2019 Big Ten expert picks: Overrated, underrated teams and predicted order of finish

There's a lot at stake for the Big Ten as we enter the 2019 season. The conference has failed to be selected for the College Football Playoff in each of the last two years despite the CFP era beginning with a bang for the conference when Ohio State won the first national title in the new system. In the two seasons that followed, however, OSU and Michigan State were disposed of in semifinals by a not-very-nice combined score of 69-0.

Now the 2019 season begins with Urban Meyer no longer at the helm of Ohio State, meaning there are far more questions than answers about the conference's football flagship. Will Michigan finally get over the one remaining obstacle of the Jim Harbaugh Era? Will Penn State and Michigan State provide a challenge for either of them? Will anybody in the West emerge as a Big Ten title threat? We won't know the answer to these questions until after the season, but for now, we have predictions from our CBS Sports experts that you can check out below.

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Graphic by Michael Meredith

Most overrated team

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are going to be dangerous and capable of winning every game on their schedule, but I am not among the group that is certain in their status as the Big Ten West favorites. They could certainly beat Ohio State at home in September while also finishing third in their own division with an 8-4 record. Fun team, great story to follow, but I'm hitting the brakes on thinking "the leap" comes in 2019. -- Chip Patterson (also Jerry Palm, Barrett Sallee, Ben Kercheval)

Penn State: No matter where you pick them, the Nittany Lions are going to take a step back considering the turnover after seeing their roster depleted. Most important of all, Trace McSorley isn't there. Sophomore Sean Clifford and his seven career passes will take over. Sorry, but there just isn't room for Penn State to contend in the Big Ten East this season. Michigan has the most talent. Ohio State is the defending champion. Michigan State can't possibly be that bad offensively again. Defense has to carry the Nittany Lions this season. -- Dennis Dodd

Michigan State: I get that we've seen Michigan State bounce back from bad seasons before. I get that Michigan State dealt with myriad injuries last season. What I don't get is what anybody saw from Michigan State last season to put it in the top 20 to start 2019. This is a team that went 7-6 last season, and it didn't seem like a fluke. If not for Rutgers, the Spartans offense would have finished last in the Big Ten in nearly every statistical category that matters. Maybe they bounce back with another 10-win season, but with a schedule that sees Sparty going on the road for Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan, I see a team that finishes a lot closer to seven wins again than 10. -- Tom Fornelli

Michigan: When I ask why Michigan is going to beat Ohio State this year, the common refrain is something to the effect of, 'If not this year, when?' That's not good enough for me. Michigan is still good. It's deep and talented, and 10-2 is well within my expectations for 2019. But I've picked Michigan to reach the College Football Playoff twice in the past three years. I've been on this ride before, and I'm not seeing enough to make me think this year is any different. Urban Meyer being gone isn't a value-add in Ann Arbor. Certainly the departures of defensive leaders like Devin Bush, Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary isn't either. As much as I think new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is a great football coach, I'm not heaping playoff expectations on his shoulders in year one. Ohio State has won 14 of 15 and seven straight against Michigan. I'm not convinced the streak ends this year. -- Barton Simmons


Most underrated team

Iowa: I really like where this group is at in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and believe A.J. Epenesa might be one of the best defensive linemen in the entire country. Nathan Stanley is set for his third year as the Hawkeyes' starting quarterback, and there seems to be a contingent of fans who look at this as a bad thing, or at least a sign of his regression. I think that experience at quarterback is a strength that many Big Ten teams lack, and it will help the Hawkeyes contend for a Big Ten title. -- Chip Patterson (also Tom Fornelli)

Penn State: The Nittany Lions are without Trace McSorley, which at surface level seems like a death knell. To be sure, Penn State won't be better without him, but I think we're overestimating the loss since Penn State went 9-4 last season with him as a starter. Consider, too, that some of this team's top players are returning linebacker Micah Parsons and receiver KJ Hamler -- both of whom led their team as underclassmen. Running back Ricky Slade seems primed for a breakout season after a limited workload last year. Penn State is probably too young to compete for a Big Ten East title, but they're talented enough to hang with some of the division's heavyweights. It wouldn't stun me if Penn State at least came close to matching last year's win total. -- Ben Kercheval (also Barton Simmons)

