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Loss of Braxton Miller sends Big Ten to bottom of Power Five

Sun-Times' preseason All-Big Ten team
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Updated: August 21, 2014 2:22PM



How damaging to the Big Ten is the training-camp injury that knocked out Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller for the 2014 season?

Look at it this way: With Miller in the fold, the Big Ten would’ve rated no worse than fourth — and might’ve been No. 3 — among college football’s Power Five conferences. Without Miller, the Buckeyes have plummeted in the preseason polls and have left the Big Ten with only Michigan State as a perceived contender for the season-ending four-team playoff.

Wave your Big Ten flags all you want, friends, but “we’re No. 5!” isn’t much of a rallying cry.

1. SEC

Playoff potential: Alabama, South Carolina, LSU, Auburn, Georgia. Oh, yeah, that’s a whole lot of potential. But now comes the hard part: navigating the brutal league schedule without losing their way one time too many.

Other postseason locks: Mississippi, Florida, Texas A&M. The Rebels are trending upward in a hurry. The Gators aren’t about to have back-to-back bowl whiffs for the first time since the mid-1980s. The Aggies could put one of Johnny Football’s drinking buddies under center and get to six victories.

Projected bowl teams: 10. That’s how many made it from this dominant league last season. Missouri lost a ton of talent from its 2013 squad, but Gary Pinkel’s Tigers know how to win. Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt — in that order — all have realistic shots, too.

2. Pac-12

Playoff potential: Oregon, UCLA, Stanford. The rise of the Bruins gives this league more high-end depth than it had even when USC was ruling the roost under Pete Carroll.

Other postseason locks: USC, Washington, Arizona State, Arizona. Any of these four would contend in the Big Ten West. If ASU didn’t have an almost unimaginably difficult schedule, we’d peg the Sun Devils for a huge breakout season. The coaching in this conference is as good as it gets.

Projected bowl teams: 9. A giant number for a 12-team league, but totally doable. Washington State and Utah could be surprisingly good.

3. Big 12

Playoff potential: Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State. The Sooners are our pick to win it all. No program anywhere has made a bigger move than Baylor of late, and why not K-State? The Wildcats will let us know in an early home game against Auburn if they’re all the way back.

Other postseason locks: Texas, Oklahoma State. Come November and beyond, no one will want to tangle with Charlie Strong’s Longhorns.

Projected bowl teams: 7. It’s next to impossible for more teams than that to go bowling from a 10-team league. Watch TCU bounce back from its 2013 hiccup. Man-mannequin Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has a good thing going in Lubbock.

4. ACC

Playoff potential: Florida State, Clemson. You know all about the defending champs. The Tigers, meanwhile, must travel to Georgia and FSU in September — yikes. A loss to the Seminoles would be more damaging.

Other postseason locks: Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Miami, Duke. All four are from the Coastal Division, which truly is up for grabs. UNC is the most popular pick to win the division, but we like Frank Beamer’s Hokies better.

Projected bowl teams: 10. Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and newcomer Louisville are very good bets. Syracuse and Boston College also played in bowls in 2013. Like the SEC and the Big Ten, the ACC is 14-deep.

5. Big Ten

Playoff potential: Michigan State, Ohio State. Even without Miller, the Buckeyes have the most talent. Who’s to say sudden starter J.T. Barrett won’t rock our world?

Other postseason locks: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa. It’s awfully hard to see any of these teams ending the season with fewer than three losses. Penn State should have enough wins, but is still bowl-ineligible.

Projected bowl teams: 10. Maryland and Minnesota ought to be solid. Northwestern and Illinois will be fighting for .500 — get there and bowls happen. Indiana has a shot, too.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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