CBS Sports asked our college football staff to lay it all on the line ahead of the season, calling out each of their most overrated and underrated teams, projecting each division's order of finish and making a bold prediction that will stay with them through the entire 2015 season.
Let's take a look at what they had to say for the conference that delivered the 2015 national champion.
From Michigan State being underrated to Wisconsin still being the favorite to win the Big Ten West, the opinions are varied and may lead to debate, especially early in the 2015 campaign.
Most overrated team: Maryland. The Terps beat just five Power Five teams last season and went 7-6 overall. I don't see all the optimism.
Most underrated team: Michigan State. The world seems resigned to handing the East Division -- and league -- to Ohio State. Mark Dantonio doesn't mind at all. Sparty is a playoff dark horse.
Bold conference prediction: Mike Riley will win nine in his first season at Nebraska and will push Wisconsin for the West Division title.
Most overrated team: Minnesota. Jerry Kill has done a tremendous job with the Golden Gophers, but they lost star RB David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams, play in a division without much separation between many teams, and face Ohio State and Michigan in cross-division games.
Most underrated team: Michigan. No, Jim Harbaugh won't be winning the Big Ten right away. The guess here is the Wolverines will be better than fourth in the East, where they're picked by many pundits. Harbaugh will beat someone he shouldn't.
Bold conference prediction: J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones will both play at times this year. Barrett will be the more consistent quarterback and the one who Urban Meyer ultimately chooses.
Most overrated team: Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job of raising expectations at NU, but they missed out on a bowl last year and will struggle to get to one this season.
Most underrated team: Minnesota. The Gophers have one of the best defensive backfields in the Big Ten. Coach Jerry Kill has done a good job of getting the most out of his talent.
Bold conference prediction: The Big Ten will put three teams in New Years Six games. Joining the champion Buckeyes will be Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Most overrated team: Nebraska. I just don't see it this year. The transition from Bo Pelini to Mike Riley will take time, and the Huskers just have so much to replace.
Most underrated team: Michigan? Sounds strange to me, too, but I think a lot of people are underestimating the impact Jim Harbaugh could have in Year 1. I think the Wolverines could be playing as well as anybody come November, though a slow start might kill any division title hopes.
Bold conference prediction: Ohio State will head into the final weekend of the regular season with the Big Ten East wrapped up. The Buckeyes will then lose to Michigan before winning the Big Ten title game and being selected for the College Football Playoff.
Most overrated team: Nebraska. Mike Riley's not going to throw as often as he did during the Sean Mannion days at Oregon State, but still, asking Tommy Armstrong to play in anything half as pass-happy as the Beavers' offense may not be the best idea. Solid defense, friendly schedule ... but can they score enough points?
Most underrated team: Penn State. The Nittany Lions were already No. 2 in the FBS in yards allowed per carry in 2014, and now they're in the second year of Bob Shoop's schemes with tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson still around to destroy anything in the middle of the line. If James Franklin's offensive front can give Christian Hackenburg any time at all this season, the defense can do the rest.
Bold conference prediction: The fourth-place team in the East will win more total games than the second-place team in the West. Outside of Wisconsin, is there another team in the West that's even a lock to win seven games? Meanwhile, whether it's Penn State or (more likely) Michigan, the fourth-place team in the opposite division could (and maybe should) hit eight wins.
Most overrated team: Minnesota. Is the bubble going to burst for the Golden Gophers? Year five for the Kill tenure brings expectations of another eight-win season after two in a row. That kind of season has been the exception more than the rule for this program since the start of the century, and I’m not ready to bet on Gophers getting the bounces again. One thing's for sure: We will know how Gophers will stack up against the best of Big Ten competition when they start the season against the No. 2 team in the country.
Most underrated team: Michigan State. Is it possible for the No. 5 team in the country to be “underrated?” The Spartans might be one of the first teams in recent memory to be rightly ranked but underrated. As pundits and oddsmakers continue to paint a picture of Ohio State’s Big Ten dominance, the story in East Lansing that Mark Dantonio has a legit national title contender is getting less attention.
Bold conference prediction: Wisconsin will not lose a Big Ten regular season game. This is as much a case for Dave Aranda, the defensive coordinator held over from Gary Andersen’s staff, as it is for Paul Chryst continuing the tradition of a strong rushing attack in Madison. The Badgers draw Maryland and Rutgers from the East and play host to Iowa, my pick for No. 2 in the West. Trips to Nebraska and Minnesota are not easy, but recent dominance says Wisconsin should have no trouble repeating as division champs.
Most overrated team: Michigan. I truly think Harbaugh is going to do great things with the program. It's just going to take a few years. Jake Rudock is an average quarterback, and outside of Jake Butt, they lack playmakers on offense. Some out there that think the revival will happen immediately; I don't. Putting Michigan as "most overrated" really just says more about the lack of expectations for every team outside of Ohio State in the Big Ten this year. No one else is expected to do much of anything.
Most underrated team: Michigan State. Everyone assumes Ohio State is going to breeze through the East and into the College Football Playoff, but the game against Michigan State in the 'Shoe is going to be a legit test. Sparty's defense is always tough and Connor Cook is as good a quarterback as there is in the Big Ten outside of Columbus. I'm not picking the Spartans to win that game, but it's going to be close and tough.
Bold conference prediction: Ohio State wins two games by only single digits. Unless you're willing to step up to the dish and pick the Spartans to beat the Buckeyes, which I am not going to do, there aren't a ton of "bold" things to say about the Big Ten. So, with that in mind I'm going with Ohio State running the table, but getting tested at least twice in games decided by less than 10 points. Is that bold? A little bit. In the four game lines involving the Buckeyes released by the Golden Nugget this summer, they were favored by at least 14 (Michigan State) in all four. The four games listed were the four toughest tests -- Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Penn State and Michigan.
|2015 Big Ten Predicted Order of Finish