Who sits atop Dienhart's spring rankings?

Spring football is over and the offseason is officially here. Let’s all let loose with a collective sigh. Now we have to wait until the night of Thursday, August 29, for the first Big Ten game when UNLV plays at Minnesota. There are lots of barbecues, cannon balls into the swimming pool, croquet, Wiffle Ball and Jarts between now and then.

To help get you through, here’s my post-spring ranking of Big Ten football teams. Take a deep breath.

And here we go.

1. Ohio State. There’s a lot to like for the Big Ten’s best hope to win a national title. The offense should be among the best in the Big Ten, led by reigning MVP Braxton Miller. And the defense may be even better despite having to rebuild the front seven. Bottom line: It’s Urban Meyer’s world—and everyone else is just living in it.

2. Nebraska. Any conversation about the 2013 Cornhuskers has to begin with the offense, which will be the Big Ten’s best. The frenetic go-go pace will cause fits. What stands between Nebraska and potential greatness? It’s the defense. How will the overhauled line and linebacking corps look? If the defense comes together, the Huskers may win their first league title since 1999.

3. Michigan. The offense should continue to take flight under QB Devin Gardner, who will allow coordinator Al Borges’ offense greater possibilities. The talent on defense finally is catching up the coaching of coordinator Greg Mattison. But some holes loom up front. The Wolverines may be a year away from greatness.

4. Wisconsin. Bret Bielema always said his 2013 team could be special. Well, here we are, but Bielema is shockingly gone to Arkansas. Enter Gary Andersen from Utah State. He’s perfect. Bielema or no Bielema, expect the same results—wins. Lots of wins. The offense will continue to have punch-in-the-nose effectiveness—with a few new wrinkles. Maybe some option? The defense could be among the Big Ten’s best, as it works with a new aggressive mantra out of a 3-4 scheme.

[ RELATED: Look back at all of our posts on Big Ten Spring Football. ]

5. Northwestern. Northwestern almost won the Legends Division last season; it may happen in 2013. This team has more speed, talent and athletic ability than perhaps any Wildcats team—ever. And the players know how to win, coming off a 10-3 season. The offense is star-studded, while the defense finally may be able to win a game if needed.

6. Michigan State. The Spartans will have the best defense in the Big Ten. Did I mention that the Spartans will have the best defense in the Big Ten? OK, here’s a little something about the offense. It still has issues. In fact, it may have even more this season now that RB Le’Veon Bell is gone. Quarterback? Running back? Receiver? Hey, at least the line looks to be solid.

7. Penn State. After a stunningly successful 8-4 debut, the really hard work begins for Bill O’Brien. The good news: There is plenty of front-line talent in the form of WR Allen Robinson, DE Deion Barnes, TE Jesse James and some touted freshmen. The bad news: Depth is a huge concern, as the Nittany Lions will operate with a scant 65 scholarships—85 is the norm.

8. Minnesota. At his last two stops—Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois–Jerry Kill enjoyed breakouts in his third season. Well, this is Year Three at Minnesota. No team in the Big Ten will be coached better. And that in and of itself may be worth a win or two. The big keys: Can the offensive develop more explosiveness? Can the defensive front seven develop playmakers?

9. Purdue. New coach Darrell Hazell inherits some talent. And that talent will be coached like it never has been before. Job No. 1: Changing attitudes. Job No. 2: Finding a quarterback. The defense could be solid. The offense needs to develop a hard, tough edge that Hazell wants.

10. Indiana. The Hoosiers had a potent offense last year; it may be even stronger this fall with Tre Roberson back from a busted leg. The defense? Eh. Kevin Wilson also has a formula for Indiana to reach its first bowl since 2007: Outscore opponents. It just may work this season for a program on the rise.

