Scout Big Ten Power Rankings

Ohio State claims the top spot with Michigan State in hot pursuit. Penn State has a chance for a big season in year two of Tony Franklin while Nebraska and Wisconsin have two new leaders. What's in store for the Big Ten?

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1) Ohio State

Even with some early season suspensions one would imagine that the Buckeyes will be just fine. The fact of the matter is that they are just so deep and so talented. J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones are battling for the quarterback job. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller will now be involved in the passing game, but this time on the receiving end. Back is Ezekiel Elliot, who finished 2014 as hot as any running back ever in meaningful games. Both fronts are stacked, led by defensive linemen Joey Bosa, who just may be the best talent in the nation.

The best part of this season is that coach Urban Meyer has been here before. He will know how to handle the pressures and psychology of trying to defend a title and will communicate that with his talented team.

Key Games: @ Virginia Tech, Penn State, Michigan State, @ Michigan
Ohio State will be double-digit favorites each week. The Buckeyes open up the season on the road in Blacksburg. That’s no small task, especially considering that they will be missing a few key pieces. But they have a favorable schedule and get two of their better opponents at home in the Nittany Lions and Spartans. Of course all of college football is anticipating their regular season finale in Ann Arbor against Jim Harbaugh and Michigan.

2) Michigan State

Mark Dantonio has to be considered one of the finest coaches in college football after how he has built and sustained this Michigan State football program. They will have a chance for another special season in East Lansing behind their outstanding senior quarterback Connor Cook. The key is up front where the Spartans are good and physical. Of course they lost their top wide receiver and running back and it’s that “next up” mentality now at Michigan State.

Defensively, this team lost a lot. It starts with Pat Narduzzi. The former coordinator is now the head man at Pitt. The Spartans want a seamless transition. Again, this is a unit that should be strong in the trenches. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun needs to have a very productive campaign.

Key Games: Oregon, @ Michigan, @ Nebraska, @ Ohio State, Penn State
The Spartans will get the Ducks at home in what should be one of the best non-conference games of the 2015 season. In conference they have three huge road games in Ann Arbor, Lincoln and Columbus.

3) Wisconsin

This will be a year of transition for the Badgers football program, as Paul Chryst comes back to Madison after a short time coaching the Panthers. He inherits a pretty talented squad and a very favorable schedule. Wisconsin has experience at the quarterback position in Joel Stave. Their next elite running back appears to be Corey Clement. He will be poised to pick up where Melvin Gordon left off. The Badgers lost some key members of their offensive line but that’s typically not a real area of concern because this program has always done such an outstanding job of developing linemen.

Defensive coordinator David Aranda remained with the team. That stability will be huge for this unit this season. The back seven should be terrific at Wisconsin, led by linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert and an experienced secondary.

Key Games: Alabama, @ Nebraska, @ Minnesota
The scheduling gods were kind to the Badgers. After opening up with Alabama, their toughest regular season games are on the road at Nebraska and Minnesota. Both Ohio State and Michigan State are not on their schedule.

4) Nebraska

Mike Riley takes over a pretty good roster at Nebraska and he has a chance to lead his first Cornhusker team to a big first season. Tommy Armstrong will quarterback the big red offense, which will now be pro-style. He’s a veteran signal caller with good experience and production. Nebraska has a good complement of skilled players to surround him with running back Terrell Newby and wide receivers De’Mornay Pierson-El and Jordan Westerkamp.

Mark Banker takes over the defense and his system allows for his players to run free to make a ton of plays. Look for defensive tackle Maliek Collins to really flourish. He’s flanked by some good players in Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen on the front. The back seven could get a little young, depending on how things sort themselves out this month.

Key Games: BYU, @ Miami, Wisconsin, @ Minnesota, Michigan State
It’s a nice schedule for new coach Mike Riley and his Nebraska program. They face BYU and Miami over the first three weeks. They also go to Minnesota and host Wisconsin and Michigan State. It shapes up nicely for a good first season for Riley.

