Big Ten Football: Pre-Spring Power Rankings

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer IFebruary 10, 2009

The underclassmen have declared for the NFL and national signing day is over. 

Now college football fans from the top of Mount Nittany to the plains of Iowa can only look at who's left, look at who's coming in, and think about the future of their favorite programs.

The longest few months of every year are here and all we can do is wait.  In the meantime, let's get the discussion started. 

My first power rankings of 2009 project forward to the new season while taking into consideration the way a team finished up 2008.


1.  Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes lost a large senior class and a few underclassmen to the NFL draft, but after two huge recruiting classes for Jim Tressel the cupboards are far from bare in Columbus.

What to watch for this spring 

The Buckeyes will be young. Sophomore Terrelle Pryor will now be the focal point of the offense and Tressel will likely surround him with more dynamic playmakers. The power running game Ohio State has employed the last few seasons may take a backseat to the spread/option look Ohio State used in 2006.


2.  Penn State Nittany Lions

JoePa is in position to win the Big Ten title for the second straight year, an accomplishment that would be a first for his storied career. The linebacking unit will be a huge strength, but the secondary was gutted and the departure of Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans has left questions along the defensive front. 

What to watch for this spring

It will be fun to watch who emerges at the receiver spot.


3.  Iowa Hawkeyes

Shonn Greene's exit to the NFL leaves a huge hole in the Iowa offense, but the Hawkeyes are still in pretty good shape offensively. Jewell Hampton showed some promise last season as Greene's backup, and Ricky Stanzi will be more productive in his first full season as the Hawkeyes' signal caller.

What to watch for this spring

The biggest question mark for this team is how to replace four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul, who were forces last season on the defensive line.


4.  Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans lose several key players from last season's Big Ten runner-up team, including running back Javon Ringer and safety Otis Wiley. But the return of key role players and the school's best recruiting class in eons puts the Spartans in position to challenge.

What to watch for this spring

Competition at the running back and quarterback spot will be intense.


5.  Illinois Fighting Illini

The good news is that Ron Zook may have his most talented offensive unit to date in 2009. The bad news is that the Illini will likely need to score a lot of points in order to win if a commitment to improve the defense is not a top priority.

What to watch for this spring 

Defensive improvement, especially in the secondary, will be the key to a successful 2009 season.


6.  Northwestern Wildcats

Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats were so close to getting over the hump last season and will ride that momentum into 2009. The defense should be among the Big Ten's best, and Mike Kafka at quarterback gives Northwestern more options on offense.

What to watch for this spring 

Who will emerge as a replacement to Tyrell Sutton at running back? How is Corey Wootton's recovery from knee surgery progressing?


7.  Minnesota Golden Gophers

Most of the pieces from the 2008 team return and the defense should continue to improve in 2009 with the Gophers recruiting haul. New coordinators (Kevin Cosgrove and Jedd Fisch) will have the added challenge of installing new schemes during the spring practice sessions.

What to watch for this spring

How the team responds to the new coaches. Who will emerge as an offensive playmaker?


8.  Michigan Wolverines

Despite the sour 2008 season, the Wolverines are still the Wolverines and Rich Rodriguez's first full class does not disappoint. There are some holes on the defensive line, despite the return of dominant pass rusher Brandon Graham. 

The addition of several athletic quarterbacks and some more offensive playmakers should provide a major improvement in offensive production.

What to watch for this spring

Is Tate Forcier the answer? And who will step up in the secondary?


9.  Wisconsin Badgers

Bret Bielema will ride the back of his super-talented running back John Clay all season, that much is certain. But the Badgers could likely show some improvement in the passing game this season as well. A very solid recruiting class featuring quarterback Jon Budmayr and wide receiver Kraig Appleton can only help.

What to watch for this spring

The development of a passing game to take the pressure off John Clay is key.


10.  Purdue Boilermakers

The Boilers are a hard team to figure. New coach Danny Hope recruited heavily in Florida and feels the team will be much improved in speed and athleticism. But Purdue must replace starters at all the offensive skill positions, which makes it very hard to see much of an improvement.

What to watch for this spring 

Competition for quarterback, running back, and wide receiver will be intense and the new coaching staff must establish their own identity.


11.  Indiana Hoosiers

Whether it's good or bad, the Hoosiers remain almost intact from last season. Indiana does have offensive playmakers, but if the defense doesn't show major improvement it won't matter. Bill Lynch decided to keep his staff together and now that staff has to produce.

What to watch for this spring 

The Hoosiers boast two respectable and proven pass rushers in Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew, but the rest of the defense appeared lost for most of last season.  Improvement at linebacker and in the secondary are key to any success this season.