Power Rankings: Believe in Wildcats, Gophers

The Big Ten is home to three 4-0 teams after nonconference play. One of the perfect teams is no big surprise (Ohio State), while the other two are close to shocking (Minnesota and Northwestern). And you’ll find all three on top of my latest Big Ten Power Rankings. See the complete list in this post.

Disagree with my list? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or tweet me (@BTNTomDienhart).

1. Ohio State (4-0). The Buckeyes roll on, moving to 4-0 after opening the season with four home games. The defense didn’t allow a touchdown vs. UAB, and Braxton Miller continues to shine. But the offense needs more diversification.
Last week: 1
Next: at Michigan State

[RELATED: Who made BTN.com’s All-Big Ten non-con teams?]

2. Northwestern (4-0). Raise your hand if you thought the Wildcats would open the season 4-0? That’s what I thought. In case you were wondering, Northwestern opened the 2010 season 5-0. This team isn’t going away, people.
Last week: 4
Next: Indiana

3. Minnesota (4-0). Is this the most surprising 4-0 team in America? The win over Syracuse allowed the Golden Gophers to surpass their win total from last season. And the calendar hasn’t even flipped to October. Amazing. Fear the Gopher.
Last week: 7
Up next: at Iowa

[RELATED: What Dienhart learned in Week 4]

4. Michigan State (3-1). The Spartans led only 9-7 over Eastern Michigan after three quarters before pulling away. This coming off an ugly home loss to Notre Dame. If Michigan State is going to reach its potential, the passing game needs to find life.
Last week: 2
Up next: Ohio State

[VIDEO: Watch Mark Dantonio’s rapid-fire Q&A]

5. Nebraska (3-1). A visit from FCS Idaho State was an elixir for whatever ailed the Cornhuskers, who have a bit of mojo heading into conference play. And it was great to see Rex Burkhead back in action.
Last week: 5
Next: Wisconsin

6. Michigan (2-2). The Wolverines have played two big games. And lost them both, to Alabama and Notre Dame. Should Michigan be judged harshly? No doubt, the Wolverines could have beaten the Irish, but for six turnovers. There still is a lot to build on for a young team.
Last week: 3
Next: off (at Purdue Oct. 6)

[RELATED: Dienhart: What a depressing non-con season]

7. Purdue (2-1). Say “hello” to the Leaders Division dark horse. Thanks to a terrific defense and offense that may be emerging, the Boilermakers are a legit dark horse in the Leaders Division. If not for a late-minute loss at Notre Dame, just think where Purdue would be ranked.
Last week: 6
Next: Marshall

8. Wisconsin (3-1). It wasn’t pretty. But it was a win over UTEP. And the offense showed some nice signs with redshirt freshman QB Joel Stave making his first career start. The Badgers may be back on track. But what about Montee Ball, who left the game early with a head injury?
Last week: 8
Next: at Nebraska

[RELATED: See who won Brent Yarina’s Week 4 Game Balls]

9. Penn State (2-2). The Nittany Lions very easily could be 4-0, not 2-2. Think about it. How about Bill O’Brien as the early leader for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors? Sounds about right. If not him, then Jerry Kill of Minnesota or Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern.
Last week: 11
Next: at Illinois

10. Iowa (2-2). The Hawkeyes just can’t get on track, finishing non-conference play 2-2 after a 32-31 home loss to Central Michigan. The culprit this week was penalties, as Iowa had nine. The defense—especially vs. the pass–also struggled after playing well the first three games.
Last week: 10
Next: Minnesota

[VIDEO: Watch Mark Weisman’s stiff-arming party]

11. Illinois (2-2). The Illini are 2-2. And it’s an unimpressive 2-2. The wins have been at home over Western Michigan and FCS Charleston Southern. The losses have been beatings by Arizona State (road) and Louisiana Tech (home). This team needs something positive to happen. Right now.
Last week: 9
Next: Penn State

12. Indiana (2-1). The Hoosiers were off this week following that tough defeat at home to Ball State. The offense is playing well, but Indiana needs to tighten its defense to notch its first Big Ten win since 2010 and get on track for a bowl.
Last week: 12
Next: at Northwestern

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (33 Comments)
Ross on 9/23/2012 @ 12:28pm EDT Said:

Purdue and Michigan State have two common opponents. Purdue has, without question, looked better against both of them–yet MSU is higher?

Steve H on 9/23/2012 @ 1:34pm EDT Said:

I echo Ross’s sentiments.

