Week 4 went much better for the Big Ten than Week 3, but that was to be expected with a bunch of weak opponents dotting the schedule.
Among the more notable games of the weekend were Wisconsin's drubbing of Purdue in the opening game of conference play, an electric performance by the Ohio State offense, a narrow loss by Sparty to a ranked Notre Dame team and another frightening 60 minutes for Michigan.
What did the latest college-football hoopla do to the Big Ten power rankings? Let's find out.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 1)
The only problem Saturday's 76-0 obliteration of Florida A&M caused for the Buckeyes is what they'll do when Braxton Miller returns from injury. The Buckeyes' starting quarterback was out again, but that was no problem with Kenny Guiton playing just as well if not better than anyone could expect Miller to play at full strength. It was Guiton who set an Ohio State record with six touchdown passes — four of which came in the Buckeyes' 34-point first quarter. Guiton took over for an injured Miller in the first half of the Buckeyes' second game of the year and has looked incredible since, racking up 664 yards and 13 touchdowns. And there's a similar situation brewing in the backfield, where Jordan Hall continues to dominate. He scored two touchdowns on Saturday on only four carries. That's going to make it real tough for the just-returned Carlos Hyde to get many touches.
2. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 2)
Another week, another scare for Michigan. After needing every last second and every last bit of energy to beat Akron at the Big House last weekend, the Wolverines were at it again on Saturday, nearly getting knocked off on the road against Connecticut. The Wolverines trailed in this one most of the second half, and they didn't take their eventual game-winning, 24-21 lead until there were four and a half minutes left in the game. Michigan had four turnovers, including a pair of Devin Gardner interceptions. Gardner threw for just 111 yards, and if it wasn't for the ground efforts of Fitzgerald Toussaint — 24 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns — we might be talking about Michigan's first loss of the season. The Akron game looked like a blip, something that happens to good teams about once a year, but UConn's eye-opening performance makes it seems like the Wolverines are very vulnerable. Two weeks is too long to have a hangover from the win over Notre Dame. Who knows, maybe the 98 on Gardner's jersey threw off his throwing motion or something.
3. Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 3)
Send the Wildcats to the "winning-ugly" line along with Michigan, as their 35-21 win was anything but easy against FCS opponent Maine. The usually high-powered Northwestern offense had trouble getting much of anything going in this one, putting just seven points on the board in the game's first three quarters. Thankfully for the Cats, the defense came up big with a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns. But after a nearly offenseless first 45 minutes, things turned into a shootout with Northwestern and Maine trading touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats only attempted 17 passes in this game, and Treyvon Green was held to just 51 yards on the ground. You can bet Pat Fitzgerald isn't overly thrilled with this one, but his team is still undefeated.
4. Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 4)
We were finally treated to some Big Ten conference action this weekend, though the Badgers made sure all the actual action was being performed by players wearing red and white. It was a rout in every sense of the term in Wisconsin's 41-10 demolition of Purdue in the conference-opener. They were up to their usual tricks, amassing 388 rushing yards. Melvin Gordon led the way with 147 yards and three touchdowns, James White was right behind with 145 yards and a touchdown of his own, and Corey Clement picked up 83 as the third back. Unbelievable. Quarterback Joel Stave was fine, completing 12 of 19 passes and, to my knowledge, not trying any strange kneel-down plays, a la his finish to the previous week's loss at Arizona State. The Badgers looked very, very good again. Though this was Purdue. The real litmus test for Wisconsin, however, is just a week away. It should have been a collision of a pair of 4-0 teams when they travel to Ohio State next week. If it weren't for that pesky loss, you can believe the Badgers would be ranked higher than this.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 5)
Only four Big Ten teams can boast an unblemished, 4-0 record, and Minnesota is one of them. The Gophers knocked off San Jose State, 43-24, Saturday in the Twin Cities, completing their non-conference schedule with not a loss to be found. The matchup was billed as one pitting the Gophers against "one of the best QBs in the nation" in SJSU's David Fales, and the Spartan signal-caller did throw for 439 yards and three touchdowns. But the Gophers picked him off twice and had their own quarterback put on a show. Mitch Leidner, filling in for an injured Philip Nelson, rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns. Running back David Cobb contributed 125 more yards and two more touchdowns, and quietly the Minnesota running game is looking like something out of Madison. The Gophers are two wins away from bowl eligibility heading into conference play, and they start their Big Ten slate with the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale against Iowa next week.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 7)
The Illini move up courtesy of a loss by Michigan State. Tim Beckman's team didn't play this weekend, but the only loss on their resume right now is that 10-point defeat to Washington, what the selection committee of the NCAA basketball tournament would call a "quality loss." They get Miami (Ohio) at home next week and would figure to have a very good chance of remaining one of the teams in the upper half of the Big Ten.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 8)
A win over Kent State is not impressive, but the Lions did their job Saturday, engineering a 34-0 blowout. Christian Hackenberg was just OK under center, throwing for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Thankfully for him, his arsenal of running backs carried the load. Akeel Lynch rushed for 123 yards, Bill Belton rushed for 90 yards and caught a touchdown pass, and Zach Zwinak found the end zone three times. Like many of the Big Ten teams, Penn State gets a chance to recuperate with a bye next week before starting conference play. Bill O'Brien has to be happy with the progress of Hackenberg, but after a couple excellent games, the freshman has seemed to come back down to Earth a little bit. He'll have to improve if the Lions want to make any noise in the Big Ten.
8. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 6)
Notre Dame keeps having bad games against Big Ten teams, so it's unsure how much of a "quality loss" this really was for Michigan State. The ugly, 17-13 game actually featured the Spartans out-gaining their opponent, but it was by the unimpressive margin of 254-220. The offensive stats were abysmal, as one might now expect from this Michigan State team. And that quarterback situation doesn't seem to be any closer to being figured out, as Connor Cook, who played the whole game, was yanked by Mark Dantonio in favor of Andrew Maxwell for the Spartans' final, game-deciding drive (in which Maxwell made as many poor throws as one can in three official passing attempts). The good news is that the defense again held their opponent to minimum points and yardage, but the Spartans might have won if not for some bad penalties by said defense.
[LAST WEEK: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 3]
9. Nebraksa Cornhuskers (LW: 9)
For about 18 minutes of football Saturday, it looked like Bo Pelini's nightmare was going to continue. The Huskers trailed FCS foe South Dakota State at home, 17-14, after one quarter of play. But Nebraska snapped out of it and scored 24 points in the second quarter, going on to win by a score of 59-20. The Husker offense came to play even without quarterback Taylor Martinez, racking up 645 yards. Two QBs each threw more than 130 yards in Martinez's absence, and Ameer Abdullah chipped in 139 yards and a touchdown on the ground. There's still plenty of work to be done on the defensive side of the ball, however. While the visiting Jackrabbits scored just 20 points, they gained 465 yards of offense, including 202 rushing yards alone by running back Zach Zenner. Nebraska opens Big Ten play in two weeks against a very offensively capable Illinois team.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 10)
The Hawkeyes seem to be building to something as they keep getting better each week. This week, it was a 59-3 destruction of Western Michigan, and while no individual put on an offensive show (Jake Rudock threw for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns), the defense looked very stout indeed. The visiting Broncos amassed just 209 yards of offense and obviously never found the end zone. The Hawkeyes defense intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble along the way. The Hawkeyes could and probably should be undefeated. It was only a very late interception that cost them their opener against Northern Illinois. Iowa will travel to play an undefeated opponent next week, when they start Big ten play against Minnesota in the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale.
[PHOTOS: College football action, Week 4]
11. Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 11)
Will the Hoosiers decided what kind of team they're going to be? Through four games this season, it's been an either-or scenario, with the Indiana offense looking incredible enough to send them to a big win or the Indiana defense looking so bad that the team is blown out. Saturday was the latest in the bad category, with the Indiana defense allowing 623 yards of offense in a 45-28 blowout loss against Missouri. The Tigers always have a strong offense, but even this was remarkable, with Mizzou accounting for a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a pair of 100-yard receivers. Indiana is really struggling on defense, and, to add to the Hoosiers' woes, Nate Sudfeld, who looked like the go-to guy at quarterback, threw three interceptions and didn't play the whole game.
12. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 12)
The strong showing against Notre Dame might have been an aberration for the Boilermakers. Purdue went up against another ranked opponent in Wisconsin and was just torched, getting out-gained 546-180 on offense, including 388-45 in rushing yards alone. Quarterback Rob Henry returned to his pre-ND ways, passing for 135 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. It was a dismal day for Purdue against one of the conference's stronger teams. And things won't get easier any time soon. The Boilermakers play their final non-conference game next week against Northern Illinois, a 3-0 team that appeared in last season's Orange Bowl.