Let’s take a closer look at my Big Ten Conference power rankings for the upcoming 2014-15 season, especially since the group has a new look in adding a team from both the AAC and ACC.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State is among the favorites at betting odds of +1262 to win the 2015 NCAA Football championship game, which isn’t surprising heading into the third year of the Urban Meyer era.
The Buckeyes are definitely the most balanced team in the conference, with dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller leading the offense, while a talented group of linemen plan to make things difficult on opposing signal-callers.
A road game at East Lansing in early November will likely decide if the group lands one of four spots in the college football playoff.
2. Michigan State Spartans
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi returns for an eighth season, which makes the program a legitimate threat to Ohio State in capturing the conference title.
Junior quarterback Connor Cook must build on his 2013 campaign—throwing for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
There’s no better running back in the country than Melvin Gordon, as he averaged an astonishing 7.8 yards per carry last year.
Wisconsin is a major contender if Gordon is able to carry the load, considering he’ll be running behind an offensive line that returns four starters.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers
A trendy pick among college football experts, but I’m not ready to back this proud program in the futures market, as it has fallen into a pattern of losing games against inferior competition under head coach Bo Pelini.
Talent is found at nearly every position on the roster—led by Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah at running back.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers
A program on the rise, but it’ll need head coach Jerry Kill to remain on the sidelines for a full season, as he continues to battle through health problems.
Minnesota’s strength will be its offensive line for a second consecutive campaign, with the group welcoming back eight players that have started at least three games.
6. Michigan Wolverines
It’s difficult to place such a proud program in this spot, but I’m not sold on the offense improving upon its 102nd ranking of averaging just 3.3 yards per carry a season ago.
Senior quarterback Devin Gardner is back in Ann Arbor, as he looks to become more consistent on a weekly basis.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes will need to replace three linebackers that combined to make 984 tackles, but they’ve been known to develop players at that position during the Kirk Ferentz era.
Iowa is capable of playing itself into the Big Ten title game, considering it closes out the regular season at home against Wisconsin and Nebraska.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions
A middle-of-the-pack finish is expected, but the team could exceed expectations if sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenburg demonstrates the ability to handle a new offensive system under first-year head coach James Franklin.
Don’t sleep on the Nittany Lions as underdogs this season.
9. Maryland Terrapins
Plenty of offensive firepower returns, but that group will need senior quarterback C.J. Brown to stay healthy, as he threw for 2,242 yards and ran for 576 last year.
On the other side of the football, Maryland lacks playmakers in the secondary, which could lead to some major problems in the middle of the schedule.
10. Indiana Hoosiers
High-scoring games were the norm in Bloomington a season ago, and fans should expect an encore performance in 2014.
Indiana’s secondary is the main group to watch early on, as it allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 60.9 percent of their passes last year.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini
Oklahoma State Cowboys transfer Wes Lunt is expected to land the starting quarterback spot, but the fan base will only rally around the team if the defense improves off a forgettable season.
The Fighting Illini allowed opposing ball carriers to average 5.6 yards per rush in 2013—a number that leads to blowout losses in a run-oriented conference.
12. Northwestern Wildcats
The return of senior running back Venric Mark gives the team one of the Big Ten’s best playmakers, but there’s definitely cause for concern in the locker room heading into Pat Fitzgerald’s ninth season.
Northwestern received a ton of national headlines during the offseason due to its involvement in moving forward as the test case for player unionization.
13. Purdue Boilermakers
Second year offensive coordinator John Shoop is definitely on the hot seat, as the group averaged 14.9 points per game and just 2.5 yards per carry.
The Darrell Hazell era may end after just two seasons if quarterback Danny Etling is unable to complete more than 55 percent of his passes.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Shifting from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference as a lateral move in terms of competition, but now the program steps up in class this season.
Senior quarterback Gary Nova has been known to make some plays with his arm, but he’s also a candidate to throw 20-plus interceptions this season.