Big Ten fans have to be ecstatic that conference play is beginning this weekend. This has been a non-conference season from hell that can't end fast enough for most Midwestern college football fans. The league has two non-conference games left — Marshall at Purdue this weekend and Indiana at Navy on Oct. 20 — and its out of conference record includes a season sweep by Notre Dame (0-3), a 1-3 record against the archrival Pac-12 and three bad losses to the MAC. The Big Ten has a total of six wins over fellow AQ leagues, with Cal being the signature victory of a group that includes Temple, Vanderbilt, Boston College and Syracuse twice.
That said, 2012 has the makings of one the most dramatic Big Ten seasons in recent memory. Round robins in both divisions should be extremely competitive and virtually impossible to predict as conference play begins this weekend.
Post-Week 4 Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State - Stop me when you've heard this before. Ohio State starts slow against inferior competition until the best player on the field takes over the game and leads OSU to victory? He rushed for 64 yards and two more scores to go with 143 yards passing and no turnovers. He has accounted for 14 total touchdowns, thrown only two interceptions and is No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing.
2. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska -The Big Ten's most efficient passer (180.93 rating, 9 TD, 1 INT) led his team to 73 points this weekend on 9-of-13 passing for 165 yards and two scores. Nebraska boasts the league's No. 1 scoring offense, No. 1 total offense and No. 1 rushing offense.
3. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State - The formula seems to be pretty clear. Give the ball to Bell as much as possible and Michigan State wins. He posted a career-high 253 yards on 36 attempts (No. 2 in his career) and his fifth score of the season in the win over Eastern Michigan.
Post-Week 4 Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Mike Mauti, LB, Penn State - He didn't play like an elite talent in the first two games and PSU lost. But he has taken his game to a new level to get the Nittany Lions back to .500. He posted nine solo tackles and a forced fumble in the win over Temple and now is No. 2 in the league in tackles.
2. Kawann Short, DL, Purdue - By process of elimination, Short is No. 2 without playing a game last weekend. He is still No. 2 in the league in sacks on what has been a solid Boilermakers front line.
3. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame - Yes, Will Compton, D.L. Wilhite, Ryan Shazier, Mike Taylor or Max Bullough could be listed here. But Big Ten fans need to bow to the most influential defensive player in the Big Ten thus far. Te'o posted 30 tackles, two interceptions, a fumble recovery, 2.0 tackles for loss, two passes defended and led his Irish defense to low-scoring wins over Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, in what could be the best three-game stretch of his decorated career.
Post-Week 4 Coach of the Year Standings
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State - Meyer has the best resume of the Big Ten unbeatens. He has the best player in the league and a chance to prove it all this weekend.
2. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern - Can you really blame Coach Fitz for playing at least one cupcake? There is no such thing as a bad 4-0 record in Evanston. Ill.
3. Bo Pelini, Nebraska - Nebraska is leading the league in scoring, rushing and total offense. They are leading the league sacks, tackles for loss and kickoff returns. This might be the best bowl-eligible team in the league.
Post-Week 4 Power Rankings
1. Ohio State (4-0)
Previous rank: 1
Week 4 result: Beat UAB 29-15
UAB had more total yards, more first downs, was better on third downs and controlled the time of possession but lost the only stat that matters. Ohio State continues to show its warts, especially in the first quarter, as it took until the 6:31 mark of the second period to put points on the board. And then the story gets awfully familiar. Braxton Miller led Ohio State on a 21-3 scoring run in the second half to pull away and keep their perfect record intact. He has willed his team to victory with clutch throws and tough runs on more than one occasion this fall. But can he do the same thing against much more physical Big Ten defenses?
This week: at Michigan State (3-1)
2. Michigan State (3-1)
Previous rank: 3
Week 4 result: Beat Eastern Michigan 23-7
The first weekend of Big Ten play will feature the top two teams in the Athlon Sports' Big Ten power rankings when Ohio State and College Gameday visit East Lansing on Saturday. Like the Bucks, Michigan State has to iron out some kinks. The offense is entirely too one-dimensional as Bell accounted for 253 of the 428 total yards of offense against Eastern Michigan. Quarterback play is still a big question mark, and Andrew Maxwell will be forced to beat the good teams in conference play as defenses stack the box against Bell. Otherwise, Sparty's defense should keep them in every game, as Mark Dantonio's unit leads the league in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense.
This week: Ohio State (4-0)
3. Michigan (2-2)
Previous rank: 2
Week 4 result: Lost to Notre Dame 13-6
The Notre Dame defense is as good advertised. Just ask Denard Robinson. The star quarterback turned the ball over five times in what was arguably his worst game as a starting quarterback at Michigan. He couldn't get his team into the end zone and totaled just 228 total yards of offense in the loss. So does the bye week come at exactly the right time or precisely the wrong time? Does Robinson and Michigan need to get back onto the field to remove the horrible memory of this loss, or will the extra time help this team prepare for a grueling Big Ten slate that begins with a road trip to Purdue? Only time will tell.
This week: Open Date
4. Nebraska (3-1)
Previous rank: 4
Week 4 result: Beat Idaho State 73-7
Welcome back, Rex Burkhead (119 yards and two TDs). And Bo Pelini too for that matter. Certainly, it was a perfect storm for the poor Bengals of Idaho State and little was learned about the Cornhuskers in the lopsided victory. Taylor Martinez continues to blossom into one of the most efficient and dynamic passers in the country. The running game looks downright nasty with No. 22 atop a depth chart that also includes names like Abdullah, Heard and Cross. And the defense, while allowing yards, is starting to get its mojo back by leading the league in sacks and tackles for loss through four weeks. This team's big picture success has always been tied directly to Martinez' ability to play consistent football through the air. If he finishes the year as the Big Ten's top passer, odds are Nebraska is playing in Indianapolis.