11. Iowa. The Hawkeyes need some good news coming off a 4-8 season, the program’s worst since 2000. So, for a second offseason in a row, Kirk Ferentz shook up his staff. There are myriad issues for an offense that was allergic to the forward pass in 2012. The spring offered few reasons for optimism. The defense could be good but not good enough to carry this team. Iowa hasn’t missed the postseason two times in a row since a three-year drought from 1998-2000.

12. Illinois. Here is all you need to know: The Fighting Illini haven’t won a Big Ten game since October 8, 2011. So, it’s 14 league losses in a row and counting for a program with an overhauled coaching staff. This is an equal opportunity team when it comes to areas of concern. Offense. Defense. Special teams. No one is sleeping well in Champaign.

Somehow I’m guessing your list probably doesn’t match mine, so now it’s your turn. Give me your twelve.


About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (26 Comments)
JJ on 5/9/2013 @ 4:09pm EDT Said:

1) Michigan
2) Ohio State
3) Michigan State
4) Iowa
5) Northwestern
6) Wisconsin
7) Nebraska
8) Purdue
9) Penn State
10) Minnesota
11) Indiana
12) Illinois

Sam on 5/9/2013 @ 4:56pm EDT Said:

JJ, I’ll bet you $100 Iowa comes in closer to 12 than 4.

Will on 5/9/2013 @ 5:30pm EDT Said:

looks pretty fair I would say. I think Michigan and Nebraska could be in any #2-3 order you want. however, I think you’re jumping the gun a bit by saying MSU will have the best defense in the Big Ten. they will be able to stop Power I offenses with bad passing games, but they’re unable to stop elite mobile QB’s like Colter, Martinez or Miller. OSU could end up having a better defense. also, Michigan’s defense has a lot of talent and athleticism taking over now with Frank Clark, James Ross III, Joe Bolden and one of our best, Blake Countess, coming back from an ACL tear. our defense was #2 in the Big Ten last year and it’s not a stretch to say we will take the next step and even better

Craig on 5/9/2013 @ 6:42pm EDT Said:

Taylor Martinez will screw up the Big Red’s offense and doom them. He’s a coach killer. Speaking of coaches, Ferentz is still the most over paid and over rated…

Doug on 5/9/2013 @ 7:00pm EDT Said:

JJ’s post lost all credibility listing Michigan first, Will’s lost all credibility when he said Michigan’s defense has a lot of talent.

Andrew on 5/9/2013 @ 8:08pm EDT Said:

1: Ohio State
2: Nebraska
3: Michigan
4: Wisconsin
5: Penn State
6: Northwestern
7: Michigan State
8: Minnesota
9: Iowa
10: Purdue
11: Indiana
12: Illinois

Reality check on 5/9/2013 @ 8:35pm EDT Said:

I would place Michigan at 2 as they will push OSU this year, even Doug admits they are both elite programs, middle of the pack is right for Sparty , MSU has not been relevant since 2011

Stephen on 5/9/2013 @ 8:54pm EDT Said:

1. OHIO STATE- How? How can you not put them there?
2. MICHIGAN- Perhaps not as explosive without Denard, but it’s a better balanced offense. Which means they will keep other teams offenses off the field a little longer than Denard did.
3. NEBRASKA- Yes, yes of course the offense will be there, but what of the defense? In any case this is precisely the type of situation I was speaking about in my comments in #2.
4. WISCONSIN- The offensive line should be better and we KNOW the backs are good. They may need more than just a game manager at QB to get to and win a BTC game and Rose bowl.
5. NORTHWESTERN-whether they decide to be a running team or a throwing team, they will be a match for any on offense. The Defense will be more athletic and will look even better than they are if the offense is spending a lot of time on the field.
6. MICHIGAN STATE- this is the only team I feel I am over rating. Yes their defense is good enough. This though is the same team that lost like games by a total17 points? I see little change here. I still don’t trust the offense to score more than 17 points a game. Against the teams ahead of them here, well that’s not going to work out very well.
7. PENN STATE- emotionally and spiritually this team has been calmed from it’s administrative mismanagement and scrutiny. I think the new coach is a solid guy for this program. Say what you will about Mcgloyn (sp) but he was a senior with multiple years of experience. He had a solid senior season because of that. He also had a ne coach whose strengths were at his position. This year there should be a drop-off or at least a late developing QB situation. Otherwise I would put Penn State ahead of MSU.
8. PURDUE- this maybe a reach but there maybe some talent spread around in West lala. Else, Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa play leapfrog here.
9. INDIANA – I really like the talent here. The defense as usual will need to really step up. Even so, a 6 and 6 Indiana team might be a pretty good football team.
10. MINNESOTA-things they are a changing. 6 wins wood be good, 7 wins would be Valhalla here.
11. IOWA- a new QB and a really shaky 2012 season and questions about playmakers dictates this.
12. ILLINOIS- No where to go but up Illini? One might not be surprised if things improve, but there should be NO bowl aspirations here.

