All eyes will be on the Big Ten in the college football season, as the conference continues to make headlines in 2015. The Big Ten kicked off the year by winning a few of the biggest bowl games on the schedule, in addition to Ohio State topping Oregon to claim the national championship. Heading into the upcoming season, the conference has a few legitimate title contenders to make the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State could be even better this year, and they are the clear No.1 team in the country. After a season that saw the Buckeyes lose just one game, a contest in which then-freshman J.T. Barrett played in his second college game ever, Ohio State has a chance to go undefeated in 2015. Whether it’s Barrett or Cardale Jones that wins the quarterback battle, both players should be even better this season because of the experience they gained last year.
Urban Meyer’s team has several of their top players returning, and it won’t be easy to keep them out of the Big Ten Championship Game. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 2,140 yards last season, and he’s one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. In addition to having three Heisman Trophy candidates on offense, few teams can match the Buckeyes’ talent on defense.
Michigan State has been Ohio State’s biggest competition in the East Division for the last two years, and that should be the case again in 2015. Ranking No.6 in the preseason Coaches Poll, the Spartans might only lose one or two games this season. They’ve gone 24-3 in the last two years, and head coach Mark Dantonio will make sure the Spartans are one of the top defensive teams in the country. With senior quarterback Connor Cook at the helm, Michigan State has a chance to prevent Ohio State from winning another title.
But it might ultimately be Wisconsin that has the final say in whether or not the Buckeyes will make it back to the playoffs. The Badgers are the best team in the West Division, and there’s a good chance they’ll face Ohio State for a second straight year in the conference title game. Another 59-point loss might not be in the Badger’s future, but the Buckeyes are in a tier ahead of Wisconsin.
Nebraska is the clear second-best team in the West, though they could have a much more difficult chance of reaching the College Football Playoff than Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers have been extremely consistent over the years, winning nine or 10 games in each season since 2008. Though with Bo Pelini out and head coach Mike Riley having yet to prove himself, Nebraska could struggle in the early part of the season.
The hiring of Jim Harbaugh has given Michigan as much attention as any Big Ten school, even after the team went 5-7 in 2014. While there are high hopes for the Wolverines’ future, they don’t yet have the talent to compete with the best teams in the conference. Surpassing Penn State and finishing in third place in the East would be a step forward for the program.
In the West, Minnesota and Iowa find themselves in a similar position, likely ending the season at No.3 or No.4 in the standings. Minnesota lost their No.1 running back and top offensive threat to the NFL, while Iowa isn’t particularly great on either side of the ball, but they're good enough to finish in the top half of the division.
Rutgers and Purdue seem likely to struggle more than any other Big Ten teams.
Below are predictions for the 2015 Big Ten standings, including what two teams will face off in the conference title game.
2015 Big Ten Championship Game
Ohio State over Wisconsin