The Big Ten hasn’t had the greatest start to the season. They’ve lost to several MAC and American opponents. However, the national spotlight will be on the conference Saturday night when Ohio State and Penn State square off in Happy Valley.
The middle of the conference is impossible to figure out. Maryland beats Texas, loses to Temple, then destroys previously unbeaten Minnesota. Purdue starts 0-3, but clobbers No. 23 Boston College. Indiana looked really good through three weeks, but they hit a wall against Michigan State in week 4. This doesn’t even mention Northwestern, who’s 1-2 but had an off week this past weekend.
Here’s how I see things stacking up heading into week five…
14. Rutgers (1-3, 0-1)
Last week: 42-13 LOSS vs Buffalo
This week: vs Indiana (12:00 BTN)
Another week, another blowout loss for Rutgers. After a solid week one win, they have been beaten by 49, 41 and 29. True-freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski has a 49 percent completion percentage, one touchdown and seven interceptions so far this season. Senior backup quarterback Giovanni Rescigno has completed 50 percent of his passes and has thrown zero touchdowns and one interception.
They don’t have a good option at quarterback, and head coach Chris Ash has not named a starter yet and doesn’t seem too pleased with his options at the moment.
There isn’t a whole lot else to say about the Scarlet Knights. Ash’s days could be numbered at Rutgers if this continues.
Previous Ranking: 14
13. Nebraska (0-3, 0-1)
Last week: 56-10 LOSS at No. 19 Michigan
This week: vs Purdue (3:30 BTN)
This has not been how anyone expected Scott Frost’s first season in Lincoln to go. This season could really test the patience of Husker fans. I don’t doubt that Frost is the right guy, I’ve said that a lot in these rankings. He has had some injury issues to deal with and still doesn’t have his guys in Lincoln.
Their one scholarship quarterback, freshman Adrian Martinez, was back in limited action against Michigan. He went 7-for-15 for 22 yards and an interception. Their running game struggled, like most against Michigan, with 30 carries for 39 yards.
A lot of teams will struggle with Michigan this season. However, the loss to Troy stings, and the lack of competitiveness last week certainly leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many Husker fans.
Previous Ranking: 11
12. Illinois (2-2, 0-1)
Last week: 63-24 LOSS vs No. 10 Penn State
This week: OFF
Illinois moved up this week because they competed with Penn State for three quarters on Friday night. I’ll talk about why that was when we get to Penn State. Illinois was outscored 35-0 in the fourth quarter, but they only trailed by four at the end of three quarters. M.J. Rivers is starting to become more comfortable under center, going 17-for-28 for 149 yards and a touchdown. They also ran for 245 yards as a team, between six different backs.
Lovie Smith doesn’t seem to be making a whole lot of progress in Champaign. A lot like Chris Ash at Rutgers, I’m starting to wonder how much longer Smith will be at Illinois.
Previous Ranking: 13
11. Minnesota (3-1, 0-1)
Last week: 42-13 LOSS at Maryland
This week: OFF
“I am a big fan of freshman-quarterback Zach Annexstad.”
This was me last week, and I’m not going to steer away from this take, even after his troublesome start at Maryland. Annexstad went 14-for-32 for 169 yards, a touchdown and two picks. He’s a true freshman. He’s going to have these games. It’s never easy to start on the road in the Big Ten, especially when you’re a true freshman. I’m sure P.J. Fleck will use this as a learning experience as he builds for the future at Minnesota.
The defense is where the trouble is for Minnesota. Maryland ran all over them, rushing for 315 yards, 8.5 yards per carry. If Minnesota wants to capitalize on the three early wins and make it to a bowl game, the defense will need to get better. They have a week off to fix some of the issues from the Maryland before they host Iowa on October 6.
Previous Ranking: 8
10. Purdue (1-3, 0-1)
Last week: 30-13 WIN vs No. 23 Boston College
This week: at Nebraska (3:30 BTN)
Purdue was probably the most talented 0-3 in the country, and they proved that by clicking on all cylinders in their dominating win over a ranked Boston College team. While I don’t know why BC was ranked, it was still a good win for the Boilermakers to get the season somewhat back on track. David Blough threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense picked off the Eagles four times.
