As we approach the halfway point of the College Football season the contenders are starting to rise to the top of the Big Ten. Surprises abound, as preseason hype seems to have quelled for many teams, while others find themselves in a better position than previously expected.

  1. Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0, 1-0)

The beat goes on for Urban Meyer’s team who have once again shown they are among the nation’s elite. QB JT Barrett has paced the Buckeye offense with 17 total touchdowns, while leading tackler Raekwon McMillan has led a dominant defense that has allowed just 9.3 points per game. The Buckeyes handled Rutgers with relative ease last weekend, and welcome the Indiana Hoosiers to Columbus on Saturday.

  1. Michigan Wolverines (5-0, 2-0)

Jim Harbaugh’s team has lived up to lofty to their preseason billing to this point. After coming into the season with questions at QB, Wilton Speight has proven up to the task to this point. They survived a very stiff test from Wisconsin last weekend despite missing three field goal attempts. The defense, led by Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis, held the Badgers to just 159 yards of total offense including three interceptions of QB Alex Hornibrook. They travel to Rutgers this weekend in what should be a much easier game.

  1. Wisconsin Badgers (4-1,1-1)

It’s difficult to think of a team that has endured a more brutal schedule to start the season than the Badgers. After surviving early season tests against LSU and Michigan State, and making a change at QB, Wisconsin has put themselves in the drivers seat in the Big Ten West. Defense has ruled the day thus far as the Badgers have allowed just 12.2 points per game this season. Emerging star TJ Watt has spearheaded the Badgers along with veteran Vince Beigel. Wisconsin has a much needed bye week this weekend before a showdown with the Buckeyes on October 15th.

  1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-0, 2-0)

Things have turned around in Mike Reily’s second season in Lincoln. After a season of heart breaking loss after heart breaking loss, the Huskers notched a big non-conference victory over Oregon in week 3. QB Tommy Armstrong has stepped up with 9 touchdowns and leads a balanced offense that averages nearly as many passing yards (238) as they do rushing yards (234). Nebraska has a bye this week before taking Indiana at home October 15th.

  1. Indiana Hoosiers (3-1, 1-0)

Despite losing leading receiver from last season Simmie Cobbs and All-American guard Dan Feeney, the Hoosiers came away with a surprising victory over Michigan State last weekend. JUCO transfer Richard Lagow has stepped in nicely for the departed Nate Sudfeld, and Nick Westbrook has filled the shoes of Cobbs leading the Hoosiers in receiving with four touchdowns. The Hoosiers continue to struggle on defense, and things get no easier as the travel to Columbus this weekend.

  1. Michigan State (3-2, 0-2)

The Spartans have had a rude awakening the last couple of weeks after securing what looked like at the time a big win over Notre Dame. After a lack luster effort at home against Wisconsin, Michigan State uncharacteristically blew a second half lead against IU. It seems all too likely that Mike D’Antonio will get the ship going in the right direction, but the schedule gets no easier with games looming against both Michigan and Ohio State down the road. They battle non-conference foe BYU this coming weekend.

  1. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1)

Coming off a Rose Bowl appearance, expectations were sky high in Iowa City. After a shocking home loss to FCS foe North Dakota State, the Hawkeyes have been unimpressive in conference play squeaking out a victory against Rutgers before falling to Northwestern last weekend. QB CJ Beathard has struggled thus far posting a lack luster 47.6 QBR. He will need to improve for Iowa to repeat as West division champs. That starts this weekend in the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale against Minnesota.

  1. Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2, 1-1)

The seat is starting to heat up for head coach James Franklin. The Nittany Lions have struggled against the top of the conference, as evidence by their 49-10 loss at the big house in Ann Arbor. While he has performed reasonably well against the rest of the conference, Franklin’s struggles against the elite teams will undoubtedly leave boosters restless in Happy Valley. He needs to continue to take care of business against the lesser opponents, starting with Maryland on Saturday.

  1. Maryland Terrapins (4-0, 1-0)

Speaking of the Terrapins, they check in here at #9. Despite their 4-0 record, the Terrapins have yet to play an opponent of note, with their lone conference win coming against Purdue. Maryland’s offense has led them, averaging 43.5 points per game. We will find out just how real the Terps are this weekend when they travel to Happy Valley this weekend.

  1. Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-1, 0-1)

After breezing through a soft non-conference schedule, Tracy Cleaves team failed in their first Big Ten test last weekend against Penn State. QB Mitch Leidner will need to utilize his dual threat ability if the Gophers are going to make any noise in the coming weeks. A home test against Iowa will be a nice measuring stick for just how real the Gophers are.

  1. Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 1-1)

It has been a tumultuous start for Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats. After dropping the opening two games, including an embarrassing loss to FCS foe Illinois State, Northwestern has rebounded winning two out three. The Wildcat offense has struggled mightily behind QB Clayton Thorson. Preseason All-Big Ten selection Justin Jackson has struggled to get the running game going, forcing Thorson to throw more than Fitzgerald would have liked. The Wildcats will look to build momentum coming off the bye week against Michigan State October 15th.

  1. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-3, 0-1)

The Illini have been scrappy if nothing else in Lovie Smith’s first season at the helm. The reality is that the talent base left by former Coach Tim Beckman left much to be desired and the Illini simply don’t have the horses to compete in the Big Ten. That being said don’t be surprised if they sneak up on a team and squeak out a surprising conference win by simply playing hard for Smith. They get some reprieve this weekend against Purdue.

  1. Purdue Boilermakers (2-3, 0-1)

The Boilermakers have been a true doormat in the Big Ten for the last few seasons. Since head coach Darrell Hazell took over the program in 2013, Purdue has won two conference games and things don’t appear to be getting better after 50-7 loss to Maryland last weekend. One issue for the Boilermakers has been continuity at QB, who lost Danny Etling after he decided to transfer to LSU. The battle for the cellar in the West will be fought this weekend in Champaign when they travel to take on Illinois.

  1. Rutgers Scarlett Knights (2-3, 0-2)

Things have not been easy for Scarlett Knights since joining the Big Ten. The ship seems to be headed in the right direction after hiring Chris Ash, but building them back into the contending program they were under Greg Schiano will take time. That task got even more difficult when they lost electrifying receiver Janarion Grant during the Iowa game.   After a very difficult loss to Ohio State last week, things get no easier this week as they host Michigan on Saturday.

Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Tony Ding.