Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 7, 2014

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The grass stains and bruises are still fresh from last night?s BCS title game, a scintillating triumph for Florida State over Auburn that ended the SEC?s seven-season run of dominance. That hasn?t stopped some people from turning the page – and quickly. Mark Schlabach of already has an early, early-and I mean EARLY-2014 Top 25.

Florida State is No. 1. No shocker, as Jameis Winston will be back to defend his Heisman and national title. If this poll is accurate-and we know it isn?t-the four-team playoff would look like this: No. 1 FSU vs. No. 4 Stanford, and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oregon. Not bad.

As for Big Ten teams, four make the poll.

[ MORE: View the final 2013 college football polls ]

The Spartans check in at No. 6. Michigan State will lose six players from it touted defense and three offensive linemen. The schedule is nice. There?s a trip to Oregon and Big Ten heavies Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State come to East Lansing. Oh, and there are no Wisconsin or Iowa in the new division format for a team that has gone 42-12 overall and 25-7 in the league over the last four years.

The Buckeyes are No. 9. Too low? Maybe. Maybe not. Braxton Miller still is weighing his options on turning pro, but some reports already say he?ll be back. Carlos Hyde is gone; that hurts. Who will emerge to run the ball? Even more of a concern: four starters from the Big Ten?s top o-line are gone. Wideout Philly Brown also is bye-bye.

The defense has fewer personnel issues but has much work to do after getting ravaged often in 2013. The secondary is being overhauled. And the unit?s top player, linebacker Ryan Shazier, has turned pro. A home game with Virginia Tech is intriguing, as is a visit from Cincinnati. A game vs. Navy in Baltimore drips with danger. The Big Ten slate is kind. There?s no Wisconsin, Iowa or Nebraska. The toughest road games? At Penn State and at MSU.

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The Badgers land at No. 15. Wisconsin could be as good as last season in Gary Andersen?s debut. The key will be the defense, which stumbled down the stretch and loses three starting linemen and three starting linebackers including mega-stud Chris Borland. The offense needs to improve up front and will miss running back James White-for five minutes. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement will do just fine toting the rock. What about quarterback Joel Stave? He?s back. But his spot needs to improve. A lot. How is this for sweet? Wisconsin doesn?t tango with Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan. Thank you, Big Ten West Division.

The Hawkeyes come in at No. 21. Iowa came a long way in 2013, flipping a 4-8 mark into an 8-5 record. Now, expectations are up with many key players back. A pedestrian offense has to develop more big-play ability-especially in the passing game. Quarterback Jake Rudock needs to take the proverbial ?next step? in his development. The defense has bid adieu to a killer trio of linebackers in Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey. And the secondary loses B.J. Lowery (corner) and Tanner Miller (safety). The schedule? It?s low-calorie. There?s no Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State. That?s nice.

Where is Michigan? Too many questions need to be answered to include the Wolverines, I?m assuming. The defense was a mess at season?s end. And the offense? Well, I think you know the story.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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.