Big Ten Spring Football Power Rankings

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Big Ten Spring Football Power Rankings

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The 2013 college football season was one of the most memorable in recent memory. Sure, Johnny Manziel didn't win his second Heisman Trophy, but we all got to witness to birth of one of college football's all-time biggest stars in Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman became the second freshman ever, and in as many years, to win the Heisman.

While college football was exciting for everyone, it was especially exciting for the teams in the Big Ten as it seems like the conference just spit out yet another elite in the Michigan State Spartans. When you think of the Big Ten, you think of teams like the Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Penn State Nittany Lions and Wisconsin Badgers, but now Michigan State has to enter the conversation.

The Buckeyes had won 24 consecutive games under Urban Meyer prior to a showdown with the Spartans in the Big Ten title game. Ohio State was out-matched and somewhat out-coached as the Spartans took the game and made their first Rose Bowl appearance in over 20 years.

After a 13-1 campaign, along with a Rose Bowl victory, the Spartans are sitting pretty atop the conference and are looking to reload on the defensive side of the ball.

Don't sleep on other teams like Michigan and Wisconsin as the two have some solid returning players and will be looking for revenge after somewhat disappointing seasons -- under both's recent standards.

It's looking like the 2014 Big Ten season will be even more exciting as many teams are returning top talent and that will make for quite the interesting title race -- especially with the new division alignment and addition of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins.

Let's take a look at the spring edition of the Big Ten football early power rankings. Let me know if you agree or disagree.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at connor.muldowney@rantsports.com.

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14. Illinois Fighting Illini

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Illinois may not have finished in last place in the Big Ten last season, but the Illini lost eight of its last 10 games to drop from 2-0 to 4-8 on the season. The conference season was not kind to the Illini and losing resurgent quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will hurt the offense in 2014. Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson will be back and that's good news for the offense as he is the team's leading rusher as well as second-leading receiver.

Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt will give Reilly O'Toole a run for his money in the spring quarterback race. If Lunt can play like he's capable of, the Illini will have a solid, veteran quarterback behind center with some starting experience. However, the defense is one of the weakest in the conference.

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13. Purdue Boilermakers

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Purdue had a miserable season in 2013, going an embarrassing 1-11 and losing its final 10 games after a 1-1 start. First-year head coach Darrell Hazell inherited a mediocre team and looked to be in over his head at times. With one Big Ten season under his belt, I think the now-second-year head coach will be much-improved and the team will start buying into his system more.

Freshman quarterback Danny Etling started the final eight games of the 2013 season and proved he can be the weekly starter for the Boilermakers. With a year under his belt, the Boilermakers will have a more solidified offense with Akeem Hunt returning at running back as well.

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12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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Rutgers began the 2013 season with an impressive 4-1 record including a win over SEC foe Arkansas. However, the Scarlet Knights couldn't keep the same pace in the second half of the season, finishing 6-7 on the year. The offense seemingly disappeared during this 2-6 stretch, averaging just 18.1 points per contest while giving up 31.1 points per game.

Gary Nova is returning at quarterback and it will be interesting to see if he can improve on the past three seasons he has started at quarterback. The upcoming senior will need a monster season in order to lessen the blow of entering a tougher conference. If there is going to be a bright spot of this team heading into spring ball, it's the nine returning offensive starters.

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11. Maryland Terrapins

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Maryland, like Rutgers, began the 2013 season with somewhat of a hot streak, winning five of its first six games and finding itself in the Top 25. However, a devastating 63-0 loss to Florida State seemingly began the Terrapins' downfall as they went 3-5 after the debacle.

Losing C.J. Brown at quarterback will definitely hurt the Terrapins, but returning talented wide out and ultimate weapon Stefon Diggs will surely make up for the loss. Don't forget the return of last year's top wide receiver, Levern Jacobs. It is going to be a tough first year in the conference for the extremely average Terrapins as they were in the middle of the pack in a much weaker ACC last season.

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10. Indiana Hoosiers

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Kevin Wilson has slowly, but surely, turned Indiana from a conference laughing stock into a bowl contention-type of team. Coming just one win away from a bowl berth in 2013 was heartbreaking, but it shows just how far this team has come -- having just one bowl berth since 1993.

Sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld will be returning for his junior season as the team's starter and it looks like the Hoosiers will be in good hands. While losing top wide out Cody Latimer to the NFL draft this year will hurt, the Hoosiers are still explosive on offense and will be returning eight starters on the offensive side of the ball -- and 10 on defense. The Hoosiers will be bowl bound in 2014.

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9. Penn State Nittany Lions

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Christian Hackenberg was trusted as the team's quarterback in 2013 as a true freshman. Bill O'Brien was a quarterback guru, so it may be strange for the highly-touted quarterback now that his mentor is on to the NFL -- even though I am sure they will still be in touch. Still in the midst of a postseason ban, the Nittany Lions won't be heading to a bowl game this season, but Hackenberg will be much-improved.

