1. Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0)
The Buckeyes looked sharp from start to finish, cruising by the Oklahoma Sooners for a 45-24 victory. Ohio State played a relentless brand of football, both on offense and defense, against a top-15 team on the road and at night—that’s a big freakin’ deal. J.T. Barrett pushed his Heisman campaign forward by throwing four touchdowns, all snagged by Noah Brown (my jaw is still resting on the keyboard after this catch). With all due respect to our friends in the state of Michigan, Urban Meyer has his squad in familiar territory at the summit of the Big Ten.
Up Next: Bye
Previous Rank: 2
2. Michigan Wolverines (3-0)
Jim Harbaugh and his talented Wolverines faced a significant uptick in competition in Week 3 against Colorado, even trailing 21-7 in the first half and by four less than a minute into the third quarter. Despite taking body blows early—easily the first adversity seen in Ann Arbor in 2016—Michigan displayed poise by responding with a cleaner second half on its way to a renewed sense of self assurance and 45-28 win. Jabrill Peppers wowed with an electric punt return for a touchdown, but that doesn’t cover up the fact that Michigan only pulled away once the Buffaloes' impressive starting quarterback, Sefo Liufau, left with an injury. Michigan just barely holds on to the second spot on this list, and the next two weeks (Penn State, Wisconsin) will be telling.
Up Next: Penn State (Home)
Previous Rank: 1
3. Michigan State Spartans (2-0)
It might be only by two spots, but this is the biggest jump from any Big Ten team in this week’s rankings, as Michigan State slides within striking distance of their archrivals 65 miles to the east. The Spartans rocked Notre Dame early and often in Week 3, and were able to hold strong after the Fighting Irish came within eight points with slightly over six minutes to go, prevailing in a 36-28 final. Still, Mark Dantonio’s squad held a 29-point lead in the third quarter, on the road, at night. This was a statement win, as the Spartans manhandled Notre Dame’s shorthanded defense by finishing with over 200 more rushing yards than the Irish. Michigan State is not just a contender in the Big Ten; it has legit playoff ambition. Wisconsin comes to town in Week 4, so expect fireworks in the biggest matchup of the Big Ten’s opening weekend.
Next Up: Wisconsin (Home)
Previous Rank: 5
4. Wisconsin Badgers (3-0)
Wisconsin drops back to the fourth spot after nearly dropping a game to Georgia State, squeezing by with a 23-17 win. The result is worrisome to Badger Nation, but it gets even worse when you dig into where the worry comes from: three of Wisconsin’s four running backs—including team MVP Corey Clement—are listed as questionable going into the toughest conference stretch in college football. Then there’s the quarterback situation. Bart Houston appeared shook and was replaced by a much more effective Alex Hornibrook, the hyped redshirt freshman. Hornibook looks poised to start against against Michigan State with less than a half of in-game experience, which is less than ideal for Paul Chryst. The Badgers will need a sharp Hornibrook, a dressed Clement and a little bit extra to come out 4-0 once the sun sets in East Lansing.
Up Next: Michigan State (Road)
Previous Rank: 3
5. Nebraska Huskers (3-0)
The Cornhuskers notched another big-time, non-conference victory for the Big Ten in 2016, as they were able to complete a come-from-behind victory by shaking off the Oregon Ducks, 35-32. Tommy Armstrong appears to be putting it together as a passer (three touchdowns and zero picks) and he continues to impress as a runner (95 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown). Nebraska starts its Big Ten schedule with two games against Illinois schools (Northwestern, Illinois) and two against Indiana programs (Indiana, Purdue). It should go without saying that the Huskers will be heavy favorites in all four.
Up Next: Northwestern (Road)
Previous Rank: 6
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-0)
Tracy Claeys and the Gophers were idle in Week 3, sneaking up a spot to No. 6 by default. We still don’t know a whole lot about Minnesota through two games, and we won’t know much more when they face off against Colorado State in Week 4—unless they lose, of course.
