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Early B1G picks suggest East-West talent chasm

The summer is a lonely time to be a college football fan. But one of the few joys of this slow time of year is the arrival of the preseason preview magazines and their predictions for the upcoming fall.

Two of the big ones -- Athlon and Phil Steele -- have unveiled their choices for the 2015 All-Big Ten teams. You can find Steele's here, while Athlon's Big Ten preview issue is on newsstands now.

They are fun reads -- unless you happen to be a fan of one of the teams in the Big Ten West Division. Then you might be a little alarmed about the seemingly large talent gap between the West and heavy hitters in the East Division.

Consider: Of Steele's 24 preseason All-Big Ten offensive and defensive players (he includes 12 for each side for some reason), a whopping 20 of them hail from the East Division. The outlook from Athlon isn't much different, as it picks 17 of the top 22 players on offense and defense from the beast that is the East.

Steele goes four teams deep on his predictions, but the East still dominates when you include all the selections. Just 38 of the 96 players he chose on offense and defense represent the West, or less than 40 percent of the selections.

There are a couple of reasons for this gulf in (respected) talent, especially at the higher end.

  • The dominance of Ohio State and Michigan State: This makes sense, as the Buckeyes won a national title and the Spartans have been right there with them at the elite level the past couple of years. Ohio State places eight players on Steele's first-team offense and defense, or a full third of the honorees, while Michigan State has five. Athlon selected nine Buckeyes and four Spartans on its first team. So is this an East-West talent gap, or is the rest of the league simply trying to catch up to the new Big Two?

  • The upper-echelon talent drain from the West after the 2014 season. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Iowa's Brandon Scherff and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory were widely viewed as being among the top 10 players in the league last year, while Minnesota's David Cobb wasn't far behind. All will be on NFL rosters when the season begins, and the new crop of stars in the West hasn't quite emerged.

The only two West Division players to make the first team on offense or defense for both Steele and Athlon were from Wisconsin: running back Corey Clement and linebacker Vince Biegel. The Badgers account for half of Steele's first-team West Division picks and four of the five from Athlon, which also chose safety Michael Caputo and offensive tackle Tyler Marz. That makes the West look even shallower on elite players.

Of course, we must remember that these are only preseason picks, which are based mostly on last seasons's results. New stars will stand out, preseason darlings will fail to live up to hype, etc. These preseason choices are wrong all the time (I speak from personal experience here).

Still, concern already exists that there's a growing imbalance of power between the West and the East, the latter of which is looming as perhaps one of the toughest divisions in football. Think about this: Michigan is notably underrepresented on these preseason teams, with zero first-team selections from either publication, only two total on Athlon's second and third teams and five on Steele's top four teams for offense and defense. That is an anomaly that almost certainly won't last long with Jim Harbaugh in charge. Penn State's talent level is also sure to rise thanks to James Franklin's recruiting efforts.

Will the West be able to keep up, especially as the Big Ten increasingly turns its attention eastward and East Division teams benefit from being closer to major recruiting centers? Perhaps that's too serious of a question to be tackled from such light summer reading. But it is one the West teams will eventually need to be answer.