The 2019 college football season is here, which means it’s time to once again rank the 14 Big Ten teams in order. We’ll do this every Tuesday throughout the season. Here’s the first edition:
The worst team in the Big Ten by a wide margin, there’s a better chance Chris Ash is fired before the end of the year than there is of Rutgers moving up to No. 13. The Scarlet Knights went 1-11 last season.
The Fighting Brandon Peters’ will have their chance to show they’ve improved enough to escape the basement of the Big Ten West. It’s a tall task, though, with nearly every team in the league besides Rutgers showing some level of hope. There’s a good chance this will be one of the strongest years top to bottom the conference has had in a while.
After bringing in Mike Locksley, the Terps are hoping he can lead them back to a bowl game. It’s certainly possible, but it might have to wait until year two.
There has been enormous hype around Nebraska and quarterback Adrian Martinez, but I just don’t see it yet. Martinez had a very solid year as a true freshman, and Scott Frost is eventually going to turn this program around, but I don’t think that huge jump up is going to come quite as quickly as it did at UCF. This roster is still pretty average, and there are a lot of other quality teams in the league with upside. I’m sure the Cornhuskers will rise on this list throughout the season, but they haven’t earned that yet.
There’s going to be some regression this year for the Boilermakers. They’ll be starting Elijah Sindelar at quarterback, who lost the job previously to David Blough, who graduated. It’s a downgrade. Rondale Moore might be the most electrifying play-maker in the country, but he needs some help.
Nine seems like a good spot for #9WINDIANA. The Hoosiers named dual-threat redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. as the starting quarterback, who played extremely well in his injury-shortened season last year. The offensive line and running game is experienced and now has former Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer running the show instead of Mike DeBord. IU is trending up.
The Gophers are a tough team to gauge, but the schedule isn’t overly difficult and it’s time for PJ Fleck to show he can handle the Big Ten. Keep an eye on wide receiver Tyler Johnson.
This is where things get challenging. There’s a clear top seven in my mind, but the order of teams 3-7 could go in really any order. Iowa has an experienced quarterback in Nate Stanley and will win plenty of games, but I don’t think the ceiling is as high as it is for other teams.
The Badgers have the nation’s best running back in Jonathan Taylor, but there will be a lot of pressure on new starting quarterback Jack Coan. Wisconsin will be as good as he is this fall.
5. Michigan State
MSU’s success this season will come down to how improved the offense is. If the unit isn’t substantially better, the Spartans will finish much lower on this list. However, with quarterback Brian Lewerke back and healthy, I think we see him closer to his 2017 form, which would mean the Spartans are a top team in the league when paired with their great defense.
This is the team I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about. Northwestern consistently is near the top of the Big Ten West and is coming off a 9-5 year. New quarterback Hunter Johnson should be able to pick up right where Clayton Thorson left off. Johnson was a five-star recruit and led the Wildcats’ practice squad last year after transferring from Clemson. He should be able to lead the team to a nice season.
3. Penn State
The Nittany Lions are the distant third team in the Big Ten East, but they are loaded with talent. The big challenge here will be how new quarterback Sean Clifford handles the spotlight after taking over for Trace McSorley.
Michigan may be the conference’s best team, but it hasn’t earned the top spot just yet. The Wolverines are favorites in the Big Ten for a reason, they have a star quarterback, a great offensive line and group of receivers, and an elite defense. I need to see the new offense on the field and see what Ohio State looks like before putting U-M in the top spot.
1. Ohio State
The reigning Big Ten champs start the 2019 season at the No. 1 team in the league. There’s talent at every position but the Buckeyes have a relative unknown at quarterback with Justin Fields and a new coach in Ryan Day. They are the team to beat, though, until another team proves it’s stronger in 2019.