This isn't an original thought (I think I owe IUTerry a hat tip), but it is worth noting: the Big Ten's various "tiers" are extremely well defined this year. Ohio State (14-1) and Wisconsin (12-3) are the top tier; Minnesota (3-12), Northwestern (2-12), and Penn State (1-13) are the bottom tier; and Illinois (9-6), IU (8-6), Iowa (8-6), Michigan State (8-7), Michigan (8-7), and Purdue (7-7) are the middle tier. What is so unusual isn't that there are obvious dividing points, but that the outcomes are almost entirely predictable by tier. Ohio State and Wisconsin went 1-1 against each other and 24-2 against the rest of the league. Wisconsin lost at IU and and at MSU. The bottom tier's results are nearly as uniform. Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State have combined for six wins. Purdue's loss at the Barn is the only win that the "little three" have claimed against any team but each other, at home or on the road. The muddled six have held serve against each other, winning at home and losing on the road, almost as a rule. Iowa won at Michigan, and that's it [actually, after this post, Iowa lost to Penn State]. As I type this post, Michigan is finishing a home win over MSU.
It's not particularly noteworthy that those tiers exist right now, only two or three games into the Big Ten season. But in this week's voting, there seems to be some solid consensus.
1. Tier one: Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin. On the ballots I could find, every single voter had these three teams as the top three.
2. Tier two: Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State. Nearly every ballot (see below re Off the Tracks) listed these teams in slots four through seven. Of the four, only Ohio State would seem to be a realistic threat to break into championship contention.
3. Tier Illinois: Illinois. With the exception of Off the Tracks, which seemed to have the Illini in the middle somewhere (his numbers didn't match the order), every ballot listed Illinois precisely eighth. No one really expected the Illini to be as bad as that of the conference dregs, but their performance has been very dreg-like so far, with home losses to two middle tier teams (Ohio State and Penn State). It wouldn't be a surprise if Illinois salvages its season, but right now the Illini, if record is compared to strength of schedule and home/away, have been worse than anyone else.
4. Tier hopeless: Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan. All of these teams are winless, and none have much hope of postseason play. Every ballot lists these teams as the bottom three.
Again, it's early, but I'll keep an eye on this as the season progresses. There aren't many surprises in the poll right now. I have no argument with IU's position at #2. It's where I voted the Hoosiers. I do disagree with the voters who docked IU for the margin of victory against Iowa. IU didn't dominate Iowa, but with 2:10 remaining, IU led 70-57 and had held Iowa to 26 percent shooting on the half. IU's offense did not shut down at that point. The Hoosiers scored 9 more points. But thanks to the most improbably amazing three point shooting I have seen, Iowa pulled to within three and actually had the ball with a chance to tie before committing a turnover as time expired. Justin Johnson was 6-6 from three point range in the last two minutes and added a free throw for all 19 of Iowa's points in that last two minutes. The final score was an outlier, and if the game were played 20 times it wouldn't play out like that again. To be clear, I voted IU #2, so I have no problem with the ranking, but the Iowa margin of victory should be a major consideration.