After the early entries into the NFL Draft have been declared, and just before the second Signing Day is finished up and spring football, here’s the early ranking of all the Big Ten teams.
2018 Big Ten Pre-Spring Rankings
The best conference in college football over the last few years should be even better. The lesser programs look improved, the stars aren’t going anywhere, and the midsection appears to be stronger.
Yeah, it should be an even better league from top to bottom.
These can and will change after spring ball and going into the season, but for now, as a starting point, welcome to your pre-everything early ranking of all the Big Ten teams.
Alright, Cam Thomas. It’s your quarterback world after the transfer of the other main options. The ground game that didn’t go anywhere at least has a bunch of young options returning – and Thomas can run, too. Six of the top seven receivers are back, but the biggest key is a line that went through the growing pains with four freshmen last year – all five starters are back.
Nine of the defensive starters return, too. Again, Lovie Smith and the team went really, really young, and now the payoff has to come. The top ten tacklers return including the entire linebacking corps. Both kickers are back, too.
– Illinois Schedule Analysis
There’s a logjam at quarterback with several options for new offensive coordinator John McNulty to play around with. However, the top running backs are gone, and receivers Janarion Grant and Damon Mitchell are done. The line, though, will be fine with four starters back.
The defensive side gets back two starters up front, two starting linebackers, and six of the top seven tacklers are back overall. The best part? All four starters are back in the secondary, but both kickers have to be replaced.
– Rutgers Schedule Analysis
Is star recruit Michael Penix going to be ready to challenge Peyton Ramsey for the starting QB gig? The freshmen running backs who led the team last year are back, but losing top target Simmie Cobbs early to the NFL is a problem. However, this was a young receiving corps that should be solid, and all five starters are back up front.
Three starters are gone off the defensive line and the key linebackers are gone – there’s no replacing Tegray Scales. The secondary is a problem, too, losing three of the five starters including ball-hawking corner Richard Fant. PK Griffin Oakes is gone, but P Haydon Whitehead is back.
– Indiana Schedule Analysis
The Gophers are building up the program through the young players, but it might take a while to get there. Finding a new quarterback is Job One after Demry Croft transferred, but RB Rodney Smith is back to work behind a line that gets back three starters. The passing game went nowhere last year, but the top two targets are back.
The defensive interior needs help after losing both starting tackles, but the ends are good, the linebackers promising, and with good hitters in the secondary. Three of the top four tacklers are back, but it’s still going to be a building job. P Ryan Santoso is done, but PK Emmit Carpenter is back – he’s a good one.
– Minnesota Schedule Analysis
Are any of the Terp quarterbacks healthy? It was a nightmare of injuries last year, but there’s talent returning – but everyone’s knees have to be fine. The running game is fine with all the top backs returning, but D.J. Moore is a killer loss from the receiving corps. The top returning receiver caught just 13 passes. All five starters are back up front, though – the ground game should be better.
The defensive line is the team’s biggest issue with the loss of all four starters. The linebacking corps needs some work, too, and the early departure of J.C. Jackson doesn’t help a secondary that needs more playmakers. A new placekicker has to be found, but P Wade Less is back.
– Maryland Schedule Analysis
The quarterback situation is solid if Elijah Sindelar can progress. All the top running backs return, but two of the top receivers are done – Jackson Anthrop, though, should grow into a star. With four starters back up front, the running game should be stronger.
The defensive front is going to be a problem with the depth needing to be developed and just one starter back, and the linebacking corps loses killers Ja’Whaun Bentley and T.J. McCollum. Both corners have to be replaced, but both safeties are back. The kickers return, too.
– Purdue Schedule Analysis
Who’ll be ready to go at quarterback if and when Clayton Thorson isn’t ready after suffering a torn ACL in the bowl game? Replacing RB Justin Jackson will be just as tough, and a slew of the top targets have to be replaced. However, the top two wide receivers are back along with four starters up front.
