Nationally, the Big Ten did not have a very good showing in Week Four. A preseason Big Ten West favorite suffered an embarrassing blowout, a 31-point underdog sunk a rising program and some of the conference’s top teams looked shaky against inferior competition.
After the chaos of Week Four, here’s how the Big Ten stacks up.
1. Penn State Nittany Lions 4-0 (Previous rank: 2)
Fresh off its statement victory against Auburn, Penn State continued its momentum, rolling Villanova 38-17 last Saturday. The game was not as close as the score indicates, as Villanova’s two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, with the second unit in and the game already decided.
Senior quarterback Sean Clifford had his most prolific passing day of the season, throwing for a career-high 401 yards and four touchdowns off 19 completions. This marked the first time Clifford eclipsed 300 passing yards this season, and the fourth time in his Penn State career he passed the 300-yard mark.
Clifford continued to embrace his large arsenal of weapons, throwing touchdowns to three different receivers, two of which caught their first touchdown of the season on Saturday. Sophomore receiver Parker Washington hauled in two touchdowns, including a career-long 67-yard catch in the second quarter.
Sophomore wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith also caught a career-long touchdown pass. Breaking free of the defense due to a missed defensive assignment, Lambert-Smith flew past the defense to the end zone on an 83-yard touchdown in the third quarter for his first career Nittany Lion touchdown.
Penn State’s defense also had a solid performance, tallying eight tackles for loss in the victory. Senior safety Ji’Ayir Brown caught his second interception of the season Saturday, tying him for thirteenth nationwide.
No. 4 Penn State has its home conference opener against Indiana on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on ABC.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes 4-0 (Previous rank: 1)
Iowa struggled more than it should have in its 24-14 win over Colorado State last Saturday. The Rams were leading 14-7 at halftime, but a dominant Hawkeye second half secured the victory for Iowa.
Two early passing touchdowns in the third quarter gave Iowa the lead, and it would never look back after that, adding a fourth quarter field goal to put the Rams away for good. Junior quarterback Spencer Petras had his first game with multiple touchdown passes of the season while also throwing for a season-high 224 yards.
The running game hit a new low for the Hawkeyes this season, with their leading rusher, junior running back Tyler Goodson, only tallying 57 yards. As a team, Iowa finished with less than Goodson’s total, ending the game with 54 net rushing yards, because of Petras’ -17 rushing yards and senior wide receiver Charlie Jones’ -13 rushing yards.
The running stats are concerning long-term for the Iowa run game, especially considering 1-3 Vanderbilt put up 104 rushing yards against the Colorado State defense.
The Iowa defense, however, was strong as ever. Junior linebacker Jack Campbell had a phenomenal day, earning 18 total tackles, two passes defended and recovering a third quarter fumble to set up Iowa’s game-tying touchdown. The turnover gives Iowa its ninth takeaway of the season, tying for No. 12 nationwide.
No.5 Iowa returns to conference play, traveling to Maryland on Friday at 7:00 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).
3. Ohio State Buckeyes 3-1 (Previous rank: 3)
Ohio State dominated Akron last Saturday, prevailing 59-7. Akron got on the board first, but it was all Ohio State after that, with Akron only reaching Ohio State territory on three of its next twelve possessions.
Ohio State’s defense stepped up in the win, holding the Zips to 229 total yards, and scoring a touchdown on a pick-six by sophomore safety Ronnie Hickman. The pass rush was relentless, with the Buckeyes notching a season-high nine sacks. Senior defensive lineman Haskell Garrett led the way with three sacks, and freshman defensive tackle Tyleik Williams added two sacks of his own.
The Buckeye offense expectedly rolled over Akron, despite freshman starting quarterback C.J. Stroud missing the game with injury. Fellow freshman quarterback Kyle McCord looked great in his first collegiate start, completing 13 of 18 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach Ryan Day is optimistic Stroud can return to the starting lineup on Saturday, but if he can’t, McCord looks to be a capable replacement.
The running game continued its dominance, with freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson scoring two touchdowns off eight carries for 96 yards. His 11.6 yards-per-carry against Akron extended his NCAA lead in that statistic. Henderson’s average of 9.54 yards-per-carry on the season ranks him almost a full half-yard ahead of second place. Junior running back Master Teague III added a pair of scores of his own, finding the end zone for the first time this season.
No. 11 Ohio State goes on the road at Rutgers on Saturday at 2:30 on Big Ten Network (BTN).
4. Michigan Wolverines 4-0 (Previous rank: 5)
The Wolverines survived a scare against Rutgers last Saturday, prevailing 20-13. Once holding a 20-3 lead, Michigan held back a second half rally from Rutgers, getting some help from a missed Rutgers field goal, to come away with the victory.
