Big Ten preseason power rankings

Ohio State is the Big Ten favorite whether the quarterback is Cardale Jones, left, or J.T. Barrett. Getty Images

We've issued a couple of preseason Big Ten power rankings already this year with the caveat that they were "way-too-early."

Well, it's August and teams are in training camp, so it's no longer way too early. Here's how our crew sees the league pecking order with less than a month before the games kick off:

1. Ohio State: J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones? Does it really matter? Either one will be given the keys to a Lamborghini and is a capable driver. The Buckeyes' toughest game of the first six weeks should be their opener at Virginia Tech, especially with Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson and Corey Smith suspended.

2. Michigan State: Mark Dantonio compared the Spartans' defensive line to that of the 2002 Ohio State national championship team, on which he was the defensive coordinator. There are still question marks at the offensive skill positions and at cornerback, but great play in the trenches and a star senior quarterback in Connor Cook is a heckuva start toward something great.

3. Wisconsin: The Badgers have earned the right to be called the West Division favorite, even in a wide-open race. Corey Clement is an emerging superstar. New coach Paul Chryst and his guys will get a Texas-sized measuring stick in the opener against Alabama.

4. Minnesota: Speaking of opening tests, the Gophers square off with TCU at home on Sept. 3. Jerry Kill and his staff feel great about the defense and the offensive line, but will the passing game make strides behind Mitch Leidner?

5. Nebraska: The Huskers are an enigma wrapped inside a riddle wrapped inside ... well, you get the idea. This seems a safe spot to rank them to begin the season, but opinions and expectations could change quickly once we see how they look under Mike Riley.

6. Penn State: A 6-0 start is on the table, as the Nittany Lions don't leave the state of Pennsylvania or play a ranked team until the Oct. 17 game at Ohio State. Whether Penn State capitalizes on that soft schedule depends largely on the progress of the offensive line, which has added some promising new pieces.

7. Michigan: The defense should be solid. The offense? There's plenty of work to do. Jim Harbaugh should instill some toughness on that side of the ball. But what's the ultimate ceiling for a team without any bona fide stars?

8. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are flying under the radar again, being picked to finish near the bottom of the standings for a second straight season. Did we learn nothing from 2014, when Rutgers debuted in the Big Ten with a highly respectable eight-win season? If this team can figure out its quarterback situation, it can make some noise again in 2015.

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes have been mired in mediocrity for a few years now, and the vibes out of Iowa City this offseason haven't been super encouraging. But if C.J. Beathard can provide the offense a long-missing spark, the potential is there for a bounce-back campaign. If not, well, things could get ugly.

10. Illinois: Tim Beckman couldn't celebrate his first bowl appearance long this offseason, as player abuse allegations led to an internal investigation and star receiver Mike Dudek tore his ACL in the spring. The off-the-field stuff is a wild card, but the Illini have a large group of seniors, more depth on a maligned defense and offensive firepower with Wes Lunt at the controls.

11. Northwestern: Few teams in the country have been as unlucky with injuries the past couple of years as Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats. That has to change sooner or later, right? Northwestern was good enough to beat Notre Dame and Wisconsin last season and could be a sleeper team in the West with just a little bit better fortune.

12. Maryland: We're buying on the future for Randy Edsall's program, but a step back this season could be coming first. The Terrapins lost almost all of their defensive front seven, absorbed major personnel losses at receiver and have question marks at quarterback. In the rugged East Division, that might be too much to overcome.

13. Indiana: The Hoosiers need their receivers to improve this season, so the loss of J-Shun Harris to a torn ACL was a tough blow. Yet a softer nonconference schedule could be the key to Kevin Wilson's team finally gaining bowl eligibility.

14. Purdue: The Boilers are just 4-20 with one Big Ten win under Darrell Hazell, but Hazell sounds optimistic about his third season in West Lafayette. A veteran offensive line, some talented young linebackers and the return of wide receiver Danny Anthrop could help Purdue get back on its feet in 2015.