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Friday, June 21, 2013
Future power rankings in the Big Ten

By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg

This week, ESPN.com put together a set of college football power rankings for the next three years Insider. The formula used took into account such things as coaching, current talent, recruiting and the path to a title.

You'll notice something right away about the Top 25 our panel of experts (not including either of your faithful Big Ten bloggers) came up with: Ohio State and Michigan are highly ranked ... and then there's no other presence by the league. No Nebraska. No Wisconsin. No Michigan State. No Northwestern. No Penn State.

It's kind of hard to believe none of those programs -- especially a historical power such Nebraska, or a three-time reigning Big Ten champ in Wisconsin -- can't crack the Top 25, when schools such as North Carolina, UCLA and Auburn do. Chalk it up to a lack of respect for the Big Ten and its recruiting; we'd be hugely surprised if at least one league program isn't Top 25-caliber for each of the next three years.

Today, we're following up with our own set of future power rankings for the Big Ten. We're not using any mathematical formulas here. We're going just by what we think the strengths of these programs are and will be during the next three years (meaning that we're including Rutgers and Maryland as well). Of course, perceptions can change in a hurry. But this is how we see it right now.

1. Ohio State: When you're coming off a 12-0 season and you've been the dominant program in the league for most of the current century, you deserve a lot of respect. Combine that with the way the Buckeyes are recruiting and the track record of Urban Meyer, and Ohio State has to be the choice here for No. 1

2. Michigan: You could make a case for the Wolverines at No. 1, especially with their recruiting prowess under Brady Hoke. It's close. But Ohio State has had more recent success in winning Big Ten titles, and Meyer's championship history puts the Buckeyes over the top. We know this: the East Division battle between these two is going to be a war starting in 2014.

3. Wisconsin: It's a tough call here between the Badgers and Nebraska. Wisconsin boasts three straight Rose Bowl trips, though, while the Huskers are dealing with a long BCS drought. We also think Gary Andersen will be in Madison for a long time, and will keep this program humming right along. Wisconsin's long overdue facilities upgrade should help recruiting.

4. Nebraska: Bo Pelini has made Nebraska a perennial nine- or 10-win team, and that shouldn't change as long as he's in Lincoln. Is he there for the long haul, though? The Huskers face some recruiting challenges, but competing in the easier West Division starting next season should help them pile up wins.

5. Northwestern: The Wildcats have some good momentum right now after a 10-win season and a bowl victory. Their recruiting is on an uptick, and a new training facility should only help in that regard. Plus, their path to a division title in the West will be a little easier than that of the next two teams on this list. A lot depends on whether Pat Fitzgerald remains as coach, but he has given no indication he's leaving his alma mater anytime soon.

6. Michigan State: The Spartans were included on the five teams that just missed Insider the cut for the Top 25 of the future rankings. Life is about to get much tougher next year in the East Division, however, and eventually some school will hire away defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to be its head coach. Still, Mark Dantonio has built a consistent winner, and Michigan State should remain an annual contender.

7. Penn State: The hardest team to place in these rankings. Bill O'Brien is too good of a coach and a recruiter for the Nittany Lions to fade, but harsh scholarship restrictions kick in next year, and the bowl ban remains in place until 2016. Penn State wants to keep O'Brien in place for the foreseeable future, but the NFL pull could be too strong for the coach. Those factors, plus the difficult East Division, are why we rank Penn State here.

8. Iowa: We admit we don't like the recent trajectory of this program, and coach Kirk Ferentz will need to reverse that if the Hawkeyes are going to live up to even this modest ranking. Yet we can't ignore that Iowa was one of the Big Ten's best teams not that long ago, and we'll bank on history here as we look toward the future. A facilities facelift also should help boost recruiting.

9. Minnesota: One could argue that the Gophers are on a better path right now than Iowa, and we love the coaching stability brought by Jerry Kill and his staff. Yet this remains a program that hasn't won a Big Ten title since 1967, so history is not on Minnesota's side. Iowa's schedules the next few years also look more manageable than those of the Gophers.

10. Rutgers: How will the Scarlet Knights fare in their move from the Big East/American Athletic to the Big Ten? Who knows? We do know that Rutgers has been to seven bowl games since 2005 and has a strong recruiting base in New Jersey. That should help it compete reasonably well in a new league.

11. Purdue: If Darrell Hazell can replicate his success at Kent State, this low ranking will seem foolish soon enough. But the Boilermakers have been mediocre at best for most of the past decade, and it's not the easiest place in the world to recruit. At least the West Division path gives them a leg up on their in-state rival.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers appear poised for a breakthrough with Kevin Wilson's exciting offense, improved recruiting efforts and recent infrastructure upgrades. That's the good news. The bad news is that this program has been to just one bowl game since 1993, and has to deal with the East Division powers starting next season. We'll believe it when we see it.

13. Illinois: The Illini are just five years removed from a Rose Bowl appearance, though it seems much longer than that. They can only hope last season's 2-10 record was rock bottom. But they have a lot of climbing left to do, and it remains to be seen whether Tim Beckman is the guy to get them back on solid ground.

14. Maryland: We're less enthused about the Terrapins' chances to succeed right away in the Big Ten than we are about Rutgers', especially because the program has two 10-loss seasons in the past four years and is just 6-17 under coach Randy Edsall. This will be a crucial season for the Terps to decide if Edsall is the man to lead them into a new conference.