5) Penn State

James Franklin now settles in for his second season in Happy Valley. He can only hope his offense perform much better than in 2014. It starts up front on the offensive line where they have to stay on the field and play better. If so, quarterback Christian Hackenberg can manage a pretty balanced attack. The quarterback always gets the blame but it’s not Hackenberg’s fault that he was sacked almost four dozen times one year ago. That can’t happen. Penn State has some good wide receivers coming back led by DaeSean Hamilton and a run game featuring Akeel Lynch and others.

The Penn State defense should be good. Defensive end Carl Nassib should be a breakout player for this unit this fall. Inside ‘backer Mike Hull will be missed. The secondary has a chance to be one of the stronger units on the team.

Key Games: @ Ohio State, Michigan, @ Michigan State
Five of their first six games are at home. It’s a good schedule for James Franklin and Penn State, though they travel to Ohio State and close the season with games against Michigan and at Michigan State.

6) Minnesota

Jerry Kill has quietly done a really good job with this Gopher program. 2015 marks season five, as he continues to look for more wins and improvement. It has to start with his quarterback Mitch Leidner. He manages the offense well but needs to become a more effective passer. That’s not entirely his fault, as this staff wants to be a physical football team that runs the rock. Gone to the NFL is David Cobb, who was really terrific last season for this team. But you have to be excited with what returns at this position, most notably Rod Williams and Rodney Smith. Look for Jeff Jones to be a playmaker in the passing game.

Minnesota’s defense should be one of the better units in the league. They return a lot of experience and good talent at all three levels, especially at the backend.

Key Games: TCU, @ Colorado State, Nebraska, Michigan, @ Ohio State, Wisconsin
The Gophers play a competitive schedule. Their opening two games are against TCU and then they travel to Colorado State. In the middle of the season they have three straight games against Nebraska, Michigan and then go to Ohio State. They finish up at home with the Badgers.

7) Michigan

Is there a more anticipated program to watch unfold over the course of the 2015 season than Michigan with former star quarterback Jim Harbaugh returning to Ann Arbor to coach the Wolverines? It’s an exciting time and a time of transition for this program. It’s not going to happen overnight and will be a work in progress. Fortunately for Harbaugh and his staff they have a pretty good nucleus of talent. The big question mark resides at quarterback. Could it be former Iowa State Jake Ruddock, Shane Morris or one of the new freshman faces? The run game could feature a host of backs like Ty Isaac, Derrick Green and De’veon Smith while the passing game must replace Devin Funchess.

The good news for this program is the defense. Most of everyone is back from their two-deep and Jabrill Peppers is ready to live up to his enormous hype. Hopefully he stays healthy.

Depending on the QB position this spot could be too low... or too high.

Key Games: @ Utah, BYU, Michigan State, @ Minnesota, @ Penn State, Ohio State
The schedule shapes up nicely. The Wolverines start out against a physical Utah team on the road. They also host Oregon State and BYU before they kick off league play. Key games are Michigan State, at Minnesota, and Penn State. Of course they host Meyer and Buckeyes at the end of the regular season.

8) Iowa

It will be the C.J. Beathard show at Iowa. Jake Ruddock started at the quarterback position for most of the 2014 season but he has since transferred to Michigan. Beathard has some talent and brings some excitement to the Hawkeyes offense. He should be able to manage a balanced offensive attack with a ground game featuring LeShun Daniels and wide receiver Tevaun Smith.

The defense really needs to step up and show improvement off of a very lackluster 2014 season. They do have one of the Big Ten’s better defensive ends in Drew Ott. The Hawkeye secondary is the only unit that returns any kind of experience as a group.

Key Games: Pitt, @ Wisconsin, Minnesota, @ Nebraska
Iowa has a favorable schedule, matching up with non-conference foe Pitt early. They have two big road games at Wisconsin and Nebraska and take on what should be a good Minnesota team at home.

