Week four was, shall we say, interesting for the Big Ten. There were lots of expected results, but they weren’t achieved in the expected fashion. A MAC team beat a B1G team, but Northwestern (surprisingly) wasn’t involved, and Nebraska might not actually be the worst team in the conference. Here’s how the full Week Five Power Rankings turned out:
1. No. 4 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: W vs. Villanova (38-17)
Next: vs. Indiana
Well, here we are. There’s a new number one in these rankings. As I described last week, Penn State had just as good of a claim for this spot as Io_a, and, following an extremely uninspiring performance from the Hawkeyes on Saturday, the Nittany Lions have been pushed slightly ahead. QB Sean Clifford looked great once again — granted it was against FCS Villanova — and his connection with WR Jahan Dotson continues to prosper. James Franklin’s squad has a very winnable showdown with Indiana this weekend before they play a potential preview of the Big Ten Championship against Io_a the following Saturday.
2. No. 5 Io_a (4-0, 1-0)
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: W vs. Colorado State (24-14)
Next: at Maryland
If their performance last Saturday was an indication of what’s to come, the Hawkeyes won’t be this high on the list for long, and they’ve already dropped down a spot because of that result. Their rushing attack stagnated, the entire offense struggled on third down (when U of I was 4-13), and the defense didn’t force a single takeaway. Fortunately, they still won the game, but there’s a lot of improvement needed ahead as they enter conference play. Case and point, this Friday. It could be a trap game for the Hawkeyes at Maryland, and they will have to start running the ball with success again. Otherwise, it might turn out to be a long night for Io_a fans.
3. No. 11 Ohio State (3-1, 1-0)
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: W vs. Akron (59-7)
Next: vs. Maryland (October 9)
Is there a potential QB controversy growing in Columbus? Probably not, but I’d like to stir the pot regardless. With CJ Stroud being rested, Kyle McCord went 13-18 for 319 yards and two touchdowns along with an INT against Akron. As the Buckeyes have a bye this week, there is a chance for McCord to win the starting job before the Maryland game. But let’s be honest: the offense isn’t the reason for this team’s struggles, and whoever starts at QB won’t change that. The defensive side of the ball is a different story, but allowing just seven points last Saturday, albeit against Akron, is a step in the right direction and could serve as a stepping stone as the Buckeyes enter conference play.
4. No. 14 Michigan (4-0, 1-0)
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: W vs. Rutgers (20-13)
Next: at Wisconsin
The Wolverines have now had their first opportunity to see what happens to their offense when they can’t run the ball with ease, and, spoiler alert, it was not pretty. After jumping out to a 20-3 lead in the first half against good Rutgers team, Michigan’s six drives in the second thirty consisted of four punts (all three-and-outs), a missed field goal, and the victory formation. If not for their stifling defense, Michigan may very well have blown its lead and the game. In the future, QB Cade McNamara has to be better through the air — he was 1-5 for 7 yards in the second half — to alleviate some of the pressure on the run game, especially when the run isn’t working at all.
5. No. 17 Michigan State (4-0, 2-0)
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: W vs. Nebraska (23-20)
Next: vs. Western Kentucky
To be honest, the Spartans got outplayed last Saturday and they’re lucky to still be undefeated. Much like Michigan, their offense went missing for a large portion of the game, and the Huskers outgained them by almost 200 yards. Massive special teams and interception returns helped close that gap, but those aren’t sustainable ways to win football games. As conference competition continues, the Spartans will have to be more consistent offensively, and Payton Thorne, in particular, has to increase his level of performance from where it was last week.
6. Wisconsin (1-2, 0-1)
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: L vs. No. 12 Notre Dame (41-13)
Next: vs. No. 14 Michigan
“How can a two loss team that lost by four touchdowns last Saturday hold their spot?” is a question you, the reader, might be asking right now, but there’s two perfectly good reasons for it. First, look at who’s below the Badgers. No one has really justified a potential overtake. Secondly, Wisconsin was competitive with Notre Dame for three quarters, but a kick return TD and two pick sixes late helped create the 28-point margin of defeat. Take out those chunk plays and essentially give the Badgers two possessions back, and they would’ve been right in the game. It was just a calamitous series of events that should never happen again and doesn’t really speak to where this team is talent-wise. However, both the team and QB Graham Mertz haven’t lived up to expectations, but they’ll still be contenders in an exceptionally weak West division, especially if Mertz can figure out this whole ball-security thing.
