Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Big Ten preseason power rankings
By Adam Rittenberg
It's that time again. Let's take a look at the power rankings as camps are under way throughout the Big Ten.
1. Ohio State: There isn't a glaring weakness on this team. History shows the defense will be extremely stingy, and if quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues to develop, the offense should be more than capable of putting up points. A bona fide national title contender.
2. Iowa: The core from the Orange Bowl championship team returns, led by defensive end Adrian Clayborn and quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Iowa must reload at offensive line but has a strong tradition there. A Week 3 test at Arizona could be tricky, but Iowa will be a BCS bowl contender if it defends its home turf.
3. Wisconsin: No Big Ten team returns more individual stars than the Badgers. A balanced offense led by one of the nation's best lines could be unstoppable if John Clay, Scott Tolzien and others can stay healthy. The defense is young in spots but talented, and safety Jay Valai promises me they'll lay the wood. Can head coach Bret Bielema take this program from very good to great?
4. Penn State: I had the Lions tied with Michigan State coming out of the spring, but Penn State's historic success on defense and its superior line play provides an ever-so-slight edge right now. Given the inexperience at quarterback, Penn State will need to rely on its run game and its defense. Joe Paterno has won that way a few times before.
5. Michigan State: The Spartans boast more depth at the offensive skill positions than any Big Ten team. Linebacker Greg Jones returns to lead the defense. My only hesitation here is the line play on both sides of the ball. I'm tempted to buy into Michigan State, but I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach for now.
6. Northwestern: Quarterback Dan Persa has done everything right in the offseason. Now he needs to prove himself when it really counts. The secondary and the rushing game concern me, but running back Arby Fields is poised for a big year. This isn't a championship-level team but one that should make a school-record third straight bowl.
7. Purdue: Like Persa, Robert Marve has established himself as a leader before starting his first game at quarterback for the Boilers. If Purdue fills a few gaps on the offensive line, its offense could be very good. The defensive front seven should be better against the run, but Purdue must replace its entire starting secondary, which is never easy.
8. Michigan: Regardless of who wins the starting quarterback job, Rich Rodriguez's offense will put up points. But if the defense doesn't make a major jump in 2010, nothing else will matter. Demar Dorsey's departure from the secondary could hurt, and while I'm interested to see what Cam Gordon and others can do on the field, it's hard to buy into this unit right now.
T-9. Minnesota: There has been too much change in personnel and on Tim Brewster's staff the last two years for me to give the Gophers a stamp of approval at this stage. Quarterback Adam Weber certainly is talented enough to turn things around, especially with some help from the run game and the offensive line. I'm not counting out Minnesota by any means, but a very challenging schedule combined with a lot of new faces creates some concern.
T-9. Indiana: I'm buying into Ben Chappell and the Hoosiers offense. If the unit stays healthy, Indiana will put up points and improve in critical situations (third down, red zone). Not surprisingly, the major concerns come on defense, where Indiana hopes a switch to the 3-4 alignment pays off. A very favorable schedule gives IU a chance to make it back to a bowl game.
11. Illinois: The Grand Experiment begins Sept. 4 against Missouri in St. Louis. Great recruiting classes haven't translated into on-field success for the Illini. Perhaps an upgrade in coaching will make the difference. Linebacker Martez Wilson's return provides a boost, but Illinois needs to help young quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase as much as possible.