Losing top wide out Allen Robinson will definitely hurt on offense, but Hackenberg has the tools to turn receivers into stars. Expect more of the same out of the Nittany Lions in 2014 as they had won consecutive games just once in 2013.

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8. Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Minnesota had one of the best seasons in recent memory and it's living proof that Jerry Kill is slowly turning the program around. He took the Gophers from a three-win team in 2011 to an eight-win team in 2013. With the right head coach in place, it's all on the players' shoulders now.

The Golden Gophers are returning 14 starters this season and that includes top running back David Cobb. With Philip Nelson transferring to Rutgers, the quarterback job is solely set on the shoulders of Mitch Leidner, as many hoped it would be. Leidner is heading into his sophomore season and he could be star for the Golden Gophers and a big reason they repeat their success in 2014.

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7. Iowa Hawkeyes

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The Iowa Hawkeyes are a tough team to gauge. They could either be an elite team in the conference or a complete disappointment. Three of the Hawkeyes' five losses in 2013 came to teams that finished with at least 12 wins in 2013. The other two losses came against a team with nine wins and a team with 10 wins. To say this team was just short of being a 10-win team is an understatement.

With another year under quarterback Jake Rudock's belt, the junior will be back as the starter for his second season as the team's starter. While many think C.J. Beathard will compete for the starting QB job, it is Rudock's to lose. With eight offensive players returning -- most of them skill positions -- the Hawkeyes will be solid on that side of the ball. The five returning defensive starters will hurt, though.

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6. Northwestern Wildcats

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Northwestern seems like the biggest disappointment of the 2013 season -- because it was just that. Beginning the season with a 4-0 record and a huge showdown with the Ohio State Buckeyes on deck, the Wildcats seemed to be primed for a Big Ten title. However, the Wildcats lost that game, leading to a domino effect of seven straight losses.

Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best young coaches in the country, so he will surely have his team back on track in 2014. Northwestern is too talented and too well-coached to have two consecutive poor seasons. Trevor Siemian no longer has to worry about splitting time with anyone as Kain Colter is now gone. With a scary running back tandem behind him and healthy, the Wildcats will be much better in 2014.

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5. Michigan Wolverines

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Along with Northwestern, Michigan was also a bit of a disappointment. The Wolverines were expected to do big things with Devin Gardner as the starting quarterback with a seemingly stronger throwing arm than Denard Robinson, but he turned the ball over more often than not. Before his clean streak of turnovers at the end of the season, Garner threw 10 interceptions in his fist six games.

Finishing the season 7-6 and in fifth-place in the Legends Division was something that this team would soon like to forget, but improve greatly on. With a much younger, and quicker, offense in 2014, Garder and his fellow returning offensive players -- seven of them -- will be ready to take on the challenge of improving. Derrick Green should help improve the lackluster run game from a year ago.

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4. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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The Nebraska Cornhuskers were an interesting squad in 2013. Bo Pelini's job was in question for most of the year and it took a big bowl win over Georgia to somewhat silence critics -- even if only for a short while. Nebraska could be that team that emerges into an elite Big Ten squad in 2014 under the leadership and control of Tommy Armstrong at quarterback.

Armstrong could be a solid replacement for Taylor Martinez, and he will have some solid help at the hands of running back Ameer Abdullah and veteran wide out Kenny Bell. This team will be better in 2014, in my opinion, but it will be a slow start to the season as the Cornhuskers are returning just five starters on offense and six on defense.

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3. Wisconsin Badgers

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Expect big things from the Wisconsin Badgers' offense yet again for the 2014 season. While the Badgers are returning just six offensive starters from a 9-4 squad, they are also returning the conference's top running back and the team's soon-to-be veteran quarterback in Melvin Gordon and Joel Stave.

While fellow running back James White is not returning next season, the Badgers have a guy in Gordon who racked up over 1,600 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013. Stave also had a better year in his sophomore season, passing for over 2,400 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 62 percent of his passes. The defense, however, might be the only issue as it is returning just three starters.

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2. Ohio State Buckeyes

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The Ohio State Buckeyes had won an impressive 24 consecutive games before Michigan State took them down in the conference title game. However, Ohio State will be back near the top once again in 2014 as Braxton Miller is returning for his third season as Urban Meyer's starting QB and he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder following two straight losses to end the 2013 season.

Although the Buckeyes are losing Carlos Hyde, they will be reloading with talented RBs Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliot who had 250 and 262 yards, respectively, in 2013. I would never write off the Buckeyes and I wouldn't be surprised if they ran the table once again in 2014.

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1. Michigan State Spartans

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Even though Michigan State won the Big Ten title by taking down the unbeaten Buckeyes and carried that momentum over into a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, respect is somewhat lacking for this program. Many people have Ohio State first in their spring power rankings, but the Spartans are returning seven offensive starters, including quarterback Connor Cook, to a team that was increasing in offensive prowess.

The defense is a different story, however. Michigan State returns just five starters to the defensive side of the ball, but it's not nearly as bad as it sounds. The Spartans are more reloading than rebuilding on defense as the replacements have had valuable playing time before and it looks like the Spartans will just be getting younger -- which is scary.

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