst acknowledged Tuesday.

The Cornhuskers, who play Saturday at Indiana, will get their chance in back-to-back road games Oct. 29 against Wisconsin and Nov. 5 against Ohio State.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he didn't personally peek ahead to those opponents during the team's recent bye week, but the program is keeping tabs on schools it will face later in the schedule.

''We have our graduate assistants do that,'' Riley said.

Regardless of how Wisconsin does against Ohio State or Nebraska fares against the Buckeyes, it appears as if the Badgers or Cornhuskers will likely end up representing the West at the Big Ten championship game.

Ohio State and Michigan , meanwhile, appear to be on a collision course to meet Nov. 26 at the Horseshoe to earn the East's spot in the conference final.

When Jim Harbaugh was asked during the Big Ten teleconference if he would take a look at the Buckeyes during his team's bye week, or if he does on a weekly basis, he simply refused to answer the question.

''We're looking at it as an improvement week,'' Harbaugh said, dodging the question by talking about his plans for the idle Wolverines.

Rutgers got too close of a look the last two weeks at Michigan and Ohio State, losing 78-0 and 58-0, respectively so to speak to the traditional powers.

''There are a lot of similarities on their overall talent up and down the roster,'' Scarlet Knights coach Chris Ash said. ''They are different, schematically, more so on offense than on defense.''

Here are some other things of note in the Big Ten:

SLUMPING SPARTANS: Michigan State, which was ranked No. 12 before the season, has lost three straight for the first time since 2009 and for the third time since Mark Dantonio took over the program in 2007.

It has been a stark slump for a program that won 36 games and two Big Ten title the previous three years.

''I don't know if I appreciate that more,'' Dantonio said. ''I understand it's very difficult to win. I also understand when you have these types of situations, you've got to dig yourself out of the hole and you got to have one focus and that's the next game, the next moment. You have to make sure the players are not being bombarded. I know they're being bombarded outside of this football building, but that the football building becomes a sanctuary for them.''

If the Spartans slip again and lose Saturday at home against Northwestern, it will mark their first four-game skid since the fourth and final year of the John L. Smith era in 2006.

SIGNING EARLY: Big Ten coaches appear to be largely in favor of last week's proposals by the Division I council that would create early signing periods in June and December, instead of in February.

''To me, it makes perfect sense,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

At least two coaches, Maryland's DJ Durkin and Ash, though, don't want an early signing period earlier than December.

''I don't think it's a good path,'' Ash said.



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