Big Ten power rankings after Week 4: More movement after lackluster performances across the board

·12 min read

After a few wild weeks in terms of the top of the Big Ten power rankings the first three weeks, the uneven play continued in Week 4.

First, most teams at the top struggled to run the ball, from Penn State, to Iowa, to Michigan, to Michigan State. All four teams didn’t exactly put away perceived lesser opponents in dominant fashion, but all four remain undefeated and live to fight another week.

Ohio State returned to form, passing and rushing and playing defense (for the first time all season!) but it did so against lowly Akron — a MAC team that only has a win over mediocre FCS program Bryant — so that doesn’t really tell us much about the Buckeyes’ trajectory.

Meanwhile, though some teams lost — Rutgers (3-1), Nebraska (2-3), Illinois (1-4) — they showed fight and heart in ways we haven’t seen this season. Minnesota followed up a win at Colorado by losing to a bad Bowling Green team. Wisconsin let Notre Dame run wild (not literally) in the fourth quarter in a blowout win favoring the Irish.

It was a wild week in the Big Ten. Here is where each team ranks after four weeks of play.

Previous: Big Ten power rankings after Week 3

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3 things we learned about Michigan football after defeating Rutgers

Northwestern Wildcats

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Sorry Northwestern, despite the win, you’re still sitting in the bottom spot.

Finally, we saw former South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski, but he only managed 88 yards on 12-of-20 passing. Where the Wildcats were astounding was in managing 373 rushing yards — an impressive feat no matter the opponent.

However, that opponent was Ohio, one of the worst teams in the Mid-American Conference. The Bobcats managed 169 yards through the air and 179 on the ground.

Northwestern did get its second win, but after the losses to MSU and Duke, there’s little that indicates that the Wildcats will be competitive now that it’s set to start Big Ten play in earnest. It travels to Nebraska this week to fight for the bottom of the West.

Indiana Hoosiers

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Another team that drops with a win, but c’mon Indiana — you were supposed to be among the conference’s best, not eking out wins at Western Kentucky.

Yes, the Hoosiers took down the Hilltoppers, but they flirted with being the Big Ten’s worst team as WKU led late in the game. Michael Penix Jr. bounced back, passing for 373 yards on 35-for-53 passing. Stephen Carr managed 109 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, while Ty Fryfogle managed 98 yards on 10 receptions.

However, IU gave up 365 yards passing to the Hilltoppers and survived, 33-31 — not befitting of a team with the preseason expectations bestowed upon the Hoosiers.

So, for now, Indiana is in the penultimate spot with Penn State up next.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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What in the world, Minnesota? You followed up a 30-0 win at Colorado only to come back home and lose to the actual worst MAC team? Somehow, Bowling Green managed to win the game despite only passing for 170 yards and rushing for all of 22 yards. Tanner Morgan threw two interceptions while the ground game did continue to manage decent pickups by Treyson Potts.

But you cannot lose to the MAC, let alone the worst team in that conference, and expect to be a contender in the conference.

If the Gophers didn’t have a big nonconference win last week, they would deserve to be ranked lower. A trip to Purdue is up next.

Illinois Fighting Illini

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Yes, despite a loss, we’re moving Illinois up a couple spots. The Illini, by all accounts, should have lost big to Purdue. They’re 1-4 on the season, which isn’t great, but they’re finally showing some actual fight, particularly on defense and in the run game.

The quarterback play by Brandon Peters still leaves much to be desired, but the Illini held Purdue to just 38 yards rushing — although they allowed Jack Plummer to pass for 277 yards. Freshman RB Joshua McCray rushed for 156 yards on 26 carries. We’re actually seeing some life from Illinois the past few weeks. With the final score of 13-9 Purdue, the Fighting Illini are not an easy out anymore.

They have Charlotte next, a team that took down Duke in Week 1.

Wisconsin Badgers

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Let’s face facts: Wisconsin is bad and it should feel bad.

The Badgers are now 1-2 with losses to both teams it’s faced with a pulse. This time, it lost to what has looked like a mediocre Notre Dame team in Chicago, but it was the way they lost that’s shocking. Wisconsin took a 10-10 tie into the fourth quarter only to get blown off the field in the final 15 minutes in a 41-13 loss. Graham Mertz completed 43.9% of his passes for 240 yards, one touchdown and a putrid four interceptions while the defense held the Irish to 239 yards passing and only 3 yards rushing. So the rushing defense continues to be among the best in the country, but there are some really big problems in Madison — particularly on offense.

Undefeated Michigan comes to town next licking its wounds a little after a close game against Rutgers, but considering where the Badgers sit, it’s a tough proposition to expect them to suddenly turn things around.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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Yes, we’re moving Nebraska up after a loss, but it was yet another close loss — in overtime at Michigan State — that has us looking at the Huskers as a threat in the Big Ten West that just can’t close.

The Cornhuskers had no business losing as they had a 20-13 lead and the ball late in East Lansing. But a punt return by Spartans WR Jayden Reed tied things up and a costly pick-six by Adrian Martinez gave MSU the ball with a chance to win in overtime. This comes a week after Nebraska hung tough at Oklahoma.

Every game has been close. Every loss has been by a score. But at 2-3, Nebraska can’t get out of its own way. If it could put together a game with limited mistakes, then perhaps it could actually do something.

