Dienhart: Ohio State tops preseason power poll

The analysis, opinion, conjecture, speculation and anticipation are almost finished. Real, live football kicks off Thursday, with Minnesota hosting UNLV and Indiana entertaining Indiana State. Both games air at 7 p.m. ET on BTN/BTN2Go.

Each week, I will rank the Big Ten teams 1-12. This is the first edition of my Power Poll, presented by ArcelorMittal.

[ RELATED: Get Dienhart’s “Best” from the 2013 BTN Football Tour ]


1. Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the bellwether, carrying the Big Ten’s water when it comes to being a national title contender. What do I like? Where do I begin? How about with a loaded offense led by the Big Ten’s best player in QB Braxton Miller? Not bad, huh? The skill positions spill over with veteran talent. Yes, the front seven on defense has been retooled—but that’s a good thing, considering this defense ranked just sixth in the league in 2012. So, it’s the Buckeyes’ world—and everyone else is just living in it.

2. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers enter 2013 with a chip on their shoulder and the best offense in the Big Ten. Throw in a cushy schedule and–Voila!–you can see why I like this team to repeat as Legends Division champs. The defense? I know, I know. The tire tracks Wisconsin left are still visible. But this unit has something to prove—and I think it will with a batch of talented players along the front seven. Get to know players like Jared Afalava, Randy Gregory, David Santos and Greg McMullen—among others.

3. Michigan. There is no team that’s better coached, with offensive coordinator Al Borges and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison setting the pace. Bottom line: This team won’t beat itself. Plus, the Wolverines are accumulating talent—albeit most of it is young. What’s it all mean? Michigan may be a year away from really big things. Still, with quick maturity, the Wolverines could win the Legends.

[ VIDEO: Tom Brady gives passionate speech to 2013 Wolverines ]

4. Northwestern. If I’ve typed it once, I’ve typed it 1,000 times: This may be the best Wildcats team in … forever. It’s all there in Purple and White, America. The quarterbacks, receivers, running backs are among the Big Ten’s best. But it’s the defense that has me stoked. I never have seen this much size, speed, athleticism and studliness in Evanston. I’m not sure the 1995, 1996 or 2000 Wildcats could have beaten this team. Who am I kidding? No way it happens. NU could just win this whole deal in 2013. But the biggest issue? The 10,000-pound schedule.

[ RELATED: Northwestern unveils new white alternate helmet ]

5. Wisconsin. Pardon me, Badgers, while I fawn over other Big Ten teams. I know you have gone to the last three Rose Bowls and have been the Kings of the Big Ten. Maybe I should pay more heed to that resume as the program turns the page to the Gary Andersen era. But a lack of pop on offense (passing game) concerns me. And the retooled and thin secondary is worrisome.

[ RELATED: Wisconsin shows off new red alternate lid ]

6. Michigan State. I’ll admit it. I’m guilty as charged, guilty of overlooking the Spartans. I wanna give Michigan State a big hug and hoist the Spartans onto my shoulders. But, it’s the offense that keeps me from celebrating Michigan State. Is there a capable quarterback? Have the receivers invested in some stick ‘em? Is there a running back in the house? Hello? I love the defense. In fact, it is the top D in the Big Ten. But it needs some support from the glamor boys on offense.

7. Penn State. The Nittany Lions walked a tight rope last season, balancing a thin, delicate roster compromised by NCAA sanctions and squeezing out an improbable 8-4 mark in Bill O’Brien’s debut. The potential is there again for an encore, but will the Injury Gods again smile kindly on the Nittany Lions? Oh, and will the new signal-caller capably lead—and avoid blunders–what otherwise is a veteran offense?

8. Indiana. Don’t look now, but Kevin Wilson has the denizens of Bloomington postponing basketball talk—at least for a few weeks. There is real, actual anticipation for football in southern Indiana. The Hoosiers may have what it takes to reach just their second bowl since 1993. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The offense will be among the league’s best, the schedule is manageable and the defense … did I mention that Indiana has a REALLY good offense?

[ RELATED: Check out all the new Big Ten helmets and uniforms for 2013 ]

9. Minnesota. By now, you have read about the magic Jerry Kill performed in Year Three at his last two coaching stops—winning 10 games at Southern Illinois and then 10 at Northern Illinois. I’m here to say: Stop it. Yes, Kill is making strides in Dinkytown, but this isn’t a 10-win team. In fact, the affable Kill has his best team since arriving in 2011—but it may not show up in the won-loss record because of a tough Legends Division. Still, count on Minnesota getting that elusive “signature win” for Kill this fall.

10. Purdue. I could go negative here—and yammer about talent gaps and an absolutely brutal schedule–but I’m gonna stay positive. And the biggest positive is new coach Darrell Hazell and his staff. Sloppiness and spotty effort no longer are tolerated. Discipline and accountability are in vogue in W.L. Get on board, or get out. And that’s a good start and should help the Boilermakers be competitive in most of their games—and win a few, too. Tomorrow looks bright.

[ RELATED: Purdue names veteran Rob Henry starting QB ]

11. Iowa. There’s grumbling, grousing and groaning from Hawkeye Nation. Understood. The wins have gone from 11 in 2009 to eight, seven and—gulp—four last season. So, it’s become popular to pile on Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes. Fair enough. But know this: Ferentz often does some of his best work when little is expected. The Expectation Meter is barely registering along Melrose Avenue. But if the new go-go offense takes off and a passing game develops, the Hawkeyes could be an interesting team.