7. Maryland (4-0, 1-0)
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: W vs. Kent State (37-16)
Next: vs. No. 5 Io_a
Somehow, the Terrapins aren’t ranked in the AP Top 25, but regardless, they’ve proven themselves to be worthy of a spot, even if the voters don’t recognize it. Their high-powered passing attack, led by QB Taulia Tagovailoa, brushed Kent State aside last weekend, and their defense kept their opponent under 20 points for the third week in a row. If you believe in SP+, the better team in Maryland’s clash with Io_a this Friday isn’t the one ranked 5th in the country. Keep an eye on that score, as the Terrapins may just pull out a win, which would add more chaos to an already chaotic Big Ten.
8. Purdue (3-1, 1-0)
Last Ranking: 8
Last Result: W vs. Illinois (13-9)
Next: vs. Minnesota
Jeff Brohm continues to utilize a two-quarterback system in West Lafayette, and the scheme continues to yield subpar results. Miraculously, Purdue managed to come out on top while only scoring 13 points against a very bad Illinois team, but there is no way the Boilermakers will keep winning while their offense struggles this much. There is a caveat to that statement: The Big Ten West is not good, and the Boilermakers get the benefit of facing the bottom five teams in these rankings. They get another one of those five this weekend in Minnesota before facing the two West heavyweights: Io_a and Wisconsin.
9. Rutgers (3-1, 0-1)
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: L at No. 19 Michigan (20-13)
Next: vs. No. 11 Ohio State
Before you can even ask, yes, Rutgers moved up two rankings after a loss. Now, some of that is on account of the fact that Minnesota lost to Bowling Green and Indiana barely overcame Western Kentucky, but it was also due to the quality the Scarlet Knights showed against Michigan. This was especially evident in the second half where they: a) completely shut down a highly-efficient Wolverine offense and as a result b) almost erased a 17-point deficit to force overtime. The computers seem to have been right about Rutgers, and they have another massive opportunity to reinforce that against Ohio State this week.
10. Indiana (2-2, 0-1)
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: W vs. Western Kentucky (33-31)
Next: at No. 4 Penn State
The Hoosiers have a strong offense. That’s pretty much where the compliments stop, though. The defense let a well-below-average offense put up 31 points and 450 yards against them, and, if not for the offense being highly-effective on third down (11-18), they would have lost to Western Kentucky. What’s even more impressive is the fact that this wasn’t the worst showing in a non-conference game by a Big Ten team in Week 4, and because of that, Indiana stays in tenth.
11. Minnesota (2-2, 0-1)
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: L vs. Bowling Green (14-10)
Next: at Purdue
In a Chicago Bears-esque showing in the pass game, Minnesota and QB Tanner Morgan gained just 59 yards through the air. Morgan individually was 5-of-13 for 59 yards, no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Oh, and he also lost a fumble, too. His passing performance was 14th worst of all FBS quarterbacks to play at least ten plays in Week 4 based on the PPA (Predicted Points Added) per play metric. In other words, the quarterback quality has to improve, or the Golden Gophers will have an extremely rough rest of the season.
12. Northwestern (2-2, 0-1)
Last Ranking: 12
Last Result: W vs. Ohio (35-6)
Next: at Nebraska
The ‘Cats took care of business last Saturday. Evan Hull won Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors with his rushing masterclass, and Brandon Joseph logged his first interception of the season, so there was a lot for NU fans to savor from that performance. The one negative was Ryan Hilinski, who was about as “meh” as it gets, but is still now listed as QB1 on the depth chart which, let’s say, isn’t great. Northwestern now gets a chance to defend its 12th rank against Nebraska, which might be as bad of a football game as it usually is a basketball contest.
13. Nebraska (2-3, 0-2)
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: L at No. 20 Michigan State (23-20)
Next: vs. Northwestern
Weirdly enough, the Huskers’ two best performances this season have been in losses. They hung with Oklahoma two weeks ago and took a good Michigan State team to overtime, and while they came up short on both occasions, there are signs that this team is improving. The defense was stout against Sparty, the offense gained over 450 yards, and Nebraska had an 83% post-game win expectancy, so realistically, they should be 3-2 right now. Their ascent would continue with a win against Northwestern this weekend, which seems like a likely outcome at this point in time.
14. Illinois (1-4, 1-2)
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: L at Purdue (13-9)
Next: vs. Charlotte