The Way-Too-Early team rankings are already out as the attention shifts to the 2017 season. But what about the individuals who are returning in the Big Ten to lead those programs this year? The conference reporters got together and worked up another batch of power rankings, this time focusing on the stars who are coming back around the league next season.
Also be sure the check out Adam Rittenberg's list of the top 50 players returning nationally.
1. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley: The push for Heisman Trophy consideration nationally came a little too late in the season a year ago, but the rest of the country appears to be realizing what the Big Ten has known for a while now: Barkley is a rare talent with the football in his hands. Expectations will be sky high for his junior campaign.
2. Penn State QB Trace McSorley: The spotlight may shine a bit brighter on his counterpart in the backfield, but McSorley has developed into a game-changer in his own right at quarterback. After accounting for 36 touchdowns on the way to the Big Ten title, another step forward for the Nittany Lions could be frightening for opponents.
3. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The ups and downs were undeniable during Barrett’s junior season, and while there was plenty of blame to go around for the struggles in the passing game, the mandate from Urban Meyer to improve it will put him under the microscope. Based on his prolific track record, Barrett should be able to handle that pressure without much problem.
4. Iowa LB Josey Jewell: Already well established as one of the best defenders in the Big Ten, Jewell will look to build on the 124 tackles he piled up last season as the centerpiece for the Hawkeyes. If he can top the 6 tackles for loss he added last season, even more acclaim could be headed Jewell’s way.
5. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson: Considering the rising senior already has more than 900 touches on his collegiate resume, it would have been understandable if Jackson had declared for the draft. But with a degree in sight, the Wildcats will once again have the seemingly tireless workhorse once again in the backfield.
6. Indiana LB Tegray Scales: The league’s leader in both total tackles and tackles for loss is sticking around for another season with the Hoosiers, giving coach Tom Allen a huge building block as he puts his stamp on the program. Scales hasn’t typically received much attention for his work, but few defenders can match his production.
7. Ohio State LB Jerome Baker: After an injury ahead of him allowed Baker to step into the starting lineup early in the season, the gifted defender hasn’t looked back. With Raekwon McMillan now gone, Baker will be counted on even more this season to keep the Silver Bullets operating at a high level.
8. Ohio State RB Mike Weber: Just the third freshman in school history to top 1,000 rushing yards, Weber’s role figures to increase without Curtis Samuel around to split some of the carries. And he might be better equipped to handle the workload now that a pesky shoulder injury has had time to heal.
9. Ohio State DE Tyquan Lewis: In a bit of a shocker, the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year elected to stick around for one more crack at a championship with the Buckeyes. Lewis proved his success wasn’t just a product of playing on the other side of Joey Bosa, tallying eight sacks and forcing three fumbles without his old sidekick around last season.
10. Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard: The deep, loaded unit up front limits the opportunities at times for Ohio State’s pass-rushers, but Hubbard typically finds a way to leave a mark in every game thanks to his versatile athleticism. He’ll be trying to build on his 46 tackles -- eight of them for a loss -- after electing to return for another season.
11. Minnesota RB Rodney Smith: Smith rushed for 1,158 yards as a sophomore with 16 touchdowns -- the third-most in school history in a single season. He has quickly become one of the top tailbacks in the Big Ten.
12. Michigan QB Wilton Speight: After winning the starting QB job in 2016, Speight never looked back and earned third-team All-Big Ten honors. He threw for 2,538 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions and should be even better as a senior.
13. Iowa RB Akrum Wadley: Wadley strongly considered leaving school early for the NFL but opted to return for his senior season. He'll be the focal point of Iowa's running game without LeShun Daniels Jr. Wadley rushed for 1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016.
14. Ohio State OL Billy Price: Not many three-year starters with a national championship and All-American honors already under their belt would bypass the NFL draft and come back to school. But then, not many players are like Price, who will anchor the Buckeyes' offensive line as an important leader.
15. Penn State TE Mike Gesicki: Gesicki became a sure-handed, catch-making machine in 2016 and set school records for tight end receptions (48) and receiving yards (679). He'll add another dynamic piece to the Nittany Lions' versatile offense in 2017.
16. Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli: As safety valves go in the passing game, you can't do much better than the 6-foot-6, 248-pound Fumagalli. He led the Badgers with 47 receptions last season and added 580 yards with two touchdowns. He'll be the go-to tight end again next season.
17. Minnesota DL Steven Richardson: Richardson led Minnesota with 11 tackles for loss and added seven sacks. First-year Gophers coach P.J. Fleck has a solid piece up front defensively on which to build around.
18. Wisconsin LB T.J. Edwards: For the second consecutive season, Edwards led the Badgers in total tackles (89) and added 8.5 tackles for loss with three sacks and three interceptions. Wisconsin will be loaded again at linebacker next season, and Edwards will be among the best in the league.
19. Michigan State RB L.J. Scott: There wasn't much to cheer about for Michigan State in 2016, but Scott was a bright spot. He led the Spartans in rushing yet again as a sophomore, tallying 994 yards and six touchdowns. Expect him to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark as a junior on his way to a big season.
20. Michigan State OL Brian Allen: Allen will enter his senior season having played in 38 games, including 24 starts the last two seasons. He played both center and guard last season and led the Spartans in knockdowns.
21. Penn State S Marcus Allen: He led the Nittany Lions in tackles last season with 110, adding a pair of fumble recoveries. Penn State was happy to see him come back for his senior year.
22. Nebraska S Kieron Williams: He tied for second in the league with five interceptions in ’16 and will be a building block for new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco
23. Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy: He was a force when healthy, with 60 tackles and seven TFLs in just seven games. He should help the Badgers’ LB corps remain strong.
24. Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson: As a sophomore, Thorson threw for more than 3,000 yards, with 22 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. The arrow is pointing up.
25. Rutgers WR/KR Janarion Grant: His eight combined kick and punt return touchdowns is tied for the most in FBS history. His return after missing most of last season with a broken ankle is vital for the Scarlet Knights.