Sep 20, 2014; Annapolis, MD, USA; Scarlet Knights running back Paul James (34) high steps past Navy Midshipmen cornerback Quincy Adams (5) for a touchdown during the first quarter at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
1.) Michigan State – Despite the loss at Oregon, the Spartans rebounded with a complete waxing of Eastern Michigan. They’re still the best team in the conference, and won’t face another real test until Nebraska on Oct. 4.
2.) Nebraska – The Cornhuskers are quietly enjoying a great season thus far. Running back Ameer Abdullah is averaging 6.8 yards-per-carry, and leading a ferocious ground attack. They had a nice win against Miami last week, and are very deserving to be near the top of the Big Ten.
3.) Wisconsin – The Badgers have only played three games, one of which was a season-opening loss against LSU. Running back Melvin Gordon is right there with Abdullah in terms of the best back in the Big Ten. Gordon rushed for 253 yards on only 13 carries against Bowling Green last week. If Gordon keeps it up through the conference schedule, Wisconsin could be in contention for the Big Ten title.
4.) Ohio State – The Buckeyes did lose to Virginia Tech a few weeks back, but they were able to rebound with a thorough 66-0 victory over Kent State. We’ll find out if they’re for real with a matchup with games against Cincinnati, Maryland, and Penn State in the coming weeks.
5.) Penn State – It’s painful to have to put the Nittany Lions up this high, but they’ve earned it so far. They’re one of the top Big Ten teams that are undefeated, and beat Rutgers two weeks ago. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been nothing short of spectacular, and wideouts DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis have been two of the better receivers in the conference.
6.) Iowa – The Hawkeyes have quietly put together a nice stretch through the first four games. They did drop a game to Iowa State, but rebounded against a solid Pittsburgh squad on the road. They have winnable games against Purdue and Indiana the next two weeks, and could be 5-1 when they come to Byrd Stadium on Oct. 18.
7.) Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights were a few plays from being 4-0, in reference to the Penn State game. They beat a Washington State team that just gave Oregon all it could handle. Starting running back Paul James is now gone for the season, so it’ll be up to Desmon Peoples to help carry the load going forward.
8.) Maryland – It hurts to put the Terps so far down on this list, but they haven’t really beaten a marquee opponent. The West Virginia loss hurt, but it was nice to see them bounce back with a win at Syracuse. If they’re able to win a few Big Ten games, they’ll certainly climb in the rankings.
9.) Michigan – It’s crazy to see the Wolverines this far down in the rankings. However, that’s what losses to Notre Dame and Utah will do to you. Quarterback Devin Gardner has more interceptions than touchdown passes so far. He’ll have to get on track if Michigan wants to salvage this season.
10.) Indiana – The Hoosiers did upend Missouri last week, which is a great win for a program like this. However, they lost to Bowling Green the previous week. If they’re able to beat the Terps this week, Indiana will prove that they belong higher in the rankings.
11.) Illinois – The Fighting Illini haven’t really beaten a marquee opponent, but have a chance to change that against Nebraska this weekend. Transfer Wes Lunt is lighting it up so far, and is the key piece for Illinois to make some noise in the Big Ten this year.
12.) Minnesota – The Golden Gophers are 3-1 with not much to show for it, but do have Michigan on the docket this weekend. If Minnesota is able to send the Wolverines into an even deeper tailspin, they could be a sleeper team to watch out for in the West Division.
13.) Purdue – The Boilermakers did put an early scare into Notre Dame last weekend, but ending up losing 30-14. In October, they have a four-week stretch where they face Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. That’ll be the true measuring stick for Purdue.
14.) Northwestern – Seeing Venric Mark transfer was a huge hit to the Wildcat offense. Their only win came against Western Illinois, and they have Penn State and Wisconsin the next two weeks. It could be a long season for Northwestern.