Heading into first big week of conference play, Big Ten has 5 ranked teams, 10 playing well

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Taking a look at the Big Ten Conference after the first month of the football season, the league appears to be deep and up for grabs.

There are five teams ranked in the Top 25, led by No. 1 Ohio State (4-0) and No. 2 Michigan State (4-0), and 10 teams with either 4-0 or 3-1 records, including No. 16 Northwestern (4-0), No. 19 Wisconsin (3-1) and No. 22 Michigan (3-1).

While everyone pointed to the East Division as the power of the conference with the Buckeyes and Spartans, the West is surprisingly good with Iowa (4-0), Illinois (3-1) and Minnesota (3-1) looming to challenge Northwestern and Wisconsin.

Now comes the fun part. The conference schedule kicks off in earnest this weekend, highlighted by Ohio State at Indiana in a battle of unbeatens. Also on tap is Nebraska (2-2) at Illinois, Iowa at Wisconsin, Purdue (1-3) at Michigan State, Minnesota at Northwestern and Michigan at Maryland (2-2).

Rutgers (2-2) has a bye and Penn State (3-1) is home against Army. They opened conference play on Sept. 19.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said there is talent throughout the league, and most teams can win on any weekend.

It's the kind of situation that sells the league brand and makes it popular.

"Things usually work themselves out as you approach the end of the season," Dantonio said, obviously hoping his Nov. 21 game at Ohio State remains a 1-2 matchup. "There is no question, October, you start to define yourself and in November it takes on a whole new level."

Iowa is off to its best start since 2009 with wins over Illinois State, Iowa State, Pittsburgh and North Texas.

"I have never been one to make too many judgments on anything in September," said Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, now in his 17th season. "I think you really have to get into October. There are a handful of teams out there that we all know are really good, really veteran and really talented. After that you never know what is going to happen."

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson will find out about his team on Saturday when defending national champion Ohio States bring a 24-game conference winning streak to Bloomington. The Hoosiers are off to their best start since 1990.

"We know a lot about the league already and now we kind of get to start attacking each other, which is always difficult," Wilson said.

One that that will change next season is that the conference may not have as many teams with records this good. With the league switching to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016, Big Ten teams will be knocking off each other earlier in the season.

EDSALL OFF GUARD: Maryland coach Randy Edsall was caught off guard during the league's conference call when told that the Baltimore Sun reported that there was a players' only meeting early Tuesday. After saying that it was the first he heard of the meeting, Edsall didn't seem to mind it in the wake of a 45-6 loss to West Virginia.

"If the players had the meeting and something productive came out of it, I think that's great," he said.

Other Big Ten notes:

— Penn State is holding its Military Appreciation Day for its home game against Army. Some 10,000 service members will be attending thanks to tickets donated by Penn State supporters. It will be the first meeting between Penn State and Army since 1979.

— Edsall is sticking with quarterback Caleb Rowe as the Terps' starter. He was lifted last week after throwing four interceptions. He has nine this season.

— Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is reluctant to disclose injuries. He also realizes it's hard to keep them quiet. "A lot of our bloggers are students, so if a guy is walking around with a boot on his ankle ..," he said. "Twenty years ago no one would say anything. Now there will be a tweet, maybe even snapshot picture. So, it's a different world."

— Interim coach Norries Wilson was on the road recruiting with Rutgers having a bye. He literally had to pull his car over to handle Tuesday's conference call. When asked what he tells recruits about the mess at the university with coach Kyle Flood suspended and arrests leading to six players being kicked off the team before the season opener, he was frank. He tells them the truth and answers any questions they have.

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