Reality check on 5/9/2013 @ 9:43pm EDT Said:

Doug, JJ and Will have it dead on -you are just not man enough to admitt it. You don’t have the right stuff to be a Michigam fan Doug

Will Edwards on 5/9/2013 @ 9:53pm EDT Said:

Michigan has not been relevant since losing to Ohio State in 2006. There are at least 10 programs that are currently in better shape than Michigan. Brady Hoke is not an elite coach and Michigan is not an elite program right now. Hire a better coach and maybe UM will become a perennial top 10 team again.

Doug on 5/9/2013 @ 10:54pm EDT Said:

Mark, M hasn’t been relevant since 2004, and I never said M and OSU were elite, OSU is working towards that, Michigan will be overrated again.

carl on 5/10/2013 @ 12:23am EDT Said:

JJ you obviously don’t know CFB. I won’t even waste my breath

Will on 5/10/2013 @ 4:01am EDT Said:

Doug, I’d rather be irrelevant for 3 years (2008-10) then try to pretend like college football was invented in 2008. yes, Michigan does underachieve sometimes just like every other big time program, but we have instances, like 1997 or 2011, where we were underrated as a team too. college football is about ebb and flow. Michigan will be back as an elite power soon

Reality check on 5/10/2013 @ 8:14am EDT Said:

Than what do you call Lloyd Carr, winning 8 games a year and dominating little brother, no answer for that Doug , Michigan has a quicker more diverse front 7 than Sparty, Dantonio is afraid of the threat that’s why he won’t let Graham Couch into practices.

Doug on 5/10/2013 @ 10:33am EDT Said:

Will keep dreaming, Michigan was so overrated in 2011, played that soft schedule, then got a crappy vtech team in one of the worst sugar bowls ever, and the 2nd lowest rated BCS bowl ever, as for Mark, four loss Floyd got fired because of debacles like Apyy St and getting blown out by syracuse in 1998, there are several other incidents. Dantonio doesn’t let in Couch cause he’s a stooge that you paid off with cheap golf clubs. Quicker front seven than MSU? maybe 10 years ago, funny how dreadlocks got drafted after all 3 spartans who were only juniors. HAHAHHAHAHAH

JS on 5/10/2013 @ 11:54am EDT Said:

1. OSU (8-0) – Their defense might not be great this year, but shouldn’t lose them any games. The offense should be able to make up for any flaws on defense as long as Miller is health.

2. Nebraska (8-0) – The schedule will help NU as they have an easy one. The offense will be stock piled full of options for Martinez. The defense is a big question mark. The secondary will be solid, but the line & the LB’s will be green. The only plus for those units is they will be fast & should have plenty off equal depth.

3. Michigan (7-1) – Should have a solid offense & good enough defense. Gardner will have his first full year of starting & the play book should be a little bigger then it was when he stepped in last year. ^I think Nebraska & Michigan will be very close. I put NU ahead because they will have an easy road to this matchup & Michigan will be coming off of a in-state rivalry game with MSU. Nebraska also has the better offense & I think this game will be a shootout.

