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Preseason Big Ten Power Rankings

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Kristofer Green

With the Big Ten's first kickoff just 16 days away, it's time to unveil First and Big Ten's preseason edition of the Big Ten Power Rankings.

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Will Juice Williams have the Illini fighting for the Big Ten title?

There could be some major surprises in store for Big Ten fans this season, which figures to be one of the most competitive in years.

All 11 teams have questions that need answering:

Can Penn State sustain the success from 2008? Will Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State find replacements for all-everything backs Beanie Wells, Shonn Greene, and Javon Ringer? Does Wisconsin have what it takes to get back to the top half of the conference?

We'll see.

As many would expect, four time defending champion Ohio State is FBT's preseason choice for the top spot, but the Buckeyes weren't the unanimous choice. Where does your favorite team fall?

The 2009 power rankings will return on a weekly basis starting on Wednesday, Sept. 9.


1. Ohio State 31 points

Tim Cary (3rd): Terrelle Pryor should only get better, but a trip to Happy Valley may spell disaster for Buckeyes' title hopes.

Kristofer Green (1st): Get ready for a new look offense and a usually stingy defense in Columbus. The Buckeyes will still run the ball, but the offense has been rebuilt around Terrelle Pryor who's improved passing attack could make the Buckeyes really hard to beat.

Kevin Paul (1st): Fans in Columbus will love the early home schedule featuring USC, Illinois, and Wisconsin.  But there will be more love for the improvement they will see from QB Terrelle Pryor, who should improve on last year's overall total of 18 touchdowns.


2. Illinois 29 points

TC (1): Defense is a question mark, but Ron Zook has enough pieces on the offensive side of the ball to beat anybody.

KG (3): Time to prove it Juice. The junior has been the next best thing since his arrival in Champaign and though his game has improved, his team has not. The weapons are there on both sides of the ball for the Illini to contend for the title, but inconsistency has ruled of late.

KP (3): This is the dark horse team of the Big Ten in 2009.  The Illini are loaded on offense, and if the defense can improve at all from last year, combined with Juice Williams making less mistakes passing the football (16 INT's in '08), then watch out for Zook and company.


3. Penn State 28 points

TC (2): Several great quarterbacks in the league, but Daryll Clark may have the best combination of skill and experience.

KG (4): The schedule is easy enough to get to eight wins, but are the Lions good enough to get any more? The toughest games on the schedule will be Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, and Illinois. I see them getting two of four.

KP (2): Key losses on the offensive line, at wide receiver, and in the secondary could hurt Penn State, especially with two tough games to open the Big Ten schedule (vs. Iowa, at Illinois), all after three games against soft non-conference opponents (Akron, Syracuse, and Temple).


4. Michigan State 25 points

TC (5): Not as high on this team as others may be, but if they can replace Ringer and settle on a quarterback (both are possible), they could surprise me.

KG (2): Believe it. The Spartans will be better this season than they were last season. A favorable schedule that has them hosting their toughest games and doesn't include Ohio State sets the Sparty up nice for a BCS run.

KP (4): Fifteen returning starters and no Buckeyes on the conference schedule should equal another successful year for the Spartans.  As for the loss of Ringer, players like freshman Edwin Baker could fill the role nicely, as long as his knees stay healthy.


5. Iowa 21 points

TC (4): The Hawkeyes could go 4-0 in non-conference play, which would be a nice boost into the league schedule.

KG (5): A brutal schedule will keep the Hawkeyes on the short end of the stick unless they overacheive in a big way. If they can, they could easily be contending for the top spot. But road games at Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State may be too much to overcome.

KP (6): Losing RB Shonn Greene hurts, but overall, the Hawkeyes have plenty of talent and return 14 starters from last year's team.  When it comes down to it, a brutal road schedule is what will hurt Iowa the most in '09.


6T. Michigan 14 points

TC (9): The Wolverines will be better than last year. Of course, that's not staying much.

KG (8): The right kind of players are starting to fill the Michigan roster and the Wolverines will take a step forward this season by beating the teams they should beat, but Michigan won't be Michigan for at least another year.

KP (5): Call me crazy, but there are a number of reasons the Wolverines could land back in the top half of the Big Ten.  Coach Rodriguez has had an additional year to recruit the right players for his offense (e.g. Tate Forcier), plus he returns 15 starters on this year's team.


6T. Minnesota 14 points

TC (7): The Gophers may have better team, but a worse record than a year ago. Finding a solid No. 2 receiver will be critical.

KG (7): As long as Adam Weber and Eric Decker stay healthy, the Gophers will be in every game this season... for a half. Getting production from the defense and finding some new playmakers on offense could have them competing for 60 minutes.

KP (8): The Golden Gophers open a brand new outdoor stadium, plus return 17 starters from last year's team that went 7-6.  But a brutal schedule featuring a four-game stretch that includes road games at Penn State and Ohio State, and home meetings with Michigan State and Illinois should keep this team around .500 by season's end.


6T. Wisconsin 14 points

TC (6): The Badgers always live and die with their main running back--lucky for them, John Clay seems to be the real deal.

KG (9): Every season under Brett Bielema, the Badgers have slipped further and further away from the program built by Barry Alvarez. Recruiting is down, performance is down and most importantly the wins are down. I can't see that changing too much this season.

KP (7): As always, the Badgers feature a major talent in the backfield, but a lack of experience at both the defensive line and linebacker positions could be what keeps the Badgers from being a part of the conference's elite teams in 2009.


9. Northwestern 13 points

TC (8): The Wildcats may sweep the non-conference schedule, but could struggle down the stretch in November.

KG (6): Pat Fitzgerald has elevated the 'Cats football program and they are no longer a bottom feeder in the conference. This season could prove that Northwestern now belongs in the top half of the Big Ten.

KP (9): The Wildcats return only five starters on offense, but more notably lose the two biggest weapons from 2008 in QB C.J. Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton.  Senior QB Mike Kafka also has a lack of experienced players to throw to, with Jeremy Ebert (15 rec./161 yds) the top returnee.


10. Purdue 6 points

TC (10): Best-case, the Boilers do their best 1997 imitation and surprise under their first-year coach.  Worst-case...let's not go there. Serious rebuilding project.

KG (10): The Boilermakers will be fast, but that won't be enough to overcome the complete lack of experience on offense. Defensively Purdue won't be so bad, but the offense will be a definite work in progress.

KP (10): New head coach Danny Hope has big shoes to fill replacing Joe Tiller.  It also doesn't help to have Oregon and Notre Dame on the non-conference schedule, plus major losses on offense, including QB Curtis Painter, WR Desmond Tardy, WR Greg Orton, and RB Kory Sheets.


11. Indiana 3 points

TC (11): The Hoosiers weren't going to be very good with Kellen Lewis. Now he's gone. You do the math.

KG (11): Indiana has maybe the best defensive ends in the conference. That's it.

KP (11): It should be another long year for head coach Bill Lynch and the Hoosiers.  However, if one is looking for a bright spot in Indiana, look no further than the defensive line, featuring the talented duo of Jammie Kirlew (10 ½ sacks in '08) and Greg Middleton (1st team all Big Ten in '07).

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