College football is back! It just feels good to say that. In the Big Ten, there are many intriguing storylines and even a few teams that look to factor into the College Football Playoff. Every week I will take my best shot in ranking the teams in the conference. Who are the favorites? Who will make the biggest climb? Who will be excited for basketball in October? Let's find out.
1- Ohio State
This week: Bowling Green
A team that lost so much in the draft but continues to reload. J.T. Barrett is the best QB in the conference and the defense is talented. The Buckeyes will look to set the tone this weekend against Urban Meyer's old team.
This week: Miami- Ohio
When you run through the regular season, come within a minute of a title and return several keys players from a year ago you get respect. Iowa is solid in so many areas and has a chip on their shoulder. Can they meet expectations? We shall find out.
3- Michigan State
This week: Furman (Fri)
Replacing a staple at quarterback is never easy but this team has always had a strong defensive identity. Mark Dantonio has one of his better groups on that side of the ball. It could take the offense a few weeks to get going but that never seems to bother the Spartans.
This week: Hawaii
This could be your Big Ten champion in 2016 but when will we know how good this team is? Finding the right quarterback for Jim Harbaugh will be the biggest question mark. Michigan is talented and well coached but are they ready to take the flag? We may not know until week 9.
This week: Fresno State
It's so hard to imagine Nebraska experiencing the bad bounces and last minute defeats that kept this team near the bottom of the division in 2015. Coaches and players know what to expect from each other and have a large number of veterans. Yes there are question marks up front on both sides but plenty of experience in a lot of key areas too.
This week: Western Michigan
Regardless of what the Wildcats have returning they have Pat Fitzgerald. A coach that seems to get the most out of his roster. Good news for Fitz is he returns an athletic quarterback and one of the top running backs in the conference. The season opener is not Stanford but it is a tough opponent.
This week: @FIU (Thu)
Can the Hoosiers replace a talented backfield? Can the defense make any stops? Kevin Wilson feels good about this team and the idea of Indiana making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since the early 90's. This group has familiar speed on offense but it will come down to quarterback play and the defense trying to slow opponents down.
This week: LSU (in Green Bay)
The schedule clearly does the Badgers zero favors. Wisconsin has a strong defense and a deep running game but opponents this team has to face early in the season will be a challenge. Wisconsin could beat just about any team on their schedule but it's unrealistic to think they can sustain any real momentum in 2016.
9- Penn State
This week: Kent State
All 85 scholarships are back in play for James Franklin but replacing Christian Hackenberg at quarterback and protecting that position are big concerns. Saquon Barkley is a tremendous running back which should help transition in a new signal caller. Defensive line is question mark.
This week: Oregon State (Thu)
This team could be very well be the most underrated team in the West division. Quarterback Mitch Leidner has plenty of experience and NFL scouts are watching. The defense has some key returners and the running game could also be strong. Leidner lacks proven play makers at the wide receiving position.
This week: Murray State
The Lovie Smith honeymoon is still alive and well but that could change after a few weeks when reality hits. This team just doesn't have enough talent collectively to contend in the division. Wes Lunt provides stability at quarterback and Hardy Nickerson Jr. is an all-conference talent on defense but this looks to be a rough season for the Illini.
This week: Howard
New coach D.J. Durkin brings excitement to the program but there is plenty of work that needs to be done. The schedule has a few opportunities that could help the Terps reach 5 wins but anything more would be a tremendous accomplishment.
This week: @Washington
This is one of the more challenging rebuild jobs in the Power 5. Chris Ash will have his work cut out in just establishing an identity. Chris Laviano returns with experience at quarterback but there are several holes to fill.
This week: Eastern Kentucky
I am a Darrell Hazell fan. I think he is a great leader and can be a great coach. It might have to be somewhere else though. This team is really no closer to being remotely relevant in it's own division. 2016 doesn't appear to have any silver lining.