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Who really knows what’s going on after a stale week?

We thought we had a pretty good idea of what the pecking order was beginning to look like in the Big Ten after three weeks of play. But after Week 4, we’re ready to throw our hands in the air and get out the dartboard and magic-eight ball.

Iowa, who had looked like arguably the best performing team so far this year, looked like it couldn’t get out of its own way on offense against Colorado State, Michigan struggled against Rutgers, and Penn State won, but not as convincingly as you’d expect against a Villanova team that wasn’t dribbling a basketball.

Meanwhile, Ohio State looked like Ohio State again — albeit against a very poor Akron squad, Michigan State kept winning, and Maryland remained undefeated.

We say all of that to tell you to forgive us in advance because we’re just trying our best to sort it all out for our Week 4 power rankings. Here we go. I’m sure it’ll change again next week in a year that’s been very hard to figure out.

Illinois Fighting Illini (1-4, 1-2)

Sep 4, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema enters the field with his team before the start of Saturday’s game with the UTSA Roadrunners at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Okay, enough is enough. We can no longer continue to place Illinois over Nebraska simply because the Fighting Illini beat the ‘Huskers in the first college football game of the season. It seems so long ago and this team has not progressed at all seemingly. Bret Bielema is looking like Arkansas 2.0 here in the Big Ten instead of the days at Wisconsin. It’s going to be a long, long build in Champaign.

Up Next: vs. Charlotte (3-1) at home

Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 0-1)

What Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said about Ohio State postgame

What Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said about Ohio State postgame

Dec 19, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald looks on during the first half against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Northwestern got into the win column Saturday but the Wildcats have yet to look like they belong on the field against quality Big Ten teams. Pat Fitzgerald gets the most out of his teams more often than not, but I’m not sure there’s much juice to squeeze out of this year’s version of the Northwestern Wildcats.

Up Next: at Nebraska (2-3)

Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-2)

Oct 24, 2020; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost before the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

There is clear improvement from Nebraska from what we saw in Week 1, but there’s something to be said about always finding a way to lose close games, the last of which was an overtime nail-biter against Michigan State this week. Adrian Martinez has looked fantastic this year, but he needs help.

Up Next: vs. Northwestern (2-2) at home

Indiana Hoosiers (2-2, 0-1)

Indiana reiterates stance on Ohio State going to B1G Championship Game

Indiana reiterates stance on Ohio State going to B1G Championship Game

Indiana coach Tom Allen talks to Indiana players before running onto the field against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Despite returning a lot of talent, there’s just something missing with this team. The Hoosiers almost lost one on the road against Western Kentucky and that’ll do nothing for improving the perception of a team that is underperforming. We expect more, but maybe we shouldn’t at this point.

Up Next: at Penn State (4-0)

Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-2, 0-1)

Sep 2, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Gophers head coach P.J Fleck and his players enter the field prior to the game against the Minnesota Gophers at Huntington Bank Stadium. Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

OK. Minnesota looked awfully good last week at Colorado, but what a difference a week makes. The Gophers came back home and looked bad against some MACtion, losing to Bowling Green 14-10. Maybe it’s time to reset expectations in the Twin Cities. I dunno.

Up Next: at Purdue (3-1)

Wisconsin Badgers (1-2, 0-1)

Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) against Eastern Michigan during their football game on Saturday, September 11, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

I still think Wisconsin is a pretty good team, at least defensively, but the Badgers just aren’t playing up to par. The Notre Dame game wasn’t as bad as the score indicated, but there are some real issues on the offensive end and it all starts with the poor play of quarterback Graham Mertz. Things need to turn quickly or the Badgers are going to find all of their preseason goals unattainable.

Up Next: vs. Michigan (4-0) at home

Purdue Boilermakers (3-1, 1-0)

Purdue running back Zander Horvath (40) runs the ball during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

I want to believe in Purdue, but there’s just not a quality win in there despite improving to 3-1 overall with a very boring win over hapless Illinois. There’s time to impress in weeks to come, but I don’t see much to fire warning flares up into the air to the rest of the Big Ten.

Up Next: vs. Minnesota (2-2) at home

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-1, 0-1)

Justin Fields will 'probably win the Heisman' says Greg Schiano

Justin Fields will ‘probably win the Heisman’ says Greg Schiano

Oct 24, 2020; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano prepares to call a time out during the fourth quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Rutgers finally dropped a game, but significantly outplayed Michigan in the second half. Still, we don’t give too much credit for a loss (unlike the CFP Committee with SEC games), so the Scarlet Knights climb only one spot, mainly because of what we saw Wisconsin not do ahead of them.

Up Next: vs. Ohio Sate (3-1) at home

Maryland Terrapins (4-0, 1-0)

Nov 7, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Maryland Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (3) runs with the ball against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Maryland remained unbeaten by taking care of MAC foe Kent State, but we can’t get over the slim win over Illinois. There still hasn’t been a real test, so yeah, there’s an unblemished record, but we obviously still need to see more.

Up Next: vs. Iowa (4-0) at home

Michigan State Spartans (4-0, 2-0)

Sep 3, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; The Michigan State Spartans celebrate their win over the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field. The Michigan State Spartans won 38-21. Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Yes, I know Michigan State is undefeated. However, the wins haven’t exactly come easy and against the best competition, The Spartans needed overtime to get by Nebraska, so let’s pump the brakes on this team being a title contender. It’ll still be a few weeks before we really know how good this Spartan team is.

Up Next: vs. Western Kentucky (1-2) at home

Ohio State Buckeyes (3-1, 1-0)

Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter of an NCAA Division I football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Akron Zips on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Finally, Ohio State lived up to expectations and looked like the more athletic and better-coached team on a Saturday. However, it was Akron so we’ll have to still wait to see what happens when the Buckeyes play a quality opponent again. Rutgers might provide a little resistance in Piscataway next week. This team could still continue to improve and still be the best in the league, but we have to see it consistently.

Up Next: at Rutgers (3-1)

Michigan Wolverines (4-0, 1-0)

Michigan defensive line coach Shaun Nua talks to defensive lineman Christopher Hinton (15) and Michigan linebacker David Ojabo (55) during the first half Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Welp. Michigan found a way to hold on for the win against Rutgers in the Big House but it was a tale of two halves. The offense looked physical and explosive early on, but couldn’t push the Scarlet Knights around in the second half. Signs of trouble moving forward? We shall see because the Wolverines have to travel to Madison next week and play a team that will always provide a physical challenge.

Up Next: at Wisconsin (1-2)

Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0, 1-0)

Iowa junior tight end Sam LaPorta escapes a tackle attempt by Kent State cornerback KJ Sherald in the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Iowa won again to remain undefeated, but at some point, this ugly way of winning with defense and a lack of offense is going to cause issues. The Hawkeyes found themselves in a dogfight against Colorado State, and we’re starting to feel like we gave Iowa too much credit for wins over Indiana and Iowa State. The game at Maryland next week will be a good litmus test for both teams.

Up Next: at Maryland (4-0)

Penn State Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0)

Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) calls a play at the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter of the NCAA football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa. on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

In a week where there weren’t too many outstanding team performances, Penn State looked average enough to take over the top spot. Quarterback Sean Clifford has been a difference-maker this year, and the defense has been surprisingly stout. Is this the best team in the league right now? It’s hard to argue otherwise. That doesn’t mean the Nittany Lions will stay there, but right now, with what we’ve seen, it’s hard to put Penn State anywhere else.

Up Next: vs. Indiana (2-2) at home

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