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Early Big Ten Football Power Rankings for 2013

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Big Ten Power Rankings 2013

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The Big Ten football season came to a close earlier this month, but the debate about the top teams in the conference never ends. Obviously, Ohio State is and will continue to be the top team in the conference after a 12-0 season in 2012. If it wasn't for a postseason ban, the Buckeyes would have most likely played for a national title.

The Big Ten was not as potent of a conference in 2012 as it had been in years past, but two of the best teams in the conference were ineligible for a bowl game which made their postseason play look mediocre.

Many teams under-achieved, however, such as Michigan State, Purdue and Iowa while other teams like Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State over-achieved.

Big Ten coaches started earning more respect, even after a down year, Kirk Ferentz of Iowa and Bill O'Brien of Penn State flirted with the idea of leaving college for and NFL job. On a different note, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema left the Badgers prior to their Rose Bowl appearance to take the head coaching job at Arkansas, leaving Badger fans wondering about his lack of loyalty.

It may seem too early for these first power rankings, but as of right now, there are clear favorites and clear bottom-dwellers in the Big Ten and I'm here to point them out.

I coupled returning starters with incoming recruits to assist me in compiling my way too early Big Ten power rankings for the 2013 season.

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12. Illinois

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Easily the worst team in the Big Ten in 2012, Illinois was hardly a threat against any team in the conference. Besides a three-point loss against Purdue, their closest conference loss was by 14 points against both Indiana and Minnesota. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase never lived up to his hype and they failed to win a conference game and finished the season at 2-10 overall. Tough season for the first-year head coach Tim Beckman and 2013 won't be much easier as they return just three defensive starters.

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11. Purdue

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Purdue may have been the biggest disappointment in the conference in 2012 after returning a good number of starters from 2011, they were projected as Leaders Division contenders. After starting the year 3-6, things were looking grim for the Boilermakers, but three straight wins brought a bowl game to the West Lafayette. They fired head coach Danny Hope and made one of the best hires of the offseason in former-Kent State coach Darrell Hazell. It will be a rebuilding year for the Boilers with only five returning starters on offense and the No. 11 recruiting class out of 12 Big Ten teams.

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10. Indiana

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Kevin Wilson has Indiana on the right track and on their way to be more competitive in 2013 than they have been in years. With quarterback Tre Roberson back from injury, the Hoosiers' offense will be extremely potent. The Hoosiers finished the season 4-8 in 2012, but look to improve by a couple more wins in 2013 and the chances of that are good because they return the most starters(19) than any team in the country and the three more starters than the next closest Big Ten team. Look for them to make their first bowl game since 2007.

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9. Minnesota

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Jerry Kill is the type of coach that people around the country root for. He has been the focus point for health issues in college coaching and has overcome those issues to climb the ranks in coaching to land his first BCS conference coaching job in 2011 with Minnesota. He turned the Gophers into a bowl-worthy team in just two seasons and will most likely lead the Gophers to a better record in 2013, returning 16 starters, including 10 on offense. They may have the lowest rated recruiting class in the conference, but all of their returning starters should make up for it.

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8. Iowa

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Iowa didn't quite have the season that they were expecting in 2012 with James Vandenberg leading the way for the Hawkeyes. However, Vandenberg had a rough season and failed to live up to expectations for a returning veteran quarterback, throwing less than 10 touchdowns and having a rough senior year. They return seven starters on offense and defense, but have one of the lowest rated recruiting classes in the Big Ten. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if Kirk Ferentz made a contender out of them.

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7. Wisconsin

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The Wisconsin Badgers are still trying to cope with the loss of head coach Bret Bielema who left the team prior to the Rose Bowl. The Badgers left the coaching up to athletic director and former head coach Barry Alvarez in the bowl game, but came up short against a solid Stanford team. They return 15 starters and eight on offense, including starting quarterback Joel Stave, to go along with the fifth best recruiting class in the conference. Next season will be a rebuilding year for the Badgers, but it won't take newly-appointed head coach Gary Anderson long to make them contenders again.

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6. Penn State

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Penn State exceeded everyone's expectations in 2012, and 2013 should be no different with Bill O'Brien leading the way in Happy Valley. It took a while, but the football program has put the entire Joe Paterno-Jerry Sandusky situation behind them as best as they could and played great football last season. Matt McGloin had a great senior season and led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record and a second place finish in the Leaders Division. The loss of McGloin will be tough to swallow, but with the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country in Christian Hackenberg coming in, the Nittany Lions should be able to recover quickly.

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5. Michigan State

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Michigan State had a rough 2012 season under Mark Dantonio's expectations, but this isn't the first time the head coach endured a tough season and came back to have an even better year following the bad year. In 2009, Michigan State finished 6-7 and barely reached a bowl game, but in 2010, the Spartans came back to win 11 games and come one game short of the Rose Bowl. The Spartans probably won't have as successful of a year in 2013, but with Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin missing from their schedule, a three-loss season isn't out of the question. Not to mention they return 15 starters from a year ago and have the sixth-best recruiting class in the conference, highlighted by four-star dual-threat quarterback Damion Terry.

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4. Northwestern

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Pat Fitzgerald has the Northwestern Wildcats in contention and in the top half of the conference for the first time in years and he also engineered them to a 10-win season. With Kain Colter and Venric Mark returning to the offensive unit next season, the Wildcats will have one of the best offenses in the conference and although their recruiting class is ranked closer to the bottom of the Big Ten teams, they return 15 starters from a solid team and will have plenty of momentum going into 2013 with their first bowl win since 1948 against Mississippi State.

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3. Michigan

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Michigan has been one of the most improved teams in the last few season after three rough seasons under head coach Rich Rodriquez. Head coach Brady Hoke has turned Michigan back into the program they were when Lloyd Carr ran things in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are coming off a modest 8-4 season and a close bowl loss against South Carolina. They return just 12 starters from 2012-- the lowest mark in the Big Ten-- but they return their new starting quarterback Devin Gardner, which should be a huge help. The Wolverines will be a force in 2013 especially with the second-best recruiting class in the conference, including 14 four-star commitments.

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2. Nebraska

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Nebraska came up short in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin in 2012, but they return most of their offense, including quarterback and Heisman-hopeful Taylor Martinez for the 2013 season. Their recruiting class ranks third in the conference behind Ohio State and Michigan. The Cornhuskers had a scary offense this season and should be on track to have an even better offense next season with Ameer Abdullah in the backfield replacing Rex Burkhead.

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1. Ohio State

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Ohio State was head and shoulders above the rest of the Big Ten this season. The Buckeyes finished 12-0 and dominated the conference with an undefeated record. Urban Meyer has put together quite the team and will have an even better squad in 2013. They return nine offensive starters, including Heisman-favorite Braxton Miller. Not only do they return nine offensive starters, they have accumulated the top recruiting class in the conference and the fifth best in the nation according to 247 Sports. Meyer may start out his time at Ohio State with a 24-0 record in the regular season. A national title isn't too far away in Columbus.