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2015 Big Ten football power rankings get fun after the obvious top 2

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There's no question about which teams you should consider the Big Ten's best. After that ... let's just say this is gonna be a fun season.

At the end of each conference run-through (here's the whole Big Ten), I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into 2015. This is in no way based on schedules. They are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each.

The Big Ten went 6-5 in bowls, losing blowouts to Tennessee, Stanford, and Louisiana Tech, but it went 3-1 on January 1, and Ohio State won the national title. This was enough to "win" bowl season.

Meanwhile, some fading SEC teams fell into an outright tailspin, which was taken as proof that the SEC was overrated. Combine that with the SEC's whining about satellite camps and "even playing fields," and you've got plenty of fuel for a "Big Ten rising! SEC falling!" narrative.

This is in no way coming to fruition. The Big Ten was basically the same as it has been and graded out the lowest among the power conferences.

There is promise -- James Franklin is recruiting well (and has a hell of a defense) at Penn State, Jim Harbaugh is back in Ann Arbor, there is new blood at Nebraska, Minnesota is still improving, etc.

But heading into 2015, the conference is assured of just one elite team (Ohio State) and one very good one (Michigan State). If you define teams outside of the top 50 as dead weight, the Big Ten will still probably have more of it than any of the other power conferences. The bottom teams are improving, but there's still work to be done.

That said, this should be a fun conference. You've got a ready-made "Ohio State vs. Ohio State" story line. You've got Michigan State trying to fend off Michigan and Penn State. You've got a potential blood bath in the West. And with the way most are bunched from a quality standpoint, you've got a ton of close games, both watchable and unwatchable.

Tier 1

1. Ohio State

The Buckeyes might slip up and fall short of a repeat title simply because repeating is really hard, but there's almost no question they'll play at an elite level for most of the year. That sets them apart.

Tier 2

2. Michigan State

While any of the five below could end up playing at a top-20 level with a couple of breaks, it would take bad breaks for Michigan State not to play at that level.

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Tier 3

3. Wisconsin
4. Nebraska
5. Michigan
6. Penn State
7. Minnesota

Now it gets interesting. You could almost make these five teams 3a, 3b, 3c, etc. I trust Wisconsin a bit more than the others simply because of the recent track record, and I do think Minnesota's offense could hold it back, but there's a case to be made for any of these teams being No. 3 and potentially jumping into Tier 2.

Tier 4

8. Iowa
9. Maryland
10. Rutgers
11. Northwestern
12. Indiana
13. Illinois
14. Purdue

It's the same story here. Very little separates these seven. I trust the top three more than the others, but if any of these teams manages to play at a top-40 level (and I figure one will), a lot of wins could come their way.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

Big Ten East

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
Ohio State 14-1 (8-0) 1 5 9 4 +1.2 15 (8, 7) 12.8 (+0.2)
Michigan State 11-2 (7-1) 11 15 22 24 +3.9 14 (7, 7) 9.9 (+1.1)
Michigan 5-7 (3-5) 54 29 14 11 -2.3 15 (8, 7) 5.6 (-0.6)
Penn State 7-6 (2-6) 45 40 20 27 -1.5 15 (8, 7) 6.3 (+0.7)
Maryland 4-4 (7-6) 62 74 36 43 -1.7 11 (6, 5) 7.2 (-0.2)
Rutgers 3-5 (8-5) 81 70 64 48 -2.6 11 (6, 5) 6.5 (+1.5)
Indiana 1-7 (4-8) 88 89 54 55 +0.4 11 (6, 5) 5.1 (-1.1)

Big Ten West

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
Wisconsin 11-3 (7-1) 25 15 22 24 -2.5 14 (7, 7) 10.7 (+0.3)
Nebraska 9-4 (5-3) 30 26 30 23 -0.9 12 (6, 6) 9.1 (-0.1)
Minnesota 8-5 (5-3) 37 68 59 65 +1.1 12 (5, 7) 7.7 (+0.3)
Iowa 7-6 (4-4) 63 42 56 50 +0.1 12 (5, 7) 7.4 (-0.4)
Northwestern 5-7 (3-5) 71 56 40 44 +1.9 13 (5, 8) 4.8 (+0.2)
Illinois 6-7 (3-5) 78 69 54 54 -1.3 14 (6, 8) 5.1 (+0.9)
Purdue 3-9 (1-7) 84 91 66 61 -1.3 16 (9, 7) 3.4 (-0.4)

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