This week: Wisconsin (3-1)
5. Northwestern (4-0)
Previous rank: 5
Week 4 result:Beat South Dakota 38-7
Much like Nebraska, not much was learned about Northwestern in its win this weekend. The Wildcats breezed to an easy victory without turning the ball over, holding South Dakota to 240 total yards and putting the game out of question early on (28-0 at halftime). Perhaps the most important lesson to be gleaned from the one-sided win is the emergence of tailback Venric Mark. He scored his three touchdowns and 97 of 117 yards came in first half, giving Pat Fitzgerald what could be his first traditional running threat since Tyrell Sutton. A 5-0 start is likely for the purple Cats of Chicago.
This week: Indiana (2-1)
6. Purdue (2-1)
Previous rank: 6
Week 4 result: Off
After a bye in Week 4, the Boilers will play one of two remaining Big Ten non-conference games against Marshall this weekend. Additionally, for what it is worth, Purdue played Notre Dame the toughest of the three Big Ten teams.
This week: Marshall (2-2)
7. Wisconsin (3-1)
Previous rank: 7
Week 4 result: Beat UTEP 37-26
The Badgers offense looked much different this week, as it welcomed new starting quarterback Joel Stave and star wide receiver Jared Abbrederis to the starting lineup. Abbrederis was out last week, while Stave was making his first career start as a redshirt freshman former walk-on. And did it make a difference. After 207 total yards in the loss to Oregon State and 234 in the nail-bitter over Utah State, Wisconsin posted a season-high 423 yards of offense and a season-high 213 yards rushing. Most of which came without star tailback Montee Ball. While Stave played consistent football and Abbrederis immediately stretched the field, Ball was lost near the end of the second quarter with a head injury. Melvin Gordon and James White, however, filled in admirably by carrying 23 times for 177 yards and three touchdowns. This team is a far cry from last year's championship squad, but if the offense stabilizes, UW will push for a division crown, albeit by default.
This week: at Nebraska (3-1)
8. Minnesota (4-0)
Week 4 result: Beat Syracuse 17-10
Fans of Minnesota who are clamoring for respect are getting closer and closer to getting it. A great defensive effort and newly discovered running game helped the Golden Gophers defeat what is clearly their toughest opponent to date. D.L. Wilhite and Ra'Shede Hageman applied pressure all night long to an offense that had been scoring over 32 points per game with the nation's No. 3-rated passing offense. On offense, Max Shortell was adequate in place of the injured MarQueis Gray, but Donnell Kirkwood was the workhorse, carrying 28 times for 99 yards and accounting for both Minnesota touchdowns. This was the first real test for Minnesota and it looks as though it will be nearly impossible to keep Goldy out of the postseason.
This week: at Iowa (2-2)
9. Illinois (2-2)
Previous rank: 8
Week 4 result: Lost to Louisiana Tech 52-24
This wasn't how Illinois wanted to welcome quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase back to the starting lineup. In fact, this loss not only epitomizes the Big Ten's poor showing out of conference this fall, but encapsulates Scheelhaase's career as well. He got his team out to a 7-0 lead with a scoring strike. But then the offense stalled, due in part to turnovers from Scheelhaase, and he left the game for good. The Bulldogs then went on to score three first quarter touchdowns and finished the game on a 52-17 run. The Illini turned the ball over six times and now lead the Big Ten in that category with 11 turnovers lost. A loss to a defending conference champion who averages 56 points per game wouldn't have been the end of the world. But getting destroyed at home in this fashion is completely unacceptable.
This week: Penn State (2-2)
10. Penn State (2-2)
Previous rank: 10
Week 4 result: Beat Temple 24-13
The Nittany Lions began the year with two brutal, heart-breaking losses to Ohio and Virginia. But this team, and quarterback Matt McGloin in particular, have shown obvious improvement under the leadership of Bill O'Brien. The junior under center has looked like an actual college quarterback, throwing for a career high 318 yards and accounting for all three PSU touchdowns in one of the league's five wins over an AQ school. This offense lacks playmakers but if the signal caller can rally the troops, this defense should be good enough to keep the Lions in most games. Don't sleep on Penn State University.
This week: at Illinois (2-2)
11. Iowa (2-2)
Previous rank: 9
Week 4 result: Lost to Central Michigan 32-31
James Vandenberg connected with Kevonte Martin-Manley just 2:28 seconds into the game for the Hawkeyes first touchdown pass of 2012. For the next 57 minutes, however, Kinnick Stadium sat and watched its team choke away another win. Onside kicks, personal foul penalties, failed third downs and the play of Central Michigan gave the Big Ten one of its worst losses of the year. The crazy ending — nine CMU points in the final 45 seconds — overshadowed what should be one of the better stories in the league this year: walk-on Mark Weisman's 217 yards and fourth, fifth and sixth rushing touchdowns in two weeks. Kirk Ferentz needs to start winning games immediately.
This week: Minnesota (4-0)
12. Indiana (2-1)
Previous rank: 12
Week 4 result: Off
One has to wonder if two weeks to think about that loss to Ball State is good or bad for Kevin Wilson's bunch.
This week: at Northwestern (4-0)
by Braden Gall
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