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Big Ten Power Rankings, Week Four

The gap between the elite teams and everyone else widens.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With conference play commencing, the Big Ten picture is starting to gain clarity. As per usual, the Big Ten West is a hot mess, and as per usual, the same three teams appear to be the conference’s best. Hot off the presses, here is this week’s Big Ten power rankings.

1. Michigan (4-0, 1-0 B1G)

Last Ranking: 1

Last Result: 31-7 win vs. Rutgers

Next: at Nebraska

Let’s call it what it is. Michigan started off its season with a cupcake non-conference schedule, but on Saturday we finally got to watch Michigan play a conference foe. Michigan continued it’s consistent dominance, recording a fourth straight game of holding the opposition to a single score and improving its points differential to plus-104. J.J. McCarthy recovered from an off-day against Bowling Green to his usual form and Blake Corum looked like, well, Blake Corum. As much as I wanted to reward Ohio State or Penn State for impressive wins, the conference still runs through Ann Arbor until proven otherwise.

2. Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 B1G)

Last Ranking: 3

Last Result: 17-14 win at No. 9 Notre Dame

Next: Bye week

For those of you that tuned out of the ‘Cats game early, figuring the deficit was too large and the comeback was unattainable, you may have surfed the channels and been treated to an instant-classic in South Bend. Despite an overall shaky game from Kyle McCord, who remains the biggest question mark on this team, he led a 65-yard drive in 86 seconds to place the Buckeyes on the goal line, where Chip Trayanum punched it in with a single second remaining. It was a gutsy road win for a team who needed a big win on a national stage, especially after disappointing losses to other national powerhouses in recent years created the (somewhat ridiculous) narrative that Ryan Day can’t win big games. Speaking of Ryan Day, we saw him about as animated as ever after Saturday night’s win. Lou Holtz should offer his services to any team who needs a chip on their shoulder — he could really make a buck or two by calling a team soft before a big matchup.

3. Penn State (4-0, 2-0 B1G)

Last Ranking: 2

Last Result: 31-0 win vs. No. 24 Iowa

Next: at Northwestern

Penn State really didn’t deserve to move down the rankings, but it’s just a byproduct of an impressive Ohio State win that the CFP is certain to eat up come December. But the Nittany Lions have continued to look the part. The defense was dominant against Iowa, allowing 76 total yards, just four first downs and forcing four turnovers. Drew Allar tossed four touchdowns as Penn State continued to cruise. In late October, Penn State faces Ohio State, which will be the real test. Until then, Penn State is just like Arizona basketball to me, I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve been duped too many times by strong starts to the season to fully buy in.

4. Maryland (4-0, 1-0 B1G)

Last Ranking: 4

Last Result: 31-9 win at Michigan State

Next: vs. Indiana

This Maryland team is starting to look like the real deal. As much as a mess as Michigan State has been, marching into East Lansing and running up the score on the home team is no small feat. The Maryland defense forced five turnovers and Taulia Tagovailoa continued his impressive start to the season with a 223-yard, three-touchdown day. Just like Penn State, the matchup against Ohio State in two weeks is where we will see just how real this team is. If the Terps can keep up with the Buckeyes, we’ll need to have a thorough conversation.

5. Iowa (3-1, 0-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 5

Last Result: 31-0 loss at Penn State

Next: vs. Michigan State

Iowa deserves to fall down this list after being trounced by the Nittany Lions, but unfortunately, no other team in the conference has proved worthy of taking this space. After a brief stay in the national rankings, Iowa unsurprisingly dropped out after a horrendous offensive showing, but we can still expect solid defense and elite special teams from the Hawkeyes, which is enough to give them a weekly floor that is higher than any other team below them on these rankings. Brian Ferentz, however, is being closely monitored once again after dropping a big ‘ole goose egg on the scoreboard on Saturday.

6. Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 B1G)

Last Ranking: 6

Last Result: 38-17 win at Purdue

Next: Bye week

Could Wisconsin and Iowa be swapped? Probably. Wisconsin’s win over the Boilermakers was impressive, and the run game for the Badgers looks like it can give any defense in the conference some serious trouble, but the Washington State loss is still stuck in my head. Although Washington State’s continued winning has retroactively made the Week Two loss look a little better, the disappointment of that second half fully displayed everything that makes me nervous about the Badgers. Not to mention, Chez Mellusi went down on Saturday, and his absence could prove to be a major blow for the offense. Tentatively, we’ll keep Wisconsin at six, knowing a significant drop-off separates the Badgers from the rest of the list.

