Projecting final Big Ten standings

Connor Cook and the Spartans are now in the driver's seat to capture the Big Ten's East division. Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports

This year the Big Ten welcomes Maryland and Rutgers and says goodbye to the Legends and Leaders divisions in favor of the more traditional East and West. On paper, the East looks much, much stronger, but many longtime followers of the conference (including me) are happy that the Big Ten put both Ohio State and Michigan in the same division, avoiding a possible back-to-back rematch in the Big Ten title game.

Due to some advantageous conference scheduling, which sees many of the top teams avoiding one another in cross-division play, the Big Ten has six or seven teams capable of finishing in the Top 25, with two (Michigan State and Wisconsin) having legitimate shots at getting to the first College Football Playoff. While I think the Buckeyes will be competitive, I just don't see them contending for a national title without injured quarterback Braxton Miller.

Here are my 2014 projected Big Ten standings:

Big Ten East

1. Michigan State Spartans

Projected record: 11-1
Early lines on toughest games:
at Oregon (plus-14), Ohio State (minus-4)

Michigan State returns seven starters on offense, led by QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford, while the defense must replace six starters, including three All-Americans. But defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who's on my preseason All-America list, returns and, most importantly, so does defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

Although I have the Spartans listed as a two-touchdown underdog at Oregon in Week 2, Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska all have to travel to East Lansing. I have MSU favored in every Big Ten game, as the Spartans are now the clear league favorites with Miller out for the Buckeyes.