Despite not having a team reach the College Football Playoff last season, the Big Ten enters 2019 with six teams ranked in the AP Top 25. With Urban Meyer’s retirement from Ohio State and Shea Patterson’s return to Michigan, the balance of power in the Big Ten East could be subject to change, and the crowded West is nearly impossible to predict.
As no B1G team has taken the field as of Week 0, these power rankings are an educated guesses based on the talent and recent history of each team. As seen with last year’s rankings, some teams (looking at you, Sconnie) will undoubtedly fail to live up to expectations while others will manage to surpass them. Hopefully, everyone associated with Inside NU can look at this piece and laugh at my ineptitude when Illinois inevitably goes 14-0 and wins the National Championship. Until then, here’s my best shot at ranking the Big 10.
#1 - No. 5 Ohio State
Last season: 13-1 (8-1 B1G), Big Ten Champions, Rose Bowl Champions
Week 1: vs. Florida Atlantic
For the first time in six years, Ohio State will be without the services of Urban Meyer, who retired after last season. Entering in his place is first-year coach Ryan Day. The Buckeyes also lost Dwayne Haskins to the NFL, but a talented transfer from Georgia, Justin Fields, looks to propel their offense forward. The former five-star recruit got to Columbus in January, meaning that he has only had a few months to adjust to Day’s offense.
OSU is also counting on running back J.K. Dobbins to have a bounce-back year after a relatively underwhelming sophomore campaign, while the receiving core is incredibly inexperienced thanks to the departures of Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell. Although there are some question marks on offense, the defense features plenty of returning starters, including Malik Harrison and Pete Werner. Tough road tests at Nebraska and Michigan await, but based on pure raw talent alone, Ohio State has to be the favorite to repeat as Big Ten Champions.
#2 - No. 7 Michigan
Last season: 10-3 (8-1 B1G)
Week 1: vs. Middle Tennessee
During Jim Harbaugh’s relatively short tenure at Michigan, his path to Indianapolis has perpetually been blocked by Ohio State. With Urban Meyer gone and questions surrounding the Buckeyes, this could be Harbaugh’s year to finally prevail over the Wolverines’ biggest rival. Quarterback Shea Patterson, wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones, and one of the B1G’s best offensive lines return to Ann Arbor.
As a resident of Southern California, I have also heard the hype surrounding blue-chip running back Zach Charbonnet of Westlake Village, CA, who Wolverine fans can expect to contribute to the running game. The defense suffered some losses, seeing Chase Winovich and David Long graduate and go to the NFL, but still have veteran leadership in Josh Metellus. Ultimately, Michigan’s could once again see themselves undefeated in conference play going into late November, facing tOSU with a trip to Indy on the line in a repeat of 2018.
#3 - No. 18 Michigan State
Last season: 7-6 (5-4 B1G)
Week 1: vs. Tulsa
Three through nine in the Big Ten is pretty much a crapshoot. As seen with last season, all of these teams can beat up on each other, which makes for intriguing football but becomes a nightmare when actually trying to rank them. Sparty struggled last season despite high expectations, which can be attributed to an offense which averaged 9.5 points per game in their six losses. Quarterback Brian Lewerke returns after an injury-plagued 2018, and a talented defense featuring Joe Bachie and Josiah Scott could make the Big Ten East race interesting. Trips to Madison, Columbus, and Ann Arbor will determine whether this team can be a legitimate contender in the Big Ten.
#4 - No. 19 Iowa
Last season: 9-4 (5-4 B1G), Outback Bowl Champion
Week One: vs. Northern Illinois
Quarterback Nate Stanley and wideouts Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith return to a Hawkeyes team sans tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Despite these two major losses, the Hawkeyes should remain competitive in the West thanks to a solid offensive line and one of the better defenses in the country, led by A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston. Kirk Ferentz’s 21st year sees visits to Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, so the steady hand of Stanley must prevail if the Hawkeyes are to surpass the other teams in the West.
#5 - No. 20 Wisconsin
Last season: 8-5 (5-4 B1G), Pinstripe Bowl Champion
Week One: @ South Florida
Tailback Jonathan Taylor is the ultimate key to the success of the Badgers in 2019. The potential Heisman Trophy candidate rushed for over 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, but questions under center (even more than Wisconsin usually deals with) may cause running lanes to dry up.
With Alex Hornibrook’s transfer to Florida State, Jack Coan, who played in 5 games last season, competes against 4-star freshman Graham Mertz. The offensive line, meanwhile, suffered losses to injury, graduation, and the NFL draft, while the defense looks raw in the face of departures. Paul Chryst would love a bounce-back season, but traveling to both Columbus and Lincoln will not make things any easier for this iteration of the Badgers.
#6 - No. 15 Penn State
Last season: 9-4 (6-3 B1G)
Week One: vs. Idaho
To any Penn State fans who might happen upon Inside NU, I offer my sincere apologies for ranking the Nittany Lions this low on my list. Trace McSorley is gone, as well as another talented quarterback in Tommy Stevens, who transferred to Mississippi State this spring. Sean Clifford steps in behind center, but his inexperience, along with an untested receiving corps, could doom Penn State in road trips to Iowa City, East Lansing and Columbus. The defense, highlighted by edge rusher Shaka Toney, seems solid enough, but James Franklin’s team should run into some trouble down the stretch in a relentless B1G East.
