We've had an awful lot of rankings talk today, which is typical for the day after the season officially comes to an end. Earlier, we offered you our first stab at the 2013 Big Ten power rankings, and now colleague Mark Schlabach has compiled his Way-Too-Early 2013 Top 25, which includes five Big Ten teams.
Not surprisingly, Ohio State headlines the group, checking in at No. 4. Schlabach writes:
"Is Ohio State capable of going unbeaten again when it really counts? The Buckeyes went 12-0 in coach Urban Meyer's first season, but they were ineligible to play in the Big Ten championship game or a bowl game because of NCAA probation. If quarterback Braxton Miller improves as a passer -- OSU ranked 101st nationally in passing with only 181.5 yards per game -- and his offensive line does a better job of protecting him (OSU quarterbacks were sacked 2.5 times per game), the Buckeyes should be better on offense. OSU will have to replace its entire defensive line, including star defensive end John Simon and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who's leaving for the NFL a year early. Two linebackers and cornerback Travis Howard also must be replaced from a defense that struggled mightily at times in 2012. Cornerback Bradley Roby's decision to return to Columbus for another season is welcome news for the Buckeyes' defense. OSU's schedule doesn't seem overly difficult; it plays nonconference games against Buffalo, San Diego State and Florida A&M at home and plays at California. The Buckeyes play Big Ten foes Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State at home and don't play Nebraska or Michigan State in the regular season."
Next up for the league is defending champion Wisconsin at No. 18. Of the Badgers, Schlabach says:
"The 2012 campaign was far from memorable for Wisconsin, which finished 8-6, losing to Stanford 20-14 in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Badgers also lost coach Bret Bielema to Arkansas and replaced him with Utah State coach Gary Andersen. Andersen hired San Diego State offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Utah State defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, so the Badgers figure to have new looks on both sides of the ball in 2013. The Badgers certainly will miss departing tailback Montee Ball, who ran for 3,753 yards with 55 touchdowns the past two seasons. If Curt Phillips is granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, the competition for starting quarterback will likely be between him and Joel Stave, with Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien and freshman Bart Houston also in the mix. Seven starters are expected back on defense, but three starting defensive backs will have to be replaced. Andersen will get a break in his first season in the Big Ten: The Badgers don't play Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska in the '13 regular season."
Nebraska is No. 20. Schlabach writes this about the Huskers:
"Just when it seemed Nebraska was ready to turn the corner under coach Bo Pelini, the Cornhuskers were embarrassed by Wisconsin 70-31 in the Big Ten championship game, then lost to Georgia 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska's defense was torched at the end of a 10-4 season, and now eight defensive starters are departing. Quarterback Taylor Martinez and seven other offensive starters are coming back, but the Cornhuskers will have to replace tailback Rex Burkhead, who ran for 675 yards with five touchdowns in 2012 despite missing six games due to injury. Three starting linebackers and both starting safeties will also have to be replaced. Nebraska plays its first five games of 2013 at home, including nonconference games against Wyoming, Southern Miss, UCLA and FCS foe South Dakota State. The Cornhuskers won't play Wisconsin or Ohio State during the regular season, and they'll play at Michigan and Penn State."
Northwestern is No. 22. Schlabach says:
"After Northwestern ended college football's longest postseason drought -- the Wildcats defeated Mississippi State 34-20 in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl for first postseason win since 1949 -- it might enter 2013 with a preseason ranking. Northwestern loses four starters on both sides of the ball, including three offensive linemen, but it brings back most of its star power on offense. Its two-headed quarterback combination (Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian) will be back, along with tailback Venric Mark, who ran for 1,366 yards with 12 touchdowns. The Wildcats will face a difficult schedule in 2013, including nonconference games against California (road) and Syracuse (home). They also play Big Ten games at Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska and play Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State at home."
Right behind the Wildcats and rounding out the league contingent is Michigan at No. 23. Schlabach explains:
"The Wolverines are hoping they'll make the same improvement other recent teams have made in their coach's third season. Michigan went 8-5 in coach Brady Hoke's second season and never really seemed to recover from its 41-14 loss to Alabama in the opener. The good news is junior Devin Gardner got some experience at quarterback, after Denard Robinson was injured midway through the season. Gardner went 3-2 as a starter, completing 59 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns in five games he played under center. The Wolverines might have to replace four starting offensive linemen if junior left tackle Taylor Lewan leaves for the NFL draft. Six starters are coming back on defense, but they'll miss cornerback J.T. Floyd and safety Jordan Kovacs. Michigan's schedule won't be easy in 2013, with games at Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern and home games against Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State."