Your Unofficial Way–Too–Early Big Ten Power Rankings For 2017

By Tim Shoemaker on January 11, 2017 at 10:10 am
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer prior to the Fiesta Bowl.

It's never too early to talk about next season.

Clemson came from behind Monday night to dethrone Alabama and win the national championship. Deshaun Watson's touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining gave the Tigers their first national title since 1981.

Up next: Peak Offseason. 

We'll spend days, weeks, months debating endless college football topics as we wait for August to roll around and fall camps across the country begin. It's the best — and worst — time of the year.

We begin it today with a way-too-early look at next season's Big Ten landscape. Penn State is the defending league champions and is expected to bring most of its team back. Ohio State was the College Football Playoff qualifier; the Buckeyes have plenty of guys who need to be replaced, but also a stable of talent waiting in the wings.

Spoiler alert: The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes will come in at No. 1 and 2, respectively, in our way-too-early list. The rest of the Big Ten, however, was a bit more difficult to figure out. 

It's January, so things can change as there are still plenty of moving parts. But without any further delay, here's our first look at next season's Big Ten landscape.

1. Penn State 

The Nittany Lions came on strong at the end of last season and delivered an unbelievable Rose Bowl game against USC. With Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and a stable of other talented players on both sides of the ball, the defending Big Ten champs have a really good chance at repeating in 2017.

2. Ohio State

The Buckeyes have plenty of talent to replace with players the likes of Curtis Samuel, Raekwon McMillan, Malik Hooker and more off early to the NFL, but Ohio State returns its starting quarterback and most of its offense in 2017. The Buckeyes made a few offensive staff changes and with Urban Meyer still in charge, you better believe Ohio State will once again be contending for the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes get Penn State at home next season, too.

3. Wisconsin

The reigning Big Ten West champions navigated their way through a brutal schedule in 2016 on their way to an 11-win season. The Badgers' defense carried them last season and that, coupled with an easier schedule, should make Wisconsin the favorite once again to represent the West in Indianapolis.

4. Michigan

The Wolverines were oh so close to an appearance in the Big Ten championship game before Curtis Samuel dashed those hopes in double overtime on Nov. 26. Michigan wound up losing three of its final four games and finished the year 10–3. It was a disappointing end to a successful second season for Jim Harbaugh, but with a ton of talent leaving Ann Arbor — defensive star Jabrill Peppers announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft on Tuesday — the Wolverines likely take a step back in 2017.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh
Michigan is getting set for Year 3 under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan probably needs one more full recruiting cycle under Harbaugh before it can contend with Ohio State annually atop the Big Ten East.

5. Michigan State

It was a season to forget in East Lansing for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans as Michigan State stumbled to a 3–9 record just one year after a College Football Playoff appearance. The Spartans have their hands full with Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan all in the Big Ten East, but it'd be surprising for another disastrous season for Michigan State. Expect improvement. How much? We'll find out.

6. Northwestern

The Wildcats started their 2016 season horribly but were a capable group by the end of the year. Quarterback Clayton Thorson and running back Justin Jackson return, so Pat Fitzgerald's team could be the top candidate to challenge Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.

7. Nebraska 

The Huskers certainly benefited from an easy schedule in 2016, but there was a massive jump in wins from Year 1 to Year 2 under Mike Riley. Nebraska will have a new quarterback next season and there's still plenty of work to be done, but again, the Big Ten West seems relatively open.

8. Iowa

The Hawkeyes took a widely-expected step back in 2016 following an undefeated regular season and a Big Ten championship game appearance the year prior. Iowa must replace C.J. Beathard at quarterback, but it's probably fair to expect the Hawkeyes to be a middle-of-the-pack team next season much like they were this past one.

9. Minnesota 

The obvious wildcard here is the Gophers, who recently hired P.J. Fleck to be their head coach. Fleck is coming off a 13–1 season at Western Michigan and being in the Big Ten West certainly helps, but it may take him a year or two to get Minnesota contending for a division crown.

10. Maryland

DJ Durkin and the Terps started 2016 hot, but once conference play began Maryland faded down the stretch. This season will be about closing the talent gap between the Terps and the rest of the Big Ten.

11. Indiana

Kevin Wilson is gone and is now Ohio State's new offensive coordinator, so the Hoosiers lost the one thing that made them a pain in the side of many Big Ten teams. Tom Allen is a new head coach and he certainly has his hands full in his first season in Bloomington.

12. Purdue
Rutgers head coach Chris Ash
Chris Ash's second season at Rutgers must go better than his first...right?

Purdue made what many consider an excellent hire in Jeff Brohm, but the Boilermakers are well behind in the Big Ten in terms of talent so this might take a couple of years. It does benefit Purdue that it plays in the Big Ten West, however.

13. Illinois

Year 1 under Lovie Smith in Champaign didn't exactly go as planned as the Illini finished just 3–9. The expectation is Illinois will be improved next season, but for now, we're ranking them here.

14. Rutgers

Chris Ash's first season with the Scarlet Knights was, well, not great. Rutgers was winless in the Big Ten and has a long way to go before becoming competitive in the Big Ten East. Will things begin trending in the right direction in Year 2 under Ash?

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