Last week: def. Ohio 43-7
Ten Big Ten teams play this week, with Illinois idle. All ten are at home. Not one of the ten opponents belong to a BCS conference, and only half of them even have a winning record. It's been beaten to death how bad non-conference scheduling is, but sheesh, when did the excitement surrounding Week four of the college football season start resembling Week four of the NFL preseason?
Next: vs. Eastern Michigan (0-3)
2) No. 18 Iowa (2-1); LW, 2
Last week: lost to No. 24 Arizona 34-27
Special teams absolutely destroyed Iowa in this one: a blocked punt deep in its territory, a returned punt for a touchdown and a missed extra point on the supposed go-ahead touchdown were crushing in the end. Iowa's vaunted defense was ordinary at best, and its offensive line forgot the last 3 minutes of games actually count. And yet, the Hawkeyes still competed on the road in a nationally-televised game against a ranked opponent with a rockin' crowd. Conclusion: getting docked nine spots in the rankings was a little harsh.
Next: vs. Ball State (1-2)
3) No. 25 Michigan State (3-0); LW, 5
Last week: def. Notre Dame 34-31 (OT)
Any heart attack joke made in the wake of Michigan State's thrilling, gutsy, shocking call to fake a tying field goal and go for the win in overtime was rendered inappropriate a few hours later. Mark Dantonio literally was taken to a hospital after having a heart attack following the win, and Michigan State doesn't know when he'll return to the field. This could be a rallying point for the Spartans.
Next: vs. Northern Colorado (2-1)
4) No. 21 Michigan (3-0); LW, 3
Last week: def. Massachusetts 42-37
Admit it, Michigan fans: memories of Appalachian State were dancing through your head during the entire UMass game. Well, maybe dancing's not the right word. Anyway, the Wolverines have won their last seven non-conference games since that ghastly October 2008 setback to Toledo.
Next: vs. Bowling Green (1-2)
Heard some murmurs that the 2010 Badgers are looking a little bit like the 2009 Hawkeyes: forcing their fans to sweat it out until the clock strikes zero, but always finding a way to win. Granted, Scott Tolzien was missing his two best wide receiver options Saturday. But until UW's defense and special teams starts playing more consistently, Wisconsin has a limited ceiling that doesn't rise to Orange Bowl levels.
Next: vs. Austin Peay (2-1)
6) No. 23 Penn State (2-1); LW, 7
Last week: def. Kent State 24-0
Quietly, the Nittany Lions defense is looking like an impressive unit. Less than 13 points per game, and that includes a 24-point effort at Alabama, a team that has 110 points in its other two games.
Next: vs. Temple (3-0)
7) Northwestern (3-0); LW, 6
Last week: def. Rice 30-13
Consider the opponents, to be sure, but Dan Persa has put together an incredibly impressive first quarter to the season. He's completed 82 percent of his passes, garnering over 10 yards per attempt, and has eight touchdowns (six passing, two rushing) without an interception.
Next: vs. Central Michigan (2-1)
8) Illinois (2-1); LW, 8
Last week: def. Northern Illinois 28-22
Well, the Illini can't almost lose to a directional Illinois team next week. That's a guarantee I'm willing to make.
9) Purdue (2-1); LW, 9
Last week: def. Ball State 24-13
I mentioned Toledo's 2008 shocker over Michigan earlier. Not that a win this coming week would resonate as much nationally, but it would solidify the Rockets as a bona fide thorn in the Big Ten's side.
Next: vs. Toledo (2-1)
10) Indiana (2-0); LW, 10
Last week: def. Western Kentucky 38-21
Assuming the Hoosiers take care of business this weekend, it will be the third time in the past few years that Indiana knocks off Akron in a last-minute tuneup for conference play.
Next: vs. Akron (0-3)
11) Minnesota (1-2); LW, 11
Last week: lost to No. 18 USC 32-21
See, now I would have set the USC-Minny line somewhere around USC -56. That's why I'm not an oddsmaker. But an admirable effort by the Gophers doesn't change their status as the lone Big Ten representative south of .500.
Next: vs. Northern Illinois (1-2)