The narrative surrounding the Big Ten has changed quite a bit during the College Football Playoff era. It's gone from a conference that had fallen on hard times and couldn't produce elite teams to one that might have too many elite teams these days, making it more difficult to reach the CFP. That was indeed the case last season when Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State beat up on each other, and in the end, the Buckeyes had two losses and missed out on the playoff.
Now the conference enters the 2018 season with the clear goal of returning to the playoff but with more questions surrounding its top programs. Will somebody emerge as the real power of the conference, or will we see a repeat of the 2017 season? Keep on reading to see the CBS Sports college football team's unique takes on the Big Ten entering the 2018 season.
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Most overrated team
Michigan: When you play in a stacked division like the Big Ten East, not every good team can finish first. And while I think last year's 8-5 effort -- with quarterback injuries, mind you -- was the floor for this team, I'm not sure how far the ceiling goes. The Wolverines play five preseason AP top-12 teams, including a road game at Notre Dame to open the year and a divisional crossover game against Wisconsin. Quarterback Shea Patterson hopefully injects some life into the offense, but a 9-3 type season is very much a possibility and that would only be a one-win improvement. -- Ben Kercheval (also Jerry Palm, Barrett Sallee)
Ohio State: OSU is really really good, but overrated is a relative term. I don't have any doubt that this team has playoff capability. I just wonder why the Buckeyes appear to be the prohibitive, universal Big Ten East favorites. Is this defense better than Michigan's? Is the offense better than Penn State's? Is the quarterback better than what's lining up with 18 other returning starters in East Lansing? For a program dealing with some turmoil, breaking in a new quarterback and entering ranked 109th in the country in returning production on defense, I'm just not ready to crown them like some others are in the preseason. -- Barton Simmons
Michigan State: I expect Michigan State to be quite good in 2018, just not as good as quite a few others seem to believe. Last year's team was young and had a good season, but advanced metrics will show you that it played a bit over its head. It won only one conference game by more than 10 points, and that was a 33-point trouncing of Rutgers. I think this is a team that wins eight or nine games during the regular season but isn't ever truly in contention in the division. -- Tom Fornelli
Purdue: It was a turnaround year for the Boilers in 2017, but that's all it was. Getting to the next level is going to be tough. After going 7-6, Purdue picks up Michigan State and Ohio State from the East. Jeff Brohm must replace seven starters on defense. -- Dennis Dodd
Northwestern: Tough for me not to see a slight step back for the Wildcats in 2018, even Clayton Thorson looking to fulfill some of those more favorable NFL projections with his play on the field. Thorson is, of course, coming back from injury. This year, he'll no longer have the program's all-time leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, all-purpose yards and total touchdowns (All-Big Ten RB Justin Jackson) in the backfield to balance the offense. Some have Northwestern pegged at No. 2 in the Big Ten West, but I think it will take two or three November wins to guarantee a bowl game at the end of a really tough schedule. -- Chip Patterson
Most underrated team
Nebraska: It had more talent than it showed in a 4-8 season in 2017 that saw the end of the Mike Riley era. Now, Scott Frost comes in fresh off an undefeated season at UCF and with a national championship under his belt as a player for the Cornhuskers. If anyone can come in and change a culture immediately, it's Frost. A brutal road schedule may mask how much this team should be improved this season, but a bowl game is a reasonable expectation. -- Jerry Palm (also Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson)
Wisconsin: Bucky is championship-caliber after being the last undefeated Power Five team and coming within six of Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Rickie Fowler would admire the Badgers. Both are the best never to win a major. -- Dennis Dodd
Penn State: Look, I get it. Running back Saquon Barkley moved on, and suddenly Penn State is going to fade back to the middle of the Big Ten East pack, right? Wrong. Trace McSorley is as legit superstar with nerves of steel, Juwon Johnson is fully capable of stepping in to take over as his No. 1 target, Miles Sanders is ready to roll at running back, and the offensive line is the best it's been since James Franklin took over in 2014. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten two years ago, made a return trip New Year's Six bowl last year and deserve as much benefit of the doubt as Ohio State. The AP Top 25 had them at No. 10 in the preseason poll behind two other Big Ten teams. How it's not the top-ranked Big Ten team is a mystery to me. -- Barrett Sallee
Iowa: With so much love for Wisconsin, it's almost like the rest of the Big Ten West doesn't exist. However, the Badgers have to play at Iowa, and we all know what Kinnick Stadium can do. The Hawkeyes usually equalize at about eight wins a year with some variance sprinkled in. Could this be the year they get back to 10 wins? Quietly, there's enough talent returning that it could be. -- Ben Kercheval
- Dennis Dodd: DJ Durkin will be fired (no surprise), acting coach Matt Canada will become interim coach (no surprise), Maryland will beat Texas (surprise!), go to a bowl (surprise!), and Canada will be named permanent coach in December.
