1. Penn State Nittany Lions
James Franklin’s Nittany Lions haven’t been tested through three weeks of play in 2017, as they have outscored their opponents 141–14. That’s called takin’ care of business.
This should change in Week 4, as Penn State heads to Iowa City for a night game. Kinnick Stadium after dark should NOT be underestimated—just ask Michigan. As the most complete team in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions are poised to stay on top for yet another week.
Last Week: Win vs. Georgia State (56–0)
Up Next: at Iowa
2. Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines hang on to the runner-up spot this week by the skin of their teeth, partly due to the team (hint: CHEESE) breathing down their neck from the third spot. Michigan, at times, has looked overwhelming defensively, yet they also have serious flaws. Jim Harbaugh needs to be legitimately concerned about his team’s inability to score in the red zone.
Still, Michigan has the most impressive resume of wins—no cupcakes in their non-conference schedule—in the entire Big Ten, which is what edged them ahead of the Badgers.
Last Week: Win vs. Air Force (29–13)
Up Next: at Purdue
3. Wisconsin Badgers
About. Damn. Time.
This was the collective response from the Badger fan base as Wisconsin was wrapping up a dominating victory over BYU in Provo. There was substantial hype surrounding this team heading into the season, yet the inconsistent play against far inferior competition in the first two weeks was sobering for fans in Madison. That has all changed, as Alex Hornibrook put on the most dynamic passing performance from a Badger since Russell Wilson. It’s clear now that Jonathan Taylor is a bona fide star, and the talent at wide receiver and tight end has never been this deep with playmakers. Sprinkle in a fast defense with dynamic players, and you might just have the recipe for a special, special team.
Last Week: Win at BYU (40–6)
Up Next: Bye
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
In what can only be a surprise, the Buckeyes sit deservedly at the fourth spot in the conference power complex through three weeks of football. This is undoubtedly their figurative floor as team; the Buckeyes might not be able to pass the ball vertically, which is a big-time concern, but they can do everything else about as good as anyone. Expect the Buckeyes to trample Rutgers in Week 4.
Last Week: Win vs. Army (38–7)
Up Next: vs. UNLV
5. Iowa Hawkeyes
Although not spectacular, the Hawkeyes have appeared to be a fairly complete team. Iowa is effective through the ground and air on offense, and their defense will keep them in most games. This is the type of team that will wait out mistakes from their opponent and rely on those advantages to win games, which seems like a recipe they’ve been using since the Al Gore invented the internet. A massive test rolls into Iowa City as the Hawks look to upset No. 4 Penn State.
Last Week: Win vs. North Texas (31–14)
Up Next: vs. Penn State
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Jeff Brohm is an absolute wizard. Since his arrival, Purdue has somehow forgot how to be bad at football and instantly looks the part of possible contender in the wide-open Big Ten West, powered by a high-octane offense. In what is easily is the biggest game in West Lafayette in years, the Boilermakers have legit hope to upset the the Wolverines.
Last Week: Win at Missouri (35–3)
Up Next: vs. Michigan
7. Maryland Terrapins
After a bye week, we don’t know much more about the Terrapins. They are still 2–0 and have looked truly impressive on the ground in each win, one coming against a talented but flawed Texas team. They won’t have a chance for upward mobility until conference play, but the outlook is positive for D.J. Durkin and his squad.
Last Week: Bye
Up Next: vs. UCF
8. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans also come off a bye, yet they approach a monumental game in terms of national and conference reputation of the program. Michigan State has looked solid yet remarkable. We will learn a lot about this team after their test at home against Notre Dame.
Last Week: Bye
Up Next: vs. Notre Dame
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers
After one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country, we really don’t know a whole lot about the Gophers. They have taken care of business behind an impressive running attack. We’ll know a lot more once conference play opens up.
Last Week: Win vs. Middle Tennessee State (34–3)
Up Next: Bye
10. Northwestern Wildcats
Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats sneak past Indiana on this list after an impressive bounce-back victory, as Northwestern flashed the potential that lead to the preseason hype surrounding this team.
Last Week: Win vs. Bowling Green (49–7)
Up Next: Bye
11. Indiana Hoosiers
After a cancellation last week due to Hurricane Irma, it’s as if the Hoosiers are coming off a bye. A change at QB could be exactly what they need in order to jump up this list.
Last Week: Canceled
Up Next: vs. Georgia Southern
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Morale is low in Lincoln. Patience from administrators and the fanbase is even lower. The loss at home to Northern Illinois was a Mike Tyson roundhouse to the chin of the program, and head coach Mike Riley has a lot to fix and not much time to work with. There are problems everywhere for Nebraska; expect big changes in Week 4.
Last Week: Loss vs. Northern Illinois (21–7)
Up Next: vs. Rutgers
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Chris Ash and his Scarlet Knights win the figurative battle for the bottom of the Big Ten this week mostly because of the state of the team below them, although a win against an FCS opponent is welcome in New Jersey.
Last Week: Win vs. Morgan State (65–0)
Up Next: at Nebraska
14. Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois has a rough football team as of September 2017, and their rebound appears far off. Patience should be waning in regards to the state of the program. Purdue is proof that progress can take place in a short period of time.
Last Week: Loss at USF (47–27)
Up Next: Bye