Big Ten sleeper picks: Teams, units

Quarterback Jake Rudock is one of eight offensive starters returning for the Hawkeyes. Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

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There's no argument that the SEC has been the nation's top conference over the last, well, forever. And there's no argument that the group sorest about that subject has been the Big Ten. So what will it take for the B1G to get over the hump -- of their own making and of their image nationally? Perhaps it needs a conference member to make an Auburn/Missouri/Florida State destiny-type run to the postseason to capture the public's imagination. We know that Ohio State will be good. It always is. We also know that Michigan State should be in the College Football Playoff conversation.

But which team among the others has the best chance of waking up as a big-time sleeper ? Here's two to think about, along with a breakout player and sleeper unit.

Which Big Ten teams are best fit to surprise in 2014?

Iowa Hawkeyes

That grinding noise you hear coming from the Hawkeyes football office is Kirk Ferentz throwing last year's schedule into the shredder. In 2013 Iowa played Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. This year the Hawkeyes face none of the above. From the Big Ten East, they get Indiana and Maryland. And within their own division, they will host their three biggest threats -- Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska -- all in Iowa City.

They are also experienced, returning eight offensive starters, including quarterback Jake Rudock and Mark Weisman, who leads a group of six -- yes, six! -- running backs who received at least some playing time in 2013. And there's always plenty of power in the trenches.

"As long as they are playing football in Iowa, there will be a room full of big offensive linemen, but they kind of lost their way for a while up front," says a former Big Ten defensive coach. "But now they are back to strength. Their three guys on that line, Brandon Scherff, Jordan Walsh and the center [Austin Blythe] who are back to looking like typical Iowa bulldozers."