It's finally here. The aggressively slow offseason is over. We need a parade just for this moment. Then we can have another parade when the games actually get here. So two parades on the opening week, then more parades once the NFL gets here next week. I don't love parades, I just love football that much.
What you should be looking for in any kind of prediction piece is an idea of where a team should be by the end of the season. It will help you realize what teams should be on top and which teams will likely finish at the bottom. No one knows the actual outcome. There will be surprises and upsets and injuries and mishaps. Unpredictable stuff.
So when it comes to preseason Power Rankings, writing anything that gave an absolute hierarchy felt fake. Instead, I'll employ tiers. By grouping teams together, you get a respective guide to where each teams' potential lies, and I get to avoid ranking two very similar teams.
Michigan State and Ohio State
Michigan State comes off the first B1G Rose Bowl win since the 2009-10 Ohio State team. They are flying as high as any Michigan State team ever has.
Ohio State is in a good spot too, but not as good as it was a week ago. Quarterback Braxton Miller went down last week with a season-ending injury. It adds a large question mark to a team with quite a few question marks at every position group except the D-Line. But roster questions at Ohio State are legitimate starters at Illinois. They're going to be fine.
This tier, and ultimately the Eastern Division, will likely come down to November 8th when the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing. It's the biggest game when viewed with preseason goggles, and it should be a huge difference maker when it actually roles around.
Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin
The Western Division will be won by one of these teams, but it's no short order to pick one out this early in the season. All three have nearly similar odds to come out on top. If each team came with a trending arrow, these teams are all pointing in different directions: Wisconsin seems to be falling from Really Good to Pretty Good after seeing so many players graduate from both sides of the ball; Nebraska has been their same redundant self for the last six years and look to be in the same place again; and Iowa is hoping that their potential pushes them to the top. That's down, horizontal, and up, respectively, when referring to the trend line, but now they're all about level.
Because these three teams find themselves in such comparable situations, any game that features two of these teams will automatically bring major significance to the weekend. And.. glory be, would you look at that.. They play all their games against each other in the final two weeks of the season. Happy November indeed.
Apple Pie In the Sky Hopes
Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Northwestern
Here is a tier of where the positive hope to outweigh the bad. All teams have some kind of major flaw but a major quality to even it out. Other than Northwestern, these teams don't really have a hope to be conference champs, but at their best, they could be right behind the division leaders.
It may look like Northwestern survived 2013, but they didn't. There's never been more bad luck in one season as the Wildcats endured. Key players dropped like flies, they crumpled under the pressure of the national attention, and they may be the only team in history that lost two games while the clock read :00. And now to start off 2014 they lost key offensive piece running back Venric Mark. It's a tough blow, but they do return much of the team that they lost last season. It's kinda like a breakout (if it the season is a success), except it took two years to happen.
Michigan troubles came mostly from their offensive line. The entire offensive gameplan became a scramble for short yardage in nearly every situation. They've hired a new coordinator in hopes that he can coach the many 4-star linemen they recruit every year. A return to a normal Michigan will likely see them back in third in the East.
And then Indiana and Maryland, who I personally have a hard time differentiating in my mind. They both have good offenses, especially Indiana, both have flashy outfits, especially Maryland, and both are hoping that their defense can be more than average. They both want bowl games -- for Maryland, a sign they can compete in the B1G; for Indiana, a sign they can compete. They both play in the East. I guess we'll have to wait until September 27th, when the Terps travel to Bloomington, before I'm able to tell you which team is truly better.
Hope for Days
Illinois, Minnesota and Penn State
These are the hardest group to define. They each seem to vary widely in their potential outcomes. They won't be in last place, and they won't be winning any championships. They're somewhere in between, which obviously puts them in the second-to-last tier of this list.
The Illini! We know they have potential and problems all over the place. The offense will likely regress, while the defense will likely improve. We're going back to average!! Tim Beckman and Co. are going to take us on another year of ups and downs as week after week we hope for a measly six wins. They don't belong in the lowest tier, nor do they belong any higher, but grouped with the two teams who we have a chance to beat sounds about the best place to put them.
Minnesota is coming of an unexpectedly great season for their program. Now they'll try to do it again with a less talented quarterback, a less talented defense, and four quality, classic B1G running backs. The Gophers seem to be falling back to average, but coach Jerry Kill still has enough to make another bowl game, which would be their third in a row, something the Illini haven't done since 1988-90.
Penn State may have found a recruiting monster in Jonathan Franklin, but that won't fix this year's problems. The sanctions are now beginning to really take effect as the team is strapped for players to making their starting roster, especially at the O-Line. Quarterback Christian Hack
enburg may be one of the best ball-throwers in the B1G, but if he doesn't have time to throw, what does it matter?
Time Machine Hopes
Rutgers and Purdue
No one has any delusions about Purdue or Rutgers: they are going to have a bad season. These teams are just not set up to compete in the 2014 B1G. The best they can do is wait for whichever comes first: next season, or the invention of a time machine.
I'm not sure that Rutgers is exactly a bad team. They might've been competitive this year if they stayed in the American Conference, but coming into the B1G and playing the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin makes this season ridiculous, a matchup similar to a young Sir Lancelot jousting with the Hulk. In the future, the Scarlet Knights will probably be an upper-to-mid table B1G team, but this year is not one of those years.
The Boilermakers are in such a massive rebuild that they might outrank the 2012 Illini for Worst Hole to Crawl Out Of. Last year was phenomenally horrible as they set records in losses (11), points allowed (456) and offensive points scored (179). They employed a pass-happy, yet confused offense that will be their strength(?) in the coming year. Their defense has little apparent talent, although if potential is realized, they might slow some teams down. They are Pur-Doomed. (I'm becoming a dad soon, so I have to practice my dad jokes.)