A not-so-good Northwestern is up next.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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Rutgers is definitely improved, and Saturday was evidence. Yes, it dropped a spot after falling to 3-1 on the season, but after it looked like the Scarlet Knights were about to be blown out in Ann Arbor, RU fought its way back, moving the ball with ease against Michigan while holding the Wolverines scoreless in the second half.

The Scarlet Knights outgained Michigan, 352-275, but a late Noah Vedral fumble — the first turnover of the season for RU — sealed the game for the home team.

Overall, Rutgers is playing sound football in all three phases. And it fought until the end, even though the first half made it look like it was getting out of control early. It could surprise some teams this season. It hosts Ohio State next.

Purdue Boilermakers

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Definitely didn’t expect Purdue to be sitting at 3-1, but here we are. It couldn’t run the ball a lick against Illinois, but it passed for 277 yards between Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell while holding the Illini to 275 yards.

The Boilermakers were close to being 4-0 if they could have won at Notre Dame a week ago, but given that they had a much better showing than Wisconsin did, transitive property suggests that Purdue is in much better standing than the Badgers. That and the won-loss record.

A trip to Minnesota is up next.

Maryland Terrapins

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The best offense in the Big Ten is back after a lackluster showing last Friday at Illinois. Again, playing a MAC team, Maryland played like it was playing a not-so-good opponent.

Taulia Tagovailoa threw all over Kent State, picking up 384 yards on 31-for-41 passing, with three touchdowns and an interception. Dontay Demus Jr. was, again, his favorite target, with 108 yards and a touchdown on four catches. The running game picked up 142 yards and two touchdowns.

But the question still remains the defensive side of the ball.

The Terps surrendered 308 yards passing and 150 yards rushing, but didn’t allow the Golden Flashes into the end zone but once en route to 37-16 win.

Maryland is 4-0 but has a daunting task hosting No. 5 Iowa next.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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This is more like it, Buckeyes. But alas, it took a game against lowly Akron for Ohio State to look something like itself.

Everything was better — offense, defense. With Kyle McCord playing for an injured C.J. Stroud who was available in an emergency, the former five-star flexed, going 13-of-18 for 319 yards — an incredible 17.7 average. The trio of TreVeyon Henderson, Master Teague and Miyan Williams led the rushing attack which put up 237 yards. Aside from McCord’s interception, there was little bad in the game.

But it was Akron.

Still, can’t fault Ohio State for handling business — finally. But we’ll need to see more than one game before we can say with certainty that the Buckeyes are the class of the Big Ten this year.

Michigan State Spartans

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There was a point where it seemed improbable that Michigan State would remain unblemished, but it found a way to tie the game late and beat Nebraska in overtime. It hadn’t managed a first down in the second half while the Huskers seemed to move the ball with ease. But the Spartans capitalized on mistakes and took the game.

After looking dominant in the first three games, MSU looked human again, very similar to its brethren to the east in Ann Arbor. Still, the Spartans stand pat having survived a game that it perhaps should have lost. The defense remains suspect having surrendered 255 yards passing and 187 yards rushing. Like Michigan, it didn’t rush as it had been with Kenneth Walker III being held to just 61 yards on 19 carries. Quarterback Payton Thorne looked merely OK in the game.

MSU should improve to 5-0 next week as it hosts Western Kentucky.

Michigan Wolverines

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The state of Michigan schools continue to mirror each other as the Wolverines dominated the first half against Rutgers, going into the locker room up 20-3, but the offense did next to nothing in the second half. Rutgers stormed back 20-13 and had ample opportunities as its offense drove the field with seeming ease, but the maize and blue managed to survive, thanks to a securing a late fumble to seal the game — the Scarlet Knights’ first turnover of the season.

Michigan remains ahead of Michigan State solely because it beat an undefeated Rutgers team compared to a 2-2 Nebraska team. But there are now questions about the viability of the run game, the passing game and the defense after an inept second half, even if the Scarlet Knights are vastly improved.

The Wolverines travel to Madison next week to face a 1-2 Wisconsin team.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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Iowa continues to win, but it does so in uninspired fashion. Despite being the No. 5 team in the country, the Hawkeyes simply beat a lesser opponent for the second-straight week — this time Colorado State, 24-14.

But this week, it went into the half down 14-7, but stormed back in the third quarter to take a 21-14 lead. A team that usually leans on its rushing attack, the Hawkeyes only managed 54 yards on 32 carries, while Spencer Petras passed for 224 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The defense was stellar, only allowing the Rams to accumulate 240 yards total.

Still, for the No. 5 team in the country, Iowa isn’t dominating. Yes, it is winning, but it looks like a team could eventually take it down if it can take advantage of a lackluster performance.

Iowa goes to Maryland next.

Penn State Nittany Lions

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Perhaps it’s a letdown after an emotional ‘white out’ game last week against Auburn in prime time, but Penn State didn’t exactly dominate — on the scoreboard, at least — FCS-level Villanova. Yes, the Nittany Lions won 38-17, but, despite having a loaded running backs room, they only managed 80 yards on the ground. Sean Clifford did pass for 401 yards on 19-for-26 passing and the defense allowed 222 yards passing and 58 yards rushing

Still, you’d want to see more of a dominant performance against an FCS opponent. Regardless, Penn State holds onto the conference’s top spot.

The Nittany Lions host Indiana next in another prime time game on ABC.

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