Ranked in Joe Christensen’s predicted order of finish, based on an early read and developments in spring practice:
Coach: Paul Chryst (third year).
2016 record: 11-3, 7-2 Big Ten.
Key returnee: QB Alex Hornibrook.
Spring story lines: RB Cory Clement is gone, but the Badgers can’t wait to unveil Chris James, a transfer from Pittsburgh. The 5-10, 220-pound James has drawn comparisons to Brian Calhoun, another transfer who rushed for 1,600 yards for Wisconsin in 2005.
Football fever temperature: 80. The Badgers lost LB T.J. Watt and LT Ryan Ramczyk to the NFL draft, but TE Troy Fumagalli is a force, and Hill-Murray grad Jack Cichy will be back from injury, wreaking havoc on defense.
Coach: Kirk Ferentz (19th year).
2016 record: 8-5, 6-3.
Key returnee: LB Josey Jewell.
Spring story lines: With C.J. Beathard gone, 6-5, 235-pound sophomore Nathan Stanley is expected to win the QB job over Tyler Wiegers. Stanley, from Menomonie, Wis., will have WR Matt VandeBerg back from a foot injury and RB Akrum Wadley coming off a 1,000-yard season. But the Hawkeyes defense needs to replace multitalented cornerback Desmond King.
Football fever temperature: 75. The schedule is a whole lot tougher, with interdivision games against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State and visits to Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Coach: Mike Riley (third year).
2016 record: 9-4, 6-3.
Key returnee: S Kieron Williams.
Spring story lines: Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp and Nathan Gerry have moved on, and now it’s mostly Riley’s recruits. Tulane transfer Tyler Lee seemed to edge Patrick O’Brien in the QB battle. Lee’s TD pass to JD Spielman in the spring game was a thing of beauty.
Football fever temperature: 75. Riley still needs to prove himself after some ugly losses in Year 2, including 40-10 to Iowa. The schedule is no picnic with games at Oregon (Sept. 9), vs. Ohio State (Oct. 14) and at Penn State (Nov. 18).
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (12th year).
2016 record: 7-6, 5-5.
Key returnee: RB Justin Jackson.
Spring story lines: QB Clayton Thorson is a junior and a third-year starter. He needs to find a new go-to target with Austin Carr gone, but Jackson already has 4,129 career rushing yards.
Football fever temperature: 65. The Wildcats return nine starters on offense and eight on defense, so this could be a 10-win season like 2012 and 2015. Like Minnesota, Northwestern has a practice facility under construction, which has helped the Wildcats push into the top 10 (for now) of the national recruiting rankings.
Coach: P.J. Fleck (first year).
2016 record: 9-4, 5-4.
Key returnee: RB Rodney Smith.
Spring story lines: Players quickly adjusted to Fleck’s high-energy approach. The Gophers were a skeleton crew, with 22 players recovering from offseason surgery. Demry Croft pulled even with Conor Rhoda in a quarterback battle that will linger into training camp.
Football fever temperature: 65. It’s a crowded sports market, but Fleck is an entertaining coach with a big personality and knows how to draw attention. Can he handle the Big Ten? Time will tell, but with a recruiting class ranked in the top 15 nationally, he’s off to a good start.
Coach: Lovie Smith (second year).
2016 record: 3-9, 2-7.
Key returnee: RB Kendrick Foster.
Spring story lines: Dwayne Lawson, a coveted JUCO quarterback, committed to Illinois but hasn’t enrolled yet because of grades. So Smith has called QB Chayce Crouch “the undisputed leader of our football team.”
Football fever temperature: 55. The Smith hire was big news last year for Illinois, but it hasn’t exactly electrified the program. Smith had a good but not great first recruiting class, ranking 45th nationally and 10th in the Big Ten in the 247Sports composite.
Coach: Jeff Brohm (first year).
2016 record: 3-9, 1-8.
Key returnee: QB David Blough.
Spring story lines: Brohm went 30-10 in three years at Western Kentucky, and there’s hope he can renew Purdue’s legacy as the “Cradle of quarterbacks.” His past two QBs at WKU — Brandon Doughty and Mike White — tossed 48 and 37 TD passes in a season, respectively.
Football fever temperature: 50. In a radio interview this week, Brohm said the Boilermakers have five to 10 players who don’t seem willing to “fight the fight.” He added, “If you don’t have everybody buying in, a certain select few can bring it down.”