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2015 College Football Conference Preview: Big Ten

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Ohio State isn't defending its title, the whole conference is defended the championship!

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The defending champs, three teams that won 10 games, and a new coach at one of the premier programs in the league. It's the Big Ten preview, now full of large expectations.

Top Storylines

Will Ohio State trip up before the playoffs?

The opener at Virginia Tech got interesting with the suspensions, but the Buckeyes could be heavy favorites until late November. It could be a long boring road, measured by multi-touchdown victories. However, one slip up and it could all be over. That'll likely be the drama this year for Ohio State.

Life without Narduzzi for MSU

The Spartans are entering the first year without long-time DC Pat Narduzzi. There are high expectations again but a schedule not set up to make a run. They'll host Oregon early, play tricky Air Force the week after, and travel to road games at Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State.

Wisconsin moves on without Melvin Gordon

Not many teams have to replace their top running back and his 2,587 rushing yards. Such is life for the Badgers. Oh, and they open up against Alabama. A new coach in town will bring some adjustments, too. The schedule sets up nicely with no OSU or MSU. The road game at Nebraska on October 10th may decide the division.

Where to set expectations in year one of Harbaugh

I think the roster problems at Michigan are a little overstated and it's possible for a good season. A lack of strong quarterback play and the schedule won't do them any favors. An opening trip to Utah won't be fun, plus Oregon State and BYU come to town before league play even begins. It's reasonable for people not to think much about Harbaugh in year one.

Huskers vying for the West

Anyone else feeling another team in the West besides Wisconsin or Nebraska? The Huskers shed Bo Pelini and his annual 4 losses and it feels like, while they have the pieces to play well, it's going to be tough to stay with the Badgers. BYU and a trip to Miami offer challenges out of conference, plus they pick up Michigan State late in the season.

Will Penn State remain stuck in neutral?

We covered Penn State and their pathetic schedule a few weeks ago. If they are modestly decent a 6-0 start is clearly achievable. Whether they can finish better than 3-3 from there will be the key. If the line improves and gives Hackenberg time there might be enough offensive firepower to win 10 games.

New Coaches

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Back in the college game for the first time since 2010 after a stint with the 49ers. The Savior came home and has everything in Ann Arbor under construction.

Mike Riley, Nebraska

Remember how much of a shock this move was when it was announced? Riley leaves Oregon State where he spent 14 seasons over two separate stints.

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Another former player comes home. Chryst played for the Badgers in the late 80's and spent 8 seasons as an assistant in Madison.

The Favorites and Confidence in Said Favorites

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

If you're picking someone other than the Buckeyes to win the division you're probably just doing it to be different. Wisconsin is a nice safe pick to wrap things up on the other side. Returning quarterback, a new coach who should fit in seamlessly, and just enough on defense.

Top Non-League Matchup

Oregon at Michigan State

The Ducks held off Sparty last year inside Autzen and make the trip to East Lansing this year. There may not be a bigger OOC game this season. The winner should have a nice feather in their cap come time to plead their case in front of the playoff committee.

Top League Matchup

Michigan State at Ohio State

Is there any way State can win both of these games? That would be something. Ohio State visits Illinois prior to this matchup while the Spartans host Maryland. That's a slight advantage to the Buckeyes.

Freshman to Watch

Brian Cole, WR, Michigan

The Wolverines signed a lean class while Harbaugh was still setting up his office but the top player in the group was Brian Cole out of Saginaw. He's already working with the 2nd team during camp and receiver is definitely a position where a young player can make an impact at Michigan.

Sell that Stock

Iowa

A few places have the Hawkeyes floating around the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and a Top 50-ish type of team for 2015. The good news is that they miss Ohio State, MSU, and Michigan in the other division. But both Nebraska and Wisconsin are on the road. This roster is looking for so much help, especially on offense, that a really terrible season in the 4-win range wouldn't shock me.

I'd also mention Minnesota and Maryland as teams who could take steps back this fall.

Buy that Stock

Illinois

Am I crazy? Tim Beckman gets a lot of crap but he's improved Illinois' record each year. A lot of players are back and I think Wes Lunt can win some games that didn't turn their way early last year. The schedule is fairly friendly and should give them 3 wins out of league. With a bowl, there's potential for a 8-5 season.