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Big Ten post-spring power rankings: Ohio State over Oregon for No. 1, USC lands in top five


1 While we’ve seen plenty of teams win the title of “offseason champions” only to fall flat on their face during the season, it isn’t likely Ohio State will suffer such a fate. It’s very much Big Ten title or bust in Columbus. Hell, it’s probably more national title or bust. Ohio State retained most of its key pieces from last season and added to the roster by landing big names in the portal such as Alabama’s Caleb Downs and Ole Miss’ Quinshon Judkins. Will Howard transferred in at QB but has not officially won the starting job because Ohio State has enviable depth at the QB spot. The only questions are on the offensive line. 2 Speaking of programs that have had a great offseason, Oregon enters its first season in the Big Ten as a legitimate contender to win the league. Bo Nix has been replaced by left-handed Bo Nix (more commonly known as Dillon Gabriel), and he’s just one of the impressive transfers Dan Lanning has landed. There’s a strong argument that the Ducks are the second-most talented team in the league and could be the most talented Oregon team of all time. 3 It may seem unfair to have the reigning national champions ranked third only a few months removed from the parade, but a lot has changed since then. Jim Harbaugh and a large chunk of the coaching staff are gone, as are J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum and nearly every offensive lineman in the 734 area code. Still, there’s plenty of talent on the roster entering Sherrone Moore’s first season as the full-time head coach, and the Wolverines were able to hold onto a few huge defensive pieces whom some speculated could leave in the portal. There may not be a repeat national title in the cards, but a fourth straight Big Ten title is more likely than many believe. 4 We could be on the precipice of a new era at Penn State — one where the Nittany Lions are no longer in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan and could reach the College Football Playoff without winning the Big Ten. Of course, even with that being the case, they’re still only fourth in these power rankings behind a new incoming powerhouse program! For the most part, the 2024 version of Penn State won’t look all that dissimilar to the 2023 version. The hope is a year of growth from Drew Allar under new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki will be enough to take this team to the next level. 5 Last season was a disaster for the Trojans. The team finished 8-5 despite having the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and eventual first pick of the NFL Draft, Caleb Williams. No matter how many miracles Williams pulled off, he always needed one more to overcome a horrific defense. Lincoln Riley has completely overhauled the defensive staff, so we should see improvement there (it’d be hard to be worse), but now the question is: How do the Trojans replace Caleb Williams? 6 I’m putting the Huskies here as a nod to winning the Pac-12 and reaching the College Football Playoff National Championship, but there’s a strong argument to be made this is too high. The program has been gutted since that loss to Michigan. Kalen DeBoer left for Alabama and took everything that wasn’t leaving for the NFL Draft with him. Jedd Fisch comes from Arizona, where his Wildcats surprised many last season, but it’s another transition on top of the transition to life in the Big Ten. It feels like a reset season in Seattle. 7 We’ve reached the portion of these rankings where you can toss these teams into a lottery ball machine, pick a random order and nearly all would be defensible. I’m putting Nebraska at the top not because it’s an annual tradition to get Husker fans’ hopes up, but because the addition of Dylan Raiola gives this offense a ceiling I’m not sure anybody else in this group has. A lot will have to go right for that to be the case. True freshman QBs typically don’t come out guns blazing, but if Raiola lives up to his potential, this team may surprise. At a minimum, it should finally get back to a bowl game. 8 Most years, I look at Iowa questioning nearly everything about the roster and offensive philosophy before deciding it doesn’t matter because the Hawkeyes will figure out a way to win at least eight games anyway. Ironically, I’m not nearly as confident now that Iowa has replaced offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz with Tim Lester. This is not because of Lester, rather it’s because last year’s third-string quarterback, Marco Lainez, is the only healthy quarterback on the roster right now. There’s hope Iowa can land a transfer soon, but for the most part, the QBs remaining in the portal come May are there for a reason. Oh, and superstar punter extraordinaire Tory Taylor is gone. 9 This is an interesting spot for the Badgers. The first season under Luke Fickell had the expected ups and downs that were only intensified by injuries at the QB spot. This season, the Badgers are hoping their offense can take another step with either transfer Tyler Van Dyke or Braedyn Locke. Of course, there’s also the question of whether simply being better will be enough because the Badgers have a daunting schedule. They’re set to play Alabama, USC, Penn State and Oregon this year with road trips to Iowa and Nebraska also on the slate. 