2016 Preseason Big Ten Power Rankings

The Big Ten cemented themselves as one of the top conference in college football last season, and with several teams competing for a playoff berth this year, it's possible that the conference will be even better next year. Here's how every team in the Big Ten stacks up going into the new season:

14) Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue lacks talent at the skill positions, yet their biggest weakness is in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Things are not looking good for the Boilermakers this year.

13) Illinois Fighting Illini

New head coach Lovie Smith will make Illinois relevant sooner rather than later. The problem is that right now, he doesn't have a lot to work with. Their defense still has plenty of question marks, as does their running game.

12) Maryland Terrapins

Just like Illinois, the Terps have a new head coach (D.J. Durkin) that is expected to do great things for the program. They'll be better defensively (Durkin never has a bad defense) and will a running a new spread offense, but lack the overall talent and depth to really do anything significant.

11) Rutgers Scarlet Knights

The Scarlet Knights are better than you'd expect on both the offensive and defensive lines, giving new head coach Chris Ash a solid foundation to work with. Their biggest concern will be if they have the weapons to really succeed in their new spread offense.

10) Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana has some talented pieces, yet their season will be determined by a few question marks. What level of quarterback play will they get in the post-Nate Sudfeld era? Just how bad is the secondary? Can they rush the passer?

9) Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin has a new quarterback in Bart Houston, and they're hoping running back Corey Clement can stay healthy to take some of pressure off him. We know their defense will be one of the best in the conference, but the offense has too many questions at this point.

8) Penn State Nittany Lions

Now is the time for Penn State and James Franklin to break through. The Jerry Sandusky sanctions are all in the past, they have a bona fide star in running back Saquon Barkley and plenty of experienced talent at the skill positions and in the secondary. However, as has been the case the last few years, they desperately need to improve the offensive line if they are going to do anything.

7) Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota is another team that has a very, very good defense, but is rather limited offensively. They have an easy schedule that will help them in the win column, yet when it comes down to it, the Gophers likely won't win anything of substance. Quarterback Mitch Leidner left a lot to be desired last year, and no returning receiver caught 40 passes or more last year.

6) Northwestern Wildcats

This is Northwestern's chance to really make noise in the West. Running back Justin Jackson is arguably the best running back in the conference and the defense is expected to rank in the top 15 nationally again. If sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson can take a step forward in his second year as the starter, watch out.

5) Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska lost four games this past season in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime. Never have we seen a team so snake-bitten by a series of late bounces quite like the Huskers were. Things are looking up, though, as the 2016 recruiting class looks strong and there's a buzz in the air after NU reeled off 30 straight points and posted a 196-1 rushing yard advantage in their Foster Farms Bowl win over a very good UCLA squad.

Mike Riley is a quarterback's dream coach, and Tommy Armstrong's 10-carry, 76-yard rushing performance in the bowl win may be a sign of Riley loosening up the playbook with Armstrong next season. The talent is here, and the Huskers are just a turn of fortune (and a dark horse Heisman campaign by Armstrong) from being a legit contender. Their thrilling win over CFP entrant Michigan State this year is proof positive that the pieces are there.

4) Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans lose star quarterback Connor Cook to graduation and several players to the NFL, but they’ll be just fine this year. Michigan State found a way to beat Ohio State without Cook, and the defense will once again be a good unit under head coach Mark D'Antonio. The running game will carry the team in most games as L.J. Scott and Madre London are young, talented runners.

3) Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa is coming off one of the best seasons in school history, butthe defensive line could be a major issue, with Drew Ott and Nate Meier both gone. In total, 13 starters return, perhaps non more important than QB C.J. Beathard. Another easy schedule (no Ohio State or Michigan State and Michigan is at home) means another double-digit win season and Big Ten title game appearance is within the grasp of the Hawkeyes this year.

2) Michigan Wolverines

The Wolverines return nearly everyone from their 10-3 season in 2015. Head coach Jim Harbaugh will have the entire team playing even better next season and Michigan has as much talent as anyone in the country. Quarterback play will be critical as the Wolverines head into the offseason without a sure starter for 2016. Wilson Speight is expected to get the early nod, but expect to see Houston transfer John O’Korn as well.

1) Ohio State Buckeyes

Make no mistake, the Buckeyes lost a TON of talent this offseason, headlined by the departures of defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott - but Urban Meyer has recruited as well as any coach since arriving in Columbus and there’s plenty of talent ready to fill-in. For the first time in a long time, Meyer might actually get to use the underdog card. The Buckeyes are going to be a serious threat once again. Oh yeah, and they still have quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is a second-tier Heisman candidate in 2016. In all, the Big Ten race still runs through Columbus.

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