4. Wisconsin (6-2) – Offense should have a solid power game & abbrederis should give them at least a passing option. The defense will be changing to a 3-4 & there will be lots of growing pains with this. fortinatly they will have a pretty easy schedule & should benifit from it.

5. Northwestern (5-3) – The offense will give every defense fits as they can change there game plan from run to pass with little effort. Defense will be average. They will continue to be the thorn in the side of the above teams. They also have one of the toughest schedules in the conference playing Cal, OSU, Wis, NU, Mich & MSU. ouch ^ I actually think Northwestern is the better team, but the difference in strenght of schedule makes me think Wisconsin will have the better record. I’m sure most would trade Indiana & Purdue for Michigan & Michigan St. one of the losses I gave Wis is from NW.

6. Michigan St (5-3) – No offense again this year & a defense that will not be as good as last years, but their schedule pushes them over Penn St & gives them a record that will sound better then it really was.

7. Penn St – (4-4) Penn St probably won’t feel the effects quite yet of the schollarship reduction & it would be hard for them to start off worse then they did last year. I think they win the games they should & lose the games against the teams I rated higher.

8. Minnesota (2-6) Jerry Kill is a really good coach, but its hard to get wins in the Big Ten when you can’t get the top players.

9. Purdue (2-6) Need help all across the field.

10. Indiana (1-7) ^ ditto

11. Iowa (1-7) Thought last year was bad. Just wait. Ferentz may want to turn his home into a bunker & put away enough supplies to hide till his contract is up.

12. Illinios (0-8) The steak continues.

Arpan on 5/10/2013 @ 1:42pm EDT Said:

1. OSU
2. Michigan
3. Northwestern
4. Nebraska
5. Wisconsin
6. Michigan State
7. Minnesota
8. Penn State
9. Indiana
10. Purdue
11. Iowa
12. Illinois

Winner of UM-OSU wins B1G title.

Josh on 5/10/2013 @ 2:02pm EDT Said:

Nice list. Here’s what I think:
1) Ohio State:
They went 12-0 last season, and they aren’t losing enough to regress too much.
2) Michigan:
With Gardner on offense, the passing game should improve. The running game could also be better if the RBs can get it going (helps with added depth on the OL). The defense doesn’t seem too great right now, but it is looking better than Nebraska’s and Northwestern’s regardless.
Disclaimer: The top four teams in the Legends Division are very similar in strength next season IMO. And Michigan is first on my list since I am a Michigan fan (and I think that they would win a tiebreaker if one were to exist).
3) Nebraska:
Martinez is a senior, so the offense should be one of the best in the Big Ten.
4) Northwestern:
They have a nice offense led by QB duo Colter and Siemian.
5) Michigan State:
Even if the offense is mediocre, the elite defense is enough to put Sparty here. They will probably win more than one game at home next season also.

The rest:
6) Wisconsin: Won’t make a Rose Bowl this time, but come in second in the Leaders.
7) Iowa: The biggest surprise of the Big Ten.
8) Penn State: They will regress a bit due to lack of depth.
9) Minnesota: They will be about as good as last season, maybe a bit worse.
10) Indiana: May still have best passing offense in Big Ten, but what about defense?
11) Purdue: Almost no QB experience and a porous defense, that just spells trouble.
12) Illinois: They might win one more game, but this team still has too many problems.

Last season was almost unpredictable, so it could happen.

Josh on 5/10/2013 @ 2:03pm EDT Said:

Doug, I would like to see what you think instead of bashing other opinions (which you are supposed to respect).

