The Big Ten in 2014-2015
The Big Ten sent 10 teams to bowl games last season and Ohio State won the national championship.
The Big Ten East
Probably the most difficult division in College Football not named the SEC West. You could make an argument for the Pac-12 South too if you shout loud enough. Here are the facts:
Ohio State is the defending champion and was just named the first-ever unanimous preseason number one team in the history of the AP poll. Michigan State is ranked fifth. At the moment, the Big Ten East is the only division in the FBS with two top-five teams. The Big 12 has TCU and Baylor but they don't have divisions.
Penn State has one of the nation's best defenses, and the hype is palpable in Ann Arbor where Jim Harbaugh will try to turn around his alma mater.
Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State. Wow. Maryland, Indiana, and Rutgers fill out the division and the Terps and Scarlet Knights both went to bowl games.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are the unanimous number one team in the nation and why shouldn't they be? Their first two quarterbacks are both proven winners. Cardale Jones, a third-string quarterback last season, started in three games last year and demolished Wisconsin, won a shoot-out with Alabama, and dominated Oregon in the national championship game. He might not even be the starter. That is scary.
Ezekiel Elliott is the nation's top running back and Joey Bosa is drawing comparisons to J.J. Watt on the defensive side of the ball. If you don't think the Buckeyes are the best team in the nation (and the Big Ten) entering this season, you are nuts.
2. Michigan State
Connor Cook is one of the nation's top quarterbacks and he shredded Ohio State for 358 yards and two TDs last season but the Spartans lost by 12 at home. Shilique Calhoun is one of the nation's best defensive players. The Spartans will have a very good offensive line but they lost linebacker Ed Davis for the season and they don't have experienced running backs.
The defense will be stout because Mark Dantonio is one of the game's best coaches. The loss of long-time defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi (he took the head coaching job at Pitt) will sting at times but this team has the talent to beat up on their Big Ten opponents and compete with Ohio State for the top spot in the division.
3. Penn State
Christian Hackenberg is a quarterback with a big arm. He can make the throws but got absolutely no help from his offensive line and running backs last season. The Nittany Lion defense was one of the best in the country last season and they will be again this year. Unfortunately for PSU they will have to replace Sam Ficken, one of the most clutch field goal kickers that Penn State has probably ever produced.
If the offensive line can give Hackenberg time to throw, Penn State should make their way into the Top 25 this season.
A little bit of a surprise to some but I don't think that the Michigan rebuild is going to be as quick as most people do. Maryland has two of the Big Ten's best players at their respective positions, corner and field goal kicker. Brad Craddock won the Lou Groza award last season and Will Likely is one of the country's most exciting and explosive players to watch.
Perry Hills emerged as the starter from a three-man quarterback competition. He has two experienced running backs behind him and should benefit from an improved offensive line. Maryland's defense will sorely miss Andre Monroe, one of the Big Ten's best pass rushers last season. The defense will be adjusting to a new scheme under Keith Dudzinski and one of their best linebackers, Abner Logan, is done for the year with an ACL tear.
Maryland doesn't look like they'll be phenomenal at anything except kicking field goals this season but that is still good enough for fifth in this division.
The Fightin' Harbaughs still don't know who their quarterback will be for their opener against Utah. They have some talented kids but they still need time to adjust to a new coach and a new system. Injuries have been a problem for Michigan in recent years and like Maryland, there is no reason to think that the injury bug will be leaving Ann Arbor anytime soon.
The offense will probably have some hiccups this season with a new quarterback under center.
No Tevin Coleman probably means that Indiana is going to end up in a lot of second and third and long situations. Indiana won't win like that. They can score lots of points but not against very good defenses.
The Big Ten West
This is the division with teams that can give you trouble but won't make the College Football Playoff. Wisconsin got crushed in the Big Ten Championship game last year and it is clear that the East is a much stronger division than the West. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois made bowl games last year but those five ended up going 1-4.
Experience from last year and a very good defense lead me to put the 20th ranked Badgers at the top of the Big Ten West. Melvin Gordon is gone but the offensive line is still enormous and the Badgers play solid defense. Look for the Badgers to continue to pound the ball this season and they will likely try to avoid the two-quarterback system they utilized last year.
The Golden Gophers have been a very good, but not great, team the past two seasons. In both of those seasons, they had to beat Wisconsin with the Big Ten West division title on the line. Both times they came up short. They have a very good team coming back. Will the third time be the charm for Minnesota this season?
Mike Riley left Oregon State to take the Nebraska head coaching job. Smart move. He has a great quarterback and team leader in Tommy Armstrong Jr. and the defense is usually a strength of Nebraska teams. The Cornhusker's running game won't be the same without sensational all-around running back Ameer Abdullah but Nebraska has the talent and potential to win this division.
I don't think the Hawkeyes are a serious threat to win the division but Kirk Ferentz always seems to get seven or eight wins out of his teams. Quarterback Jake Rudock transferred to Michigan so Iowa will have a different quarterback under center but the Hawkeyes won't be throwing the ball 35 times a game. They'll pound the ball between the tackles and try to slow the game down. They won't win a shootout but they can beat you if the game is low-scoring and close.
The Wildcats and Hawkeyes could easily be switched here but I put stock in Iowa's consistency and Northwestern didn't make a bowl game last year. Pat Fitzgerald might be on the hot seat if the team doesn't improve this year. That means that two or three things might happen. One, Fitzgerald might feel the pressure and make decisions impulsively. Two, Northwestern's players might feel the pressure building for their coach and try to force plays that aren't there. Third and finally, Northwestern's players might feel the pressure and play their hearts out every week for a coach that they love. It might not be enough to win the division but a return to a bowl game is possible.
You might think that losing a head coach (Tim Beckman) one week before the season starts might cause me to drop Illinois down into the final spot. Here is why I think they should be at six. The locker room is a bubble and coaches and players sometimes use it to make it about "us against the world". You play for the guys in the room. You play for your teammates. Illinois isn't a great football team and they might not even be a good football team this year. A bowl game is possible but Wes Lunt will have to stay healthy and show that he can move the offense down the field consistently so he can give his porous defense some breathers.
Darrell Hazell is trying to build a winner in West Lafayette. So far, it's not going quite like he planned. In 2013-2014, Purdue went 1-11. The lone win came against Indiana State. They went 3-9 last season and beat Illinois in Champaign. They lost one of the best kick returners in school history, who also doubled as their starting running back. It believe it will be a long season for both Purdue and Illinois. Illinois has Wes Lunt at quarterback. Purdue doesn't.