1. Wisconsin Badgers- They could easily be considered as one of the five best teams in the nation. Gary Andersen comes back in his second season as head coach and it won't be much different from the first. Much of the Badgers success has come from having one of the best ground attacks. Melvin Gordon decided to return for another season which will help Wisconsin out a lot. For Wisconsin to get to where they feel they should be, the passing game must improve. On defense, there will be many new faces in starting roles. They begin the season with a tough non-conference game against LSU and their toughest game on the schedule maybe a November 22nd battle with Iowa.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes- They surprised many people in 2013. After a 4-8 season in 2012, Iowa finished 2013 much stronger with an 8-5 record. With most of the core from last year returning in 2014, Iowa has themselves in good position to win this division title. Quarterback Jake Rudlock and running back Mark Weisman are two of the key starters returning on offense and all but three starters will be back on defense. For these Hawkeyes to take that next step, the offense must make some improvements. Iowa also has a favorable schedule that doesn't include games against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or Michigan but they have two tough match-ups when Nebraska and Wisconsin come to town for a Big Ten Battle.
3. Nebraska Cornhuskers- They aren't too far from being at the top of this conference behind Iowa and Wisconsin. Last season, they won nine games under Bo Pelini for the sixth time so the big question will be can they build off the momentum of last season and bring that into this season? Ameer Abdullah returns on offense but the quarterback position has its questions and concerns. Who will be under center when the season kicks off? Will it be Tommy Armstrong or red shirt freshman Johnny Stanton? Most of the front seven on defense returns but the secondary lost some key players like Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
4. Northwestern Wildcats- They were a disappointment last season. Entering last season, they were a projected top-25 team but they failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2007 with a 5-7 mark. I'm expecting an immense improvement in 2014 with a healthy Venric Mark returning this year from injury. There are many reasons to be optimistic this year in Evanston. All five offensive lineman return and a majority of the defense will be back and in tact this year.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers- Just like Northwestern, expect a comeback from Minnesota in 2014. There is much progress under Jerry Kill. They have one of the tougher schedules in the conference this year. They make trips to Nebraska, Wisconsin, TCU and Michigan. David Cobb will be back as this team will rely heavily on running the football once again and the defense will look to replace Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini- Head coach Tim Beckman is one of the few coaches in the country that will enter the season on the hot seat. Former Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt looks to be the starter heading into the season after sitting out an entire season. The offense will carry the load for this team. The defense is where so many concerns are. They gave up 35 points a game last season and that simply won't win you any football games at all.
7. Purdue Boilmakers- They are on the way to improving. After hitting rock bottom last year, there's nowhere to look but up. One thing Purdue will look to fix is their defense which was in dead last in the division a year ago as they gave up 460 yards a game and that simply won't cut it. Purdue won't play the Buckeyes this year but they will host Michigan State.
Prediction: I like Wisconsin to take this division. They are a well coached team and Melvin Gordon will carry this team on his shoulders on offense. When we talk about the top five teams in the country, this is one that few people leave out. Don't be surprised if they crack that top five at some point during the season.