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2016 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS: I have Ohio State 3rd, and I regret it already

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The big three have their worries, but Bill C trusts the other two to get theirs figured out a bit more quickly. Both divisions should be fun!

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. This is just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them.

When I finished all of the Group of Five conferences, I compiled a full mid-major power rankings list. Now we're into the power conferences; here's the ACC, and here's the Pac-12.

Each team's name below links to its full preview.

Tier 1

1. Michigan
2. Michigan State
3. Ohio State

I've gone back and forth on this constantly. As you see below, all three of these teams have low numbers in returning production. While it feels each is a step ahead of the other 11, each has obvious questions to answer. The odds are good that one won't do so satisfactorily.

Ranking teams in this order comes down to one thing: I think Ohio State's biggest question mark scares me the most.

I trust Michigan will be able to find a quarterback (that the Wolverines ranked in the top 10 in Passing S&P+ with Jake Rudock basically took that concern out of me), and I'm going to assume Michigan State is going to be able to absorb losses on defense without too much of a drop-off.

Ohio State's skill unit, however, worries me. There's obviously potential, and I assume any issues will be rectified by 2017, but last year Ohio State didn't get many big plays and was reliant on extreme efficiency. They were efficient when they had Zeke Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, and Braxton Miller. They're gone, and a lot of the potential replacements are extremely young. That should make Ohio State's offense really inconsistent.

(By the way, these rankings are not based on conference schedules. But if Michigan State really is the No. 2, the Spartans should maybe be considered the Big Ten favorite, since they get both UM and OSU at home.)

Tier 2

4. Penn State
5. Nebraska
6. Wisconsin
7. Minnesota
8. Iowa
9. Northwestern
10. Indiana
11. Maryland

A three-way battle for East supremacy is going to be fun.

But the Big Ten's most interesting story line to me is the fact that about eight of its 14 teams are virtually indistinguishable. Granted, maybe Indiana and Maryland are a step behind the rest, but only a step. Any of five teams could win the West, and it wouldn't be surprising.

Yes, I have Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (total 2015 wins: 22) ahead of Northwestern and Iowa (total: also 22). I think I spelled out my reasons in the team previews themselves, but realize that these five teams are really, really close. That should make for a wonderfully competitive division title race, even if the pure quality isn't as high as that in the East. S&P+ gives Nebraska the edge, but it will be decided by a lengthy series of tossup games.

Tier 3

12. Rutgers
13. Illinois

Both are under first-year coaches and could pretty easily put together top-50 or so performances, with a couple of breaks. But I think they are starting the year a couple of steps behind the others.

Tier 4

14. Purdue

Sorry.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

Big Ten East

Team 2015 Record (Conf.) 2015 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 Wins (Conf.) 5-Yr Rec. Rk Ret. Experience (Off. / Def.)
Michigan 10-3 (6-2) 6 6 9.6 (6.8) 9 42% (25% / 59%)
Mich. St. 12-2 (7-1) 13 22 7.8 (5.8) 21 45% (26% / 64%)
Ohio St. 12-1 (7-1) 3 14 8.1 (6.1) 4 29% (22% / 36%)
Penn St. 7-6 (4-4) 30 28 7.5 (5.4) 26 58% (53% / 63%)
Indiana 6-7 (2-6) 60 56 6.0 (3.8) 55 66% (47% / 84%)
Maryland 3-9 (1-7) 65 62 5.9 (3.6) 41 70% (93% / 46%)
Rutgers 4-8 (1-7) 105 87 4.1 (2.3) 53 85% (81% / 90%)

Big Ten West

Team 2015 Record (Conf.) 2015 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 Wins (Conf.) 5-Yr Rec. Rk Ret. Experience (Off. / Def.)
Nebraska 6-7 (3-5) 48 26 7.9 (5.6) 24 78% (94% / 63%)
Wisconsin 10-3 (6-2) 31 37 6.3 (4.4) 34 44% (34% / 54%)
Minnesota 6-7 (2-6) 37 42 7.5 (4.9) 58 66% (84% / 48%)
Iowa 12-2 (8-0) 47 38 7.4 (4.8) 51 72% (72% / 72%)
NW'ern 10-3 (6-2) 56 46 6.2 (4.0) 43 63% (68% / 58%)
Illinois 5-7 (2-6) 61 76 5.0 (3.2) 60 56% (74% / 38%)
Purdue 2-10 (1-7) 86 88 4.5 (2.6) 67 66% (68% / 65%)