Steve H on 9/23/2012 @ 1:40pm EDT Said:

I echo Ross’s sentiments. A good part of these power rankings is showing where teams are headed. Purdue has already appeared to establish its identity on both sides of the ball. MSU was supposed to get some things ironed out in offense yesterday, but if anything, Dantonio’s crew is still searching for answers.

Dennon on 9/23/2012 @ 4:13pm EDT Said:

Wow OK! lets be realistic! Instead of trying to preserve whats left of the Big Tens prestige by putting all the unbeaten teams at the top of the list, lets consider every ones entire body of work. Who they have played, how they have won/lost, and what they have done following the loss (improvements in areas they are lacking).

1 Ohio State
1 Nebraska

3 Wisconsin

4 Purdue

5 Michigan

6 Michigan State

7 Northwestern

8 Minnesota

9 Penn State

10 Iowa

11 Indiana

12 Illinois

Note: I’m not full circle on the Irish yet, I still think there over rated. I think that “this year” the PAC12 may be the best conference TOP to BOTTOM. Syracuse is only an OK team and I’m not going to punish Michigan for loosing to Alabama (its early in the season but they could be one of the greatest teams ever).

Dan on 9/23/2012 @ 5:30pm EDT Said:

The reply above loses credibility with Wisconsin at 3.
1. Ohio State
2. Nebraska
3. Michigan
4. Northwestern
5. Michigan State
6. Purdue
7. Minnesota
8. Wisconsin
9. Penn State
10. Illinois
11. Indiana
12. Iown

a big ten fan on 9/23/2012 @ 6:05pm EDT Said:

Michigan State , Minny, northwestern Dienhart do you really think they can beat Michigan ? Nebraska ? Purdue? Wisconsin probably a draw
Of coarse its hard for us to tell since the only repalays are Ohio State, Mich, Mich State how bout showing some of the other teams at prime time instead of 2 am !

huskerfred on 9/23/2012 @ 6:31pm EDT Said:

Hey Tom, you making some bank keeping the Huskers at # 5 every week or what?

Charlie Horse on 9/23/2012 @ 7:10pm EDT Said:

Until there’s evidence to prove otherwise, unbeaten teams are UNBEATEN and belong at the top, since, by definition, they are UNBEATEN. Go Fitz! Go Jerry Kill! (And almost a Go Danny Hope!)

Doug on 9/23/2012 @ 7:12pm EDT Said:

MSU still has the best defense in the big ten and has the best RB, the rest will work itself out.

GBR_ZX_87 on 9/23/2012 @ 7:56pm EDT Said:

Doug, there are three Nebraska RBs that can challenge anyone in the league, possibly with the exception of Montee Ball. But Burkhead carried a worse team on his back last year and was still super impressive, so the jury is not out there yet either. I will be SHOCKED if your defense (though it may be the best in the league (except OSU?)) has enough stamina to stand up against a well rounded, strong, and fast Nebraska RB stable. We have what it needs to beat you in a shoot out (and that is assuming our defense hasn’t actually improved since UCLA). So, you may be right, but you are wrong to be so confident in it.

Cupcake on 9/23/2012 @ 10:26pm EDT Said:

Yeah, that NU win over South Dakota should really make us all believers. And their 3 wins over worst team in 3 other BSC leagues are supposed to be impressive? Congrats, to the Wildcats for beating the Indiana of the ACC, Big East and SEC (Vandy, ‘Cuse and BC are a combined 3-8 overall with all 3 wins against FCS teams) That right, NONE of them have a win over a BCS team, yet somehow NU is getting pub for playing a “tough” schedule. MANY mid-major teams that other B1G schools have faced are better than all 3 of those (Western Michigan, Central Florida, Boise State, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, etc)

And Minnesota, their OT win over a terrible UNLV team, a close win over Western Michigan and, like NU, a win over possibly the worst team in the Big East, are supposed to be impressive?

Yes, both schools are 4-0, but they’re being rewarded for beating bad teams while other schools are falling to better competition. The bottom line is, the Big Ten is bad, I just don’t see how you put NU and Minny over teams like MSU and Nebraska, teams that have 1 loss against MUCH better teams than either of the undefeated teams have played. Even Purdue at 2-1 with their only lost by 3 to ND chould be in front of them.

