Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, August 31, 2015
I have now had a few days to relax, drink some Vitamin water and eat several bowls of Quisp while digesting what I saw on the BTN bus tour. The season is at our doorstep, with games starting on Thursday.
[ MORE: Polls: Pick your Week 1 Big Ten winners ]
Here is my preseason Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal.
1. Ohio State. Can it be any other team? The Buckeyes have become college football?s ?it? program, the gold standard that everyone else is measured by and chasing. There are no personnel weaknesses. The lone concern? Complacency. Or, as described in ?Rocky III? by Mickey: The eye of the tiger. (I love that movie.) KNOCK HIS BLOCK OFF, KID! These, indeed, are glory days in Columbus. Enjoy them, Brutus. And stay hungry, my friend.
Week 1: at Virginia Tech (Monday)
2. Michigan State. The Spartans are right on Ohio State?s heels. In fact, they may be the peer of the Buckeyes. Don?t be shocked if both schools are unbeaten when they meet in Columbus on Nov. 21 in this year?s ?game of the century.? The offense should be one of the Big Ten?s best. Is there a better QB than Connor Cook? Nope. The defense will be very good if the cornerbacks develop.
Week 1: at Western Michigan (Friday)
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3. Minnesota. No team is better coached than this one. (Yes, even Ohio State.) And, the talent level continues to rise in the Twin Cities. What?s it all mean? Jerry Kill?s Golden Gophers may be poised for a big-time season-a breakthrough, if you will. The defense will be among the Big Ten?s best, but size up front is a possible worry. And QB Mitch Leidner needs to throw more fastballs than curves. If it happens ? you better fear Goldy.
Week 1: vs. No. 2 TCU (Thursday)
4. Wisconsin. The Paul Chryst era has begun. And, it?s hoped the native son of Wisconsin will bring needed stability-as well as continued success for what has been one of the Big Ten?s top programs the last 20-plus years. There is a lot to like on defense. The offense? The line could be an issue. Bucky could take a step back this year.
Week 1: vs. No. 3 Alabama
5. Michigan. It has been Christmas every day in Ann Arbor since Jim Harbaugh was introduced as head coach in late December. Why not? With Harbaugh and his whistle on the sidelines, all things seem possible for Big Blue. The defense looks good. And, you just know Harbaugh will sprinkle magic dust on the troublesome quarterback spot. All hail Harbaugh, who has a lovable nutty professor quality about him! What?s next, Jim?
Week 1: at Utah (Thursday)
6. Nebraska. The Mike Riley era has begun. And, you may have noticed it?s a 180 from the Bo Pelini regime. Cool, calm and collected are in. Glaring, sneering and yelling are out. Riley projects an air of confidence as he walks into the biggest job of his life. Hey, if the guy can win at Oregon State, what can he do at place like Nebraska? It may take him a year or two. But, don?t bet against Riley delivering the program?s first league title since 1999 in the twilight of his career.
Week 1: vs. BYU
7. Penn State. The Nittany Lions have survived the worst of the NCAA sanctions, which have now been expunged. Penn State has around 80 scholarship players-but there is still a lot of youth. No worries: A soft schedule and good defense basically ensure a bowl bid. The season could be special if the offense shines. The area to watch: the line, which must protect franchise QB Christian Hackenberg.
Week 1: at Temple
8. Iowa. Kirk Ferentz may be at a crossroads of sorts as he takes the lid off his 17th season in Iowa City. The program appears to have flattened out. The key to a revival: A more dynamic/explosive offense. It?s hoped new QB C.J. Beathard pumps air into an often listless attack. The defense? It will be its usual steady self. Could this team be a sleeper in the West? Just throwing it out there.
Week 1: vs. Illinois State
9. Indiana. This may be the season Kevin Wilson finally delivers the Hoosiers to the bowl promised land for the first time since 2007 and just the second since 1993. The defense has as much talent as Wilson ever has had-and it has experience in the 3-4 scheme. Nate Sudfeld is one of the Big Ten?s top quarterbacks. But it?s the line that has me excited. Add it all up, and they may be practicing football in December in Bloomington. Really.
Week 1: vs. Southern Illinois
10. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are looking more and more like a Big Ten team. Kyle Flood has built a physical offense that can pound the rock. And RU has two legit QBs in Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig. The defense will tell the tale of the season and if the Scarlet Knights can return to a bowl. The future is bright.
Week 1: vs. Norfolk State
11. Northwestern. Remember that 10-win season in 2012? Neither do I. Ancient history. The Wildcats have followed that breakout with consecutive 5-7 seasons. The bloom has come off in Evanston. Alas: A return to a bowl is possible if the line play on both sides improves. A bigger thing to watch: The quarterback. Redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson has won the job. He can?t flop.
Week 1: vs. No. 21 Stanford
12. Maryland. The Terps will be challenged to return to a bowl unless the quarterback spot settles. And who will the new signal-caller throw to? At least the line looks better. Another possible concern: A new 4-3 defensive scheme that has just two veterans back along the front seven.
Week 1: vs. Richmond
13. Purdue. The likeable Darrell Hazell and his way-cool bent ball cap brim have this program on the rise. Ask anyone, and they?ll tell you that this is his most talented team as Year Three of his regime dawns. The offense finally may show life, thanks to a big, physical line and promising skill. QB Austin Appleby must make the ?makeable? play. The defense has to do its part. Is it better vs. the run? If not, any faint bowl hopes will be squashed.
Week 1: at Marshall (Sunday)
14. Illinois. Who needs "Days of our Lives" or "As the World Turns" when you can follow the Fighting Illini? Exactly. The season took a bizarre twist last week when Tim Beckman was told to clean out his office Friday in the wake of an investigation that said he forced injured players to play. Now what? Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has been given the reins. Smart move. He is a proven leader and head coach. And his offense should be good. The key to climbing the food chain will be the development of what has been a sordid defense.
Week 1: vs. Kent State (Friday)
|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.