Up Next: Colorado State (Home)
Previous Rank: 7
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (2-1)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State’s star running back, bailed out the Nittany Lions to hold off Temple, winning 34-27. Even though Penn State had numerous injuries on the defensive side of the ball, this was not an encouraging win if you’re a State College supporter. The Nittany Lions are becoming accustomed to slipping by average opponents, a serious issue for James Franklin, especially going into Michigan week. If Penn State grabs its third win of the season, the college football world will be turned upside down.
Up Next: Michigan (Road)
Previous Rank: 8
8. Iowa Hawkeyes (2-1)
Much of the media, and the college football landscape, has downplayed Iowa’s 21-23 loss to North Dakota State as a product of how good of a program the Bison have become; even ESPN’s Austin Ward described Iowa’s loss as no biggie, saying, "It isn’t fatal for its hopes of making a run to the College Football Playoff." This line of rhetoric has been excessively overstated. North Dakota State is a solid squad, but a team as good as the Hawkeyes—ranked 13th in the country and home at Kinnick—has absolutely no business losing to the team that calls the Fargodome home. Iowa has a pretty darn good thing going in the last 17 games (14-3), but one fact remains even more glaring after Week 3’s devastating loss: the Hawkeyes have won games, just not against quality competition.
Up Next: Rutgers (Road)
Previous Rank: 4
9. Indiana Hoosiers (2-0)
Week 3 was the bye week for Indiana, thus it remains stationary behind Iowa at No. 9 in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers should be favored at Home against Wake Forest in Week 4, and will be expected to win to not drop further, although the quality of the Big Ten takes a decent drop from here on down.
Up Next: Wake Forest (Home)
Previous Rank: 9
10. Maryland Terrapins (3-0)
The Terrapins needed two overtimes to beat a below-average UCF team and salvage a 3-0 start to the 2016 season. The bye week came just in time for Maryland, as starting quarterback Perry Hills was nicked up in overtime. D.J. Durkin and his Terrapins will need to rebound on offense before taking on the Boilermakers after the off week.
Up Next: Bye
Previous Rank: 10
11. Purdue Boilermakers (1-1)
The Boilermakers sneak up to No. 11 after Week 3 due to their bye, but also due to poor play from the rest of the bottom of the Big Ten. Purdue faces a mediocre Nevada team before its Big Ten schedule starts, and Darrell Hazel desperately needs every win he can get.
Up Next: Nevada
Previous Rank: 12
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-1)
The Scarlet Knights have climbed one spot in each week after starting out in last place, arriving at No. 12 in the Big Ten after a 37-28 victory over New Mexico. Still, Rutgers looked to be in poor shape after trailing the Lobos by 21 (yeesh, boys) in the first quarter. The Scarlet Knights were able to rally behind their run game and grab their second win of the season; their third might not come for quite some time.
Up Next: Iowa (Home)
Previous Rank: 13
13. Northwestern Wildcats (1-2)
The Wildcats earned their first win of the 2016 season with a tough-fought 24-13 victory over the Duke Blue Devils. The Wildcats should be well on their way up this list, and looked much improved in Week 3. Struggling quarterback Clayton Thorson tossed two more interceptions on Saturday, but he did throw for over 300 yards, complementing a 94-yard performance from running back Justin Jackson. Northwestern could desperately use a win at home against a good Nebraska team next week as the Big Ten West is still completely up for grabs despite its 1-2 non-conference start.
Up Next: Nebraska (Home)
Previous Rank: 14
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-2)
You can almost hear the air being squeezed out of the Lovie Smith hype train after Illinois’s loss to P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan Broncos. Illinois was dominated en route to a 34-10 embarrassment, mustering only three yards rushing. Western Michigan obliterated Illinois, a friendly reminder that reviving a program from this far back is not a quick or easy task. Illinois limps its way into a Week 4 bye searching for answers.
Up Next: Bye
Previous Rank: 11