Arguably no college football team in America enters the season with a hazier forecast than the Ohio State Buckeyes.
It's usually easy to predict how the Buckeyes will fare when the games begin. They have dominated the Big Ten for the better part of the past decade. But the looming NCAA situation involving coach Jim Tressel, combined with the need to replace quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four others for the first five games, makes Ohio State a real wild card.
I'm still of the belief that until proven otherwise on the field, Ohio State remains the team to beat in the Big Ten. Despite all the turmoil, Ohio State still has top-notch personnel and a track record of filling gaps and finding ways to win.
Colleague Mark Schlabach sees it differently. Schlabach dropped Ohio State nine spots in his post-spring top 25, noting the potential effects of TresselGate and the personnel challenges.
Ohio State comes in at No. 15 in Schlabach's poll, behind three other Big Ten teams. He writes: "There are so many off-field distractions at Ohio State that it's hard to imagine them not becoming an issue this coming season."
While the Buckeyes tumble, Nebraska makes a significant move up the poll. Schlabach likes the offseason adjustments coach Bo Pelini made to prepare Big Red for the Big Ten.
Michigan State also moves up six spots following spring ball.
Here's Schlabach's take on the other Big Ten squads he ranks:
No. 10 Michigan State (previous ranking: 16) -- "With so much turmoil at Ohio State, the Spartans might enter the 2011 season as Big Ten favorites. Coach Mark Dantonio has led Michigan State to four consecutive bowl games, and the pieces seem to be in place for another run at a Big Ten title."
No. 12 Wisconsin (previous ranking: 13) -- "The Badgers lost as much star power as any team in the country, with four All-Americans departing, including defensive end J.J. Watt and offensive tackle Gabe Carimi. But with tailbacks Montee Ball and James White coming back, Wisconsin again figures to have one of the country's best running games."
No. 13 Nebraska (previous ranking: 24) -- "Coach Bo Pelini made adjustments to jump-start his team heading into their first season in the Big Ten. Running backs coach Tim Beck was promoted to offensive coordinator, and he'll try to get the Cornhuskers to play at a faster pace. Keeping quarterback Taylor Martinez healthy and restoring his confidence will be paramount."
In case you missed it from last week, check out College Football Live's preseason Top 25. Ohio State leads off the Big Ten contingent at No. 10, followed by No. 13 Nebraska, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 16 Michigan State.