Welcome back to another football season and yet another year of Big Ten power rankings. It’s the beginning of the year and no one has played a game yet, which means that everyone is optimistic about the season to come.
Well, almost everyone.
LET’S GET TO THE RANKINGS.
Tier 5: Purdue
Can a season be over before it begins? Will Darrell Hazell still be around by the time I head to Ross-Ade for the Penn State game in late October? Or will Morgan Burke pull a Barry Alvarez and coach the team himself before season’s end? These are just a few of the many exciting questions that Purdue faces at the start of this season.
Tier 4: Fresh new faces
Hiring Lovie Smith was a coup for Illinois, but the guy is going to have to do some work to repair the damage inflicted by Tim Beckman in Champaign. Luckily he’s got a couple things going for him right away: 1) he’ll play a Big Ten West slate, and 2) his QB will be Wes Lunt, who should keep the Illini in some games. Despite a tough out-of-conference game against UNC that will bring back some serious 2005 basketball memories, Lovie should be able to at least steady the ship and get this team to 4-5 wins.
Welcome to Piscataway, Chris Ash. Your first game: Fly all the way across the country to play a Washington team that is primed to make The Leap this year. Good luck!
On the other hand, DJ Durkin could easily have his Terps at 4-0 to start the year, as they open with Howard, FIU, UCF, and Purdue. Then again, projected starter Perry Hills threw 5 more interceptions than TDs last season.
So technically, Tracy Claeys took over in the middle of last season, and was put in a very tough spot due to Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement due to health issues. But he’s still new as the permanent head coach, so Minnesota gets placed in this tier for now. The Gophers have a very manageable schedule as they avoid the big three in the East, and some momentum coming off a bowl victory, but can CONSENSUS FIRST ROUND DRAFT CHOICE Mitch Leidner take them to 8-9 wins? I’m not sold.
Tier 3: Looking to make the leap
Those first three games are must-wins for Kevin Wilson’s squad, because that schedule gets tough really fast once October rolls around. If the Hoosiers lay an egg on a Thursday night in Miami, we could be in for a long season.
I’m not convinced that this team is a lot better from the one that scraped its way to a bowl berth despite finishing 5-7. But considering how many close games the Huskers lost last year, they may be primed for better luck now. Then again, I’ve been saying the same thing about IU for the past four years.
Tier 2: Uncertainty abound
Good lord, that schedule is brutal. The Badgers get the College Gameday treatment in Lambeau in Week 1, where they’ll play LSU, a team that just hired the Badgers’ former DC, Dave Aranda. Starting on 9/24, the Badgers also have this stretch: at MSU, at Michigan, home vs. OSU, at Iowa. This team could have a good season statistically, but still miss a bowl game and become the greatest 5-7 squad in college football history.
6. Penn State
We’ll know a lot about the Nittany Lions by the end of the first month, as they first travel to Pitt, who should be a strong ACC Coastal contender, then host Temple, who they lost to for the first time last year since World War II.
With road games at OSU, MSU, and Iowa, getting back to 10 wins for the Wildcats might be tough. The Wildcats play four home games in the month of September then only 3 of their remaining 8 are in the confines of Ryan Field.
Tier 1: The contenders
Returning the starting QB from an undefeated regular season last year, the Hawkeyes definitely belong at the top tier to start the season. They’ll avoid both OSU and Sparty, and get Michigan at home, so a repeat as B1G West champs should be very attainable. But watch out for that week 3 game against North Dakota State - the FCS Bison have shattered the hopes of many an FBS team before. Even though REAL NORTH DAKOTA GUY CARSON WENTZ has left and will eventually lead the Eagles to 5 straight Super Bowls, the Hawkeyes cannot take NDSU lightly.
3. Michigan State
Several key players such as Connor Cook, Jack Conklin, and Shilique Calhoun have left a Spartans team that made the CFP last season. After what should be a easy first game against Furman, Sparty will have 15 days to prepare for going under the lights in South Bend.
2. Ohio State
Ugh, poor Ohio State. Last year their fans SUFFERED through an INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTING 12-1 season! You have no idea what they’ve been through in their lives! Despite losing a load talent from last year’s GOD-AWFUL team that ONLY WON 12 GAMES, the Buckeyes can likely press the “sim to end” button on their first two, as they get ready for a showdown with Oklahoma on Sept. 17.
I got Michigan at the top to start the season. The Wolverines should be 7-0 by the time they meet MSU on Oct. 29, and they open the season with Hawaii, who are returning from their season-opening drubbing in Australia at the hands of a Cal team that just lost its best player to the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Rainbow Warriors will play games in Sydney, Australia, and Ann Arbor, Michigan just a week apart from one another. No school should have to put up with that travel schedule. Expect this year’s season opener to go a lot better for Michigan than last year’s opener at Utah.