1. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions stand pat atop the Big Ten after withstanding Iowa’s very best shot. Road victories at Kinnick, especially at night, are never an easy accomplishment, yet they become a reality when you have Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley leading your team. Barkley deservedly got fast-tracked to the front of the Heisman race, yet McSorley’s gutty performance on the final drive is key to what makes Penn State’s offense indefensible.
Last Week: Win at Iowa (21–19)
Up next: at Indiana
2. Michigan Wolverines
John O’Korn could be the saving grace for 2017’s Michigan team as odd as that sounds, as he appeared to be a legit upgrade at QB over Wilton Speight in a nice performance against Purdue. Michigan hangs onto the second spot on this list due to the fact that the Wolverines have defeated superior competition when compared to a certain team nipping at their heels.
Last Week: Win at Purdue (28–10)
Up Next: Bye
3. Wisconsin Badgers
This ranking for Wisconsin should really read more like a 2.5 in the conference power complex, as the Badgers have shown incredible promise. The only issue appears to be the quality of their first three opponents; we honestly haven’t seen Paul Chryst and co., tested by legitimate competition. A team loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, two main questions remain: 1. How does Alex Hornibrook fare against a legitimate Big Ten pass rush? 2. Can the Badger defense remain rock-solid against a team that can move the ball via the pass and rush? Both questions should be tested against Northwestern in week 5.
Last Week: Bye
Up Next: vs Northwestern
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
We don’t learn anything about the Buckeyes when they play far inferior opponents—their playmakers and athletes have a field day on both sides of the ball. Their biggest weakness is not a secret: they can’t pass the ball over the top of a competent secondary. Ohio State still has high upside and a serious shot to win the conference, but it has work to do.
Last Week: Win vs. UNLV (54–21)
Up Next: at Rutgers
5. Iowa Hawkeyes
Now Hawkeye fans understand the disdain the Badger fanbase has for Trace McSorley. This is a classic Iowa squad: a rugged tough team in the trenches with just enough playmakers (see: Akrum Wadley and Josey Jewell) to score a few points and create a few turnovers. If they can navigate a wildly tough schedule, they could be a problem in the Big Ten West.
Last Week: Loss vs. No 4. Penn State (21–19)
Up Next: at Michigan State
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers
We didn’t learn much more about Minnesota due to its bye week. The Gophers move up because of the performance of others. They could very well be one of the tougher middle-of-the-pack teams in the Big Ten or a product of their weak non-conference schedule. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Last Week: Bye
Up Next: vs Maryland
7. Purdue Boilermakers
Boy, is it a treat to see legitimate hype around a home game in West Lafayette. In what feels like a generation since the Boilers have been relevant, small victories are truly meaningful at Purdue; staying competitive with Michigan for three quarters counts as a small victory. Boiler (slightly) up.
Last Week: Loss vs. No. 8 Michigan (28–10)
Up Next: Bye
8. Indiana Hoosiers
Nothing to see here: the Hoosiers whooped a severely inferior Georgia Southern squad and we still aren’t sure how good they are, which seems to be a recurring sentiment in the Big Ten. Things get A LOT tougher in week 5.
Last Week: Win vs. Georgia Southern (52–17)
Up Next: at No. 4 Penn State
9. Northwestern Wildcats
The fighting Pat Fitzgerald’s were on bye in Week 4, but we know the Wildcats have shown the ability of producing an absolute stinker of a game (see: Duke) and that they also have serious offensive firepower in their repertoire (see: Bowling Green). Expect them to show up vs the Badgers.
Last Week: Bye
Up Next: at No. 10 Wisconsin
10. Michigan State Spartans
It appears Mark Dantonio has himself a pretty average team through three contests in 2017. The Spartans produced two solid wins against lowly competition and one beat down at the hands of a rival. Things have a chance to go south quickly, as Iowa and Michigan are on deck.
Last Week: Loss vs. No. 22 Notre Dame (38–18)
Up Next: vs Iowa
11. Maryland Terrapins
The biggest surprise of the week goes to D.J. Durkin and his cast of overly injured Terrapins. Who saw a blowout at the hands of UCF coming? Not this football guy, that’s for sure.
Last Week: Loss vs. UCF (38–10)
Up Next: at Minnesota
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers
It’s clear that the hype surrounding Nebraska QB Tanner Lee was aggressively premature, as he throws the ball to the opposing team almost as much as he does to his own. This is a program on the verge of a meltdown, led by an athletic program that is in desperate need of a leader.
Last Week: Win vs Rutgers (27–17)
Up Next: at Illinois
13. Illinois Fighting Illini
One additional win through the first four weeks of the season is enough to keep Illinois from the basement of the Big Ten.
Last Week: Loss at South Florida (47–23)
Up Next: vs. Nebraska
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Playing well in a loss against an underachieving program is a small victory for Rutgers, and it’ll take any type of moral victory it can get.
Last Week: Loss at Nebraska (27–17)
Up Next: vs. No. 11 Ohio State