Big Ten play is just around the corner, so it's time to get serious. Week 4 didn't provide too many revelations, as the league's top teams took care of business. Minnesota and Indiana, meanwhile, hit new lows after being outclassed by North Dakota State and North Texas, respectively.
We were tempted to not rank the Gophers and Hoosiers this week. But we're contractually bound to do so.
There's not much shuffling in the top 10, but we expect much more movement a week from now after the first set of Big Ten games are in the books.
Here are this week's rankings ...
1. Wisconsin (4-0): After a virtually flawless performance in nonconference play, the Badgers enter Big Ten action with plenty of confidence. Quarterback Russell Wilson continued his record-setting start Saturday, with help from top WR Nick Toon. The competition level goes up significantly this week, and Wisconsin has yet to face any real adversity, but the Badgers have been the league's only consistently dominant team.
2. Nebraska (4-0): Bo Pelini's squad remained perfect with a solid road win against Wyoming, and for the third consecutive week, Big Red seemed to improve as the game went on. There's still room for improvement on both sides, and Nebraska will need a more polished performance to beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. If the offense cleans up some mistakes and keeps surging behind Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez, Nebraska will be very tough to beat.
3. Michigan (4-0): The Wolverines are 4-0 for the third consecutive year, and there are reasons to believe this season will be different than the previous two. There are also reasons to remain concerned. Michigan beat San Diego State primarily because of its defense, which is a very encouraging sign. Craig Roh led the Wolverines' best defensive effort of the season. Denard Robinson did his thing with 200 rush yards and three touchdowns, although his mistakes in the passing game could come back to haunt UM.
4. Illinois (4-0): There were some tense moments, but Illinois found a way to remain unbeaten and improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1951. It's a significant achievement, and a playmaking defense continues to be the biggest reason for the Illini success. Illinois can't lean on its defense forever, though, and must clean up some mistakes on offense. An inability to convert red-zone opportunities into touchdowns could come back to haunt the Orange and Blue.
5. Michigan State (3-1): While the Spartans are still looking for a win against quality competition, their defense looks like the real deal. Not only are they limiting yards and points, but they're making big plays, as they showed Saturday by recording four interceptions against Central Michigan. Le'Veon Bell provided a much-needed spark for the run game. Michigan State leads the nation in total defense (172.3 ypg) and ranks eighth in points allowed (11 ppg).
6. Ohio State (3-1): Buckeyes fans don't like being this far down in the rankings, but the good news is their team has an excellent chance to move up in the coming weeks. Ohio State plays Michigan State, Nebraska and Illinois in its next three games, so we'll soon know exactly where it stands. The offense began to shape its identity behind freshman QB Braxton Miller on Saturday, and Ohio State excelled in the kicking game.
7. Penn State (3-1): The Lions' offense came to life against Eastern Michigan as Matthew McGloin made a good case to be the starting quarterback. Penn State's narrow Week 3 win against Temple looks a lot better after the Owls thrashed Maryland in College Park. The big downside from Week 4 was a season-ending knee injury to Penn State standout linebacker Michael Mauti. Although the Lions boast depth at linebacker, Mauti's leadership will be missed.
8. Iowa (3-1): The Hawkeyes enter the bye week with confidence after an easy win against Louisiana-Monroe. Quarterback James Vandenberg is on fire, racking up 1,095 pass yards with 10 touchdowns and only one interception through the first four games. Vandenberg's emergence along with several receivers makes Iowa a very dangerous offense in Big Ten play. We'll get a good read on Iowa when it resumes play Oct. 8 at Penn State.
9. Northwestern (2-1): The wait for Dan Persa's return should end this week, as Persa is expected to make his season debut for Northwestern against Illinois. How Persa performs after a lengthy rehab remains to be seen, but his presence should provide a lift for Northwestern, particularly in the passing game. The bye week fell at a good time for the Wildcats, who need to get healthy on defense.
10. Purdue (2-1): Who are these Boilers? Tough to tell after the first three games, but we'll find out a lot more this week as Notre Dame visits Ross-Ade Stadium. Quarterback Robert Marve told Rittenberg this is a program-defining game for Purdue, and he's right. The Boilers have had two weeks to prepare for the Irish, who will provide tests on both sides of the ball. It'll be interesting to see if Purdue continues its rushing success against the Notre Dame defense.
11. Minnesota (1-3): The USC opener feels like a long time ago, doesn't it? Minnesota failed to build off of a nice win against Miami (Ohio) and fell Saturday to an FCS opponent for the second consecutive year and the third time in the past five seasons. More troubling was that North Dakota State looked like a superior team in almost every area. Coach Jerry Kill now has a quarterback quandary on his hands -- Marqueis Gray or Max Shortell -- and the defense has a long way to go.
12. Indiana (1-3): If this isn't rock bottom for the Hoosiers, it's scary to think what will be. Indiana fell behind 24-0 to winless North Texas before mounting a furious rally in the final minutes. Lance Dunbar torched the Hoosiers for 279 yards, and Indiana's offense once again made too many mistakes and didn't generate much of a run game against one of the nation's worst rush defenses. First-year coach Kevin Wilson has a lot of work ahead of him this week as Big Ten play begins.