Now, Purdue can start to create some momentum as they take a road trip to Nebraska, followed by a trip to Illinois. If they can get those two wins, get to 3-3 before a stretch of Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa, they could position themselves to get six wins and get back to a bowl game. They will need to run the ball better, however, as they rushed for less than 100 yards as a team for the second straight week.
Previous Ranking: 12
9. Northwestern (1-2, 1-0)
Last week: OFF
This week: vs No. 14 Michigan (4:30 FOX)
You’ve gotta love when you can move up a spot in the rankings and not even have to play, especially for a team like Northwestern that has lost their last two games. The middle of the Big Ten is extremely difficult to figure out, and Northwestern is no exception.
With the bye week, quarterback Clayton Thorson should be good to go this week and be able to take most, if not all, of the snaps for the Wildcat offense. This is the consistency they need offensively.
The big news around Northwestern, however, has nothing to do with the quarterback. Starting running back Jeremy Larkin suddenly retired after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis. This is not a life-threatening condition, but it will prevent him from participating in football. He had run for 346 yards and five touchdowns this season, so Northwestern will now have to replace Larkin, only three weeks after he took over for arguably the best running back in program history, Justin Jackson.
Previous Ranking: 10
8. Indiana (3-1, 0-1)
Last week: 35-21 LOSS vs No. 24 Michigan State
This week: at Rutgers (12:00 BTN)
Indiana’s momentum through the first three weeks was quickly halted in week four. Michigan State went up 28-7 midway through the third quarter, and Memorial Stadium started to empty quickly. While they came back and started to make it a game, it didn’t erase the ugliness of the game as a whole. The Hoosiers ran the ball for 29 yards. Stevie Scott has 11 carries for 18 yards, a 1.6 yard per carry average.
There were plenty of positives thought. Wide receiver Whop Philyor had 13 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. The defense forced had four takeaways, and when you really break down the touchdowns for Michigan State, you start to see how well the defense played. Michigan State scored a touchdown off a tipped pick-six, a controversial pass interference no-call, a fake field goal and a 75-yard touchdown run to seal the deal at the end of the game.
The defense was better than the 35 points on the board, but the offense couldn’t help them out. If Indiana wants to knock off these top Big Ten teams, they have to be able to run the ball against them.
Previous Ranking: 8
7. Maryland (3-1, 1-0)
Last week: 42-13 WIN vs Minnesota
This week: OFF
I can’t figure out the Terrapins. First, they beat a Texas team that in the past few weeks has started to look like a good football team. Then they lose to Temple in week three. Most recently, they destroyed a previously unbeaten Minnesota team to kick off Big Ten play. I think they’re a pretty solid team, but I’m not 100 percent sold on Maryland yet.
I’m certainly sold on their rushing attack. They ran for 315 yards against Minnesota. Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland have rushed for 300 and 291 yards respectively. McFarland is averaging 10.8 yards per carry. They’re averaging just over 250 yards per game on the ground, and 11 of their 15 touchdowns this season have come on the ground.
The issue is through the air. Kasim Hill is the guy, but he’s only averaging 129 passing yards per game. He will need to be a little more effective, because one-dimensional football isn’t going to get the job done in the Big Ten East.
Previous Ranking: 9
6. Iowa (3-1, 0-1)
Last week: 28-17 LOSS vs No. 18 Wisconsin
This week: OFF
This was a dog fight, as every Iowa vs. Wisconsin game tends to be. However, Iowa couldn’t get the job done at home, and have now seemed to have solidified themselves as the No. 6 team in the Big Ten for the foreseeable future. Wisconsin could still slip up and bring them back into play in the West, but this was a big missed opportunity for the Hawkeyes at home.
Nate Stanley was good throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns. However, they didn’t get a ton of yards on the ground against the tough Wisconsin front-seven, and I think most Hawkeye fans would tell you they will struggle to win if Nate Stanley has to do everything.
The defense also didn’t force any turnovers from the Badgers, and that was a big difference in the game, as the Hawkeyes fumbled twice and threw one interception. In that aspect, it was not your ordinary Iowa football game.
