Last week featured the opening of Big Ten play and Wisconsin picked up their second top 10 win of the season, routing defending Big Ten champion and #8 Michigan State on the road by the score of 30-6. They will also play in the marquee game of this coming week, as they take on #4 Michigan in the Big House. That should be a great game and it’s the first time the two schools have played each other since 2010.
As for the rest of the conference, one thing we’ve learned in September is that the bottom half of the league is not very good. At least not yet. Indiana lost to Wake Forest at home. Losing to a traditional ACC bottom feeder is not a good look for the Hoosiers or the Big Ten. The good news is the top half of the conference is loaded and has five teams ranked in the top 17 in the polls. Those teams should feast on the rest of the league all season. With the first full conference slate ahead in Week 5, here is how I see things leading up to this Saturday.
14. Illinois (1-2)
Last Week: 13th; BYE
This Week: At #15 Nebraska (4-0)
The Illini were off this week, but drop back anyway due to Purdue’s win. They suffered a bad loss at home to Western Michigan in a game they weren’t even competitive in the week before. Now they head to Nebraska, who is looking like a legitimate contender for the West division title.
13. Purdue (2-1)
Last Week: 14th; Beat Nevada 24-14
This Week: At Maryland (3-0)
Credit Darrell Hazell and Purdue for getting the win over Nevada to complete their non-conference schedule with a winning record. That’s a step in the right direction for this program. They have a big test this weekend, taking on undefeated Maryland on the road. This game will tell us a lot about both teams, as they will be fighting to pick up a precious conference win in the first league game for both schools.
12. Northwestern (1-3)
Last Week: 14th; Lost to #20 Nebraska 24-13
This Week: At Iowa (3-1)
Despite losing again this past weekend, I moved the Wildcats up two spots for two reasons. They were competitive against a good Nebraska team and their lone win against Duke is looking even better after the Blue Devils shocked Notre Dame in South Bend. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier though, as they play at Iowa and at Michigan State in back to back weeks.
11. Indiana (2-1)
Last Week: 8th; Lost to Wake Forest 33-28
This Week: Host #17 Michigan State (2-1)
The Hoosiers fall three spots after a terrible loss at home to Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons do look to be improved and also own a win over Duke, but Indiana needed this game badly in order to make a leap as a program this season. Coming off their first bowl game in years, the defense was supposedly much improved. Wake came into this game undefeated, but only averaging 17 points a game. They doubled that amount against Indiana, who now face an angry Spartan team this week.
10. Rutgers (2-2)
Last Week: 11th; Lost to Iowa 14-7
This Week: At #2 Ohio State (3-0)
Call me a homer, but Rutgers held their own against Iowa and for that I moved them up one spot. The most encouraging part was the improved play of the defense. If they can give that type of performance on a consistent basis, Rutgers has a real chance to put up some wins later in the season. Indiana’s loss is much worse than either of the ones Rutgers has, so the Scarlet Knights are here for now.
9. Penn State (2-2)
Last Week: 8th; Lost to Michigan 49-10
This Week: Host Minnesota (3-0)
What a bad loss for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions, getting blown out worse than even Kyle Flood and Rutgers did last season at Michigan. They face a crucial test this weekend, hosting the undefeated Golden Gophers. If they lose this game, expect the Happy Valley faithful to really freak out and start calling for Franklin’s head.
8. Maryland (3-0)
Last Week: 9th; BYE
This Week: Host Purdue (2-1)
The Terps were off this week but move up one spot anyway, because as I said the bottom half of the Big Ten is not very good. They have a golden opportunity to start 4-0 with Purdue coming to College Park this weekend. The schedule gets much harder after this one, so D.J. Durkin will look to capitalize in a big way on Saturday.
7. Minnesota (3-0)
Last Week: 7th; Beat Colorado State 31-24
This Week: At Penn State (2-2)
Minnesota seems to only know how to win close games and they took down a mediocre team at home in Colorado State. They travel to take on a beat up Penn State team and while they are listed as underdogs, I think they out muscle the Nittany Lions. A victory would be huge for Tracy Claeys, who has a real shot at leading this team to 8 wins this season.
6. Michigan State (2-1; #17 AP)
Last Week: 4th; Lost to #11 Wisconsin 30-6
Next Week: At Indiana (2-1)
Losing as badly as they did last week to the Badgers seems to be their worst regular season loss in a long time. They were completely outplayed at home and their big win against Notre Dame looks less legit after the Irish tanked against Duke. Michigan State doesn’t look like they will compete with Michigan or Ohio State this season in the East, but need to rebound in a bad way against Indiana this weekend.
5. Iowa (2-1)
Last Week: 6th; Beat Rutgers 14-7
Next Week: Host Northwestern (1-3)
Iowa is getting panned for almost losing to Rutgers and even dropped out of the coaches poll after their performance last Saturday. I think the Hawkeyes will be fine, but the loss of receiver Matt Vandeberg is a big one. Even so, three straight winnable games lie ahead, with a one win Northwestern first up Saturday.
4. Nebraska (4-0; #15 AP)
Last Week: 5th; Beat Northwestern 24-13
Next Week: Host Illinois (1-2)
I really thought Mike Riley had a great chance at redemption in year two and the Cornhuskers are off to a great start. They have rose through the ranks and also have three very winnable games in a row next on the docket. They should blow out Illinois, before taking on the state of Indiana in their following two, making a path to the top ten by mid-October very attainable.
3. Michigan (4-0; #4 AP)
Last Week: 3rd; Beat Penn State 49-10
Next Week: Host #8 Wisconsin (4-0)
I know Michigan is looking like a real contender for both the Big Ten and even the national championship, but they simply haven’t faced a very good team as of yet. Colorado did beat Oregon this past weekend, making the Wolverines win over them look somewhat better. However, they just don’t have high profile wins that even approach the two teams ahead of them in the power rankings. That could change in a big way this weekend.
2. Wisconsin (4-0; #8 AP)
Last Week: 3rd; Beat Michigan State 30-6
Next Week: At #4 Michigan (4-0)
Everyone keeps doubting the Badgers and they just keep winning. I actually find their dismantling of Michigan State on the road more impressive than their win over LSU in Lambeau. Their schedule is still daunting, as they flip flop opponents with Rutgers the next two games. However, if they can win in the Big House this weekend, there is no reason to think they can’t give Ohio State a major test the following week.
1. Ohio State (3-0, #2 AP)
Last Week: 1st; BYE
Next Week: Host Rutgers (2-2)
The Buckeyes are coming off a bye and it’s homecoming weekend in Columbus. Greg Schiano will be foaming at the mouth to make a statement with his defense against Rutgers and this could be a blood bath. The best chance for it not to be is the hope Chris Ash’s mentor Urban Meyer calls off the dogs early. One thing for sure about Rutgers is they play with heart and will give it their best effort in the Horseshoe. Let us pray!
Previous Rankings: Week 4