Cupcake on 9/23/2012 @ 10:52pm EDT Said:

Northwestern is 1 of 5 teams in the nation whose opponents have yet to beat an FBS Team. Yet some how Rittenberg and the NU talking heads are pumping up their schedule as tough. http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/2012/Internet/toughest%20schedule/fbs_9games_past.pdf (you have to WAAAAAY to the bottom to find them)

Doug on 9/24/2012 @ 8:44am EDT Said:

GBR, solid points, just saying Bell has been MSU’s offense so far while the passing game tries to find itself. I don’t think NEB vs MSU will be a shootout, defense is too strong.

GBR_ZX_87 on 9/24/2012 @ 10:58am EDT Said:


I am honestly not knocking on your defense. However, we are 5th nationally in rushing. And that is largely without Burkhead. Your defense hasn’t met a team that is within 50 positions of that. I don’t think it is fair to say how your defense is against a strong running game yet. Arguably, with a quarterback sitting at 70% completion, it is fair to assume that part of the reason we aren’t higher in passing is because we can do so much on the ground that we just don’t have as much time or need to go through the air.

It will be impossible to tell until game day, but I think this week with be a good indicator. OSU hasn’t been as polished as Nebraska in the run game, but they look reasonably good. If your defense has no trouble shutting them down, then you can be pretty confident that you can play against our run game with decent success. Wisconsin does not have your defense by any means, but their defense has been effectively winning them games. So if they manage to keep us well contained, then I would say you guys are looking pretty good against us. However, if you struggle to stop OSU’s run game and/or Wisconsin can’t keep up with us, I think the writing is on the wall for you.

I think that, in order to stop our run game, you will have to load the box with some linebackers. At 70%, Martinez will gash you all day long with slants to Kyler Reed or quick routes to a quick, fast, and shift Jamal Turner. Kinnie Bell is 4th in receiving in the B1G right now. We haven’t shown the Wildcat or Diamond formation yet. Both of which we have had good success with against tough defenses last year (with a much weaker offense). I just think we are too good at running and dangerous enough at passing for any defense in the B1G to play four quarters with. The biggest question is whether or not we will execute. Plus, our defense has shown that they are tackling fundamentally different that they did the first two weeks, albeit against weak teams. Will Compton hasn’t played a bad game yet, Fisher has been showing up on plays, Eric Martin is healthy and getting into the swing of things, and our secondaries have been playing well.

The only other early indicator I can think of is how you fair against OSU this week vs. how we fair next week.

Bottom line is, I am excited for some football and will look forward to a good game with MSU!

Doug on 9/24/2012 @ 12:03pm EDT Said:

GBR, also looking forward to the NEB game ! No doubt NEB has a stellar running game, but they haven’t gone up against a defense nearly as good as MSU’s, should be a good one !

briar on 9/24/2012 @ 12:50pm EDT Said:

Yowza, Cupcake! Got a bit of a chip on your shoulder there, eh? What happened, did NU turn you down for admission?

Anyway, I raise my hand: I saw the ‘Cats at 4-0. I see them at 5-0, too. Some are now saying 7-0. Well, I don’t think I’m going to go quite that far but it wouldn’t surprise me that much, either. The point is, we’ll see what’s what now. The rest was just for fun, now it’s for real.

RobT on 9/24/2012 @ 1:23pm EDT Said:

This is not a power ranking of the conference, but rather a power ranking of records.
1. Ohio State

Argument made for ranking these teams in any order.
2. Michigan
3. Nebraska
4. Purdue
5. Michigan State
6. Northwestern

Don’t care about the rest.

jimbo on 9/24/2012 @ 1:53pm EDT Said:

What I am most impressed with Northwestern is they find a way to win like good teams do.
and they are very tough against the run. Look at their run defense stats!!!.
They have (2) quality quarterbacks where most in the big ten this year have maybe one.
the big ten is down this year no dought- partly why NU and Minn. are looking better.

4theTeam28 on 9/24/2012 @ 2:34pm EDT Said:

1. tOSU
2. Nebraska
3. Purdue
4. Michigan
5. Northwestern
6. MSU
7. Minnesota
8. Wisconsin
9. Iowa
10. Indiana
11. Illinois
12. PSU

Scott Jackson on 9/24/2012 @ 2:41pm EDT Said:

If Minnesota and Northwestern are indeed two of our best three teams, then may Heaven help us in the Big Ten.

Yo mammy! on 9/24/2012 @ 3:46pm EDT Said:

Take it easy, folks. Friendly debate is fine but some of us are getting a little too bent out of shape over Tom’s rankings. They mean nothing. Other than for website hits and TV ratings, there is really no reason to compile rankings like this until halfway through the conference portion of the schedule. And even then, they have no bearing on where these teams will end up come bowl season.