Previous Ranking: 6
5. Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0)
Last week: 28-17 WIN at Iowa
This week: OFF
Was the BYU game a fluke? I can’t definitely say yes, but this week’s result certainly helped the Badgers escape from that brutal loss in week three. This was a game that in all likelihood could get them a spot in the Big Ten Championship game. Hornibrook was effective, throwing for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Jonathan Taylor ran for 113 yards. Most importantly, they didn’t turn the ball over. On the road, at Iowa, that’s huge.
They are still fifth in my rankings, but the gap between them and the rest of the top five has closed with that solid win. Someone has to be fifth, and as of right now, the team that lost at home to BYU will continue to be in that spot until something changes. That doesn’t mean that this team couldn’t beat any of these teams ahead of them. I’m looking forward to Oct. 13 at Michigan and Nov. 10 at Penn State to see if Wisconsin can hang with the best of the East.
Previous Ranking: 5
4. Michigan State (2-1, 1-0)
Last week: 35-21 WIN at Indiana
This week: vs Central Michigan (12:00 FS1)
Michigan State took advantage of their buy week and came out with tons of energy and a sense of desperation in Bloomington. The Spartans know they can’t lose again this season after the early stumble in Tempe, and they played like it Saturday night.
The Spartans dominated in the trenches. Indiana ran for 29 yards, while MSU ran for 131 yards. They sacked Peyton Ramsey five times and had nine tackles for loss. They forced two Ramsey interceptions, including the pick-six in the first quarter.
The issue for MSU is the turnovers themselves. The Spartans turned the ball over four times; two interceptions and two fumbles. They will have a chance to clean things up against Central Michigan this week before they head into the thick of things in the Big Ten East.
Previous Ranking: 4
3. Michigan (3-1, 1-0)
Last week: 56-10 WIN vs Nebraska
This week: at Northwestern (4:30 FOX)
Michigan continues to impress against lesser teams. After their third-straight blowout win, the offense seems to have some confidence and are scoring plenty of points. The defense looks fantastic, pressuring whatever quarterback was in the game at all times. The Wolverine defense held Nebraska to 39 yards rushing, with four sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
This is a scary week for Michigan. Northwestern is talented. They have had a couple tough losses, but after a bye week, I would expect Pat Fitzgerald to have this team ready to go for a home matchup with a top-15 team. Northwestern can make a game ugly, and beat you in an old-fashioned, ground-and-pound game. The issue for the Wildcats is that this Michigan front-seven is incredible, and Jeremy Larkin is no longer in the backfield.
All I’m saying is to keep an eye on this game Saturday. I expect it to be closer than the two-touchdown spread.
Previous Ranking: 3
2. Penn State (4-0, 1-0)
Last week: 63-24 WIN at Illinois
This week: vs No. 4 Ohio State (7:30 ABC)
Before we talk Ohio State, let’s break down why the Illinois game was only a four-point game heading into the fourth quarter.
This had “trap game” written all over it. It was a Friday night game, a 9 pm eastern time kickoff and they had a game with Ohio State the next week. That’s why this was such a close game for a good amount of time. However, they showed in the fourth quarter what they are capable of and ran away from the Illini, scoring 60+ points for the second straight game.
Now onto this week. It’s No. 1 vs No. 2 in the Big Ten. There are plenty of big games in the East, but this one is the biggest. This could very well decide who goes to Indianapolis in December. Penn State has home-field advantage this time around, and they are trying to erase last year’s collapse in Columbus from their memories with a big win this season.
Previous Ranking: 2
1. Ohio State (4-0, 1-0)
Last week: 49-6 WIN vs Tulane
This week: at No. 9 Penn State (7:30 ABC)
Urban Meyer was back, and the rout was back in Columbus, as the Buckeyes destroyed another team at home. Here are some numbers for you.
Dwayne Haskins: 21-for-24, 304 yards, five touchdowns
Parris Campbell: 8 catches, 147 yards, two touchdowns
Tate Martell (backup QB): 10-for-14, 115 yards
They have athletes at every position. They have athletes at every backup position. And now they have Urban Meyer back to orchestrate everything as they head to Happy Valley.
The biggest question mark is the health of Nick Bosa. He is out for a few weeks, possibly even through October, with his abdominal injury. However, Ohio State still has plenty of athletes on the defensive side of the ball. We will see how much of a difference not having Bosa will make in Happy Valley. For now, Ohio State has a pretty strong hold on this No. 1 spot, but that could change after this week.
Previous Ranking: 1