One of the few certainties in college football is that the picture at the starting line is going to look a lot different than the picture at the finish line.

A year ago, 3 teams in the preseason AP Top 10 and 15 teams in the preseason Top 25 finished the season unranked. So if things go according to form this season, there are currently more unranked teams who will finish in the Top 25 than ranked teams.

The expectations are high in the top half of the Big Ten. Specifically, the Big Ten East. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State all find themselves ranked in the top 7. Wisconsin and Iowa also appear in the preseason Top 25.

  1. Georgia (60) 1,572
  2. Michigan (2) 1,490
  3. Ohio State (1) 1,400
  4. Alabama 1,398
  5. LSU 1,276
  6. Southern California 1,245
  7. Penn State 1,177
  8. Florida State 1,147
  9. Clemson 1,032
  10. Washington 977
  11. Texas 882
  12. Tennessee 868
  13. Notre Dame 863
  14. Utah 811
  15. Oregon 732
  16. Kansas State 501
  17. TCU 416
  18. Oregon State 406
  19. Wisconsin 386
  20. Oklahoma 296
  21. North Carolina 292
  22.  Ole Miss 281
  23.  Texas A&M 227
  24. Tulane 224
  25. Iowa 131

So which B1G teams are poised to join the Wolverines, Buckeyes, Nittany Lions, Badgers and Hawkeyes in the Top 25 at season’s end, or in some cases replace them?

Expect 1-2 of the following teams to make their way into the final rankings, listed in reverse order of likelihood.

5. Michigan State

2022 record: 5-7

Why the Spartans can finish in the Top 25: Michigan State never really had a chance last season, losing key contributors at every level of the defense by Week 3 — defensive tackle Jacob Slade, linebacker Percy Snow Jr. and safety Xavier Henderson. Each was the leader of his position group, so it’s no surprise the defense looked lost.

And though Slade and Henderson eventually returned to the lineup, the die had already been cast — Michigan State was 2-4 and 0-3 in the B1G at that point.

The players who earned playing time in their absence will be better this year for the lumps they took. Michigan State should be better — perhaps dramatically better — defensively.

A running game that fell from 53rd to 110th nationally in rushing average without Kenneth Walker III should be closer to its 2021 form. Transfers Nathan Carter (UConn) and Jaren Mangham (USF) will run behind a veteran interior offensive line.

Why it’s unlikely: The passing game is an unknown. Talented receiver Keon Coleman left for Florida State, and 2-year starter Payton Thorne left for Auburn. New starting QB Noah Kim will have to grow up quickly — the Spartans face Washington, Maryland and Iowa in Weeks 3-5. And that’s to say nothing of Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State.

Also, a secondary that finished last in the nation with 2 interceptions last year has to start making plays. Pass defense has been an issue in each of Mel Tucker’s 3 seasons.

Getting to 6-6 and a bowl game is a more realistic aspiration for Michigan State. And even that will be tough.

4. Nebraska

2022 record: 4-8

Why the Cornhuskers can finish in the Top 25: Maybe Scott Frost really was that bad at coaching. Nebraska could have enough pieces in place for Matt Rhule to reverse last year’s record with some elbow grease, good mojo and a handful of key transfers. This man once had Temple in the Top 25.

Nebraska’s path to the top 25 is certainly easier than Michigan State’s. The Huskers only get Michigan out of the B1G East’s Big 3, and that game is at Memorial Stadium. What better way to commemorate 100 years than with a stunning upset?

Why it’s unlikely: Nebraska was completely outclassed in the trenches last year, and that represents the most difficult element of a program rebuild. Rhule had losing seasons in Year 1 at both Temple and Baylor before turning things around in a big way. If the Huskers reach their first bowl game since 2016, he will have done well.

3. Minnesota

2022 record: 9-4

Why the Golden Gophers can finish in the Top 25: Minnesota was a win away from finishing in the Top 25 a year ago and has a chance to do better in 2023. After years of a run-first approach, PJ Fleck now has a quarterback he wants to build the offense around in Athan Kaliakmanis. Minnesota is a viable dark horse to win its first Big Ten West title in the final year of divisional play.

Why it’s unlikely: The Gophers have one of the country’s toughest schedules, drawing both Michigan and Ohio State in divisional crossover games. There’s also a Week 3 road game against Heisman hopeful Drake Maye and North Carolina. Heck, Minnesota can’t even sleep on a Week 2 game against an Eastern Michigan team that went 9-4 last year.

Plus, we don’t know if the Kaliakmanis-centric offensive plan will work.

2. Maryland

2022 record: 8-5

Why the Terrapins can finish in the Top 25: It’s all built around this season for Maryland. Taulia Tagovailoa says he turned down a 7-figure offer to transfer to an SEC program because he wanted to stay the course and do something special at Maryland. With talented running back Roman Hemby in tow, the Terps will have one of the B1G’s most explosive and balanced offenses.

Maryland’s defense showed dramatic improvement from 2021 to 2022, going from 98th nationally in points allowed to 41st. If that growth continues, Maryland will be a Top 25 team with a shot at 10 wins.

Why it’s unlikely: Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are still a gauntlet. If the Terps lose to all 3, they’ll either need to run the table or finish 8-4 with a win in a bowl game to crack the final rankings for the first time since 2010. But this team should be quite capable of that task. If Maryland doesn’t finish in the Top 25, it will go down as a surprise.

1. Illinois

2022 record: 8-5

Why the Fighting Illini can finish in the Top 25: It’s Year 3 for Bret Bielema at Illinois, and that means the Illini are built exactly how he wants them to be: potentially dominant on both the defensive and offensive interiors.

Illinois was on track for a Top 25 finish last year before stumbling to 4 losses in its final 5 games, including a 19-17 heartbreaker at Michigan that would have been a program-defining moment.

Running back Chase Brown will be missed, but Josh McCray averaged 4.9 yards per carry as a freshman before missing most of last season with injuries. A Bielema team will still run the ball at will.

A Week 3 home game against Penn State presents Illinois with an opportunity to grab the attention of pollsters and stick around all season.

Why it’s unlikely: As Bielema said at Big Ten Media Days, Illinois could win against all 12 teams on its schedule or lose to all 12 teams on its schedule. MAC favorite Toledo is no joke, and a Week 2 game at Kansas is a fascinating matchup for both sides. The Illini could just as easily start 0-3 as they could begin 3-0.

There are also some questions that will need to be answered in September. The nation’s top pass defense from a year ago must replace coordinator Ryan Walters as well as draftees Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown. Quarterback Luke Altmyer, a former Ole Miss backup, is also an unproven entity.