Big Ten power rankings
1. Michigan Wolverines. In a conference where the top 3 teams may not be separated by very much at all, one player could be the difference. And no one player will make the difference for any club every day as much as Cameron Benedetti, the all-everything infielder, outfielder, and pitcher for Michigan who is the epitome of the term "utility." Benedetti is so good at so many things that he has essentially locked up being an All-American without having played a single game this season. And until Michigan proves that they can lose even with Benedetti on the field, they'll claim the top spot in the power rankings.
2. Maryland Terrapins. The next tiebreaker comes down to pitching. Although I think Kyle Hart will be good enough to steal Big Ten Pitcher of the Year from the anointed Mike Shawaryn, Indiana's rotation leaves just enough questions at the beginning of the season to give the nod to the Terps.
3. Indiana Hoosiers. Part one of our preview has a full breakdown of the Hoosiers.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers. A lot of people like Iowa to finish in the top four of the conference, but they lost so much from last year's stunningly good team that only Nebraska really fits at four. Of all the teams in the Big Ten, Nebraska's non-conference schedule, which feature series with College of Charleston and Long Beach State, will better prepare them for the conference slate than any other's.
Just on the outside
5. Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa's success last season was all due to dominant pitching. And while Tyler Peyton, the conference's second best utility man behind Benedetti, returns and will give Iowa some experience in the rotation, losing 32 starts and 14 wins in Calvin Matthews and Blake Hickman just appears on paper going into the 2016 season to be too much to overcome.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini. Illinois has lost its four best hitters for average, two of its best power hitters, and more than 160 RBIs in David Kerlan, Ryan Nagle, Casey Fletcher, and Reid Roper. They lost their all-world closer, Tyler Jay, and 43 starts from their rotation. Needless to say, Illinois won't be anything close to last year's team which earned a National Seed.
7. Michigan State Spartans. Michigan State follows the theme of this year's Big Ten -- a ton of talent lost. For Michigan State, it's five of their six top average hitters (of those who had 100 ABs or more) who don't return from last year's surprise team. That's enough to make a doubter out of anyone not wearing green-tinted glasses.
8. Ohio State Buckeyes. In the end, Ohio State was nothing more than average last season, and they got exposed down the stretch against Indiana and others. Troy Montgomery is a legitimate threat to change any game any time he can get on base (35 of 41 in stolen base attempts last year), but having lost four or five of their top seven hitters, it's hard to see how this team could produce enough around him to challenge for a spot in the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
Bad teams (that aren't worth elaboration)
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
11. Purdue Boilermakers
12. Northwestern Wildcats
School that doesn't have baseball
13. Wisconsin Badgers
Predictions from the CQ staff
Ben Raphel: "I think once again, the b1g is being overlooked in the national scene, despite having several quality programs such as Michigan and Maryland. The Hoosiers will once again be one of those quality programs. They'll have a great chance to prove themselves early on at Fullerton, where they'll win two of three. Overall, I'll predict a 36-19 record, second in the conference, and a 4th straight trip to the NCAA tournament for Indiana."
Alex Robbins: "The non-conference slate will give this team plenty of opportunity to win ugly if they have to, but if last year was any indication, Lemonis will have his team far ahead of the competition in the early going. When the conference season rolls around, they'll sweep Rutger and Purdue, take at least two from Iowa, and will be 8-1 or 9-0 when they head to East Lansing in late-April. Avoiding Michigan and Maryland provides them a free pass for most of the conference season, and when they head to Nebraska on the last weekend of the season they'll already have at least 17 wins in the Big Ten and will control their own destiny.
Then the NCAA tournament depends on what they do in the Big Ten tournament. Win the regular season and tournament, we ought to see a regional return to Bloomington. Not sweeping the titles may leave them as a 2-seed in a down Big Ten year. But if they're a 2-seed, there will be 16 1-seeds hoping they don't get Hoosiers sent their way."
Kyle Robbins: "I have nothing to add to this, as posturing that I have some knowledge about this team would be a lie. Go baseball. Go Cubes."
Kyle Swick: "Indiana is going to have to use the Wichita State / Gonzaga basketball model this season with a Big Ten schedule that makes their basketball conference slate look like a gauntlet made of fire and daggers. That is, they'll have to capitalize on a couple of chances in their non-conference for a signature win (series at Cal State Fullerton looms largest here) before racking up a bunch of wins in a very down year for the Big Ten. If the Team of the North has any interest in hosting a regional, I can’t see them doing it without going out to Omaha and winning the Big Ten Tournament, where they’ll likely have to knock off the conference’s better teams (Maryland / Michigan) that they avoided on their regular season schedule.
Ultimately, I see the Hoosiers falling just short of winning the Big Ten Tournament and being given a 2-seed in a regional far, far away."