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2017 Big Ten football power rankings: This is a 4-team race

Now that Bill’s studied every Big Ten team, here’s how he stacks them up. Also, here are some charts and stuff!

Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

At the end of each conference previews 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. So far we’ve done the Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC, MWC, AAC, Big 12, and Pac-12.

Bill C’s Big Ten power rankings

Here’s a link to every team’s data, and each team’s name below is linked to its preview.

Tier 1

1. Ohio State
2. Penn State
3. Michigan

These power rankings are drawn up completely independent of any S&P+ projections below; they are purely my opinions on matters. Typically, when compared to S&P+, my own rankings take shape like the NBA Lottery, with mostly the same order as what the numbers dictated and maybe one or two teams in completely different places.

That’s not really the case here. Things get a little shuffled around in Tier 3, but heading into 2017, I feel like the top four teams are pretty clearly the top four teams, and No. 5 feels pretty clear to me as well.

If anybody outside this top three wins the conference, it would be a surprise.

Tier 2

4. Wisconsin

If anybody outside this top four wins the conference, it would be a stunner.

Tier 3

5. Northwestern
6. Minnesota
7. Iowa
8. Nebraska
9. Maryland
10. Indiana
11. Michigan State

Here’s where things get messy.

Wisconsin is vulnerable to be challenged by somebody in the West, but I go back and forth on who that is. I think Northwestern has the highest floor, Nebraska has the highest ceiling, Minnesota (with its massive change in coach and personality) has the widest range between ceiling and floor, and Iowa has the smallest range.

Basically, teams 5-8 occupy exactly the same space to me, but thanks to continuity, I trust Northwestern a hair more than the others. Which makes that September 30 Northwestern-Wisconsin game pretty big.

Tier 4

12. Purdue
13. Illinois
14. Rutgers

I love Purdue’s hire, and I think Rutgers could threaten six wins in 2018. But this group starts a few steps behind the others.

How does S&P+ see things?

Here’s how my statistical system has the Big Ten laid out for 2017, with zero equating to an average FBS team. (You can find full 2017 S&P+ projections here.)

Big Ten 2017 projections

2017 projected standings (per S&P+)

Projected conference wins, with overall wins in parentheses.

  1. Ohio State: 7.6 (10.2)
  2. Penn State: 6.8 (9.6)
  3. Michigan: 6.5 (8.9)
  4. Indiana: 4.3 (6.6)
  5. Michigan State: 3.9 (5.7)*
  6. Maryland: 2.4 (4.1)
  7. Rutgers: 2.1 (3.7)
  1. Wisconsin: 7.1 (9.7)
  2. Northwestern: 4.9 (7.2)
  3. Minnesota: 4.5 (6.6)
  4. Nebraska: 4.4 (6.3)
  5. Iowa: 3.8 (5.9)
  6. Illinois: 2.5 (3.7)
  7. Purdue: 2.4 (3.4)

Three top-10 teams in the East, one top-35 team in the West. Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that we should get rid of divisions. Just scrap them altogether. Pods are the future.

* These S&P+ projections below were drawn up in February, before most of Michigan State’s transfers and dismissals were made public. Because of the change in returning production, the updated projections in August will probably have the Spartans lower.

How these teams looked in 2016

Big Ten 2016 ratings

Big Ten offenses heading into 2017

Big Ten offenses

Penn State was one of the most fascinating teams in the country last year. You aren’t supposed to be able to live on inefficiency and explosiveness.

Best 2017 offensive players by team (best overall in bold):

  • Illinois: RB Kendrick Foster
  • Indiana: WR Simmie Cobbs Jr.
  • Iowa: RB Akrum Wadley
  • Maryland: RB Ty Johnson
  • Michigan: OT Mason Cole
  • Michigan State: C Brian Allen
  • Minnesota: RB Rodney Smith
  • Nebraska: WR Stanley Morgan
  • Northwestern: RB Justin Jackson
  • Ohio State: QB J.T. Barrett
  • Penn State: RB Saquon Barkley
  • Purdue: QB David Blough
  • Rutgers: RB Robert Martin
  • Wisconsin: TE Troy Fumagalli

Lots of exciting skill guys. Lots of unproven quarterbacks getting them the ball.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Penn State vs Southern California
Saquon Barkley (26)
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten defenses

Big Ten defenses

Rutgers and Purdue made every offense look like Penn State’s.

Best 2017 defensive players by team (best overall in bold):

  • Illinois: CB Jaylen Dunlap
  • Indiana: LB Tegray Scales
  • Iowa: LB Josey Jewell
  • Maryland: DE Jesse Aniebonam
  • Michigan: LB Mike McCray
  • Michigan State: DT Raequan Williams
  • Minnesota: DT Steven Richardson
  • Nebraska: S Joshua Kalu
  • Northwestern: S Godwin Igwebuike
  • Ohio State: DE Tyquan Lewis
  • Penn State: LB Jason Cabinda
  • Purdue: LB Markus Bailey
  • Rutgers: CB Blessuan Austin
  • Wisconsin: LB Jack Cichy

Indiana might have the best defensive player in the conference, Maryland nearly has the best offensive player in the conference, Nebraska’s best offensive player is a receiver, and it was hard finding a worthy Michigan State defender for this list. 2017 is weird, man.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Indiana
Tegray Scales
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports