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Wisconsin, Nebraska win to set up big showdown in Madison.
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 4 Big Ten Power Rankings
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1. Nebraska (4-0) – The 38-14 road win over Wyoming this weekend might have been the Huskers' most complete performance of 2011. Rex Burkhead topped the 100-yard mark and scored two touchdowns for the second straight week and Taylor Martinez added his seventh rushing score. Most importantly, however, the defense allowed only 304 total yards - without star defensive tackle Jared Crick. Pre-season All-Big Ten corner Alfonzo Dennard did return to the field with four tackles. Crick is expected to return this weekend for Big Red's first-ever Big Ten game in Madison against the No. 10 (by Athlon) team in the nation.
2. Wisconsin (4-0) – The Badgers rolled 59-10 over lowly South Dakota - pushing its averaging margin of victory for the season up to 40 points per game (194-34). Heisman candidate Russell Wilson actually improved his nationally ranked No. 2 QB-rating from 213.4 to 218.38 with 345 yards, three touchdowns and no intercpetions on 19-of-25 passing. Four different running backs visited the endzone as Wisconsin readies for the Cornhuskers visit to Camp Randall Saturday night in what looks to be a Big Ten title game preview.
3. Illinois (4-0) – The Fighting Illini outlasted the Western Michigan Broncos 23-20 for its first 4-0 start since 1951. Ron Zook deployed a trio of running backs, along with quarterback Nathan Scheehaase, to the tune of 296 yards rushing on 52 attempts. Scheelhaase took a couple of nasty hits and had a sore neck and shoulder during throwing drills on Sunday. He is expected to start against Northwestern this weekend as Illinois opens Big Ten play. It is the fifth straight home game for the Illini.
4. Michigan (4-0) – Some were calling for the upset from Brady Hoke's former employer, but San Diego State was outclassed on Saturday by the Maize and Blue 28-7. Denard Robinson ran 21 times for 200 yards and three scores as Michigan jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead. The much-maligned Wolverine defense played bend-but-don't-break football, allowing 376 yards. But with timely turnovers and staunch play on its own half of the field, it kept SDSU out of the endzone all but once. Michigan should start 5-0 as the Gophers of Minnesota come to town this weekend.
5. Penn State (3-1) – The Nittany Lions welcomed 84-year-old head coach Joe Paterno back to the sidelines with a dominating 34-6 win over Eastern Michigan. Penn State's two quarterback system - featuring Robert Bolden and Matt McGloin - finally got rolling and produced the first passing touchdowns of 2011. The duo combined for 335 yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-30 passing. The Nits defense held the normally potent Eagles rushing attack to only 68 yards - 221 yards below its season average. However, it came at a steep price as star linebacker and defensive leader Michael Mauti has been lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. Penn State visits Indiana this weekend.
6. Michigan State (3-1) – After a brutal offensive showing against Notre Dame in Week Three, the Spartans bounced back with a 45-point, 481-yard win over Central Michigan. Le'Veon Bell scored three first half touchdowns as Sparty went into halftime leading 31-0. The defense forced four interceptions and held the Chippewas to a paultry 112 yards of offense and a solitary third quarter touchdown. Michigan State now heads to the Horseshoe to battle Ohio State in its Big Ten opener.
7. Ohio State (3-1) – True freshman Braxton Miller, the nation's No. 2 ranked Class of 2011 quarterback, played poised football in his first career start. He threw two touchdown passes to Devin Smith, ran for 83 yards on 17 carries, didn't turn the ball over and directed the Buckeye offense to a 37-17 win over Colorado. Tailbacks Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde got in on the action as well as Ohio State rushed for 226 yards on 47 attempts. It was a key weekend of experience for Miller as OSU rebounded from its debacle in Coral Gables last weekend and is now preppped for fellow 2011 Big Ten co-champs Michigan State to come to town this weekend.
8. Iowa (3-1) – James Vandenberg threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns and added a rushing score as Iowa rolled over UL-Monroe 45-17. Marvin McNutt caught seven passes for 100 yards and two first-half touchdowns while Marcus Coker ran for 113 yards on 18 carries and visited the endzone twice himself. Iowa played two complete halves of football for the first time in three weeks and will need to continue to improve if it wants to walk into Beaver Stadium two weekends from now and beat Penn State. The Hawkeyes are on bye this Saturday.
9. Northwestern (2-1) – The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Wildcats after a Week Three loss to Army. Starting quarterback Dan Persa, who has yet to play in 2011 due to lingering effects of Achilles' surgery late last season, is hopeful he will start this weekend against Illinois. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald said last Thursday that he would be shocked if Persa didn't play against the Illini.
10. Purdue (2-1) – The Boliermakers were on bye this weekend, and like Northwestern, probably came at a great time. Quarterback Robert Marve played in three series in the Week Three 59-0 win over Southeast Missouri State. He is recovering from ACL surgery and is expected to see more snaps this weekend against Notre Dame. For a team that has been riddled with injuries, two weeks of rest to prepare for the Irish was likely a welcomed experience. Especially considering Purdue's strength of schedule ranks dead last amongst FBS programs according to the Sagarin ratings.
11. Indiana (1-3) – Another a week of football and another brutal loss for the Hooisers as North Texas rolled-up 427 yards of offense in a 24-21 win over IU. Indiana fans, however, might get used to seeing the name Kiel under center. After falling behind 24-0, the Hooisers stormed back behind back-up quarterback Dusty Kiel's two fourth-quarter touchdown strikes and 145 yards through the air. Kiel's younger brother, Gunner, is the No. 2 rated QB prospect in America and is committed to IU. With losses to Ball State, North Texas and Virginia already, National Signing Day 2012 can't come fast enough for Indiana. Penn State comes to Bloomington this Saturday.
12. Minnesota (1-3) – The Golden Gophers have accomplished an unenviable sweep of the Dakotas. After losing to South Dakota in 2010, Minnesota was outplayed at home this weekend by North Dakota State 37-24. Jerry Kill ineffectively rotated quarterbacks MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell as the offense never found a rhythm. A wild and emotionally crushing interception returned for a touchdown on the final play of the first half gave NDSU a 28-14 halftime lead. The Gophers never recovered as Minnesota takes a slight "lead" in the the battle for the bottom of the Big Ten. Kill and company visit Michigan this weekend.