August 27, 2013

Big Ten Power Poll: Preseason

Welcome to the first edition of the Big Ten Power Poll, where Jon McNamara, Jon Gorman and I will rank the Big Ten teams from 1 to 12 every week. There's one obvious team at the top, but our preseason power poll has a second tier of teams that's separated by a total of just seven points.

I complied the list in a traditional power poll style- a first place vote was good for 12 points, a second place one for 11, and so on. But now let's cut to the chase- here's's preseason power poll.

1. Ohio State - 36 points (3 1st place votes)

No debate here. Ohio State received all three of our first place votes. My guess is that the Buckeyes will stay up at the top of our rankings until someone proves us wrong. Urban Meyer is set up for success in his second year in Columbus, and the Buckeyes should roll over Buffalo in their first game of the year this Saturday. Any other result would be a disappointment.

2. Wisconsin - 32 points

Here's where the guys and I start to differ a bit. Both Jon McNamara and Job Gorman have the Badgers ranked No. 2, but I gave them a third place vote this time around. The Badgers are probably one of, if not the biggest enigma in the Big Ten this year. We won't really know who the Badgers are or what they'll look like until we see them play a few games under Gary Andersen. Either way, the three of us still clearly expect the Badgers to play pretty well this season- especially against UMass this Saturday.

3. Nebraska - 28 points

The Cornhuskers start the season at the pole position in the Legends division race, and for good reason. Nebraska's offense promises to be pretty potent this season, and they're coming off their first division title as a Big Ten member. But the Legends division looks like it'll feature another bloodbath at the top, and the Cornhuskers still have questions to answer on defense. Either way, Wyoming shouldn't pose much of a threat in week one.

4. Michigan - 27 points

Michigan really seems to be a divisive team this season. Most experts are predicting that the Wolverines will win the Legends division and face off against Ohio State in back-to-back weeks at the end of the season, but I don't think we're convinced just yet. Michigan received a third, a fourth, and a fifth-place vote this week, and their schedule features a few tough road games. We'll see if Devin Gardner can help bring the Wolverines all the way back to the top of the Big Ten this year. Personally I think Michigan should be good on both offense and defense, but "good" might not be good enough in their division.

5. Michigan State - 25 points

I differ greatly with both Jon McNamara and Jon Gorman on Michigan State this season. I gave them my second-place vote this week, but the rest of the crew gave them fifth and seventh-place votes this week. I'm betting that's on account of their sluggish offense from last season, but personally I think their defense is going to be good enough to keep them competitive throughout the Big Ten season. I tried to be fair when looking at strengths, weaknesses, and their schedule, and I think this is the year the Spartans make a major push for another Big Ten title.

6. Northwestern - 21 points

Northwestern is probably the Big Ten's prototypical "sleeper" team this year. The Wildcats return a lot of talent, especially on offense, and they came within a few minutes of running the table last season. Personally I think the hype has gone too far with the Wildcats, and the other Jons obviously agree so far. Northwestern's schedule is brutal, so if they do climb their way to the top of the Legends division they'll have earned it the hard way. Northwestern will open their season on the road against California on Saturday.

7. Penn State - 20 points

Penn State is another team that's hard to read. They performed exceptionally well under difficult circumstances last year, but my guess is that the sanctions and other depth issues will catch up to them this season. They need to stay healthy if they want to stay competitive, but that's hard to do in the Big Ten. I still expect them to win their fair share of games, but I think you'll see a drop off in Penn State's production this season.

8. Iowa - 14 points

It's no secret that Iowa has been in a major slump over the last few seasons. In fact, if they don't break out of it soon I think it's doubtful that Kirk Ferentz will be in Iowa City for much longer than his absurd contract lasts. The Hawkeyes open their season against a BCS team from last season in Northern Illinois, so we'll get a good picture of just how talented the Hawkeyes are after their first game of the season. If they win, they could be poised to make a big jump up these rankings.

9. Indiana - 12 points

I have Indiana ranked the highest out of the three of us, mostly because I think their offense will be good enough to carry them to a bowl game this season. All they need to do is sweep their nine-conference slate and win two Big Ten games, and with a ridiculous schedule (they play eight games at home this year) I think it's doable. The Hoosiers need to upgrade their talent on defense before they can think about really competing every week, but I think there's enough talent there for a postseason berth.

10. Minnesota - 9 points

The Gophers made a bowl game last year, but I think it's going to be hard for them to make it back this season. They're probably more talented than last year's team, but I just don't see a lot of winnable Big Ten games on their schedule right now. Jerry Kill's team could still pull off an upset or two, but it's going to be tough sledding if they happen to lose to a quality San Jose State team in week three. Minnesota will host UNLV on Thursday night.

11. Purdue - 7 points

I actually think Purdue is more talented than Minnesota this season, but I think they'll have a hard time winning any conference games this season. Their schedule is really tough, and their going through a significant schematic shift under new head coach Darrell Hazell. I think hiring Hazell was a good move for the Boilermakers, but it might be a rough first year for him in West Lafayette.

12. Illinois - 3 points

Tim Beckman has his work cut out for him. The Illini didn't win a conference game last year, and while I expect them to improve in his second year it wouldn't shock me if they failed to win a Big Ten game for the second straight season. Illinois is our consensus pick for the Big Ten's basement- and if they finish the season there again Beckman will probably start to feel his seat getting hotter.

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