Early Big Ten Football Rankings For 2016

    Early Big Ten football rankings for 2016. Will Ohio State be the best team heading into next season? What about Michigan? We take an early look at the conference.

    September 26, 2016

    Michigan State shocked the Big Ten, and entire country, by knocking off Ohio State in the regular season in 2015. The win over the Buckeyes catapulted the Spartans to the conference title game and eventually the College Football Playoff. But can the Spartans keep the momentum rolling in the post-Connor Cook era? Or are the Buckeys the team to beat? What about Jim Harbaugh and the red hot Michigan Wovlerines? It’s still too early to make definitive calls, but with 2015 in the rearview mirror, here’s way-too-early Big Ten football rankings for 2016.

    Early 2016 Big Ten Football Rankings

    1. Ohio State

    The Buckeyes might lose star after star after star on both sides of the ball, but years of tremendous recruiting have Urban Meyer’s team back on top of the early Big Ten football rankings. The shelves are stocked full. J.T. Barrett should be in for a special year behind a good line, while the defensive back seven will be just good enough to get over a rebuilt front four.

    2. Michigan

    Can the Wolverines find the right quarterback to get the attack moving? It’ll be all about the running game with the top backs returning behind a line that gets four starters back. The linebacking corps has to be replaced, but the secondary and the line will anchor another outstanding D.

    3. Michigan State

    Connor Cook is gone along with top receiver Aaron Burbridge, but the running game should be excellent by a line good enough to get by. It’ll take a little while to rebuild, but the defensive front should be okay in time working around Malik McDowell. Ed Davis might be back to star in the linebacking corps, while the secondary should be better with more experience.

    4. Wisconsin

    With Corey Clement back at running back behind an improved and experience line, the ground game should start to look far more like the Wisconsin offense. A steady quarterback has to replace Joel Stave, but the receiving corps should be better. The defensive front seven should be a killer, but the secondary needs an overhaul after being one of the team’s biggest strengths.

    5. Nebraska

    This is the year the Huskers were supposed to shine – Mike Riley and the coaching staff just wanted to fight through 2015 to get to 2016. 14 of the top 16 tacklers are back, the top eight receivers return, and QB Tommy Armstrong returns as a veteran playmaker to run the attack. The defensive front might be a wee bit of a concern, but that’s nitpicking with all three starters back at linebacker.

    6. Iowa

    The Hawkeyes have a little work to do at receiver, but most of the key pieces are back including QB C.J. Beathard and Desmond King in the secondary. Six starters on the defensive front seven return, and three starters are back on the offensive line. There should be a strong rotation at running back with three good options back, but the passing game will need to do more.

    7. Penn State

    QB Christian Hackenberg is off to the NFL, but that might not be a massive issue. Just about all the other top offensive players are back with the four best runners and three of the best receivers returning to help make the offense more explosive. Four starters return on the offensive front, and the defense should be a brick wall with six starters returning to the back seven.

    8. Minnesota

    Getting QB Mitch Leidner back is a great place to start, and getting back most of the top runners isn’t bad, either. Most of the best receiving options return, and they might have to shine for the passing game until the line figures it out after losing three starters. The strong secondary needs work, but the front seven should be excellent against the run. The pass rusher will have to be great with just one starting defensive back returning.

    9. Northwestern

    It was a big 2015 thanks to all the experience, but it’s going to be a shaky 2016 unless the offense has more pop. Justin Jackson returns for the running game behind a line that returns four starters, but the weak passing attack gets back just one of the top four options. The defensive front is the big concern, but the linebacking corps should be strong and the secondary has good upside.

    10. Indiana

    Can the coaching staff replace QB Nate Sudfeld and RB Jordan Howard? If so, the rest of the parts are there with four good receivers back along with three starters up front. The D line is a big issue, but the entire back seven returns with a good looking linebacking corps leading the way. At the very least, the secondary is full of veterans along with decent depth.

    11. Maryland

    New head coach D.J. Durkin has some work to do with a secondary that loses three good starters and a line that got hit by the NFL early entries with Quinton Jefferson and Yannick Ngakoue gone. The receiving corps should be excellent and the backfield strong enough to get by, but there’s a ton of work to be done up front with three starters needing to be replaced up front.

    12. Illinois

    The return of QB Wes Lunt is a great place to start and the hope of the healthy return of 2014 star WR Mike Dudek should make the passing game fly. The receiving corps could be deadly, but the running backs have to emerge to balance out the attack working behind three returning starters. The secondary is a problem with three starters gone, but five starters return to a solid front seven.

    13. Rutgers

    New head coach Chris Ash gets a great-looking line with four starters back, and the quarterback situation should be fine, but he needs to find steady offensive stars, especially at receiver. The secondary gets everyone back, and three starters return to the line, helped in a huge way by the return – hopefully healthy – of defensive tackle Darius Hamilton after suffering a knee injury. The kicking game needs to find new specialists.

    14. Purdue

    There’s experience, but is the talent in place to start winning? There’s no reason the Boilermakers can’t be better, but until they prove that, they’ll be stuck at the bottom of the Big Ten football rankings. Darrell Hazell’s team gets back most of the key skill players working behind a veteran line with three returning starters. The defense is the big key with all three linebackers back and the line a likely strength with a potentially great rotation.

    MORE: Way-Too-Early Top 25 College Football Rankings

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