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are the trendy pick in the Big Ten West. They'll be more than that by the end of the season. Scott Frost already has become somewhat of a miracle worker. As a first-year coach, Nebraska started 0-6. That's a recipe for losing the locker room. Instead, the Huskers rebounded to finish 4-2. Adrian Martinez should lay the groundwork for a 2020 Heisman Trophy run. If the defense can improve just a little bit, Nebraska should be able to win the West with an 8-4 record. That's not a huge ask. -- Dennis Dodd

Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald has built a very solid program in Evanston, Illinois and won the division title last season, yet it seems that nobody ever thinks the Wildcats are capable of bigger things, myself included at times. This season, everyone is seemingly on the Nebraska hype wagon in what figures to be the most competitive division in college football.  With former five-star quarterback Hunter Johnson joining the team and an All-American linebacker in Paddy Fisher, you would be foolish to count the Wildcats out. -- Jerry Palm

Wisconsin: All this Nebraska hype seemed to overshadow the most important story in the Big Ten this year: Jonathan Taylor still exists on the Wisconsin roster and is the best running back in the country. The junior has rushed for 4,171 and 29 touchdowns in just two seasons at Wisconsin, and he will pace the Badgers to the Big Ten West title in 2019. What's more, the Badgers upgraded at quarterback simply because of Alex Hornibrook's transfer. Whether it's hot-shot freshman Graham Mertz or veteran Jack Coan taking the snaps, Taylor will have plenty of pressure taken off of his shoulders with a passing game that simply has to be "decent" in order for the offense to click. -- Barrett Sallee

Bold prediction

  • Dennis Dodd: Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor will get the required 2,235 rushing yards to become the NCAA career leader, surpassing San Diego State's Donnell Pumphrey. 
  • Jerry Palm: The Big Ten West will end up with six teams within one game of first place.
  • Tom Fornelli: The 2019 season will be the year Michigan wins its first Big Ten title since 2004.
  • Chip Patterson: Michigan will beat Ohio State at home, but the Buckeyes will win the Big Ten. It's complicated, I know, but there is a possible outcome that involves Jim Harbaugh finally getting a win against Ohio State and still failing to win the Big Ten East. Having to watch the Buckeyes compete for the conference title won't sting that much if they're still celebrating the end of the losing streak in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
  • Barton Simmons: For the second consecutive year, Iowa will have a team that will produce two first-round picks in the same draft. 
  • Barrett Sallee: Wisconsin will top Michigan, drop one to Ohio State and enter November squarely in the mix for a College Football Playoff berth -- just like it did two seasons ago. If it can avoid an upset down the stretch, the Badgers will meet Ohio State in Indianapolis with the CFP on the line.
  • Ben Kercheval: Justin Fields finally breaks out for Ohio State and becomes a Heisman finalist. 

Big Ten predicted order of finish

Big Ten champion

Ohio State: Ryan Day is the new coach, but there's so much still in place from the Urban Meyer that it's going to take a while before I'm ready to think a step back is imminent. The roster, support staff and much of the coaching staff have known nothing but Big Ten title contention, and I think that's where the Buckeyes will be again at the end of 2019. -- Chip Patterson (also Jerry Palm, Barton Simmons, Barrett Sallee, Ben Kercheval)

Michigan: Believe me, I get why anybody would be hesitant to back Michigan as a Big Ten threat considering how things have gone the last decade or two, but I think this is the season Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines break through. I'm of a mind that too many people are just assuming Ryan Day can step in for Urban Meyer and keep things humming along, as if Meyer wasn't one of the most accomplished coaches in college football history. Michigan has an experienced and talented offensive line. It has plenty of talent on defense, along with one of the best coordinators in the business. It's a new offense but one I think will be better suited to Shea Patterson and improve Michigan's chances of not only bludgeoning teams it's better than but competing with teams on a similar talent level. Harbaugh hasn't won the big one at Michigan yet, but he's saved this program from a long, slow descent toward mediocrity. This year things take another step forward. -- Tom Fornelli (also Dennis Dodd)

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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