Big Ten Preseason Power Rankings
Yes, before they step on to the field, before a single ball is snapped, before a point is scored, it’s time to rank the Big Ten teams. There shouldn’t be much debate at No. 1 and No. 2. The rest, however, is open for debate.
This ranking might not show it, but the Boilermakers will be better this year. Darrell Hazell’s group will look more like the team that upset Illinois for their only Big Ten win. But Purdue has a pair of tough non-conference matchups against Marshall and Virginia Tech and starts Big Ten play with four divisional winner candidates. No thank you.
The Wildcats will be forced to rely on several underclassmen at skill positions, maybe even at quarterback. Pat Fitzgerald hasn’t had anyone emerge at the position, which isn’t the best news for a team that struggled to score in 2014.
Nate Sudfeld’s return will instantly make Indiana better. A consistent offensive line blocking for Jordan Howard should give the Hoosiers a reliable 1-2 punch. But questions are still surrounding a defense that coughed up more points than any team in Big Ten play.
If the Terps offense can get inside the 30, scoring won’t be an issue with Lou Groza winner Brad Craddock. But it probably isn’t a good sign when an offense’s most productive player is expected to be its kicker. Will Likely and the new-look 4-3 Maryland defense should keep the offense competitive, though it remains to be seen who will become its go-to playmaker.
It’s not easy to be successful when a coach is under a national microscope for off-field issues. The allegations against Tim Beckman will give the Illini a hurdle to overcome to start the season. A healthy Wes Lunt lighting up the scoreboard would help quiet some of that outside chatter.
A deep, talented backfield with Paul James back should help the Scarlet Knights move the chains. Add in Leonte Carroo, who believes he’s the Big Ten’s best receiver, and the Rutgers offense won’t lack weapons. But an inexperienced offensive line and a first-year starter at quarterback could hold Rutgers back from another 8-win season.
Drew Ott could anchor one of the Big Ten’s best defenses. That’d be a welcome sight in the up-and-down tenure of Kirk Ferentz. The questions lie on offense, where C.J. Beathard’s first season as starter could determine whether or not the Hawkeyes can stay in the Big Ten West race.
This is simply based on the Harbaugh effect. There are still plenty of areas a 5-7 Michigan team needs to improve in, most notably under center. But an underrated defense returns a ton of talent and should get the Wolverines back on the bowling track.
Mike Riley hasn’t raised any cats to the heavens or cursed out any media members like his predecessor. Lincoln will have a different vibe around it, for sure. Before the first-year coach can approach Bo Pelini’s nine-win standard, he’ll have to develop consistency at running back and linebacker.
Power rankings are simply about how good a team is believed to be. It doesn’t take into account schedules. That’s good for the Golden Gophers because their schedule is as brutal as it gets. But Jerry Kill’s old-school style should put Minnesota back in the hunt for a Big Ten West title.
4. Penn State
Here’s the bold prediction of the bunch. Big things are expected of James Franklin in his second year at the Penn State helm. An elite run defense combined with Christian Hackenberg and an improved offensive line should turn that 2-6 conference record around in a hurry.
Until we’re told differently, pencil the Badgers in for another Big Ten Championship game built on a dominant rushing attack and a reliable defense. Nothing to see here. Moving along.
2. Michigan State
With that offensive line — maybe the best ever in East Lansing— and Connor Cook still running the show, the Spartans are set to carve up more Big Ten defenses in 2015. In most years, Mark Dantonio’s group would be the clear-cut favorite to win the Big Ten. But there’s still that roadblock in Columbus.
1. Ohio State
When 40 media members actually agree on something, heads should spin. That’s how loaded the Buckeyes are. Suspensions and quarterback controversies will dominate the headlines while Ohio State will do what Ohio State does, which under Under Urban Meyer, is win championships.