12. Illinois. Look, there is no other way to characterize Tim Beckman’s debut: He bombed. Illinois went 2-10 in 2012, losing its last nine games. Overall, the Fighting Illini have lost 14 Big Ten games in a row. But, as we know, America loves an underdog. And that’s exactly what Beckman and Illinois are this fall. I like what he did with his staff, highlighted by hiring offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. Hey, it’s a step in the right direction for Beckman and Illinois, which needs to continue to lay a solid foundation.

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 (18 Comments)
Mike on 8/23/2013 @ 1:05pm EDT Said:

At least we are above Illinois!! Go Hawks

Frank on 8/23/2013 @ 1:34pm EDT Said:

I hesitate to think how good OSU’s offense will be and how impossible to stop. With the studs the Buckeyes always get I suspect the defense will be just fine. I agree it’s the Buckeyes title to lose.

Will on 8/23/2013 @ 1:57pm EDT Said:

Frank; in this league on a given day anyone can step up and knock the wind out of a team’s sail. Look at how Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan played OSU last year. I am not saying that Ohio State should not be the favorite to win their games but Stuff happens. Keeping certain players healthy will be an important factor for Ohio State as well as a few other of our teams key players.

Tony on 8/23/2013 @ 2:07pm EDT Said:

Frank to be honest I think OSU is a bit overrated from a weak schedule last season. Not to say they don’t have a really good team because if anyone says that they are just homers or really don’t’ pay attention. And this is coming from a Michigan fan. I just think with Nebraska and Michigan really poised to have good seasons I think it will be really tough for OSU. In the end it really will come down to those top 3 teams.

reality check on 8/23/2013 @ 2:08pm EDT Said:

Thank you Tom for having the courage to state the obvious as much as everyone in this building wants Dantonio to succeed the simple truth is he has a MAC level offense at best. Its not his fault he simply does not have the four and five star recruits that Urban and Brady bring in droves. Ranking Sparty #6 is right where they belong, this is a 7-5 team at best and November 2nd will show these rankings to be fair and accurate.

JoeW on 8/23/2013 @ 6:19pm EDT Said:

I think using OSUs performance last year as a measure for this year is hard to do. OSU led the conference in scoring despite in Meyer’s words not really knowing what they were doing. Past history of Meyer teams in the second year predict marked improvement. Additionally every media outlet that has observed OSUs practices over the past few weeks has indicated a noticeable improvement. The defense is more talented but less experienced. So much like last year defense will likely get much better throughout the year and the schedule allows some time to allow that side of the ball to gel. If you use the entire seasons stats to baseline the OSU defense the result masks the fact that over the last four games of the 2012 season OSU was statistically a top 5 defense.

So I can see why they are at the top of the power rankings.

Doug on 8/23/2013 @ 6:56pm EDT Said:

Mark, what a shock, one of your underlings picked M ahead of MSU, wow, how courageous, NOT

Joe Simones on 8/24/2013 @ 1:43pm EDT Said:

Keep overlooking the Badgers. We like it that way.

reality check on 8/24/2013 @ 4:12pm EDT Said:

Doug, I am going to humble that Quicken Loans Spartan, I have a lot riding on Gardner getting 300 yards with a Michigan Win November 2.

Howie on 8/25/2013 @ 11:58am EDT Said:

You need to change the name of this network to the Ohio State Network. With all your OSU love. Please OSU will have at least two losses this year.

John on 8/25/2013 @ 12:24pm EDT Said:

I think a lot of people overlook Braxton Miller staying healthy. Kid just seems like a glass jaw

Dan in Ventura CA on 8/25/2013 @ 12:57pm EDT Said:

Shock of the 2013 season … (not to some): Minnesota will win all non conference games to go 4-0 and proceed to win (at least) 6 and go 6-2 in the Big Ten to compile a 10-2 record. Not sure if they will play the Big Ten Championship game, but they will then go to a January bowl game. Place your bets!

JoeW on 8/25/2013 @ 5:57pm EDT Said:

If the rest of the conference wants more “love” from the network than their respective team needs to start winning championships and winning consistently. If any fans have a beef with the above it should be Wisconsin fans.

Bryan Allen on 8/25/2013 @ 6:01pm EDT Said:


TGEIAA on 8/26/2013 @ 10:31am EDT Said:

Penn State’s 2012 record was improbable, but not in the way he presents it. On the field, Penn State was the best team in the Big Ten. It bested all comers in league play. Sadly for the Lions, they had to play more than there opponents every week as evidenced by the fact that their league opponents went 22 consecutive quarters without a holding call. Penn State only drew 7 during their conference and home games despite having two linemen that were virtually unblockable.

Penn State has the best starting lineup in the Big Ten, and not by a little bit. If the Lions can avoid injury, and their roster depth is not half as bad as some have foolishly claimed (here is a hint, most teams don’t play more than 50 – 55 players in a season and the top 50 on that roster as as good or better than the team’s they play), and play on an even field, there isn’t a better team in the Big Ten.

Doug Masters on 8/26/2013 @ 3:07pm EDT Said:

@Joe Simones you all were given a slot in the title game the Badgers did not EARN it, with Montee Ball gone you all are nothing, hey remember when the Buckeyes stopped ball on fourth and goal and knocked the ball out, ahhhh fun times see you all Sept 28th in the SHOE!!

Doug on 8/26/2013 @ 4:13pm EDT Said:

Really Howie? should be changed to the Michigan Wolverine Fan Club network

Doug on 8/26/2013 @ 10:08pm EDT Said:

Mark, I expect that apology after MSU shuts down your wolverines AGAIN on Nov. 2nd