The FOX College Football crew break down the Big 10 — and predict the conference championship participants

Joel Klatt, Matt Leinart, Robert Smith and Dave Wannstedt join Rob Stone to analyze the Big 10 and predict who will meet in the conference title game.

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- This season the Big Ten and Fox begin their six-year deal. And the conference enters the year on an uptick. Four teams in the preseason top 11. Our colleagues over at the Big Ten network, they've been touring the conference all summer. So we get their thoughts. Here now, Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo, Howard Griffith from Madison, Wisconsin.

- Rob, thanks. On our annual tour, getting a chance to watch every team in the Big Ten practice. Howard, after seeing the teams, what's the storyline that intrigues you the most.

- I think one of the things I think about is Ohio State. In addition to Kevin Wilson, we know what he's going to bring, that passing attack. They expect it to be high flying.

But I would say this. I would say J.T. Barrett has a ceiling, as far as the passing game is concerned, they're going to have to be dynamic in the running game for them to get back to the national championship.

- I agree 100%, Howard. i relate it to when they won the national championship with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. They don't win without a dominant failback game. And I agree with you about what you said about J.T.

To me, it's Nebraska. It's a total reboot of the program in Mike Riley's third year. On offense, the offense is going to be built around Tanner Lee, a pro-style quarterback, and not Tommy Armstrong, who is an option-type quarterback.

On defense, Howard, as you know, Bob Diaco brings great energy to that defensive side of the ball. And I think he's energized the entire program to some extent.

The offensive coaches, they're coaching the scheme that they love now. I saw more energy on both staffs at Nebraska than we had seen the first two years.

- Let me go back to the East really quickly and talk about Penn State. This is a team that I think is not a team it's more dynamic, particularly from a quarterback and the tailback position. You talk about what James Franklin has been able to do there. That team is loaded with talent. Also Michigan, continuing to get better. They are going to be right in the mix.

GERRY DINARDO: So wait, Howard looks like he can still play the power--


MATT LEINART: Yeah. Line them up. Lay off the shrugs. I've been doing shrugs my whole life and I still have no trap.

- You got metal in that collar button.

- I do. I do have a--


- Let's start talking about the Buckeyes. For the eighth time in program history they check in in the preseason at number two. How much separation is there right now between them and really the rest of the conference?

- I don't know if they're there's a tremendous amount of separation because the conference is so strong. Remember, there's four teams in the top 10 at the end of the year last year. There's four teams in the top 11.

This is, at the top end, one of the deepest conferences we have in all of college football. Having said that, I think Ohio State is the best program in the Big 10 right now I think they're going to have a really good year.

One of the things that I would point to is the inexperience last year that Urban Meyer had. He was still able to get to the playoff. They overachieved a year ago. Now he brings in a very experienced team and he adds Kevin Wilson. You heard Howard Griffith touch on it.

Here's why I think it's going to be so big for their run game. Two years ago, J.T. Barrett averaged nine yards per attempt throwing the football in 2014. They went on to win the national championship with Cardale Jones. He averaged under seven yards per attempt in the last two years. If they can pick that back up, what I think it's going to do is allow that run game to be more dynamic like it was two years ago.

- Well none of those things can happen, though, if Ohio State doesn't get better on the offensive line. A more experienced offensive line doesn't always necessarily mean one that's significantly better. But I think from, all reports that I'm hearing from Columbus, that this line is going to be better than it was a year ago.

But you add that kind of experience, you've got talented players, and you bring in the talented coach, an offensive mind like Kevin Wilson, certainly, this offensive, I believe, is going to be a lot better. They're going to be able to drive the ball down field a little bit more. They're going to be able to loosen up to allow that run game and that offensive line to get things done.

- I agree. From a coaching standpoint, it's proven. No one develops players better in Urban Meyer and his staff. And he's probably got the two best coordinators. Were talking about Kevin Wilson from an offensive standpoint, but Greg Schiano, look for a lot more pressure coming from the defensive side of the football this year.

They could still lose a game. Penn State could upset them. Michigan could upset them. And they could still get into the Big 10 championship game.

The biggest challenge, I see, is Wisconsin. I think Wisconsin has 15 returning starters plus the quarterback, which Paul Criss loves the guy. Their schedule, they go on the road to Nebraska. They got Northwestern and Iowa at home.

I believe it's going to be Northwestern in that Big 10 champ-- Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State. That's the game Ohio State has to get over to get into the big dance.

- That's Saturday, October 28. Ohio State hosting Penn State. That one live on Fox. Fair to say that, in your eyes at least, the Nittany Lions are the team to worry about.

- They're the defending Big Ten champs. They beat Ohio State last year. They're one of the more experienced teams back in all of college football, their defense. And then you talk about the best running back in college football, Saquon Barkley, who's an absolute stud. They got a great offensive coordinator, obviously.

And then Trace McSorley, a lot like a Baker Mayfield. Gunslinger mentality. It worked well for him most of the season last year. I think he needs to clean up that a little bit. But he's a really, really talented quarterback.

And they have the psyche. They know they can match up and play with anybody. They beat Ohio State last year, obviously, like I said. They had a great game in the Rose Bowl to USC. They could have and should have probably won that football game.

But this is a team that believes in themselves. I do think Ohio State has more talent on the roster from top to bottom. But don't sleep on the Nittany Lions this year.

- I love that you brought up the coordinator, Joe Morehead. He's stayed. He had some head coaching opportunities. He stayed. I think that's one of the biggest additions that you can have is him staying there with the Nittany Lions.

And then, guys, let's not sleep on Michigan. I mean, this team was five points away from being undefeated. They go 5 and 7 before Harbaugh gets there. They're knocking on the door of the playoff.

And I know everyone's talking about the inexperience that Michigan has on defense. But remember, they played a lot of guys. So while they might not have a lot of starters back they actually do have more playing experience back on defense for Don Brown, their defensive coordinator, than a lot of people are suggesting.

Let me give you a quick example. Rashan Gary, great recruit a couple of years ago. He's probably one of the top three or four defensive linemen in the entire country. Well, he's technically not a returning starter. I'll take Rashan Gary as a non-returning starter than just some guy, like you said, that's just coming back and happened to start last year.

- Well, I think Ohio State is clearly the best team in the conference. But Penn State, I do believe, is going to be a challenge. Of course, they have to go to Columbus this year.

And I agree with you about Michigan as well. Only five starters back. Four on that offensive side, one on the defensive side. But Jim Harbaugh is always going to be worth some wins.

And look, this is the first time he's really going to have his own players. They were Brady Hoke's players before. But we've seen it before with Jim Harbaugh when he was at Stanford, the way he was able to turn things around. He has recruited great talent. But we've seen before, he can also develop that talent.

- If he can beat Ohio State it's a successful year.

- Oh, can you imagine? Some optimism in Evanston as well. Looking forward to seeing--

- Don't sleep on Northwestern. That was a Freudian slip by coach to say Northwestern is going to be in the Big Ten championship.

- I'm just excited to see Fitzy in the shorts for the first couple of weeks.

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