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Big Ten Football Power Rankings, Week 4: It’s the top four and then everyone else

The quasi conference semifinals present chances for movement among the top teams.

After another cancellation and a quieter week in the conference, the upcoming slate should should help clarify who will make their way to Indianapolis on December 19th. Let’s take a look at the Big Ten Power Rankings after four weeks of conference play.

14. Penn State (0-4)

Last ranking: 10

Last result: L at Nebraska (23-30)

Next: vs Iowa

The schedule has gotten easier for Penn State, yet the losses have gotten uglier. The Nittany Lions nearly rallied from 21 down, as head coach James Franklin finally gave up on starting quarterback Sean Clifford in favor of Will Levis. But PSU failed in the red zone on multiple occasions. The Big Ten’s only winless team won’t catch a break anytime soon, with an upcoming visit from a solid Iowa team that has won two straight blowouts.

13. Michigan State (1-3)

Last ranking: 13

Last result: L at Indiana (24-0)

Next: at Maryland

The offensive woes that plagued Mark Dantonio in his final years have not gone away, and the Spartans continue to turn the ball over. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi has lost all control of this team, and backup Payton Thorne looked miserable in relief against Indiana, completing only 48 percent of his passes. Hoosier signal caller Michael Penix Jr. threw two interceptions and didn’t lead a scoring drive in the second half, but No. 9 Indiana cruised to victory nonetheless. Until the offense, if you can even call it that, gets things figured out, take Maryland as six-point home favorites and run straight to the bank. If the game is played, that is.

12. Rutgers (1-3)

Last ranking: 12

Last result: L vs Illinois (23-20)

Next: vs Michigan

This Greg Schiano squad looks like a shell of its former self, even with the slew of transfers they brought in. After a solid opening week performance, quarterback Noah Vedral has looked outmatched. He threw three picks versus Illinois, including a late one that set up the Illini’s game-winning field goal. This team has fight, and isn’t an absolute joke like we’ve been accustomed to seeing, but it’s still a bottom-dweller until further notice.

11. Illinois (1-3)

Last ranking: 14

Last result: W at Rutgers (23-20)

Next: at Nebraska

A win at Rutgers isn’t impressive, to start. It’s even more shaky by the fact that Illinois didn’t hold a lead until they kicked the game-winning field goal. This group could really use a boost from the impending return of quarterback Brandon Peters and several other players who exit the COVID protocols when they take on Nebraska this weekend. But Peters can’t fix a really bad secondary.

10. Minnesota (1-3)

Last ranking: 9

Last result: L vs Iowa (35-7)

Next: vs Purdue

Minnesota was torched by the Hawkeye ground game Friday night to the tune of almost seven yards per carry. PJ Fleck’s defense has regressed even more than expected following the loss of Antoine Winfield Jr and Carter Coughlin. After a stellar 2019, quarterback Tanner Morgan has regressed, even with star receiver Rashod Bateman on the field for the Gophers. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim has been the team’s one bright spot thus far, but they can’t expect to make it through the season giving him almost 35 touches per game.

9. Nebraska (1-3)

Last ranking: 13

Last result: W vs Penn State (30-23)

Next: vs Illinois

After a loss to Northwestern, Scott Frost decided he’d seen enough out of Adrian Martinez and made the switch to Luke McCaffrey at quarterback. McCaffrey looked competent enpugh in the air and on the ground against Penn State. The Huskers showed they still aren’t the best at winning, as they nearly coughed up a three-touchdown lead. But sometimes notching the first one makes a big difference, and they have a good chance to keep the momentum going this week against Illinois.

8. Michigan (1-3)

Last ranking: 8

Last result: L vs Wisconsin (49-11)

Next: at Rutgers

Don Brown’s perennially top-ten defense can’t get its act together, and the Joe Milton hype train looks to be coming to a halt quickly. The next four weeks can’t go fast enough for fans in Ann Arbor.

7. Maryland (2-1)

Last ranking: 7

Last result: Game vs Ohio State canceled due to COVID-19

Next: vs Michigan State

How are the Terps? No one really knows. But their last two games have been fun to watch, and they should consider themselves lucky after avoiding Ohio State this past weekend. Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett have formed one of the best wide receiver tandems in the Big Ten, and Mike Locksley might have something brewing on offense with Taulia Tagovailoa under center.

6. Purdue (2-1)

Last ranking: 5

Last result: L vs Northwestern (27-20)

Next: at Minnesota

Jeff Brohm’s first-ranked passing offense has impressed, but this Purdue team is still inconsistent without a reliable running game. Running back Zander Horvath rushed for only 21 yards against Northwestern. Purdue’s defense hasn’t given up more than 27 points, but it hasn’t stood out either. The return of star defensive end George Karlaftis will surely help.

5. Iowa (2-2)

Last ranking: 6

Last result: W at Minnesota (35-7)

Next: at Penn State

Iowa finally went run-heavy, and it has worked. Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent provide a great one-two backfield punch that helps cover up the inconsistency of quarterback Spencer Petras. The Hawkeye defense has also rounded into form the past two weeks, and they’re now allowing under 320 yards per game on the year. They should be able to continue this trend when they take on an uninspired Penn State squad this weekend.

4. No. 19 Northwestern (3-0)

Last ranking: 4

Last result: W at Purdue (27-20)

Next: vs No. 10 Wisconsin

The ‘Cats just keep finding ways to win. This emulates Northwestern’s 1-0 weekly motto, What’s Important Now (W.I.N.). The defense, led by the Big Ten’s best linebacker group and an exciting secondary, has led to a complete and balanced unit. NU currently ranks second in Big Ten scoring defense and sixth in scoring offense, with quarterback Peyton Ramsey looking more and more like the remedy this offense needed for functionality. An upset win this weekend would establish the Wildcats as the heavy favorites to represent the West in the Big Ten Championship game.

3. No. 9 Indiana (4-0)

Last ranking: 2

Last result: W vs Michigan State (24-0)

Next: at No. 3 Ohio State

Indiana has been the surprise story of the Big Ten. QB Micahel Penix Jr. has flashed his dynamic playmaking abilities, which is supported by a sound run game and wide recievers Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle. The defense manhandled Michigan State last weekend, forcing three interceptions en route to a shutout. But the Hoosiers four victories have come over teams with a combined three wins, so we should find out if they’re for real this weekend when they travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State for control of the East.

2. No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0)

Last ranking: 3

Last result: W vs Michigan (49-11)

Next: at No. 19 Northwestern

When on the field, the Badgers have looked nearly unstoppable. They ran all over Michigan last weekend, averaging almost seven yards per carry. Sophomore phenom QB Graham Mertz has opened a new dimension of the Badgers’ offense, and he’ll get his first real challenge this weekend in Evanston against a stingy Northwestern defense.

1. No. 3 Ohio State (3-0)

Last ranking: 1

Last result: Game vs Maryland canceled due to COVID-19

Next: vs No. 9 Indiana

There’s not too much to say about Ohio State at the moment. They’ve put up 46 points per game, while the defense has been adequate but not outstanding. Coming off an unexpected bye week, the Buckeyes will take on an inspired Indiana group, which should present the toughest matchup this year on what’s turned out to be a surprisingly weak schedule.