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Big Ten Power Rankings, Week 4: Wisconsin cruises past Michigan State, Michigan blasts Penn State

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The Badgers and Wolverines look polished leading up to a monster Week 5 showdown.

Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

1. Ohio State (3-0)

The Buckeyes had the week off after a convincing victory at Oklahoma the week before. Although other Big Ten teams impressed in Week 4, specifically Wisconsin and Michigan, neither did quite enough to pass OSU.

Up Next: Rutgers (Home)

Previous Rank: 1

2. Wisconsin (4-0)

After rejuvenating the Wisconsin offense against Georgia State, Alex Hornibrook followed up with a performance that earned himself Big Ten Freshmen of the Week honors, tossing for 195 yards and a touchdown in a massive 30-6 win at Michigan State. It was clear from the get-go in East Lansing that the Spartans’ defense was going to make Hornibrook beat them, and that’s exactly what he did. A truly remarkable statistic details how valuable he was to the Badgers’ offensive success: Hornibrook completed six of six passes when throwing on third downs that were longer than 10 yards against a talented Michigan State defense.

As impressive as the Badgers’ quarterback play was on Saturday, the results on defense were arguably better. Where do we even start with Justin Wilcox’s unit? T.J. Watt has received praise for his colossal effort on Saturday, and the linebacking core as a whole continued its assault of opposing quarterbacks, pressuring Spartan QB Tyler O’Connor from a wide array of angles. The Wisconsin defense had few weaknesses against Michigan State; the secondary forced multiple impact turnovers and the defensive line, led by the very underrated Olive Sagapolu, won the battle against a strong MSU offensive line. The Badgers rout at Michigan State more than catapulted their College Football Playoffs hopes and sent a well-crafted message to Michigan: no moment is too big for this Wisconsin team, and it will take more than an ultra-talented opponent take them down.

Up Next: Michigan (Away)

Previous Rank: 4

3. Michigan (4-0)

The Wolverines absolutely obliterated a talented but flawed Penn State team, finishing with a 49-10 win. This one wasn’t close, as Michigan scored less than 14 points in only one quarter (the third) while also imposing its will upon the Nittany Lion offense, holding star running back Saquon Barkley to 3.9 yards per carry.

The story of the game was certainly Michigan’s strength at both offensive and defensive line. Michigan looks about as good as it gets in the trenches, the Wolverine defensive line appeared to be instantly in Trace McSorely’s face and, in turn, quarterback Wilton Speight was undisturbed throughout the majority of the night. Moreover, Jim Harbaugh’s rushing attack was treated to luxurious running lanes throughout the afternoon, racking up 326 rushing yards in the game. After their first Big Ten matchup, Michigan passes the eye test with flying colors; this squad just looks darn strong in almost every phase of the game. Still, the Wolverines haven’t faced a team as balanced or as stingy as Wisconsin.

Up Next: Wisconsin (Home)

Previous Rank: 2

4. Nebraska (4-0)

After struggling with turnovers early, Nebraska was able to settle down and ride superior play from senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong to a 24-13 victory at Northwestern. Armstrong continues to look very strong for the Huskers, rushing for 132 yards and passing for 246. Still, Northwestern is playing bad football week in and week out in, and we wont learn a whole lot more until the Huskers head to Madison on Oct. 29. Things are looking up in Lincoln and it has a lot to do with the dynamic play of their quarterback. For now, avoiding upsets is the best Nebraska can do.

Up Next: Illinois (Home)

Previous Rank: 5

5. Minnesota (4-0)

The Gophers won their third game against an overmatched opponent, sneaking by Colorado State by just a touchdown at 31-24. Minnesota used its one-two-punch running attack to bludgeon the Rams, finishing with 243 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. However, very fair concerns remain about this Minnesota team after their defense played quite poorly against Colorado State and Mitch Leidner still can’t seem to get things moving via the passing game. Minnesota sits at No. 5 by default, not because it looked overly impressive.