Reality Check on 5/10/2013 @ 2:10pm EDT Said:


You are a jealous man, you are jealous of the Michigan tradition, the Michigan mystique and you
Want to be a Michigan Man but can not make the grade. Michigan Men are first class and use the finest equipment , the finest golf clubs. On November 2nd Dantonio will admit publicly on the Big Ten Network.
That Michigan is the better program at the post game press conference. Book it

Will on 5/10/2013 @ 3:15pm EDT Said:

Doug, Michigan went 11-2 and didn’t even finish in the AP top 10. that’s not overrated. That was a nice pickup of Johnny Adams in the NFL draft. oops i forgot he went undrafted. to think after his junior he was thought to be a first round pick. guess that drought for MSU will continue lol

Tom on 5/10/2013 @ 7:17pm EDT Said:

1. Ohio State- I am not sold on the Buckeyes. They won several squeakers last year, their offense should be a little better, but the D will drop a notch.
2. Michigan- Steady improvement and players that fit the program better.
3. Nebraska- The offense will be better, but what has happened to the Black Shirts. If they do not improve they will finish behind Northwestern.
4. Wisconsin- A lot of change starting with the head coach. Could slip a few places.
5. Northwestern- Good offensive talent, can play with anyone. Probably lacks depth to place higher.
6. Indiana- The Hoosiers are going to be a very dangerous team. The offense is loaded. Three quality quarterbacks, the best receiving corps in the Big 10, a good set of running backs and a very good (and young) offensive line. They also have an outstanding place kicker. This offense is going to be far better than last year’s, which put 49 point on the board against Ohio St. and 27 against Michigan State. Their defense should be much better. Defensive experience and new talent, both JUCO and freshmen (the 4th best recruiting class in the Big 10) will add 3 wins to last year’s total. If the offense is “on” they will be unstoppable, and if the defense can get a few turnovers and a few stops they can beat anyone in the Big 10. The problem is if the offense is out of sync and the defense has an off night, they could lose to any team in the Big 10. The Hoosiers will tally their first win against Penn St. this year, and they will beat MSU on the road.
7. Michigan State- Quarterback issues and a slightly less competitive defense will hold the Spartans back.
8. Penn State- This is the year of the setback. New quarterback, and the sophomore slump for the coach will show up.
9. Minnesota- Some improvement, but lack of recruiting will cost them.
10. Iowa- A rebuilding time for the Hawkeyes.
11. Purdue- A new coach with little talent, coming off a bad year.
12. Illinois- Rebuilding with the wrong coach.

Will Edwards on 5/10/2013 @ 8:00pm EDT Said:

Over the past decade, Michigan has produced less NFL draft picks than Iowa. Again, not an elite program. Wisconsin has more first rounders over the past 10 years than Michigan. You talk such a big game, but in reality you are a midwestern, regional power at best. You act like Michigan State is some pushover program and not on your level but Hoke is 1-1 vs. MSU so far. It’s laughable how you try to associate yourselves with Ohio State now just because of recruiting rankings. You aren’t on our level and honestly, the OSU-Michigan rivalry isn’t much of a rivalry anymore. We own you. We will continue to dominate you because we recruit better players, have a much better strength and conditioning program, and our head coach is named Urban Meyer who is now 25-5 in rivalry games as a head coach. But keep referring to yourselves as part of the “Big Two” and referring to MSU as an inferior program while Michigan State let’s the last 5 years on the field speak for itself. I can’t wait to hear the excuses after losing to MSU on the road this year. Michigan State is your biggest rival and like Ohio State, they own you. 5 out of 6 is coming up at the beginning of November.

Huskerfan697 on 5/10/2013 @ 8:39pm EDT Said:

JS how exactly does Michigan go 7-1 when they play both OSU & NEB and you have those two both undefeated?

OSU 12-0 on 5/11/2013 @ 10:33am EDT Said:

MSU will be playing in the B1G championship game this year against OSU.

Kk on 5/11/2013 @ 11:46am EDT Said:

JS it is not possible for OSU at 8-0, Nebraska 8-0, and Mich 7-1 as mich plays both of them.