The rushing attack was averaging a fantastic 350.3 yards per game entering Saturday’s contest. Rutgers put a dent in that total, holding the Wolverines to 112 rushing yards. Sophomore running back Blake Corum was held to under 100 yards for the first time all season, finishing with 68 rushing yards.
The passing game did not fare much better, with junior quarterback Cade McNamara finishing with 163 yards and no touchdowns. He also struggled to find open receivers, even missing an open target in the end zone.
With the offensive struggles, the defense was a big factor in the win. The Wolverines finished with six tackles for loss, three passes defended and two quarterback hurries. The defense showed up when the team needed them most, recovering a fumble on Rutgers’ potential game-tying drive.
The defense also excelled at getting off the field, holding the Scarlet Knights to 1-for-4 on fourth down conversions and 7-for-16 on third downs.
No. 14 Michigan travels to Wisconsin on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on Fox.
5. Michigan State Spartans 4-0 (Previous rank: 4)
The Wolverines were not the only team in the state of Michigan to have a dominant rushing game get slowed down last Saturday.
Escaping with a 23-20 overtime victory over Nebraska, Michigan State’s offense turned in its worst performance of the season. The offense especially hit a wall in the second half, only gaining 14 total yards in the two quarters.
Junior running back Kenneth Walker III, the FBS’ leading rusher, was held to just 61 yards on 3.2 yards per carry. However, he performed well when it mattered, leading the Spartan offense down to the Nebraska 3-yard line in overtime to set up the game winning field goal.
While they were unable to move the ball in the second half, and were outgained 442-254 in the game, the Spartans emerged victorious by playing the cleaner game and making fewer mistakes. Nebraska had two turnovers at inopportune times, with both happening in Michigan State territory. The interception in overtime ultimately cost Nebraska any chance at points.
Michigan State got a huge boost in the fourth quarter from its special teams. Trailing by seven points with 3:47 to go, Michigan State forced a punt and sent two returners back. The ball was punted to junior wide receiver Jayden Reed while the entire Nebraska punt coverage focused on junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor.
Reed returned the punt for a touchdown, giving Michigan State much-needed momentum it used to force overtime.
The Spartan defense was the standout unit on Saturday, finishing with a season-high seven sacks and keeping the game within reach for a late comeback.
No. 17 Michigan State hosts Western Kentucky in its final non-conference game of the season on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on FS1.
6. Maryland Terrapins 4-0 (Previous rank: 6)
Maryland continued its winning ways, topping Kent State 37-16 last Saturday.
Junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa put up big numbers once again last Saturday, throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns. It marked his third game of the season with more than 300 yards, putting him at 1,340 yards on the season, good for seventh in the FBS.
Senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. had a big game, posting 108 receiving yards off four receptions with one touchdown. Demus had his third game this season with over 100 receiving yards, putting him at first in the Big Ten and No. 12 nationally with 446 total receiving yards.
Senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis scored a touchdown in his third straight game, finding the end zone twice last Saturday. Fleet-Davis’ 7.1 yards per carry on the season ranks fifth in the Big Ten, proving Maryland’s playmaking prowess at the skill positions.
On defense, the Terrapins made a home in the backfield, sacking the quarterback five times and earning 11 tackles for loss. The defense as a unit played well, with five different Terrapin defenders notching a sack.
Sophomore defensive back Tarheeb Still was the individual standout from Maryland's defense, finishing with four tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defended, and Maryland’s only turnover of the game with a fumble recovery.
Maryland looks to stay perfect in the battle of the unbeatens on Friday, hosting No. 5 Iowa.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights 3-1 (Previous rank: 7)
Rutgers proved it could be competitive against the top teams in the conference, losing 20-13 to Michigan last Saturday.
The Scarlet Knight defense turned in another stellar performance, holding Michigan to 275 total yards. Third down defense was the Rutgers defensive strength heading into the game, and it excelled in that area again on Saturday, holding Michigan to four third-down conversions on 11 attempts. The low conversion rate keeps Rutgers ranked No. 3 in the country on third down defense.
Rutgers had success running the ball on Saturday, gaining 196 yards on the ground. Junior running back Isaih Pacheco ran for over 100 yards for the first time against Michigan, finishing with 107 yards and a season-long rush of 26.
Even though its second-half comeback fell short, Rutgers had its first one-possession game against a ranked opponent since its 31-24 loss to then-No. 4 Michigan State on October 10, 2015.
