After a plethora of conference games, teams continued to surprise and disappoint, whilst the top two remain untouched. Here’s how the final September Saturday panned out for Big Ten rankings going into Week Five:
1. Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: 52-21 vs. Wisconsin
Next: vs. Rutgers
Although the Buckeyes haven’t looked like a team that’ll easily dominate the conference, as many may have thought a month ago, it is still their conference to lose. They showed their prowess once again this weekend, via a 52-21 beatdown of Wisconsin. C.J. Stroud’s first interception was about the only thing that went wrong for the Buckeyes offense Saturday, as he threw five touchdowns for a second consecutive week.
OSU also got it going on the ground, with both Treveyon Henderson and Miyan Williams putting up over 100 yards rushing. If it wasn’t for them allowing Braelon Allen to cumulate 165 yards on the ground, the final score could’ve been more lopsided. The Buckeyes' offense is as good as advertised, and if they can tighten a few things defensively, they shouldn’t have any trouble till they travel to Happy Valley in late October.
2. Michigan (4-0, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: 34-27 win vs. Maryland
Next: at Iowa
Due to the Wolverine’s joke of a non-conference schedule to open the year, it was difficult to determine anything about the legitimacy of their ranking until this past weekend. They faced a Maryland team whose offense totaled just shy of 400 yards, showcasing the significance of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo’s departure.
Additionally, quarterback J.J, McCarthy looked a bit shaky, especially in his deep ball placement, but was able to secure the win with lots of help from Blake Corum. The Junior had 30 carries for 243 yards, headlined by a game-sealing 47-yard touchdown. Michigan will travel to Iowa City, where they will try to beat the Hawkeyes at home for the first time since 2005 and establish themselves as more of a national contender.
3. Minnesota (4-0, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: 34-7 win at Michigan State
Next: vs. Purdue
Is the boat rowing once again? The Golden Gophers followed up their domination of Colorado by traveling to East Lansing and beating the Spartans 34-7. To put perspective on how dominant this performance was, through the first quarter Minnesota was up 17-0 with 218 yards of offense. The Spartans had one.
Yes, a singular yard through the opening quarter was all Minnesota allowed. We knew of Tanner Morgan’s ceiling from 2019 and what a healthy Mo Ibrahim could bring to the table, but the Gopher defense is what gives them the edge above Penn State through four weeks. They have allowed an average of six points a game this season, and if they are able to contain Aidan O’Connell this Saturday, excitement will only grow in Minnesota.
4. Penn State (4-0, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: 33-14 win vs. Central Michigan
Next: vs. Northwestern
After their throttling of Auburn in Week Three, the Nittany Lions came back to earth a bit in their performance against Central Michigan. No fan should complain after a 33-14 win, but Penn State lacked the explosiveness they showed the week prior. The Chippewas were able to stick around through the first half before Sean Clifford scored a pair of touchdowns to put CMU away.
They have essentially a gimme game this weekend, at home vs. Northwestern (no offense ‘Cats fans), before having two weeks off to prepare for their trip to Ann Arbor. This likely top 10 matchup could boost the Nittany Lions into the CFP conversation if they are able to knock off the defending Big Ten champs.
5. Maryland (3-1, 0-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: 34-27 loss at Michigan
Next: vs. Michigan State
Taulia Tagovailoa was the best quarterback on the field this past Saturday. The junior looked better than his stat line suggests, showing much improvement from last season. Maryland’s passing attack looked as explosive as anyone outside of the Buckeyes to this point, which allowed them to stay in it with the Wolverines throughout.
Their next five are all against teams that are currently unranked, and if they are able to handle business against Michigan State this weekend, the Terps could get hot real quick. Tagovailoa did get shaken up in Ann Arbor, but he’s healthy, their matchup vs. the Spartans could look a lot different than it did a year ago.
6. Iowa (3-1, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: 27-10 win at Rutgers
Next: vs. Michigan
Boasting one of the best defenses in the country, Iowa is vastly similar to the Big Ten West Champions they were a year ago. This of course is a two-sided deal, as quarterback Spencer Petras looks just as limited as a year ago, with Iowa’s offense being so methodical (to put it nicely). This past weekend the Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights 27-10, in which the Hawkeye defense single-handedly outscored Rutgers.
They face the Wolverines this weekend, who will bring an inexperienced quarterback to Iowa City. If they are able to create a few turnovers they could stay with a vastly more talented Michigan team. Yet, as with many of the remaining games on their schedule, they will have to rely on their opponents’ mistakes to compete with the top teams in the conference.
7. Michigan State (2-2, 0-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: 34-7 loss vs. Minnesota
Next: at Maryland
At face value, losses against Minnesota and at Washington shouldn’t bring the Spartans rank this low, but the fashion of these defeats is not a great look for Mel Tucker and co. Their last two games have been essentially over at halftime, with MSU only able to salvage a score with 17 seconds left in the fourth against Minnesota, resulting in a final score of 34-7.
