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Big Ten football power rankings: Michigan, Penn State continue battle for top spot

Wolverines, Nittany Lions stay on top with road victories

Michigan and Penn State sit atop the Big Ten football power rankings, but Wisconsin and Ohio State are lingering right behind (Getty Images).
Michigan and Penn State sit atop the Big Ten football power rankings, but Wisconsin and Ohio State are lingering right behind (Getty Images).

DETROIT – Week 4 of the college football season didn't bring many surprises in the Big Ten, but the contenders and pretenders are definitely starting to separate themselves.

Only three conference games were played this week, but four teams finished up their nonconference action.

FLASHBACK: Week 3 Big Ten football power rankings

Here are the power rankings for Week 4:

1. Michigan Wolverines

Last week: 1

Result: Michigan 28, Purdue 10

Michigan has occupied the top spot in all four of this season's power rankings, and there's no reason to knock Jim Harbaugh's team from the top after an impressive win at Purdue.

John O'Korn took over at quarterback after Wilton Speight left with a "soft tissue" injury, and all he did was complete 18 of 26 passes for 270 yards. O'Korn was accurate with his passes and made most of the right decisions. He succeeded in the areas in which Speight has struggled.

Even though O'Korn stole the show, the defense was the reason Michigan won so convincingly. The Boilermakers only had one strong possession -- a 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. In the second half, Don Brown's defense held Purdue to just 10 yards.

Purdue went 0-12 on third down, picked up eight first downs and held the ball for just 21 minutes.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions

Last week: 2

Result: Penn State 21, Iowa 19

Kinnick night magic almost struck again, as Penn State came one play away from suffering its first loss of the season. But that's nothing to hold against the Nittany Lions, as the Hawkeyes are a tough team to beat on the road.

Saquon Barkley might be the best player in the country after rushing for 211 yards and catching 12 passes for 94 more yards. He pulled Penn State out of several sticky situations late in the game, including hurdling an Iowa defender to turn what would have been a fourth down into a first down in the flat.

It will take an elite defense to put together enough stops against Barkley, Trace McSorley and Mike Gesicki to beat Penn State.

3. Wisconsin Badgers

Last week: 4 (Up 1)

Result: Bye week

Wisconsin moves up a spot without playing because of Maryland's loss, but we've still yet to see the Badgers play any decent competition.

Though Wisconsin is generally regarded as a good team, we won't really know until, incredibly, Nov. 18 against Michigan. The Badgers have one of the most favorable schedules in the country. They don't play Penn State or Ohio State this season, and the Big Ten West Division looks very weak.

Who will test Wisconsin other than Michigan? The toughest games are against Nebraska and Minnesota on the road.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

Last week: 5

Result: Ohio State 54, UNLV 21

Ohio State took care of business Saturday against an overmatched UNLV team, passing for 474 yards.

The Buckeyes turned it over three times, but the talent gap was too wide for it to matter.

Ohio State's win over Indiana still looks solid, but there's not much else on the resume. That won't change over the next three weeks as Ohio State gets Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Last week: 8 (Up 3)

Result: Bye week

It says a lot about the Big Ten that Minnesota didn't play and still moved up three spots, but that's the nature of the early season.

Is Minnesota really one of the five best teams in the conference? It's entirely possible. Should that surprise us? It actually shouldn't.

The Golden Gophers haven't played much heavy competition to this point, but there's no reason to doubt they could make some noise in the West Division. Who else is likely to challenge Wisconsin?

P.J. Fleck is one of the hottest young coaching prospects in the country, and he inherited a team that won nine games last season. It's wouldn't be a surprise to see Minnesota win its next four games, which would really turn some heads.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes

Last week: 6

Result: Penn State 21, Iowa 19

Iowa didn't budge despite losing a heartbreaker to Penn State at home.

The Hawkeyes benefit from losses by Maryland and Michigan State, but they also represented themselves well against an exceptionally good team. If anything, the offense doomed Iowa by scoring too quickly to take the lead with 1:42 left in the game.

If Iowa drops a second straight game at Michigan State, it will essentially lose any chance to make a run at the Big Ten West Division.

7. Indiana Hoosiers

Last week: 10 (Up 3)

Result: Indiana 52, Georgia Southern 17

Does Indiana deserve to jump up three spots for beating a winless Sun Belt team at home? Probably not, but the Big Ten after the top six teams is pretty gross, to put it kindly.

Indiana does have a road victory over a Power Five team to hang its hat on, and Virginia's blowout win at Boise State made that victory look even better.

If it hadn't been for the disastrous third quarter against Ohio State, Indiana would really be feeling good about this season. As it stands, the Hoosiers are still in a good spot.

8. Maryland Terrapins

Last week: 3 (Down 5)

Result: Central Florida 38, Maryland 10

I'm still trying to decide if five spots is enough of a drop for a team that lost by 28 points at home to UCF and will play the rest of the season without its top two quarterbacks.

D.J. Durkin was off to another good start when the Terps won at then-No. 23 Texas, but since, it's been a tough go as they lost Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill for the season, both to ACL tears.

Looking ahead to back-to-back road games against Minnesota and Ohio State, Maryland could suddenly have a losing record after occupying the No. 3 spot in these rankings for two straight weeks.

9. Purdue Boilermakers

Last week: 9

Result: Michigan 28, Purdue 10

It's basically a coin flip between Michigan State and Purdue for the No. 9 spot, but I decided to go with the Boilermakers because they were more competitive in their loss.

Purdue stuck with Michigan for the better part of three quarters, and even led at halftime. That's four straight weeks of competitive football for Jeff Brohm's team, which is all you can ask for this low in the power rankings.

10. Michigan State

Last week: 7 (Down 3)

Result: Notre Dame 38, Michigan State 18

Saturday night's home game against Notre Dame felt like a change for Michigan State to prove last season was just a fluke, but the game wasn't even close.

Michigan State fell behind by three touchdowns in the first half, and it was all a formality after that. Bowling Green hasn't won a game and Western Michigan isn't overly impressive, so there isn't much on the Spartans' resume to this point.

11. Northwestern Wildcats

Last week: 11

Result: Bye week

Northwestern has beat two teams that have a combined record of 0-8, and in its only other contest, it was smacked 41-17 at Duke.

The Blue Devils are still undefeated, which is softening the blow for Northwestern, but unless they pull a shocker the next two weeks versus Wisconsin and Penn State, the Wildcats aren't heading up.

12. Illinois Fighting Illini

Last week: 12

Result: Bye week

Lovie Smith's head is still spinning from the hurt South Florida put on Illinois last week, but after the bye week, it's time to bounce back.

Illinois gets a home game against Nebraska, which is one of only a few good chances of victory for the Fighting Illini in conference play. If they have any chance to make a bowl game, this is a must-win.

13. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Last week: 13

Result: Nebraska 27, Rutgers 17

Nebraska's response to losing at home against Northern Illinois was to struggle at home against Rutgers? Yeah, No. 13 seems just right.

14. Rutgers Scarlett Knights

Last week: 14

Result: Nebraska 27, Rutgers 17

Chris Ash would like to know if Morgan State is available the next eight Saturdays.