As spring exits and summer nears, college football seems to be right around the corner. With spring practices over, there are only four months left until the first Saturday of the season, Sept. 5.
With spring finished and the season drawing nearer by the minute, its time to look at the early Big Ten rankings.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
For me to put anyone but Ohio State here would be absolutely crazy. Terrelle Pryor has matured into one of the best in the Big Ten. We have always known about his legs, but he now seems to be turning into even more of a passer than last season.
The one weakness this year for the Buckeyes will be their defensive backfield. They lost a good chunk of players to the NFL draft, including Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis. Running back will also be a difficult position for OSU to reload at, but they do it every year, so don't expect too many problems this time around.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes
While Shonn Greene, Mitch King, and Matt Kroul are gone, not much else has changed from the 2008 Hawkeyes to the 2009 Hawkeyes. The defensive backfield will be stacked.
The linebacking corps or Pat Angerer, AJ Edds, and Jeremiah Hunter is perhaps the best in the nation, as all three have All-Big Ten potential, and Angerer is on the All-American short list.
Amari Speivey will also help lead a backfield that will be the best in the Big Ten. Obviously, Shonn Greene leaving is a huge dent, but Jewel Hampton looked good in 2008, rushing for over 400 yards on limited carries.
If Ricky Stanzi needs to mature a little bit more at quarterback, but if he stays consistently good this year, the Hawks could push for a Rose Bowl berth.
Their first big test of the season comes in late September at Happy Valley. If they get by the Nittany Lions there, they should have no problem receiving a BCS or January bowl berth.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions
Eleven returning total starters is not impressive by any means, and could hurt them in the long run, considering an early season date with Iowa. The offense should still be somewhat good, with Darryl Clark and Evan Royster returning.
The problem is, Clark lost his top receivers from 2008, so finding someone to throw to could be a problem for a while.
The defense loses almost their whole secondary and none of the backups who are filling those positions had any substantial playing time last year.
Once again, the game against Iowa will be huge. Penn State will have a lot of young players that may not be ready for such a big game that early in the season.
If the Nittany Lions win that game, the have a shot at the Rose Bowl, but if they lose, I could see them dropping down as far as fifth in the conference.
4. Michigan State Spartans
While the defense should be the second best in the Big Ten next year, the offense may have a few holes that they need to get figured out.
Brian Hoyer was one of the main reasons for Sparty's successful season last year and while everyone in East Lansing seems to be high on Kirk Cousins, I don't think a transition will come that easily.
The Spartans also lose Doak Walker Award candidate Javon Ringer, who will definitely be a tough loss to replace. The plus for Michigan State, the schedule is a joke, as they miss Ohio State and they get Iowa and Penn State at home.
5. Northwestern Wildcats
The Wildcats should, once again, have a decent run in 2009, but it likely won't amount to anything more than this year. Quarterback Mike Kafka looks ready to fill CJ Bacher's shoes, while on the defensive side of the ball, Corey Wooten is definitely a contender for All-Big Ten honors.
The ground game needs some work, though, especially after a sub-par performance last year. This year doesn't look much better, with an inexperienced running back and an inexperienced offensive line.
The schedule won't be too much of a help either. While the Wildcats miss Ohio State, they get Iowa and Michigan State on the road. The Iowa City game is a longshot for Northwestern to win and the game in East Lansing doesn't provide much hope, either.
6. Wisconsin Badgers
Dustin Sherer was inconsistent to say the least at quarterback last year and he will lead a Wisconsin offense that will most likely underachieve again.
The Badgers also return no starters at running back, and while John Clay looked decent at some points last year, he won't be one of the top running backs in the league this year.
The good news for Wisconsin is that they don't lose any wide receivers, but really, how good will their wide receivers ever actually be.
The defense should improve a little bit from last year, but not enough to make the Badgers legitimate Big Ten or even January bowl game contenders.
While they do get Iowa and Michigan State at home, I don't see them winning either of those games, and a road date with Ohio State is definitely out of the picture.
Also expect losses to Northwestern and Minnesota or Hawaii on the road.
7. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue could be a pleasant surprise this year. While they won't contend for a Big Ten title, they definitely won't be as bad as last year.
If Wisconsin or Northwestern struggle, they could maybe even move up to fifth or six6th in the conference. The Boilermakers seemed to mature more towards the end of the season and might have a shot at a 7-5 season this year.
They miss Iowa and Penn State and the rest of the schedule is actually quite favoring. Look for Purdue to be the Big Ten's surprise team in 2009.
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers
I expect about the same thing from the Gophers in 2009 as we saw at the end of 2008. Minnesota was able to jump out to a hot start has year because they played virtually nobody who could compete with them, or even Baylor or Iowa State for that matter.
This year, they play some legit non-conference games and I just can't see the same start as in 2008. A game against Air Force won't be a walk in the park and a game against California is almost a guaranteed loss.
On top of that, the Gophers need to visit Ohio State, Iowa, and Penn State this year. With no stars lining up on either side of the ball, it could be a rough year for the Gophers to say the least.
9. Michigan Wolverines
After a 3-9 season last year, there's really nowhere to go but up for Rich Rodriguez and his Wolverines.
Brandon Minor seems to be developing, but Michigan will need to improve an awful secondary that gave up touchdown after touchdown in 2008.
The quarterback and receivers also need to improve to make Michigan a legitimate contender in a much improved Big Ten.
The schedule is okay, with three definite losses on the road against Iowa and at home against Penn State and Ohio State.
The first game will make or break the Wolverines. If they can get by Western Michigan, they have a shot at a .500 season or better, but if they can't, it could be another long season for the Michigan faithful in Ann Arbor.
10. Illinois Fighting Illini
Last year, Illinois seemed to prove the statement that "defense wins championships", because their stellar offense certainly was no help.
Juice Williams wasn't as good as his stats showed last year, because even though he would compile over 200 total yards in a game, he would throw a few interceptions to go along with it.
The defense was horrible last year, and I don't see how they can improve from such a rough 2008.
The schedule is also rough. The Illini will most likely win only one non-conference game this year against Eastern Illinois, and drop the other three against Cincinnati, Fresno State, and Missouri.
Although they miss Iowa, the Big Ten slate doesn't look too much better, with definite losses coming against Ohio State and Penn State, and probable losses at home against Michigan State and on the road at Purdue. All in all, it could be another rough year in Champaign, Ill.
11. Indiana Hoosiers
This is clearly a no-brainer. Potential 2008 preseason All-American candidate Kellen Lewis dropped off at quarterback last year and switched to wide receiver. This year, he isn't even on the team, after being suspended for violating team rules.