7. Rutgers (3-1, 1-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 9

Last Result: 31-7 loss at Michigan

Next: vs. Wagner

A lot of teams are going to look overmatched when playing Michigan, especially in Ann Arbor. Even though the Wolverines ended the Scarlet Knights’ undefeated streak, Rutgers still has three solid and convincing wins against D-I teams, and that’s something no other remaining team can say. Rutgers couldn’t get Kyle Monangai going on Saturday, and when that happens, it’s a real uphill battle. But with a battle against Wagner this weekend, Rutgers should be sitting at 4-1 with a nice path to bowl eligibility.

8. Illinois (2-2, 0-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 8

Last Result: 23-17 win vs. Florida Atlantic

Next: at Purdue

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this Illinois team is just not the same beast it was a year ago. A lot of talent graduated to the NFL, and although Luke Altmeyer played well on Saturday, this team has two narrow victories against teams they should have beat convincingly. The next two games, against Purdue and Nebraska, will go a long way in showing who this team is, and if they have an outside chance at competing for the crown in the West.

9. Nebraska (2-2, 0-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 13

Last Result: 28-14 win vs. Louisiana Tech

Next: vs. No. 2 Michigan

I kind of think Nebraska is okay, which seems to be much higher than the general consensus on the Cornhuskers. A 14-point victory over Louisiana Tech is nothing to write home about, but moving away from Jeff Sims and to Heinrich Haarberg has already paid dividends. This team is going to get absolutely stomped by Michigan, it seems inevitable, but I could see this team racking up a few wins in Big Ten West play. Matt Rhule is a program builder, and his first seasons at Temple and Baylor were shaky, but I expect to start seeing results by the end of this season.

10. Minnesota (2-2, 1-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 10

Last Result: 37-34 loss at Northwestern

Next: vs. Louisiana

Minnesota should be three spots higher on this ranking, but when you blow a 21-point lead, this is what happens. It’s time for some reflection on P.J. Fleck — wins need to start flowing soon. Darius Taylor is still a real weapon in the backfield, but even on an efficient day for Athan Kaliakmanis, it is apparent that the Minnesota offense is limited by the lack of faith in their signal caller. A get-right game against Louisiana is desperately needed before a matchup with the Wolverines.

11. Northwestern (2-2, 1-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 14

Last Result: 37-34 win vs. Minnesota

Next: vs. Penn State

Ranking Northwestern at No. 11 may be irresponsible, but the middle and bottom of this conference is muddled, so I’m rewarding recency bias and good vibes, which the three teams below the ‘Cats definitively do not have. Even with Penn State next on the docket, a Howard matchup follows, giving the Wildcats a realistic chance to go into their bye week and the halfway point of the season at 3-3. It’s a fantastic development for Northwestern that Ben Bryant had his best game in purple, and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week Bryce Kirtz broke out with 10 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns.

12. Michigan State (2-2, 0-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 7

Last Result: 31-9 loss vs. Maryland

Next: at Iowa

The situation in East Lansing is an abject disaster. On the field, the Spartans have lost their last two games by a combined core of 72-16. Off the field, Mel Tucker has officially been fired for sexual harassment allegations, which means that MSU players have the next 30 days to officially enter their names into the transfer portal. Expect some movement here. On top of all that, Michigan State still has remaining contests with Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. It’s shaping up to be a season to forget as the Spartans in-state rival seeks another trip to the CFP.

13. Purdue (1-3, 0-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 12

Last Result: 38-17 loss vs. Wisconsin

Next: vs. Illinois

For the third time in four weeks, the Boilermaker defense surrendered at least 35 points, which is just a recipe for failure. The Badgers manhandled (and Fetty Wapped) Purdue as quarterback Hudson Card struggled, throwing two picks and completing only 55% of his passes. The Ryan Walters era hasn’t been pretty at times, but a first-time head coach can be expected to take some lumps.

14. Indiana (2-2, 0-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 11

Last Result: 29-27 win vs. Akron

Next: at Maryland

It’s a tough time to be a football fan in the state of Indiana, with the state’s two Big Ten teams finishing at the bottom of these rankings, plus Notre Dame suffering a heartbreaking home loss to Ohio State.

It’s pretty rare to see a team win and get bumped down the rankings, but when it takes four overtimes to beat Akron in your home stadium, these things happen. The Hoosiers escaped by the skin of their teeth against a struggling Akron team that was fresh off a 32-point loss to Kentucky and a lot of the stats indicate that the Zips outplayed the home team.

Akron finished the day with more first downs, passing yards, rushing yards, total yards and a better third-down conversion rate but penalties and turnovers evened this one out. With Maryland and Michigan next up on the schedule, it is starting to look like panic time in Bloomington.