9) Northwestern

The Wildcats discovered in 2014 that they have something special in running back Justin Jackson. He emerged as one of the top true freshman in the nation and should be their centerpiece offensively this season and beyond. Three are battling it out for the starting QB position and it appears that job could go to Clayton Thorson. Getting wide receiver Christian Jones back will be huge for this offense. Look for a much more effective unit this fall. The defense can hold its own against the pass but must improve in playing the run.

Key Games: Stanford, @ Duke, Minnesota, @ Michigan, Iowa, @ Nebraska, Penn State, @ Wisconsin
This team faces two good non-conference foes early in Stanford and Duke before starting conference play where they face road games in Ann Arnor, Lincoln and Madison.

10) Rutgers

There is some talent at Rutgers at the running back position and wide receiver Leonte Carroo came back for another year with the Scarlet Knights. The big question is at quarterback, as a few players are battling for the starting spot. What these guys do leading up to the first game is what coach Kyle Flood is closely watching. It’s a contested battle with Chris Laviano having the edge at this point. This Rutgers defense did not perform well in 2014 and they lost several starters from that unit. It could be another long year on this side of the ball.

Key Games: Washington State, @ Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, @ Wisconsin, @ Michigan, Nebraska, Maryland
Wins could be tough to come by with this schedule. Flood needs a quick start with a non-conference win over the Cougars before travelling to Penn State. Then they have a tough run of Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and others.

11) Maryland

This is a program that should play better in 2015 in the Big Ten. The run game has a chance to be the strength of this team behind their offensive line, as Maryland wants to be more efficient and effective on the ground. Wes Brown and Brandon Ross will be the featured backs. The defense should be improved under their new scheme and coordinator. Yannick Ngaouke will have a chance to flourish at defensive end while the secondary will be one of the team’s better units.

Key Games: @ West Virginia, Michigan, @ Ohio State, Penn State, @ Iowa, Wisconsin, @ Michigan State
The Terrapins have a slate of straight games where they are in Morgantown, host Michigan, in Columbus, host Penn State, at Iowa, host Wisconsin and at Michigan. That’s going to be a tough string of games for this team.

12) Illinois

Things have to get better for Tim Beckman’s 2015 Illinois team. They have to have a healthy Wes Lunt for this team to have a chance. This quarterback missed too much of last season. Of course Josh Ferguson will be the centerpiece in the run game and can be a factor in the passing attack. Wide receiver Mike Dudek’s ACL injury this spring was a big blow. Even if he can come back this fall how effective will he be? Geronimo Allison really needs to step up and have a big season at wide receiver. The defense here has a chance to be pretty good, with some quality players at all levels.

Key Games: @ North Carolina, Nebraska, @ Iowa, Wisconsin, @ Penn State, Ohio State, @ Michigan
The Illini have a tough non-conference road game early in Chapel Hill before they begin Big Ten play.

13) Indiana

It’s pretty simple for Kevin Wilson and his Hoosiers: they have to get a great season from senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The next thing this team needs is for UAB transfer Jordan Howard to have a big year at the running back position. He doesn’t need to rush for 2,000 yards but Howard needs to give Indiana a run threat on every down and post some productive numbers. The defense is a big question mark, especially in the secondary.

Key Games: Ohio State, @ Penn State, @ Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, @ Maryland
This team should jump out to a 4-0 start going into Columbus. Then it’s more road trips to Happy Valley and East Lansing over their next month. Going bowling is not out of the question here but IU must get out of the gate quickly.

14) Purdue

The Boilermakers could be a much improved team in 2015. To what extent is hard to say. Darrell Hazell’s third season at Purdue’s coach will be interesting to watch. His team won one game in 2013 and three last year. Can they break even this fall? They will be better on the offensive front and it’s a deep unit. That will ultimately help generate a more consistent run game and better protection for Austin Appleby. Do they have enough playmakers to really compete on both sides of the ball?

Key Games: Virginia Tech, @ Michigan State, Minnesota, @ Wisconsin, Nebraska

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