Rittenberg post his post spring football power rankings and since I rarely have an original thought of my own I thought I'd copy his idea (he copied one of our posts for a Big Ten weather related post so it's all good).
I should warn you that I'm really not that high on Minnesota this year. Most years I come into the season thinking we'll be better than everyone else is predicting. You probably know this by now, but I am a glass half-full kind of guy. This year is a different story. Our schedule is brutal, we lost several defensive starters and I don't see our offense taking large enough strides to make a significant difference. I'll comment in more detail below but I wanted to give you fair warning.
- Ohio State - I thought about picking someone else just to be different. But this is the Buckeye's conference to lose. Pryor isn't quite the god that Tim Tebow was, but in his third year he should be the conference's best offensive player to go along with what is always a very good defense. Last year they brought back some respect for the conference with the drubbing of Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Getting back to the made up national title game and winning it is a realistic possibility. They travel to Iowa and Wisconsin, who both appear to be in the running for winning the league, but this team is pretty good.
- Wisconsin - here is where I go off the party line for Big Ten standings. The Badger's season will be determined in the first four weeks. At Michigan State, home vs. Minnesota, home for Ohio State then at Iowa to start the Big Ten season. That is a brutal start but this is a very experienced team and I think they'll come out losing to Ohio State but finishing 2nd in the standings.
- Iowa - I know that Iowa is the chic pick to either beat Ohio State or finish a close second. Don't get me wrong, I recognize that this is a very good team and they may have the most favorable schedule of anyone in the league. But they have a few key holes to fill and they played Russian-Roulette a few too many times last year. I think there will be one or two games that were Ws last year that turn out to be Ls this year. That defensive line will be fierce and their offensive line is always very good so they'll be right in the thick of things till the end, but I think they finish here.
Michigan State - This team should score a lot of points, but they are going to give up just as many. I think there is a gap between #3 and #4 in the Big Ten and Michigan State will be in a clump of teams fighting for a slightly better bowl. I think they have a tough schedule so this could be a reach.
Northwestern - Running back is a concern for the Wildcats, but with their short passing game that may not be as significant as it would be for other teams. What concerns me more is the secondary and acclimating a new QB into Big Ten action. I have confidence in Fitzgerald to have this team well prepared and playing well. Their first and last Big Ten games could have huge implications on their season. In game one they travel to Minnesota where they'll try to avenge a home loss from a year ago. In their final game of the season they travel to Wisconsin with a chance to notch a big upset win on the road and solidify their bowl position.
Penn State - The Nittany Lions lost a lot from last year's team. Replacing six All Big Ten first teamers is really hard to do. The offense may really struggle while the defense should be rather stout. They travel to Iowa and Ohio State, but after that the schedule is favorable to them finishing higher than sixth. I may be buying into the demise of the Nittany Lions in 2010, or maybe it is just wishful thinking that the Gophers will be able to sneak up and pass them this year.
Minnesota - If I were feeling more confident in the season I could conceivably pick the Gophers ahead of Penn State. I believe the offense will be better. The line will be improved, Weber will make fewer mistakes and the running game will be stronger. But I do not believe it will be significantly better. Let's say they average 5 more points and 75 more yards per game. That still ranks them 7th in scoring and total offense in the Big Ten. Those would be very significant improvements which I do not anticipate. Defensively I think the rushing defense will be about the same and the pass defense will give up a few more yards this season. Nets out to the defense finishing about in the middle of the pack again. I think we'll give up 24 points per game and score about 24 points per game which means our season record will probably be 0-0-12.
Purdue - Ralph Bolden tearing his ACL was a huge blow to the Boilermakers. But even before the injury I wasn't buying into the Purdue hype. Yes they surpassed all expectations last year and yes they upset Ohio State for arguably the biggest win of the year in the Big Ten. But they lose their entire secondary, three along the offensive line, three starting receivers and their starting QB. None are easy to replace and I think Purdue turns a year rather similar to last season.
Michigan - If you can ignore the name on the front of the jersey and tell me where would you slot this team. A defense that gave up 27 points and nearly 400 yards every game last year. Add to that fact that they lost
their starting linebackers(wrong), their best lineman and probably their best defensive back. If it were not "Michigan" this is where most would slot this team. The offense should be very potent but the defense may not be able to stop anybody. The schedule doesn't do them any favors (they don't get to play Minnesota for one) and I see another down year for Michigan.
Indiana - The Hoosiers should be able to move the ball through the air. But overall this is a very young team that will struggle yet again in the Big Ten. What a terrible time for the Gophers to miss the Hoosiers on their schedule. Offensively I really like their receivers and Ben Chappell is a solid QB. But there are just two seniors on the defense and they will really struggle to beat anybody in the Big Ten this year.
- Illinois - The Illini will be rather interesting this season with a new set of coordinators primed to take the fall for the Zooker. I see all four of their road games as losses, the Ohio State game at home is a loss as well. So that leaves them with three home games to get themselves out of the cellar. Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota come to Illinois this year and those games will be what determines their final standing. I just don't see the talent, the coaching or the schedule to get this team more than a win or two in the Big Ten.
OK, so maybe I'm a little bit more optimistic than Rittenberg was and I see the potential to sneak up another spot ahead of Penn State who we get at home and may be unusually down this year. It pains me to put Iowa and Wisconsin that high in the standings while watching the Gophers languish near the bottom. We all know that Brewster desperately needs to beat one of them this year to end his winless streak against rivals, but is going to be a tall order.
I know it is very early but at this point, this is how I see the Big Ten shaking out.