Big Ten football is coming off of a year where it saw ten of the teams in the league make a bowl game. Granted, one of those teams was Nebraska who only had five wins, but nonetheless, the Big Ten was well represented last year in bowl games. All FBS Division 1 football will be underway in about 100 days from now, so here is a look at my way-too-early Big Ten power rankings for this upcoming season.
1) Ohio State: As much as it pains me to do this, the Buckeyes will more than likely be favorites again this year to win the Big Ten. With J.T. Barrett returning, the Buckeyes offense will be tough to stop. With Barrett knowing the quarterback position is all his this season, he will be much happier and more successful in the system.
2) Michigan: I am not so sure why I think they are the second best team in the conference, other than Jim Harbaugh. In recent years, all the man does is win. In his last year at Stanford, he won twelve games including the Orange Bowl. In San Francisco, all he did was win the division multiple times, make it to the NFC Championship game twice, and appear in one Super Bowl. How do you follow that up? You do that by winning ten games in his first year with a school that had not seen winning like that in years.
3) Iowa: Losing Drew Ott and Jordan Lomax could damage this defense a little. However, getting Desmond King and C.J. Beathard back should help to lead the offense and defense. The Hawkeyes are coming off of their first ever undefeated regular season, and the only thing different about their schedule this year is that they host Michigan in Iowa City and add North Dakota State, a D-2 power house.
4) Michigan St.: It would be a sin to put the reigning Big Ten Champions outside of the top two, right? Wrong. The Spartans offense lost some very crucial parts this year as the draft claimed both Connor Cook and Jack Conklin. The Spartans will start the year at four, but after their defense showed some glaring holes in the secondary late last year; they could slip from this point on.
5) Northwestern: Northwestern in the top 5? This has almost never happened since the Wildcats went to the Rose Bowl like a million years ago. Coming off a 10-3 season where they defeated some formidable opponents, Stanford and Wisconsin, the Wildcats could be ready to shock the Big Ten and make a run at the Big Ten West Title. Then again, Northwestern did lose to Michigan and Iowa by a combined score of 78-10, so who knows what will happen with this team.
6) Indiana: Indiana was so close to being a 10-3 team last season. Now people will make some smart remark like, “Yeah, but they didn’t.” But honestly, this team played the top teams in the Big Ten the closest of any team last season. The Hoosiers were right there in games versus Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan St. You could also argue they had the toughest schedule of any Big Ten team last year. In three straight weeks, they went to Michigan St., and then followed that up by back-to-back home games versus Iowa and Michigan. This school will probably get lucky with another running back and Indiana will be relevant.
7) Nebraska: After firing Bo Pelini in the previous season, the Huskers knew there would be a downfall, but no one saw them starting the season 2-4. After that rough start, Nebraska went 3-3 and managed to wiggle their way into a bowl game where they took down an under achieving UCLA squad. Nebraska still has a QB that can run an offense and they did show signs of life towards the end of last year by defeating Michigan St. and hanging in there versus Iowa. I like the direction they are heading.
8) Wisconsin: The Badgers could be in for a very long season. Joel Stave wasn’t much of a QB but he still did lead the team to winning seasons. Losing Stave and Melvin Gordon within the last two years could prove to be detrimental to Wisconsin. With teams like Nebraska and Northwestern on the rise, Wisconsin could be in trouble as the year progresses.
9) Minnesota: I am not as high on the Gophers as some other people are. Even one ESPN draft expert has Minnesota’s QB getting drafted in the first round next year. Kind of like the Chicago Cubs were in baseball for the longest time, I see the Gophers as the “Lovable Losers.” They are never serious contenders to win the Big Ten, and their biggest role throughout the year may be trying to trip up one of the teams that are at the top of the Big Ten year in and year out.
10) Penn St.: James Franklin claims to have a master plan for making the Nittany Lions relevant again, but I have yet to see it. Just to throw salt on the wound, Christian Hackenberg got drafted leaving Penn St. walking blind down a hallway. Even when Hackenberg was there, they were supposed to be contenders once again. I just don’t see enough talent for the Nittany Lions to hang with the power houses of the Big Ten East.
11) Illinois: Here is a team that I think that could be on the up. Maybe the biggest move in the Big Ten this offseason was the hiring of Lovie Smith by the Illini. Coming back to Illinois is a homecoming that I hope works well. Illinois has been irrelevant since 2008 when they made the Rose Bowl, but bringing in a defensive minded coach could help a team that struggles mightily on defense. An added bonus will be that they still have Wes Lunt, a QB that has been with the program for a few years now.
12) Maryland: We are officially at the basement of the Big Ten. Maryland fired their coach midway through the year last season and they never recovered. The Terrapins lost eight in a row last year and finished the season 3-9. The only thing Maryland will be competing for this season is most famous alum.
13) Purdue: The only reason Purdue is not coming in last is because their point differential is a little better than Rutgers’. The Boilermakers almost managed to score 200 points last season. As a matter of fact, they had the same amount of points or more than seven other Big Ten teams. So if Purdue wants to win more than two games this season, they should look towards their defense.
14) Rutgers: Here we are, the bottom of the totem pole. Since joining the Big Ten, Rutgers has been an afterthought for a few reasons. First, the relevance in location to the rest of the conference. Second, they are not good in football (or basketball for that matter). Finally, because they are never relevant in either of these two sports. The Scarlet Knights scored the third lowest amount of points along with giving up the most points in conference play last season.