10 Is Rutgers a sneaky dark horse in the Big Ten this season? Many are asking! OK, maybe it’s only me and a few others asking, but the Knights flew under the radar last season finishing 7-6 and winning the Pinstripe Bowl. And they did it with no passing game of which to speak. Minnesota transfer Athan Kaliakmanis won the starting QB job this spring, and while he may not be a huge upgrade at the position, any production in the passing game could see this program reach the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 2013-14. 11 I’m of two minds when it comes to the Terps in 2024. One part of my brain is concerned about Maryland no longer having the Big Ten’s all-time leader in passing yards, Taulia Tagovailoa. But the other part says maybe that’s not the worst thing? Tagovailoa was a volatile commodity. Perhaps finding a bit more consistency at the position will help. However, whether NC State transfer M.J. Morris is the player to deliver it remains to be seen. 12 It has been an offseason of change in East Lansing, Michigan. There was an exodus of players, as is typically the case when there’s a regime change, but the Spartans lost some key contributors on defense to the portal this spring. There’s a difference between losing backups and players expected to start. That said, Jonathan Smith has brought a lot with him from Oregon State, including QB Aidan Chiles. As things stand right now, I can see the 2024 season going in any number of directions for Sparty. t13 Illinois hopes to bounce back from what was a disappointing season internally in 2023 as it failed to get back to a bowl game. Surprisingly, the Illini had one of the better offenses in the Big Ten last year (their 24.2 points per game in conference play ranked fifth), but the defense let the team down. Illinois enters the summer optimistic that the offense can improve on last year, but there are still questions on the other side of the ball as the unit lost its best player, Johnny Newton, to the NFL. 14 David Braun pulled off one of the most stunning debuts in the country last season, leading a Northwestern team that was left for dead to an 8-5 record. While Braun got a full offseason to build the program in his image this winter, I wonder how realistic it is to expect an encore. The QB situation is unsettled, and the Wildcats will be playing their home games on their practice field as they await the construction of a new football stadium. We’ll see if this team continues to thrive amidst the chaos. 15 Last year was the first time Minnesota didn’t appear in the AP Top 25 or CFP Rankings at least once since the 2018 season as the Gophers finished 6-7. Was it a one-off after steady improvement under P.J. Fleck or the start of a trend? The hope is transfer QB Max Brosmer can reignite an offense that averaged only 18.8 points per game in Big Ten play last season. On the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Joe Rossi left to join Jonathan Smith’s staff at Michigan State, adding a bit of mystery about what we can expect from the Gophers in that department this year. 16 History suggests that transitioning to a new league is difficult for most, and while there are questions about each Pac-12 newcomer, UCLA is the one in which I have the least confidence. Chip Kelly left to become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and Deshaun Foster is a first-time head coach, though one with plenty of familiarity with the UCLA program. This program lost a lot of key personnel — on and off the field — this offseason, and there are too many questions needing answers before ranking the Bruins any higher. 17 Ryan Walters’ first season didn’t go as well as hoped. He went 4-8 after inheriting a team that had gone 8-6 in 2022. Then he had to watch as a couple of his best players — receiver Deion Burks and edge rusher Nic Scourton — left via the portal. The good news is that Hudson Card is back for his second season as quarterback, and there’s belief that a second go-around in Walters’ defensive scheme will lead to improvement from a defense that allowed 30.4 points per game. 18 There is reason to be optimistic about Indiana football. Curt Cignetti’s track record at IUP, Elon and James Madison suggests he knows how to build a program. He’s brought plenty of key players from James Madison, and the Hoosiers landed one of the MAC’s most prolific QBs in Ohio’s Kurtis Rourke. There are enough ingredients in Bloomington to make you wonder whether the Hoosiers could be a surprise package this season, but it still feels like a longshot. Somebody has to be ranked at the bottom for now.





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