The defensive front seven should be fantastic after a strong year with five starters back. However, just one starting defensive back – CB Montre Hartage – returns. PK Charlie Kuhbander returns, but P Hunter Niswander is gone.
– Northwestern Schedule Analysis
Okay, Adrian Martinez – are you really ready to push through for the starting quarterback job? The Scott Frost era needs to start by finding the right triggerman, but he gets back WR Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman. All the top backs return, and four starters are back up front, but the ground game has to be more physical and effective.
The defensive schemes will change, but the starters are back up front and two key linebackers return. There are a few losses – especially at linebacker, but 12 of the top 15 tacklers are back. S Aaron Williams is a good one to work the secondary around. PK Drew Brown is gone, but P Caleb Lightbourn is back.
– Nebraska Schedule Analysis
Is Nate Stanley about to turn into a top-shelf quarterback? He’s getting back just enough receiving talent to make the passing game work better, but he doesn’t have Akrum Wadley or James Butler to hand off to anymore. The early departure of James Daniels to the NFL hurts, but three other starters return up front.
Heart-and-soul LB Josey Jewell is done along with the rest of the starting linebacking corps, but three starters are back up front. Losing CB Josh Jackson early to the NFL is hard, but it’ll be a good young secondary. Both kickers are back.
– Iowa Schedule Analysis
The quarterback situation at least has options – it’ll be more interesting if Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is eligible. Karan Higdon and Chris Evans return in the backfield behind a line needs a whole lot of work, but should eventually be fine. The offense’s biggest strength will be the receiving corps that gets everyone of note back.
The defensive front will be a killer despite the loss of Maurice Hurst – get ready for Rashan Gary to be an All-American killer – and Devin Bush will be one of the nation’s top linebackers in another good corps. The secondary will be fantastic. Give it a little help from the pass rush, and look out. Quinn Nordin is a terrific placekicker coming back.
– Michigan Schedule Analysis
4. Penn State
Saquon Barkley might be gone, but there’s still talent in the backfield and QB Trace McSorley is a veteran star to work around. DaeSean Hamilton might be done, but there’s enough receiver talent returning to look good with McSorley under center. Best of all, four starters are back up front.
The defensive interior needs to come up with some new stars, but the ends will be fantastic. The linebacking corps needs some help, too, and all four starters have to be replaced in the secondary. In all, six of the top eight tacklers are gone. PK Tyler Davis is gone, but P Blake Gillikin is back.
– Penn State Schedule Analysis
3. Michigan State
There’s hope for an even bigger season from the offense with QB Brian Lewerke back along with RB LJ Scott. Best of all, all the receivers are back along with four starters on the line.
The defensive front was really, really young and really, really good – three starters return, along with two of the starting linebackers. All four starters are back in the secondary that should be among the Big Ten’s best. Both kickers return, too.
– Michigan State Schedule Analysis
The offense is going to be special. Fullback Austin Ramesh is done, and TE Troy Fumagalli is gone, but everyone else returns. QB Alex Hornibrook and RB Jonathan Taylor are back in the backfield, the young receiving corps is promising, and all five starters are back up front. Look out.
Can the defensive retool in a hurry? The two ends are gone along with some key backups, but the interior should be a rock. The linebacking corps got a big boost when T.J. Edwards decided to come back for one more year, but the secondary needs new parts after Nick Nelson took off early. Three starting defensive backs need to be replaced, but both kickers are back.
– Wisconsin Schedule Analysis
1. Ohio State
Who’s going to take over the quarterbacking gig in a full-time role? There’s talent, but it’ll be a battle throughout the offseason. J.K. Dobbins leads another great group of running backs, and the top six receivers are back – the skill players are going to be devastating. The O line, though, will need some tweaking with three great starters done.
The defensive side has good options to fill in the gaps for the three lost starters, especially on the ends. With Jerome Baker leading early, just one starting linebacker returns, and two starting defensive backs are coming back with Denzel Ward taking off early. Both kickers are back, too.
– Ohio State Schedule Analysis