    BTN.com staff on 9/24/2012 @ 4:18pm EDT Said:

    Good reminder. And actually rankings like this are meant to drive discussion. As fans ourselves, it’s one of the ways we try to encourage debate. You’re right – they have no bearing on the bowl season, but they’re meant to be fun. Kind of like sports themselves. So consume them, dissect them and even offer your own. The conversation is part of the fun.

Otis Pitt on 9/24/2012 @ 8:46pm EDT Said:

Oh come on, be serious. Any OBJECTIVE person would have to put Nebraska first or second. Sure, they allowed ridiculous yardage vs UCLA, but still barely lost, and have destroyed all the non-qual teams they have played–and Arkansas State should win their conference with a 10 or 11 win season. And when the Husker offense starts to roll, it is a thing of beauty. They can only stop themselves with bad execution, which caused their only loss.

Jack on 9/25/2012 @ 1:49pm EDT Said:

1. OSU
4. Michigan State
5. Purdue
6. Michigan
8. Penn State
9. Wisconsin
10. Iowa
11. Illinois
12. Indiana

MikeW on 9/25/2012 @ 5:05pm EDT Said:

Im glad most you fans of other BIG teams continually under estimate Minnesota. Just wondering how you still think that road win vs UNLV was sooo bad. UNLV beat Air Force who played Michigan tough. Not to mention traveling west and playing a game til 2AM your local time is never easy. The end score was closer then the game as Minnesota out gained the rebels by 200+ yards and Gray was two passes away from making this game not even close.

    jimbo on 9/26/2012 @ 9:54pm EDT Said:

    To be honest. I would like to see a change of power . Tired of the same old teams on top. Good Luck Northwestern & Minnesota!!!

Doug on 9/25/2012 @ 10:12pm EDT Said:

UNLV is 1-3, with their only win against a 2-2 AF team that really isn’t that good, what I’m trying to say is Michigan isn’t that good, and anyone that ranks Michigan ahead of MSU right now loses all credibilty. MSU’s defense will shut down Denard again, we all know that man can’t pass a lick.

    4theTeam28 on 9/26/2012 @ 8:10pm EDT Said:

    You may want to recount the horses in your stable; MSU has been less than impressive as well. Bell and Simms have been saving the offense big time. Just like folks would be silly to believe that MSU will continue to play like they did against ND and EMU, prudent observers of this game should bet on Michigan getting better each week as well. Moreover, MSU goes to Ann Arbor for this great State battle; you can sleep on Dennard if you want, but I do not advise that you do. Frankly, the MSU Defense has been less than impressive to date as well.

Jake on 9/26/2012 @ 12:46am EDT Said:

What are the chances Northwestern can go 1-2 against the Big three from the Legends? If they do that and win against everyone in conference, they could very well be playing in the B1G Championship Game.

    4theTeam28 on 9/26/2012 @ 5:43pm EDT Said:

    I frankly like their chances to beat at least one of Michigan, MSU or Nebraska. NU has one of if not the best head coach in the entire B1G. Chances are he will jump up, as long as that RB stays healthy, and sting AT LEAST one of them. Now running the rest of the table in the B1G may be more than a notion. NU has to go to Minnesota for their Homecoming and the Gophers are showing a strong pulse particularly at The Bank.

      jimbo on 9/26/2012 @ 8:42pm EDT Said:

      before the season I had Northwestern at 6 – 0 going to Minn. and losing for the first time this year. Yes I had them beating Penn St. at Penn. OF the 3 powers I think they can beat Michigan at Ann Arbor. I want them to beat Nebraska at home, but afer last year they will not sneak up on the Huskers this year. I do think that Fitz is perhaps the best coach in the Big 10. How good would NU be if they could get some of the talent the top shelf teams get.

      4theTeam28 on 9/27/2012 @ 6:00pm EDT Said:

      I am very impressed with the nitch Fitz has established in the recruiting market. He appears to be pushing NU quality commits higher and higher each year. Frankly, the high end talents that have the grades and test scores to get in at NU would behoove themselves to seriously consider the offer when Fitz knocks on their door. Its the best education in the B1G and rivals any in the country. Now there are no bottom feeders on education in the B1G though, so recruiting competion remain very tough. JUST GOT TO WIN A BOWL GAME TO HELP IMPROVE PERCEPTION!

      jimbo on 9/28/2012 @ 10:53pm EDT Said:

      Well said – and the NU football program is going in the right direction.