So, about Saturday.
The Big Ten did not fare well in Week 3, with five teams losing in non-conference play, including going 1-3 in the heralded games against Pac-12 opponents. Ranked contenders like Wisconsin and Nebraska now have losses, and their national-title hopes are all but dashed. And, thanks to avoiding that step up in competition, some teams who have yet to really impress are still undefeated with a chance at a special kind of season that previously thought conference juggernauts no longer have.
The Big Ten is a wild and crazy place, folks. Hang on your hats and glasses.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 3)
Three weeks, three No. 1 teams atop these rankings. The truth is that after Michigan's scare and Wisconsin's loss, the only team to avoid some of college football's madness at the top of the conference heap was the Buckeyes. Ohio State put on the kind of offensive show expected of them when the season opened, topping Cal, 52-34. But, what wasn't a preseason expectation was who put on the show. With quarterback Braxton Miller injured and running back Carlos Hyde still suspended, the task fell to Kenny Guiton and Jordan Hall, and they did not disappoint. Guiton is already getting honored for his big week after throwing for 276 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 92 more yards. Hall meanwhile carried the ball 30 times for 168 yards and three touchdowns. So, it would figure to prove that the Buckeyes have a little bit of depth at the skill positions as they move forward in their quest for a BCS title.
2. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 1)
Yes, the Wolverines are still undefeated, but they were very, very close to no longer being undefeated in a heart-stopping 28-24 win over Akron. Yes, Akron, which has gone 4-35 since the start of the 2010 season, almost knocked off Michigan at the Big House. Only two stops inside the five-yard line as time expired prevented flashes of Appalachian State. With just more than four minutes left in this one, Akron led, 24-21. And only a quick-strike drive from Devin Gardner and Fitzgerald Toussaint gave Michigan its four-point lead with fewer than three minutes remaining. Gardner was pretty good outside of three interceptions, which I understand sounds counter-intuitive. But Ol' No. 98 threw for 248 yards, ran for 103 more and accounted for three total touchdowns. This is definitely an embarrassing win, if there are such things, for Michigan, but it's a win nonetheless. And that's the most important thing.
3. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 4)
Wisconsin's loss bumps up the Cats, who are just rolling. They smoked Western Michigan by three touchdowns in a 38-17 rout Saturday in Evanston. The passing stats were not what they were in the first two weeks of the season, but Northwestern boasted a pair of 100-yard rushers in the victory. Treyvon Green — taking most of the backfield responsibility with Venric Mark still hurt — ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns, while quarterback Kain Colter ran for 106 yards and a touchdown. Though 38 points was the team's lowest output of the season thus far, Northwestern is still averaging more than 43 points per game. They rolled past Western Michigan and expect to do the same against Maine, which would set up an epic showdown against Ohio State in the conference-opener.
4. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 2)
There are undefeated teams still out there, but how much more does Wisconsin have to be penalized after the most ridiculous loss in recent memory? In case you missed it, here's some video, but it generally revolves around a questionable kneel down that some believed was a fumble and none of the referees really knew what was going on. So instead of a game-winning field goal attempt by the Badgers, the clock ran out and they lost by two at Arizona State. Now there's no doubt they should have had an attempt at the game-winning field goal. Who knows if they would have made it? The point is, there's a very good chance this should have been a Badger win if not for some odd officiating. They nearly did what no Big Ten has ever done — beat Arizona State in Tempe — and they did it in typical Wisconsin fashion, with an elite running game. Melvin Gordon went off again, this time for 193 yards and two touchdowns. The big question for Wisconsin going forward is at quarterback, where Joel Stave is hardly looking like one of the Big Ten's best. The Badgers open the Big Ten season against Purdue next weekend.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 8)
Are the Gophers going to challenge for a Big Ten title? Probably not. But they're undefeated after their third straight win, this one 29-12 against FCS opponent Western Illinois. The big story was Jerry Kill's third gameday seizure of his career at Minnesota, but on the field his Gophers made him proud, coming back from trailing 12-7 in the third quarter. Minnesota is continuing to display a strong ground attack despite the Week 1 injury to their top back Donnell Kirkwood. Three Minnesota rushers picked up 50-plus yards on the ground, with the team combining for 213 rushing yards. And Minnesota might also have a QB controversy on their hands, as Mitch Leidner made his first passes of the season, completing 7-of-8 for 105 yards.
6. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 9)
Sparty needed a positive week, and did they ever get it. Apparently, FCS opponent Youngstown State was the answer to Michigan State's woeful offensive appearance through the first two weeks. The Spartans won, 55-17, and racked up 547 yards of offense including a whopping 202-yard, four-touchdown day from quarterback Connor Cook. Mark Dantonio couldn't settle on a QB in the first two weeks, but Cook might definitely have the inside track to start for the foreseeable future. And, the Spartan defense continued to play great, allowing just 172 yards of offense to the Penguins. But let's keep in mind that this was a game against Youngstown State. Michigan State didn't look good against mediocre opponents Western Michigan and South Florida in the first two weeks, and while the Spartans certainly needed a day like this, it did come against the weakest opponent they'll see all season.
7. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 6)
They might not have emerged victorious after their date with Washington at Soldier Field, but the Illini have plenty to hang their hat on. Think about the expectations for this team in this game just three weeks ago. It was likely expected to be a Washington blowout against a team that went 2-10 last season. A 10-point loss to a top-20 team would have been quite the statement for Illinois. But the expectations were altered after two impressive wins this season, and some might have walked away disappointed. Yes, Illinois' offense was hardly as electric, gathering just 327 total yards, and the defense was run over, allowing 615 to the Huskies offense. But the Illini are now 2-1 — with their lone loss against a very good Washington team — and they're in a very good spot with a chance to really up their status in the Big Ten.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 5)
Don't be too shocked by Penn State's loss to Central Florida on Saturday because UCF is a pretty good team. The Knights are averaging more than 36 points per game, and they can play. They put up more than 500 yards of offense on Penn State. But still, the Lions now have that loss, and they couldn't overcome what was at one point an 18-point lead for UCF. Zach Zwinak finally had a really big game for Penn State, rushing for 128 yards and three touchdowns. Christian Hackenberg completed 21 of 28 passes for 262 yards, so he played all right, too. It was just not the greatest showing by the Nittany Lions defense. This isn't too a bad loss, and Penn State is still in fine shape moving forward.
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 7)
Oh boy. Remember when Nebraska's defense looked vastly improved last week? Well you can forget about those improvements. The Huskers suffered an embarrassingly bad loss at home to UCLA on Saturday, going up 21-3 in the second quarter only to have the Bruins score 38 unanswered points and turn around a blowout. Quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah played fine, particularly in the first half, but that much-maligned Husker D was dreadful in the second 30 minutes. UCLA rolled all over them to the tune of 504 total offensive yards. The Bruins scored four touchdowns in the third quarter alone. UCLA is a good team, bumped up to No. 13 in the country on Sunday, but that Nebraska collapse shouldn't have happened against anyone.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 10)
This was a big win for Iowa over in-state rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes got out to a 20-point lead against the Cyclones in the fourth quarter and held on for a 27-21 win Saturday, and it showed they have what it takes to be competitive this season. After an upsetting loss to a quality Northern Illinois team in Week 1, the Hawkeyes have won two straight, including one against a legitimate opponent. Jake Rudock threw two touchdown passes and no interceptions, a good step for the freshman. Meanwhile, Mark Weisman looked again like he could be the guy to carry this Iowa offense, rushing for 145 yards. Iowa will get Western Michigan next week in a game they should win to head into Big Ten play a strong 3-1.
[LAST WEEK: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 2]
11. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 11)
The Jekyll and Hyde Hoosiers were at it again. They obliterated Indiana State in Week 1 before getting destroyed by Navy last week. Now, it was another huge day for the Indiana offense with a pounding of Bowling Green. Nate Sudfeld continues to put up huge numbers, this week throwing for 335 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And running backs Stephen Houston and Tevin Coleman rushed for a combined 284 yards. But the most impressive fact might be the only 10 points allowed to a Bowling Green team that scored 75 combined in its first two games. This after Indiana's defense allowed a total of 76 in its first two games. Much improved.
12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)
Well, at least Purdue has plenty to hang its hat on after Saturday's 31-24 loss to Notre Dame. After looking just dreadful in their first two weeks, the Boilermakers gave the ranked Fighting Irish all they could handle, leading as late as the start of the fourth quarter. Notre Dame rattled off three fourth-quarter touchdowns to put Purdue away, but it was finally a banner day for Darrell Hazell's team. Quarterback Rob Henry threw his first touchdown pass of the season and added two more in addition to 256 yards through the air. Sadly, Purdue couldn't get anything going on the ground, rushing for an abysmal 38 yards on the night. But it was a competitive game against a ranked team — certainly something that qualified as a "scare" for Notre Dame — and it's likely to be one of Purdue's more impressive games of the season.