- Jerry Palm: Ohio State figures out a way to keep Urban Meyer and gets back into the playoff.
- Tom Fornelli: Just like last season, the Big Ten will beat up on itself and miss out on the College Football Playoff because nobody will have fewer than two losses.
- Chip Patterson: Sanders tops Barkley's 2017 rushing total (1,271 yards). The loss of Barkley is the headline, but turnover at the rest of the skill positions has put more pressure on McSorely and the offensive backfield. Sanders could get a full workload this year.
- Barton Simmons: Nebraska will upset at least one of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State or Wisconsin.
- Barrett Sallee: Northwestern will be the primary threat in the Big Ten West, and Wisconsin better not stumble.
- Ben Kercheval: Two Big Ten players -- McSorley and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor -- will make the Heisman Trophy finalist cut.
Big Ten predicted order of finish
Big Ten champion
Ohio State: When I pick Alabama as the preseason No. 1 seeming every season, the reason is always the same: They have the best talent and the best coach. Ohio State is the Big Ten version of Alabama, but the coaching situation is in doubt. We don't know how much Meyer will coach this team or if he will coach it at all. The coaching situation could be a distraction or motivation. I expect the latter, but whoever coaches the Buckeyes still has the most talent in the league. -- Jerry Palm (also Dennis Dodd, Ben Kercheval)
Wisconsin: If I could give a confidence level on this call, I don't know that I'd go higher than 40 percent. The truth is, I look at the Big Ten East right now and I have no idea what to make of it. Every single contender in that division has question marks, some bigger than others, and they're all capable of knocking the other out. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is returning nearly its entire offense and has a much clearer path to Indianapolis. So I'm very confident the Badgers are playing for the Big Ten title in 2018. I just don't know who they're playing against when they get there. -- Tom Fornelli (also Chip Patterson)
Michigan: Forget last year's 8-5 season. I keep thinking about the 2016 season. That year Michigan was a one-point shocker in Kinnick Stadium and a double-overtime loss to Ohio State away from the college football playoffs and Wilton Speight was the quarterback. 2018 -- not 2017 -- was always supposed to be the next shot. And now Michigan is taking that shot with Patterson, not Speight, at quarterback. Whatever you think of Patterson, he's clearly the most talented quarterback of Harbaugh's Michigan tenure and his athleticism opens up the playbook for Harbaugh and his three assistants with offensive coordinator chops. Don Brown's defense is loaded. Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones are ready to take the next step forward. You're fooling yourself if you think Harbaugh won't get over the hump at some point. It happens this year. -- Barton Simmons
Penn State: With McSorley, Sanders, Johnson a solid offensive line and a defense that, while inexperienced, is still talented, give me the Nittany Lions to hoist the trophy in Indianapolis. The offense will be tough to slow down, which will take a ton of pressure off the defense on a weekly basis. Plus they get Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin at home in 2018, which makes the schedule relatively manageable by Big Ten East standards. The question isn't if Penn State will win the Big Ten, it's if it has a resume worthy of a College Football Playoff berth when the confetti reigns down at Lucas Oil Stadium -- Barrett Sallee