#7 - Northwestern
Last season: 9-5 (8-1 B1G), Holiday Bowl Champions
Week One: @ Stanford
Pat Fitzgerald’s ‘Cats look to follow up their incredible run to Indy last season from outside of the top 25 despite 2018 victories over four of the Big Ten teams that were ranked this preseason. Clayton Thorson graduated, and the result of the ensuing quarterback battle between former 5-star Hunter Johnson and last year’s backup T.J. Green remains a mystery. Isaiah Bowser returns for his sophomore year to shore up the backfield, and a stout defense featuring Paddy Fisher, Joe Gaziano, and Blake Gallagher will challenge B1G offenses.
The Fightin’ Fitzes (formerly known as the Fighting Methodists) have a brutal schedule with trips to Wisconsin and Nebraska leading their way into October, and home tilts with Michigan State and Ohio State not looking any easier. The path back to Indianapolis will be tough for Pat’s ‘Cats, especially considering their tendency for slow starts, but if college football as a whole learned anything from last season,it’s that Northwestern will somehow find ways to win games.
#8 - No. 24 Nebraska
Last season: 4-8 (3-6 B1G)
Week One: vs. South Alabama
Lukewarm take: Nebraska is overrated, and I just cannot buy the hype with this team. The expectations have been raised, both internally and nationally, for Scott Frost’s second season with the Huskers after a 4-2 finish to last year. Adrian Martinez showed flashes of talent last season and enters into his sophomore season with a spot on numerous awards watchlists. There are plenty of question marks on defense, though, and trap games in Boulder and Minneapolis, as well visits from Northwestern, Iowa, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, could prove troublesome.
#9 - Minnesota
Last season: 7-6 (3-6 B1G), Quick Lane Bowl Champions
Week One: vs. South Dakota State
P.J. Fleck enters his third season at the helm of the Golden Gophers coming off of a hot finish to 2018. The Gophers return nine offensive starters, including junior quarterback Tanner Morgan, who finished the second half of the season with a 4-2 record. They have depth at both wideout and running back as well.
The defense remains solid, with a big boost coming from the return of safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., a freshman All-American in 2016 who took a medical redshirt last season. The Gophers have a relatively easy schedule against B1G East opponents, avoiding Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, and could be a dark horse for a trip to Indy if they can upset the likes of Northwestern, Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
#10 - Purdue
Last season: 6-7 (5-4 B1G)
Week One: @ Nevada
Purdue produced the biggest surprise of last season during conference play, upsetting Ohio State in West Lafayette, a loss which derailed the Buckeyes’ college football playoff chances.
Coach Jeff Brohm is back despite rumors of his impending departure to Louisville in the offseason. Rondale Moore is perhaps one of the most exciting offensive players in college football, and he enters his sophomore season surrounded by a solid incoming class and experienced pocket-passer Elijah Sindelar.
On defense, Purdue returns most of its starters and, most notably, adds George Karlaftis, a four-star defensive end from West Lafayette. The Boilermakers have a tough non-conference schedule with Nevada on the road and Vanderbilt and TCU at home and visits to both Iowa and Wisconsin, but they have the potential to surprise in the B1G West.
#11 - Indiana
Last season: 5-7 (2-7 B1G)
Week One: vs. Ball State @ Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Indiana’s summer has seen a competitive three-way quarterback battle among incumbent Peyton Ramsey and redshirt freshmen Jack Tuttle and Michael Penix, officially won by the latter yesterday. The Hoosiers have depth at wide receiver and tight end but question marks remain with the offensive line and running game.
The defense is experienced and has some depth to it as well. Does Indiana have the talent to compete with the big boys of the B1G East? They probably do not, but if they can take care of business in non-conference play and steal a victory over a Nebraska or Purdue, the Hoosiers could easily be bowling.
#12 - Maryland
Last season: 5-7 (3-6 B1G)
Week One: vs. Howard
After the turmoil and tragedy of last season, Maryland looks to bounce back under new head coach Mike Locksley, formerly the offensive coordinator for Alabama. Quarterback Josh Jackson transferred this summer from Virginia Tech and locked down the starting job yesterday, while sophomore running back Anthony McFarland, Jr. is an explosive playmaker. Defensively, the Terps only return three starters and could struggle throughout their Big Ten schedule. This season should ultimately be a rebuilding year.
#13 - Illinois
Last season: 4-8 (2-7 B1G)
Week One: vs. Akron
Lovie Smith’s 4th season will not be an easy one for the Illini. Smith named Michigan graduate transfer Brandon Peters starting quarterback for their opener against Akron (the ultimate trap game). Waiting in the wings is 4-star freshman Isaiah Williams, who will undoubtedly make an impact this season whether behind center or somewhere else on the field. Running back Reggie Corbin had an impressive junior season and will return, while the offensive line also returns four starters.
On defense, Lovie himself is serving as the coordinator for what was one of college football’s most woeful groups in 2018. The addition of graduate transfer Oluwole Betiku from USC will strengthen the defensive front. An easier non-conference schedule and an upset conference win here or there could see the Illini go bowling, but Lovie’s newcomers must step up for any progress to be made.
#14 - Rutgers
Last season: 1-11 (0-9 B1G)
Week One: vs. UMass
After a disastrous third season in New Jersey, Chris Ash is firmly on the hot seat. A struggling offense which ranked 130th in scoring last season will be led by sophomore Artur Sitkowski, who had some dreadful performances last season. There’s not much to be excited about in Piscataway, but maybe the Scarlet Knights can pull off a miracle or two and win some games in conference play this year. You never know.
Did I get this completely wrong? Did I rank Northwestern too high or low? Please let me know below. In the meantime...
Happy College Football season, everyone!