Up Next: Penn State (Road)

Previous Rank: 6

6. Michigan State (2-1)

One of the biggest surprises in Week 4 was how thoroughly Wisconsin beat up on Michigan State, dropping a disappointing 30-6 loss to the Badgers. The Spartans were never able to recover from a devastating fumble by L.J. Scott that was brilliantly returned Leo Musso 60 yards for a touchdown, stretching the MSU deficit to 14 points. After this point, Michigan State changed its offensive strategy to focus more on throwing the ball, which fed into Wisconsin’s elite pass rush. Tyler O’Connor was pressured from all directions in the second half and MSU was never able to muster up a consistent scoring drive. Mark Dantonio’s Spartans were out classed in all aspects of the game, so I’d expect a bounce-back effort against the Hoosiers in Week 5.

Up Next: Indiana (Away)

Previous Rank: 3

7. Iowa (3-1)

Once highly touted—and ranked—Iowa was making its case as the best in the Big Ten West only a couple weeks ago. Yet, the Hawkeyes played very poorly for the second week in a row against lowly competition, just barely squeezing by Rutgers 14-7. The Scarlet Knights are a team in the midst of a full-blown rebuilding operation, and Iowa needed the entire game to finish them off. C.J. Beathard looked average, only throwing for 162 yards, and the offense generally lacked big plays. The Hawkeyes need to turn things around quickly, as a loss to a roughed-up Northwestern team at home in Week 5 would be completely unacceptable.

Up Next: Northwestern (Home)

Previous Ranking: 8

8. Maryland (3-0)

I’m not entirely convinced that Maryland is the eighth-best team in the Big Ten, but I am convinced no other team deserves to be eighth other than the TErps after many disappointments in Week 4. Maryland was off, we’ll learn more when Purdue comes to town in Week 5.

Up Next: Purdue (Home)

Previous Rank: 10

9. Purdue (2-1)

Losing at half to Nevada, this is the type of game Purdue normally loses. However, the Boilermakers were able to lean on their defense and quarterback David Blough to take out Nevada 24-14. A win here is positive for the Boilers, especially when the rest of the conference below wasn’t able to do the same.

Up Next: Maryland (Away)

Previous Rank: 11

10. Penn State (2-2)

No one expected Penn State to go into Ann Arbor and come out with a win against a wildly talented Michigan squad. However, it was expected that Penn State would show some fight, or at least look somewhat formidable; it did neither. The Nittany Lions were absolutely blasted by the Wolverines, crumbling in an embarrassing 49-10 loss. The future of head coach James Franklin is in serious jeopardy, making Week 5’s matchup with Minnesota an absolute must-win.

Up Next: Minnesota (Home)

Previous Rank: 7

11. Indiana (2-1)

The Hoosiers’ first loss of the season came unexpectedly, but not when you consider they played a very poor brand of football, losing in convincing fashion to Wake Forest 33-28. Quarterback Richard Lagow threw five (!) interceptions, not surprisingly the difference in the game. Indiana will need to bounce back quickly, as Michigan State comes to town next.

Up Next: Michigan State (Home)

Previous Rank: 9

12. Rutgers (2-2)

Although the Scarlet Knights dropped a winnable game to Iowa , Rutgers did play some good football in the process. Their defense played admirably, which kept the game close throughout. Rutgers will need all of that and a whole lot more when Ohio State plays host in week 5.

Up Next: Ohio State

Previous Rank: 12

13. Northwestern (1-3)

The nightmare season continues for Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern Wildcats, losing to a red-hot Nebraska squad. The Wildcats forced a couple turnovers early, and Clayton Thorson had a good-looking touchdown run in the second quarter, but the positives ended there for Northwestern. A huge Big Ten West matchup awaits in Iowa City, as the season could be all but over with another loss in Week 5.

Up Next: Iowa (Away)

Previous Rank: 13

14. Illinois (1-2)

The Illini were idle in Week 4, so Lovie Smith and crew stay put at the bottom of the Big Ten despite Northwestern’s best efforts to take over their spot. Illinois has a brutal matchup off the bye week against Nebraska in Lincoln, but opportunity awaits if Wes Lunt and co. can put some magic together and pull an upset.

Up Next: Nebraska (Away)

Previous Rank: 14