The Spartans weren’t expected to be the team they were a year ago when Kenneth Walker III was at the helm, but surely they weren’t expected to look this bad. Payton Thorne looks subpar and the Spartan defense has given up 73 points in their last two. A lone bright spot has been the play of two-sport athlete Keon Coleman, who has been the Spartan’s best receiver to begin his sophomore year. If MSU is unable to win against Maryland, the Spartan hype might just begin to stall if it wasn’t already.
8. Wisconsin (2-2, 0-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: 52-21 loss at Ohio State
Next: vs. Illinois
The Badgers were defeated by the Buckeyes this weekend in dominant fashion, losing 52-21. Graham Mertz had a QBR of 15.4, where he threw for 94 total yards in a game over twelve minutes of action. Luckily for the Badgers, they have neither Penn State nor Michigan on their schedule, so they should be able to recover with Braelon Allen leading the way.
They have a hot Illinois team next up, in a game that Mertz will need to perform in to secure the victory. Allen and the offensive line elevate the floor of the Badgers, but there’s only so much you can put on the sophomore running back if Mertz continues to disappoint. Wisconsin’s talent and home-field advantage should give them the edge against the Illini, but if it doesn’t there could be some changes made in Madison.
9. Illinois (3-1, 0-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: 31-0 vs. Chattanooga
Next: at Wisconsin
Is Illinois good? If it wasn’t for a go-ahead touchdown with 23 seconds left, the Fighting Illini would be undefeated, as crazy as that sounds. This hypothetical, of course, isn’t reality. But Illinois has been quietly impressive through their first four, at least relative to expectations.
They rolled a previously undefeated Chattanooga team, 31-0, with quarterback Tommy Devito throwing multiple touchdowns for the fourth consecutive start. A win against Chattanooga isn’t gonna make headlines, but if they win in Madison this weekend it should get the word out that this isn’t the same Illinois team from a year ago. This is very much still an if, but with the Badgers struggling, this game is much more enticing than many would’ve thought a month ago.
10. Indiana (3-1, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: 45-20 loss at Cincinnati
Next: at Nebraska
I understand the Hoosiers beat Illinois head-to-head earlier this season, but due to their embarrassment on Saturday against Cincinnati, coupled with Illinois’ dominant win, they needed to be jumped. A loss on the road to the Bearcats isn’t as bad of a look as it would’ve been a decade ago, but trailing by 28 to a team that isn’t close to what they were a year ago, is a difficult thing to put a positive spin on.
Luckily for the Hoosiers, they have a get-back game against the Huskers this weekend, where they have a chance to get back on track before they face the Wolverines in Bloomington.
11. Rutgers (3-1, 0-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 8
Last Result: 27-10 loss vs. Iowa
Next: at Ohio State
In a game they lost 27-10, Rutgers managed to have more passing yards than Iowa had total yards. Considering where the program was when coach Schiano got the job, this is a bit of an accomplishment in and of itself, but it’s still not how the Scarlet Knights wanted their undefeated start to come to an end.
The Scarlet Knights’ quarterback woes put them in the lower half of the conference, but expect Rutgers to remain competitive against the middle echelon of Big Ten teams, as they try to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.
12. Purdue (2-2, 0-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 12
Last Result: 28-26 vs. FAU
Next: at Minnesota
Although the Spartans currently take the top spot in terms of conference disappointments thus far, the Boilers are not far behind. They secured a win against FAU coming off a 40-14 defeat against UCF, via a failed two-point conversion that would’ve sent the game to overtime. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell wasn’t able to suit up, leading Austin Burton to get the start.
Burton delivered enough to give Purdue the win, but the Boilermakers' offense looked much less explosive than with O’Connell at the helm. They face a big test against now No. 21 Minnesota on Saturday, but with O’Connell’s likely return, don’t count Jeff Brohm’s unit out. However, until they’re able to pull off upsets anywhere similar to a year ago, they’ll be ranked on a resume that has not been great through September.
13. Northwestern (1-3, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: 17-14 vs. Miami (OH)
Next: at Penn State
It took all the strength I possess to not put the ‘Cats last in the rankings this week, after falling to Miami (OH) by a score of 17-14 Saturday night. A second straight home loss against a non-Power Five opponent has made it difficult for ‘Cats fans to imagine a single win left on their schedule, with a game in Happy Valley this Saturday that is sure to be a bloodbath.
Still, their win in Week Zero against Nebraska put them just ahead of the Scott Frost-less Huskers. On the bright side for the ‘Cats, the student section looked as alive and full as it has all year. Hopefully, this can be a trend of things to come, as these moral victories could be the only W’s coming to Evanston this fall.
14. Nebraska (1-3, 0-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: 49-14 loss vs. Oklahoma
Next: vs. Indiana
Coming off a bye week, there’s not much about the Huskers that hasn’t already been said. If they can’t win this week against Indiana, after a fortnight to regroup and adjust to new head coach Mickey Joseph, it’s hard to imagine when Nebraska’s next win will come.
The Huskers do have a few dynamic playmakers and one of the more supportive fan bases in the nation, but those two things alone won’t take you all too far in the Big Ten. Expect more misery and loss in Lincoln for the foreseeable future.