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Big Ten power rankings: Did Penn State move up after cruising past Illinois?

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Holly Hart/AP
Penn State running back Miles Sanders (24) finds a hole in the first quarter against Illinois during an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, in Champaign, Ill.

Every week here at the Centre Daily Times, we’ll release our Big Ten power rankings online Monday and in the newspaper Tuesday.

We had some movers and shakers this weekend — hello, Purdue — so let’s get straight to it. Did Penn State rise from our Week 3 rankings? Who’s at the bottom now? Take a look.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0)

Game result: W, vs. Tulane, 49-6

Movement from last poll: None

Do we really have to explain this one? So far this season, Ohio State has beaten its opponent by an average score of 54.5-17. It has playmakers at virtually every position group, and it’s playing like one of the nation’s best. If it beats Penn State, it’ll likely be favored by double digits every week until the final game of the regular season.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions (4-0)

Game result: W, at Illinois, 63-24

Movement from last poll: None

For 20 minutes a game, Penn State looks like the best team in the country. The problem? For the other 40 minutes, it looks as if it’s No. 45. The Nittany Lions haven’t been able to string together a complete game yet and, with the Ohio State matchup looming this weekend, that’ll have to change in a hurry. This offense can hang with anyone. The defense is another story.

3. Michigan Wolverines (3-1)

Game result: W, vs. Nebraska, 56-10

Movement from last poll: Up (1 spot)

The Wolverines haven’t exactly had a tough run after the opener against Notre Dame. But the offense has still since matched the elite defense on the scoreboard — posting 49, 45 and 56 points, respectively. This offensive line struggled against even the likes of SMU, but it bounced back and posted its best game of the season against Nebraska. Is this a turning point, or are the Huskers just that bad?

4. Wisconsin Badgers (3-1)

Game result: W, at Iowa, 28-17

Movement from last poll: Up (1 spot)

If the Badgers don’t win the Big Ten West, it’s going to be because of the defense. Which is odd to type. The inexperienced secondary struggled at times Saturday and, against better passing teams, the Badgers could really be exposed. But credit Wisconsin for coming through in the clutch against Iowa. This offensive line is fun to watch. Which is also odd to type.

5. Michigan State Spartans (2-1)

Game result: W, at Indiana, 35-21

Movement from last poll: Up (2 spots)

Run defense? Tremendous. Rushing offense? Yikes. Michigan State averaged just 3.3 yards per carry Saturday. Take away Jalen Nailor’s 75-yard run, and that average drops to 1.4 ypc. Michigan State is a good team, but Brian Lewerke isn’t good enough to carry this offense on his back.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-1)

Game result: L, vs. No. 15 Wisconsin, 28-17

Movement from last poll: Down (2 spots)

If it wasn’t for a terrible special teams mistake, where a Hawkeye accidentally touched the punt on a bounce, Iowa could’ve woken up in the AP Top-25 on Sunday. Instead, it’s unranked and here in the power rankings. This is a solid team — it just needs to come through in high-pressure situations. Big Ten teams ranked above this one better not sleep on the Hawkeyes.

7. Maryland Terrapins (3-1)

Game result: W, vs. Minnesota, 42-13

Movement from last poll: Up (2 spots)

The gameplan to stop the Terps is pretty simple: Just stop the run. Turns out simple does not equate to easy. Against Minnesota, Maryland rushed for 315 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 8.5 yards per carry. There’s a lot of speed on this offense and, if you can’t slow down the run, you’re going to have a bad time.

8. Indiana Hoosiers (3-1)

Game result: L, vs. No. 21 Michigan State, 35-21

Movement from last poll: None

The Hoosiers’ ceiling is the middle of the road. Against better teams, like Michigan State, they’re just too easily overpowered. QB Peyton Ramsey is completing 72 percent of his passes this season, but he had a QBR on Saturday of 28.5. The defense is still good — though not as good as last season — but the tradeoff is it allows too many big plays.

9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-1)

Game result: L, at Maryland, 42-13

Movement from last poll: Down (3 spots)

The hits keep on coming for Minnesota. First, RB Rodney Smith suffers a season-ending injury. Then, on Sunday, it’s revealed that CB Antoine Winfield is out for the year. The Gophers don’t have the depth to remain the same team without their impact players. So far, the one-dimensional offense isn’t getting the job done.

10. Purdue Boilermakers (1-3)

Game result: W, vs. Boston College, 30-13

Movement from last poll: Up (3 spots)

If there’s one team in this conference that’s better than their record indicates, it’s the Boilermakers. All three of their losses this season came by four points or less. If QB David Blough has more games like the one against Boston College, where he had 296 yards and three touchdowns, this team will have “trap game” written all over it.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini (2-2)

Game result: L, vs. No. 9 Penn State, 63-24

Movement from last poll: None

The Reggie Corbin-Mike Epstein combo is one of the conference’s most underrated, as they’re each averaging 6.8 yards per carry. The pair still doesn’t make this a bowl-caliber team, but the Illini aren’t the worst team in the conference. Heck, they might not even be the worst team in Illinois.

12. Northwestern Wildcats (1-2)

Game result: Bye week

Movement from last poll: None

Sure, the Wildcats beat Purdue in the opener. But the Boilermakers — who are listed above Northwestern here — also beat a ranked team, while Northwestern lost to Akron a week ago. Let’s see how Northwestern handles these next two weeks, against Michigan and Michigan State, before we move its stock up. There are question marks on both sides of the ball.

13. Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-3)

Game result: L, at No. 14 Michigan, 56-10

Movement from last poll: Down (3 spots)

Remember when nine-win seasons were unacceptable? Yeah … well … welcome to the new Nebraska. Scott Frost deserves time to make this program his own, but trying to shore up weaknesses on this team is like playing Whack-a-Mole. Fix one, and another pops up. It’s going to be a long season in Lincoln.

14. Buffalo Bulls (4-0)

Game result: W, at School-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, 42-13

Movement from last poll: N/A

Obviously, Buffalo doesn’t belong here. (It should be ranked higher!) But here’s the thing: Its opponent doesn’t belong in the Big Ten either. So, until said opponent actually wins a Big Ten game, let’s all just pretend the school-that-shall-not-be-named from New Jersey doesn’t exist. The conference is better that way.

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