You take one look at the top 25 rankings and you might think the Big Ten has it all. Four teams in the top 10/11 in both polls and three of them believed to be playoff contenders. It does look very pretty at the top, however things turn very quickly as there are no other Big Ten teams ranks in the preseason polls. At least to start the season it seems those may be the only teams to care about in the Big Ten.
Champion: Ohio State
I am pretty sure Urban Mayer is not going to take that 31-0 drubbing at the hands of Clemson in last year’s playoff lying down. J.T. Barrett is back under center and his experience is valuable. The Buckeyes do have to try and get some sort of results in the vertical passing game to keep defenses from stacking the box. No offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will try and solve that problem.
Meanwhile, the Ohio State defensive line may be one of the best ever. All four starters return, plus there is not much drop-off in going about eight deep on the line. Meanwhile the linebackers are no slouches either. All that dominance in the front seven will give the secondary time to jell.
Best of the Rest: Penn State
This is close but because the Nittany Lions have to travel to the Horseshoe in Columbus I give the edge to Ohio State in the division. Be that as it may, I loved watching the Penn state offense and their flair for the dramatic last season. QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley are fun to watch. All that drama that played out last season gave the Nittany Lions confidence and it should carry over to this season.
Oh yeah, Michigan is still out there. While the Wolverines only return four starters on offense and one on defense, Jim Harbaugh is building a sustainable powerhouse in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines might be a tad down this season but they will be in the hunt. Plus they get Ohio State in the Big House to close out the season so anything can happen.
If you ignore Rutgers, maybe you won’t smell the stench coming from Piscataway.
The Badgers have never been flashy, but they never really have been to be successful. Wisconsin allowed Penn State to come back and beat them and that is the only reason the Badgers are not the defending Big Ten champions. This year’s team is another blue-collar take care of business team. They are experienced at all levels with 17 retuning starters including the heart of a defense that was 7th overall in the nation last season. Plus when you do not have to play Penn State or Ohio State in the regular season, you can breathe a little easier.
Best of the Rest: Northwestern
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has built the Wildcats into a steady winner. They have talent and experience with 16 starters returning, plus they have become used to winning. However, the Wildcats have to travel to Madison to play at Wisconsin to end September and that will probably keep Northwestern out of championship contention.
Not really. Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota are all kind of just there. None of them are bad, but not really that good either. Maybe one of them can pull an upset of one of the top teams, but do not expect much more. Meanwhile, just do not look at Purdue and Illinois. They are not good.
BIG TEN CHAMPION: OHIO STATE
Usually when I have doubted Urban Mayer it comes back to bite me. I did so in 2006 when he was at Florida against Ohio State and I did so in 2014 against Alabama. I am not making that mistake this season. The Buckeyes want revenge and will not stop until they try and claim the National Championship.