A year after Ohio State helped give the Big Ten reason to brag about the state of the Big Ten, the conference was left scratching some heads at the end of the postseason fun at the end of the 2015 season. Michigan State laid an egg in the College Football Playoff in a shutout loss at the hands of Alabama, who went on to win the national title a year after being stunned by Ohio State. Iowa was outclassed by Christian McCaffrey and Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten picked up a couple of other wins, including bowl victories by Wisconsin and Nebraska against the Pac-12‘s two supposedly rising Los Angeles programs, but the Big Ten once again was highlighted by the success of Ohio State and Michigan, thus continuing a decades-old narrative about the conference.
We have a long time to really start figuring out just exactly where the state of the Big Ten ranks among its peer conferences in 2016, but one question that may come to mind is whether or not the window for the Big Ten has already shut. The answer, of course, is no. The Big Ten, though it may still be a top-heavy conference with Ohio State leading the way, closely followed by Michigan State and with Michigan getting into gear under Jim Harbaugh, but the Big Ten still has a decent shot at claiming a national title in 2016.
Ohio State is still going to be a force to reckon with, but the Buckeyes are losing a good chunk of talent to the NFL this year. The good news is the Buckeyes have been a recruiting monster since the day Urban Meyer was hired, and the Buckeyes are now pretty much a program that can simply reload instead of having to suffer any rebuilding, even a minimal one. It may take a little bit of time to replace all of the pieces effectively, but these Buckeyes are still going to be a force in Big Ten play.
Michigan is a trendy early pick in the Big Ten, thanks in part to the turnover happening at Columbus. Harbaugh showed great strides for the Michigan program in his first year, and that should continue in 2016. But I am not quite all in on the Wolverines as Big Ten favorites just yet. Road games at Michigan State and Ohio State will come late enough in the season for both the Spartans and Buckeyes to have their wrinkles ironed out, however there may actually be.
The Big Ten is still going to be in a solid position to land its champion in the College Football Playoff. But can the Big Ten champ knock off Clemson or Alabama?