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September 24, 2013

Big Ten Rewind: Week Four

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - A third of the season is in the books and roughly only a third of the conference still remains unbeaten. And with more than half of the Big Ten taking this upcoming weekend off, we put a halt to doing basic math and review some key notes of week four in this edition of Big Ten Rewind.

Trending Up

Wisconsin -- I'm aware they play one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country and typically that'll deter me from praising such a program but after watching the Badgers over the past four weeks, I feel confident saying they are a legit contender in the Leaders division. Melvin Gordon is arguably the best offensive player in the conference and is on pace for over 1,800 rushing yards this season. Plus playing Ohio State early plays to their advantage. Braxton Miller is coming off an injury and has only played one subpar game (for his standards) this year while the best defense Kenny Guiton has ever faced is Purdue in 2012. If they were going to try and steal one in the Horseshoe, now would be the perfect time.

Iowa - Could come as a surprise but there are things to like about this Hawkeye team. They've won three straight, including a key victory over rival Iowa State and a blowout win against Western Michigan. They have arguably the best starting linebackers in the conference, Mark Weisman only trails Wisconsin's Gordon in rushing yards among Big Ten backs and their offense is tops in time of possession, averaging almost 36 minutes a game. Iowa's winless in their last two trips to Minneapolis so if they plan to stay on the up-and-up, they'll need to provide the Gophers' their first loss.

Flat on their face

Michigan - Hard to believe an undefeated team would be trending down but when you barely beat two basement dwellers, your credibility takes a hit. A rather large hit. In fact the Wolverines have dropped as much as eight spots in the polls since their win against Notre Dame, despite being 4-0. Devin Gardner's a turnover machine and seems to lack the confidence he possessed in his first two games. The running game is still an issue even though Fitzgerald Toussaint just came off a 120 yard performance and the offensive line was getting pushed back by poor MAC/AAC teams. Luckily, they have a bye this weekend, which will give head coach Brady Hoke time to re-tool and fix some of these issues. I wouldn't be surprised to see new faces in the starting lineup against Minnesota.

Nebraska - Their defense has surrendered more yards than anyone else in the Big Ten (1,855 yards). That's nearly 465 yards per game. I don't care how good your offense is, when your defense is that bad, you're in trouble. You're basically Indiana. When you tack on the distraction regarding Bo Pelini's negative publicity, the Cornhuskers have more to think about than just playing football. It will be up to veteran's like Taylor Martinez and Ciante Evans to keep this team from collapsing.

Was that instant replay?

The Iowa Hawkeyes are not a high scoring team. In fact, they have not scored 50-plus points in a game since 2008 when they shutout Minnesota 55-0. During their definitive 59-3 win against the Broncos, both wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and cornerback B.J. Lowery were one touchdown away from a natural hat trick. Martin-Manley returned a punt 83 yards for six points early in the second quarter. 59 seconds later the junior returned another punt, this time for 63 yards, for a touchdown.

Not to be outdone by his teammate, Lowery picked off a Tyler Van Tubbergen pass late in the second quarter and ran it back 35 yards for a TD. Followed by a 13 yard pick-six early in the third quarter. On Saturday, it was fun to be a fan of the black and gold.

Stat of the week

Well I will leave it up to you. What's a more impressive stat? Gordon's 11.8 yards per carry on 53 attempts or 20 percent of Guiton's completions this season have been touchdowns.

Week Four Power Rankings

1.) Ohio State - They left Florida A&M healthy, which was key. Now they finally get their first big test against the Badgers.
2.) Northwestern - One of only four Big Ten teams that still have a zero in the loss column. A bye week before Ohio State should play to their advantage.
3.) Michigan - Another nail biter for the Wolverines. Their last two wins may feel like losses in Ann Arbor but good teams find a way a win.
4.) Wisconsin - Their numbers are impressive but remember who it came against. It'll be interesting to see if the running game continues their success in the Horseshoe.
5.) Penn State - Took care of business against Kent State. Hackenberg sits second in the Big Ten in passing yards.
6.) Michigan State - Normally I don't point fingers at officials so let's just say the refs did not do Sparty any favors in South Bend.
7.) Nebraska - They surrendered 202 rushing yards to South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner. Yikes! Their bye week couldn't come faster.
8.) Minnesota - Undefeated through four but will face their best test this weekend against the Hawkeyes. Can they keep up their winning ways?
9.) Iowa - Their 56 point win over Western Michigan was an eye-opener to everyone, including fellow conference foes. The tide seems to be turning in Iowa City.
10.) Indiana - One of these days, the Hoosiers are going to have to win a meaningful game. The defense was shredded by James Franklin.
11.) Illinois - The Illini started 2-1 last year, then dropped nine straight to end the season. Let's see if Tim Beckman can get that third win.
12.) Purdue - The Badgers roughed them up pretty good, which was expected. On to Northern Illinois, who should be favored.

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