When we sit down to iron out our Top 25 Poll each year at Athlon Sports, we are trying to project the final year-end standings not build a preseason power poll. It might be a small and subtle difference but an important one to acknowledge.
Sure, J.T. Barrett, Saquon Barkley and a cast of other familiar faces in the Big Ten are returning to their schools next season. But after a 2016 that saw the league finish with four teams in the final top 10 of both major polls, the Big Ten will have to retool a bit up top, as a number of stars declared early for the 2017 NFL Draft.
The battle for conference supremacy is an ongoing race to catch the SEC, but the Big Ten has made considerable progress in recent years to close the gap. Thanks to outstanding coaching hires, Ohio State (Urban Meyer), Penn State (James Franklin), Michigan (Jim Harbaugh) and Wisconsin (Paul Chryst), all four teams finished inside of the top 10 in the CFB Playoff poll.