Following a long off season, college football is finally back baby! Today, we are going to take a look at the pre-season Big Ten power rankings. The tightest race comes at the top where Ohio State, Michigan, and defending Big Ten champion Penn State are vying for the top spot. The battle at the bottom of the standings will also be interesting to see if Rutgers can escape the basement and if teams like Purdue or Illinois make any improvement.
With that being said, here are the power rankings.
Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and that good thing never dies. That quote from Shawshank Redemption perfectly relates to the Scarlet Knights this season as they hope for better things on the football field this season. There is hope on the banks that Kyle Bolin can be the answer at quarterback and hope that the running attack can be elite this year. There is also hope the highly touted freshman class can be solid if not spectacular. Coach Ash has this program on the rise and expect the Scarlet Knights to finish the season out of the basement.
The Boilermakers brought in a new coach in Jeff Brohm and look for him to inject some life into the Purdue offense. The Boilermakers open the season up with a tough test against the Louisville Cardinals and reining Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. The Boilermakers were able to avoid Ohio State and Penn State so there are some potential Big Ten wins to grab. Rutgers plays Purdue October 21st.
Year two of the Lovie Smith era brings with it higher expectations for the former NFL head coach. Jeff George Jr. returns as an option at quarterback for the Fighting Illini but their offense struggled mightily last year. If Smith does not make major leaps this year, look for another changing of the guard.
11. Michigan State
Following a dramatic fall from grace in 2016, the Michigan State Spartans look to rebound in 2017. LJ Scott is one of the top running backs in the Big Ten but quarterback is a big question yet again for the Spartans. If Mark Dantonio can get his offense back on track, expect the Spartans to be competitive again in 2017.
The Terrapins had a moderately successful season in 2016 winning six games and making a Bowl Game raising expectations for the 2017 season. Although Maryland graduated their starting quarterback, a powerful run game is expected to lead the Terps. A solid recruiting class should also help inject talent into the Maryland squad.
QB CJ Beathard is off to the NFL and despite a very strong running game (a common theme in the Big 10) I expect Iowa to struggle in 2017. Matt Vandeberg returns to lead a very underwhelming receiving corps and I just am not sure that there is enough offense to lead the Hawkeyes. If they can hold teams to less than 21 points they will be successful, but high scoring and high powered offenses will cause fits for the Hawkeyes.
I know it is surprising to see the Cornhuskers so low but Nebraska lost a ton to graduation including their quarterback Tommy Armstrong and their top running back from last season. They are a young and inexperienced group and although there is a “Nebraska Aura” that exists around the program, I believe that they will take a step back in 2017.
One of Rutgers biggest rivals in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers faced an off season of turmoil where head coach Kevin Wilson resigned under a black cloud. Despite the loss of Wilson, Indiana retains the services of QB Richard Lagow whose gunslinger mentality both helped and hurt Indiana at times last year. If he is able to cut down on his interceptions, (17) look for Indiana to have another successful season.
Pat Fitzgerald has done a good job as head coach of the Wildcats and don’t expect 2017 to be any different. Clayton Thorson returns at QB where he threw for over 3,000 yards last year. Expect a tough nose defense and an explosive offense to lead the Wildcats this year.
You can say that I am drinking the cool-aide, but I am a huge believer and huge fan of PJ Fleck and I am very intrigued to see what he can do at Minnesota. Although the Big Ten is very very different from the MAC, Fleck seems like the kind of coach who is able to steal wins on his own. Demry Croft is one potential option at QB for Minnesota and he was a recruit of Jerry Kill who looks like he has the potential to be a star if he is able to win the QB job.
The gap between the top four and the rest of the Big Ten is quite big and it begins with Wisconsin. One of the most consistent teams in college football, the Badgers are a mortal lock to win between 8 and 10 games every year. Despite the losses of key playmakers such TJ Watt and Corey Clement the Badgers return QB Alex Hornibrook and star TE Tony Fumagalli. You can expect the Badgers to grind their way to the top half of the Big Ten and maybe even sneak their way into the College Football playoff picture.
3. Penn State
The big surprise of the 2016 season, Penn State enters 2017 with sky high expectations. The Nittany Lions return arguably the top QB, RB, and TE in the conference in Trace McSorley, Saquan Barkley, and Mike Gesicki and despite some major losses at WR, talent remains there as well. The offensive line showed improvement last year but will need to take strikes forward to protect McSorley. The defense took hits in graduation, but with an offense as explosive and talented as Penn State’s, it may not matter.
Ah, New Jersey’s favorite program brings up second place in the pre-season rankings. Despite the constant antics of Jim Harbaugh, the man knows how to coach and it will be interesting to see the progress of the Wolverines in 2017. Wilton Speight returns at QB (I think) but he will have to replace Jake Butt as his top target. The Defense took massive looses to graduation but more than enough talent remains.
The titans of the Big Ten open up the 2017 on top once again. JT Barrett and Mike Weber lead the explosive running offense, but if there is one flaw with Buckeyes it is their lack of a downfield passing attack. If the passing game can improve they should be very hard to stop on offense. Their defense continues to reload year after year and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said that this edition of the Buckeyes is the best defense that he has ever coached.
There you have it folks, the Pre-Season power rankings. Leave your thoughts and how you think the Rutgers and the rest of the Big Ten will do in 2017!