The Big Ten experienced a resurgence of sorts last season. In doing so, the conference stole thunder from the SEC, the darling of ESPN and the college football world.
Ohio State represented the league in the sport’s first-ever playoff. The Buckeyes emerged as champions after knocking off Alabama and Oregon. Few folks predicted it from a conference that had become a post-season punchline.
Some respect has been restored to the proud group of research universities. Ohio State sat atop the first Associated Press Top 25 Poll with Michigan State checking in at No. 5. Wisconsin came in at 20.
While it’s a step forward for the Big Ten in terms of national recognition, ground remains to be covered. Eight SEC schools populate the AP Poll and the Pac-12 boasts six in there. The Big 12 and ACC each have three.
The Big Ten can serve notice that last season wasn’t an aberration early. Wisconsin faces No. 3 Alabama, Minnesota plays host to No. 2 TCU and No. 21 Stanford visits Northwestern. Ohio State plays at an unranked, but well-respected Virginia Tech program and Michigan travels to Utah, which came in at No. 30 in AP voting. Fifth-ranked Michigan State welcomes No. 7 Oregon to East Lansing next weekend.
Here’s a look at how I see the Big Ten shaking out in 2015:
Wins (3): Kent State, Western Illinois, Middle Tennessee State.
Losses (9): North Carolina, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, Ohio State, Minnesota, Northwestern.
One-Liner: At least Tim Beckman won’t have to watch the team he constructed.
Wins (7): Illinois State, Pittsburgh, North Texas, Illinois, Maryland, Indiana, Purdue.
Losses (5): Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Minnesota, Nebraska.
One-Liner: Hawkeyes move practice to 3 a.m. next season.
Wins (9): Colorado State, Kent State, Ohio, Purdue, Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin.
Losses (3): TCU, Northwestern, Ohio State.
One-Liner: Gophers end season after realizing they must play Ohio State again in conference title game.
Wins (9): BYU, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers, Iowa.
Losses (3): Miami, Minnesota, Michigan State.
One-Liner: Husker fans call for Bo Pelini’s firing.
Wins (8): Stanford, Eastern Illinois, Ball State, Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois.
Losses (4): Duke, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin.
One-Liner: Happy with their success, Wildcat players attempt to form a union but settle for all-you-can-eat buffet at Mustard’s Last Stand.
Wins (3): Indiana State, Bowling Green, Illinois.
Losses (9): Marshall, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana.
One-Liner: Brock Spack, Boilermaker AD Morgan Burke on Line 1.
Wins (8): Miami (Ohio), Troy, Hawaii, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers, Northwestern.
Losses (4): Alabama, Nebraska, Maryland, Minnesota.
One-Liner: Unhappy with losing division, Barry Alvarez decides to coach team in bowl game.
Wins (6): Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky, Wake Forest, Rutgers, Purdue.
Losses (6): Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, Maryland.
One-Liner: Hoosier fans excited about Christmas in Detroit until they realize they can watch non-conference basketball instead.
Wins (7): Richmond, Bowling Green, South Florida, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Indiana.
Losses (5): West Virginia, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, Rutgers.
One-Liner: At least they have crab cakes.
Wins (6): Oregon State, UNLV, BYU, Northwestern, Rutgers, Indiana.
Losses (6): Utah, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State.
One-Liner: The .500 record spawns an even weirder Jim Harbaugh, if that’s possible.
Wins (11): Western Michigan, Oregon, Air Force, Central Michigan, Purdue, Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska, Maryland, Penn State.
Losses (1): Ohio State.
One-Liner: Sparty getting comfortable with the chant "We’re No. 2."
Wins (12): Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan.
Losses (0): None.
One-Liner: Urban Meyer resigns out of boredom.
Wins (8): Temple, Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan.
Losses (4): Ohio State, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan State.
One-Liner: Penn State petitions NCAA for 10 extra scholarships due to damage caused by Sandusky sanctions. Granted.
Wins (5): Norfolk State, Washington State, Kansas, Army, Maryland.
Losses (7): Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska.
One-Liner: Coach Kyle Flood becomes professor at school and only allows players to take his class.