After a largely uneventful week across the conference, here's how I'd rank the Big Ten heading into Week 4 of the college football season.
1.) Ohio State (3-0)
Last Week: Ohio State 35, Cal 28
Justification: Even though the Buckeyes didn't look very impressive in their home win over a weak Cal squad, it's far easier to overlook their flaws -- the lack of production from the running back spot, inconsistency in the secondary, etc. -- than the flaws of pretty much every other Big Ten team. Plus they're undefeated still, something that only Northwestern and Minnesota can also claim.
This Week: vs. UAB (0-2)
2.) Michigan (2-1)
Last Week: Michigan 63, UMass 13
Justification: Yeah, Michigan did suffer an ugly loss to Alabama, but with how utterly dominant the Tide have looked lately, it's not a terrible blemish. The struggles with Air Force were unanticipated -- it was an option offense after all -- and UMass was a pushover. Michigan is still a relative unknown, but things will be much clearer after this week; a win over Notre Dame would stake Michigan's claim as the class of the conference.
This Week: at Notre Dame (3-0)
3.) Michigan State (2-1)
Last Week: Notre Dame 20, Michigan State 3
Justification: Michigan State's offense was painfully ineffective against Notre Dame: losing Fou Fonoti hurt an already questionable offensive line and Andrew Maxwell and his receivers couldn't move the ball on an inury-depleted Notre Dame secondary. The defense is still elite, but Notre Dame proved that it isn't infallible and that the Spartan offense will need to step up to beat good teams.
This Week: vs. Eastern Michigan (0-3, 0-1 MAC)
4.) Northwestern (3-0)
Last Week: Northwestern 22, Boston College 13
Justification: Despite their three wins over BCS AQ schools (Boston College, Vanderbilt, and Syracuse), there's still something that is keeping Northwestern from the upper echelon of the league. Maybe it's because none of their opponents have recorded a win over another FBS team yet. Kudos to the Cats for smart scheduling though; beating bad BCS teams looks better than beating non-BCS squads.
This Week: vs. South Dakota (FCS)
Hit the jump for the rest of the B1G...
5.) Purdue (2-1)
Last Week: Purdue 54, Eastern Michigan 16
Justification: The Boilermakers don't have any wins over quality teams yet -- they've beaten up on two cupcakes at home -- but their narrow loss to Notre Dame (who beat Michigan State convincingly on the road last week) is looking better. My reasoning is that if Purdue can almost beat a pretty good ND team on the road, they're pretty deserving of a spot over teams who have lost to much worse opponents.
This Week: BYE
6.) Nebraska (2-1)
Last Week: Nebraska 42, Arkansas State 13
Justification: The loss to UCLA still looms large, despite Nebraska's comfortable wins over Southern Miss and Arkansas State. Simply put, the Husker defense looked absolutely atrocious against the Bruins two weeks ago, and a midseason schematic shift from the 4-3 to the 3-4 is a desperate move. Taylor Martinez is improved and will be better when Rex Burkhead is healthy, but still, that defense is very concerning.
This Week: vs. Idaho State (FCS)
7.) Minnesota (3-0)
Last Week: Minnesota 28, Western Michigan 23
Justification: Minnesota is one of the last three undefeated teams in the Big Ten, and even though those wins came against weak opponents, they still haven't managed to lose one that they shouldn't have yet. Minnesota could wind up making a push for bowl eligibility, but the injury of starting quarterback MarQueis Gray (a sprained ankle that could hold him out for a few weeks) is certainly going to hamper that effort.
This Week: vs. Syracuse (1-2)
8.) Iowa (2-1)
Last Week: Iowa 27, Northern Iowa 16
Justification: AIRBHG keeps on eliminating Hawkeye running backs and the Iowa offense continues to suffer -- they've only scored a combined 51 points on the season (17 PPG) and have scored just four total touchdowns this year. Averting an upset at the hands of Northern Illinois was pretty fortunate, and losing at home to Iowa State (while only putting up six points) was bad.
This Week: vs. Central Michigan (1-1)
9.) Illinois (2-1)
Last Week: Illinois 44, Charleston Southern 0
Justification: Illinois has beaten two inferior opponents -- Western Michigan and Charleston Southern -- at home, and lost to Arizona State badly on the road. There's still too many unknowns to judge Illinois just yet, but with how uncompetitive that game in Tempe was, it's hard to envision Illinois as a contender for their division, although getting Nathan Scheelhaase back from injury will definitely help.
This Week: vs. Central Michigan (1-1)
10.) Penn State (1-2)
Last Week: Penn State 34, Navy 7
Justification: The Nittany Lions finally recorded their first win for coach Bill O'Brien against a poor Navy squad after losing two closely-fought games. Penn State isn't playing for a bowl game and has faced an absurd level of attrition, but they were a field goal away from beating a pretty solid Virginia team and have looked better than many thought they would in the wake of those NCAA sanctions.
This Week: vs. Temple (1-1)
11.) Wisconsin (2-1)
Last Week: Wisconsin 16, Utah State 14
Justification: Utah State missed a potential game-winning field goal against the Badgers last week, and a loss would have been devastating to what has already been an incredibly disappointing season for the Badgers thus far. Maybe Bret Bielema can right the ship and lead the team to a division title, but the inexplicable futility on the offensive side of the ball might not be fixable.
This Week: vs. UTEP (1-2)
12.) Indiana (2-1)
Last Week: Ball State 41, Indiana 39
Justification: Losing to Ball State is probably the most embarrassing game for any Big Ten squad this year, and although the Hoosiers were able to put up points in the absence of Tre Roberson, the defense showed why Indiana's program has been near the bottom of the Big Ten for the last several years. The Hoosiers could still possibly contend for a bowl bid, but that loss to Ball State was really bad.
This Week: BYE