Big Ten football, from top to bottom
After a two-year absence from the College Football Playoff, can a Big Ten team get back to the final field of four this year?
With defending national champion Clemson and perennial power Alabama back with loaded teams, maybe it doesn't matter.
It does to the Big Ten, and here is how they are likely to finish in the West and East divisions this season:
Last year's record: 8-5 (5-4 in Big Ten)
Top players: Jonathan Taylor, RB; Tyler Biadasz, C; Chris Orr, LB
Worth noting: Taylor is one of the top running backs in the nation, which should help heralded freshman quarterback Graham Mertz step right in and contribute.
The quote: "I've been impressed with how Graham has handled himself. He cares a lot about his teammates and is a good teammate himself, a good person. I think that's a great place to start." -- Coach Paul Chryst
Last year's record: 4-8 (3-6)
Top players: Adrian Martinez, QB; JD Spielman, WR; Mo Barry, LB
Worth noting: Under first-year coach Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers started 0-6 last season and closed with a flourish. With 14 returning starters, the good times will continue to roll.
The quote: "I wouldn't trade our guy (Martinez) for anybody in the country at the quarterback position. On top of being a great player, he's just a great individual, exactly what we're looking for to run our offense. We're probably going to go as far as he can take us this year." -- Frost
Last year's record: 9-5 (8-1)
Top players: Paddy Fisher, LB; Joe Gaziano, DE; Isaiah Bowser, RB
Worth noting: Record-setting quarterback Clayton Thorson has moved on to the NFL as the Eagles' fifth-round draft pick. Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson steps in at QB and brings star potential to Evanston.
The quote: "We are obviously proud to be the defending Big Ten West champs. The run that our young men went on at the end of the season last year was one of the best that we've had in program history." -- Coach Pat Fitzgerald
Last year's record: 9-4 (5-4)
Top players: A.J. Epenesa, DE; Nate Stanley, QB; Alaric Jackson, OT
Worth noting: Not only are tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant gone, they were both first-round NFL draft picks. Stanley has talent but needs to show more.
The quote: "We won't be as deep as we were a year ago, so it'll change things a little bit in terms of our formula of guys on the field. But that's just football. You kind of adjust every year to where your strengths are and try to feature the guys that you know can do a good job for you." -- Coach Kirk Ferentz
Last year's record: 6-7 (5-4)
Top players: Rondale Moore, WR; Markus Bailey. LB; Navon Mosley, S
Worth noting: As a freshman last season, Moore broke out in his first game for the Boilermakers with 313 total yards against Northwestern.
The quote: "(Moore) is somebody, when the lights come on it doesn't faze him one bit. He's a special talent." -- Coach Jeff Brohm
Last year's record: 7-6 (3-6)
Top players: Tyler Johnson, WR; Carter Coughlin, DL; Mohamed Ibrahim, RB
Worth noting: After making a name for himself at Western Michigan, head coach P.J. Fleck was hired to turn around a floundering program. Fleck is 5-13 in the Big Ten in his first two seasons with the Gophers.
"We're really excited for the season, 17 returning starters. Went from the youngest team in America last year, now I think we're the second youngest, so we moved up one spot possibly. That doesn't mean you can't win. We're just young." -- Fleck
Last year's record: 4-8 (2-7)
Top players: Reggie Corbin, RB; Jake Hansen, LB; Ricky Smalling, WR
Worth noting: Star defensive end Bobby Roundtree suffered a serious spinal cord injury in May during a swimming accident in his native Florida.
The quote: "I just want to make (Roundtree) proud. We have to keep on fighting and we have to do it for Bobby." -- tackle Alex Palczewski, a Prospect High School graduate
Last year's record: 10-3 (8-1 in the Big Ten)
Top players: Shea Patterson, QB; Josh Metellus, S; Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR
Worth noting: The Wolverines look strong on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, they must replace a flock of departed stars, headed by Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich.
The quote: "Win the Big Ten championship, qualify for the playoffs, win the national championship. Those are our goals, and then you put those to the back of the mind and focus on how you can achieve them." -- Coach Jim Harbaugh
Last year's record: 13-1 (8-1)
Top players: J.K. Dobbins, RB; Chase Young, DE; Malik Harrison, LB
Worth noting: While there was constant turmoil, Urban Meyer was 83-9 in seven seasons as the Buckeyes' head coach, which included a national championship in 2014. Ryan Day replaces Meyer this year.
The quote: "I think the easy thing to do is to ask how are you different than Urban Meyer. That's not something I really like to answer because first off, you don't replace a legend. You don't replace one of the best football coaches in the history of the game." -- Day
Last year's record: 7-6 (5-4)
Top players: Kenny Willekes, DE; Joe Bachie, LB; Raequan Williams, DT
Worth noting: With 17 starters returning and a loaded defense, the Spartans will be ready to rise if Michigan or Ohio State slip.
The quote: "We bring back a defense, Top 10 in the country in, I think, five different categories. We're excited about that." -- Coach Mark Dantonio
Last year's record: 9-4 (6-3)
Top players: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE; KJ Hamler, WR; Pat Freiermuth, TE
Worth noting: Led by sack machine Gross-Matos, the Nittany Lions should have one of the top defenses in the nation. The offense is a concern as Sean Clifford replaces Trace McSorley at quarterback.
The quote: "We probably have more question marks this year than we've had over the last couple years. Obviously, when you lose a quarterback who's played as much football as Trace McSorley has played for us, that's going to lead you off with some question marks going into the season." -- Coach James Franklin
Last year's record: 5-7 (2-7)
Top players: Stevie Scott, RB; Marcelino Ball, DB; Peyton Ramsey, QB
Worth noting: With nine starters returning on both sides of the football, the Hoosiers are aiming for their first winning season since 2007.
The quote: "I believe in what we are building at Indiana and how we are building it. It's a process to get where we want to be as a program. Our one word for 2019 is grit." -- Coach Tom Allen
Last year's record: 5-7 (3-6)
Top players: Anthony McFarland, RB; Antoine Brooks, DB; Tyler Mabry, TE
Worth noting: Following a tumultuous 2018 season, Mike Locksley replaces DJ Durkin as head coach and looks to bring needed stability to the program.
The quote: "We all know about what happened last year, and it was really important for us to come in and do a really good job of developing a meaningful relationship with our players." -- Locksley
Last year's record: 1-11 (0-9)
Top players: Raheem Blackshear, RB; Damon Hayes, DB; Avery Young, DB
Worth noting: Since joining the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights are 7-36 in conference play.
The quote: "It's a new team. As we go back and look at 2018 like we did at the end of the season, it was wasn't a lot of fun. When you're 1-11, things are difficult. I own it, and the good thing is that we can control our future." -- Coach Chris Ash