Rutgers faces another tough test on Saturday, hosting No. 11 Ohio State.
8. Purdue Boilermakers 3-1 (Previous rank: 12)
Purdue became the second Big Ten West team to earn a conference win, defeating Illinois 13-9 last Saturday.
The game was a low-scoring affair typical of Big Ten football, with Purdue only reaching double digits in the final six minutes on a touchdown catch by sophomore wide receiver TJ Sheffield.
Purdue had its chances to come back earlier, but two interceptions in Illinois territory, including one at the Illinois four yard line, kept the Fighting Illini in the lead. Senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw both interceptions on his first two drives, coming in relief of junior quarterback Jack Plummer.
However, the Boilermakers stuck with O’Connell, a decision that would pay off as he engineered the go-ahead 94-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
Purdue was missing several of its top weapons, with junior wide receiver David Bell missing the game, as well as Purdue’s two top rushers, junior running back King Doerue and senior Zander Horvath. The team’s second-leading receiver after Bell, junior tight end Payne Durham, was injured in the first half and did not return to the game.
Despite most of its firepower missing, the defense played outstandingly, keeping Purdue in the game. Holding Illinois to three field goals, the Fighting Illini reached the Purdue red zone twice, scoring a field goal on one trip and turning it over on downs on the other.
Purdue looks to notch another conference win at home over Minnesota on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on BTN.
9. Nebraska Huskers 2-3 (Previous rank: 10)
The Huskers dropped a heartbreaker that they’d really like to have back, falling 23-20 to Michigan State in overtime after at one point holding a 96.5% chance of winning.
Nebraska gains a spot for outplaying a team that was much better than them all season heading into the game, but the Huskers’ very poor play down the stretch prevented earning the win that would have launched them up the rankings.
The defense looks like it can be one of the top units in the conference, slowing down the powerful Michigan State rushing attack better than any defense has so far, and junior quarterback Adrian Martinez is showing some of his most impressive playmaking abilities ever.
However, the special teams continue to spot Husker opponents’ points, with a miscommunication on a punt return leading to a late game-tying return touchdown by Michigan State.
Nebraska has shown a lot of improvement week-to-week, but until that improvement starts to translate into wins, the Huskers will continue to be in the lower half of the conference.
Nebraska hosts Northwestern on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on BTN.
10. Wisconsin Badgers 1-2 (Previous rank: 8)
Wisconsin was embarrassed by former Badger quarterback Jack Coan and Notre Dame last Saturday, losing 41-13.
Sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz had by far his worst day as Wisconsin’s quarterback, throwing for 140 yards and four interceptions. Wisconsin led Notre Dame 13-10 early in the fourth quarter, but promptly gave up 31 unanswered points to make the game a Fighting Irish blowout.
Wisconsin will look to rebound against Michigan on Saturday.
11. Indiana Hoosiers 2-2 (Previous rank: 11)
Indiana struggled to pull away from Conference USA foe Western Kentucky, defeating the Hilltoppers 33-31 last Saturday.
Senior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. did have a turnover free game and threw for 373 yards, but having a 1-1 Conference USA team take them down to the wire spells concern for Indiana going forward.
Indiana plays Michigan State on Saturday, with the Hoosiers looking for their first Big Ten victory.
12. Northwestern Wildcats 2-2 (Previous rank: 14)
Northwestern played its best game of the season, defeating Ohio 35-6 last Saturday behind a strong rushing attack. However, it failed to finally get a breakout performance from its starting quarterback, boding poorly for the upcoming showdown against the Nebraska defense.
Northwestern travels to Nebraska on Saturday, looking to spring a sizable upset as 11-point underdogs.
13. Illinois Fighting Illini 1-4 (Previous rank: 13)
The Fighting Illini were held without a touchdown in their 13-9 loss to Purdue, putting Illinois on a four-game skid since its opening week victory over Nebraska.
Illinois finishes its non-conference schedule on Saturday, hosting Charlotte at 11:00 a.m. on BTN.
14. Minnesota Golden Gophers 2-2 (Previous rank: 9)
Entering the game as a 30.5 point favorite against Bowling Green, Minnesota shockingly dropped the game outright, losing 14-10.
Turning the ball over three times and racking up 71 yards of penalty yardage took the Golden Gophers out of the game, and Minnesota took the title of worst loss in the Big Ten from Illinois’ 37-30 loss to University of Texas San-Antonio (UTSA). While UTSA is undefeated, Bowling Green went winless in the Mid-American Conference last season, allowing nearly four times as many points as it scored in 2020 .
Minnesota looks to rebound from its embarrassing defeat, traveling to Purdue on Saturday.