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Previewing 2016 Big Ten football with OffTackleEmpire

NCAA Football: Big Ten Media Day David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, we like to touch base with our Big Ten partner Off Tackle Empire to talk Big Ten and Pac-12 going into the season. Jesse Collins from Off Tackle Empire was able to educate us a bit on the Big Ten going into 2016, the Pac-12/Big Ten match-ups, and the overall state of college football.

Pacific Takes: The Big Ten was receiving a lot of scrutiny a few years ago about being a conference that was falling behind the other powers, but that sentiment appears to be fading. Do you believe that is the case? And why or why not?

Off Tackle Empire: It's kind of a funny thing, right? Like, two years ago, there was literally an outcry of, "The Big Ten is dead" as our College Football Playoff hopes were dashed in like, week three or something. Then Ohio State - and one Urban Meyer - decided that it would be cool to bring home a National Title and the murmurs of B1G football being archaic quieted down for a bit.

That said, I think it would be silly of me to say that the stigma is gone altogether. Now it's more of a, "Well, it's Ohio State and the rest of you," to which I point to Michigan State making the CFP last year, the rise of Michigan, the annoying truth that Wisconsin, Iowa, and Northwestern had great seasons last year, and the reality that recruiting is on the rise. But like, will that make the murmurs go away? Probably not. Keep winning titles, and all of the takes will be moot.

Pacific Takes: Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, and Mark Dantonio is a pretty impressive trio of coaches. Would you say they are the strongest trio of coaches any conference has right now?

That's tough to assess. I think they're certainly a formidable trio, no? But there are great coaches in other conferences too. Look no further than the top trio of Saban, Saban, and Saban down south. All that Saban is tough to compete with. But seriously, I think I'd have to barely take Saban, Miles, and... whichever of Sumlin/Malzahn/Freeze you believe is the best. Because at the end of the day, championships matter to me. Sidenote, how great is it that Harbaugh, Meyer, and Dantonio are not only in the same conference, but also in the same division. How does Rutgers feel right now?

Pacific Takes: The buzz around Michigan is as hot as any program in the country right now it seems. Do you believe the Wolverines can get back to where they once were this season and stay there for the near future?

Off Takle Empire: Where they once were? A half national championship in like, the last seven decades? Then sure. Sorry, I'm uh... probably not the right person to say nice things about Michigan. That said, Harbaugh has done wonders for the Wolverines and I hate to admit how good of a coach he is. We saw that at Stanford, and now he has an even more ridiculous backing and a recruiting class to salivate over. Will this be the year he breaks through and is a Top 10 team? Hard to say. The schedule is there, but I see that also being a young team with a new QB so we'll see.

As for the future, I am going to hedge a bit and say that Michigan will be as good as people think as long as Harbaugh is there. How long is that? I have no idea, but I don't think this is a final destination for him either.

Pacific Takes: Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State seem to be the clear cut leader programs in the conference right now. What other program could you see moving into that territory in the next year or two?

As a program? I don't think anyone ends up matching the hype Michigan gets, the sheer dominance Ohio State has right now, and the success MSU has had, but I will also say that I don't see Michigan State staying in that realm forever and Michigan has to prove something before it gets to say its there. It's currently the Buckeyes and everyone else and I don't believe we'll really see someone knock them from that perch in the immediate future.

But, that's being a bit overly cynical, so let me say that I admittedly believe Iowa/Penn State/Nebraska/Wisconsin/Northwestern to be in that mushy middle that at can anytime make a run at a conference title. The degree of difference between top tier (minus Ohio State) and middle tier here is razor thin, and I'd assume whichever of those teams can get the most from the QB position will be suited to cut into that territory.

Pacific Takes: Which two Pac-12 programs would you least like your Big Ten team to face this year in a bowl game?

Off Tackle Empire: Stanford comes to mind right off the bat because Christian McCaffery would make the Nebraska defense look quite silly, and I've dealt with enough of that in my lifetime thank you very much. I'm not sold on the Cardinal as a National Title contender this year, but they would not be a fun team to see in a bowl, especially if they're feeling disrespected.

The second is tougher for me. Is it Oregon because you have to deal with that offensive identity? Utah because of the line play? USC on talent? UCLA because LOL Jim Mora... Of those, I'm probably saying Oregon is the team I would least like to see because the odds of winning that is all about if you have enough defensive speed to counter the Ducks and I know my favorite team does not. But, hey, maybe this is the year the Ducks come back to earth and the LA teams get good again. Or not... Let's hope not. I like this world.