WOLVERINES TO SQUARE OFF WITH CORNHUSKERS FOR BIG TEN TITLE. The Big 10 has been dominated in recent years by Ohio State and Michigan State Last year Iowa made a remarkable run going 12-0 in league play, before losing to the Spartans in the title game. This year, I see four teams with a shot at having a magical season. Iowa and Nebraska should battle for the West crown, while Ohio State and Michigan are the best in the East. Quarterback play at these four schools will be critical in determining who claims the league crown.
NEBRASKA 10-2 7-2 OK, call me crazy for this prediction, but let me explain why the Cornhuskers are ready for a breakthrough. Mike Riley was making his coaching debut here, incorporating new schemes. The Huskers lost FIVE games in the final seconds! Many teams would have thrown in the towel, but Riley kept his team together and they finished strong, including a bowl game win over UCLA. This year quarterback Tommy Armstrong is back, and will lead a potent offense. The emphasis in the spring was working on the ground game that was inconsistent. Over the last three seasons when the Huskers have rushed for over 200 yards, they are 15-0. Replacing the entire defensive line has me concerned for the defense. They have several highly touted, athletes ready to step in. I really believe that this team has come together through all of the adversity last season. The final regular season game is at Iowa. This game will determine the West champion! Huskers win it!
IMPACT NEWCOMER: DE Freedom Akinmoladun, super star potential, rush end.
BETTER WATCH OUT: A win over Oregon could propel Huskers to 7-0 start.
IOWA 9-3 6-3 The Hawkeyes had a season to remember last year. Kirk Ferentz had his team playing nearly flawless football on both sides of the ball. I expect more of the same this year, with C.J.Beathard back under center. The offense won’t be flashy, but you won’t find more of a workmanlike bunch. The defense welcomes back eight starters, and features an outstanding secondary. A major effort was made in the spring to upgrade the pass rush. The schedule features a home game against Michigan and a road trip to Rutgers. Both those East opponents could be trouble. I think once again, the Hawkeyes are capable of beating anyone. I just feel like last year was a special year that won’t be repeated.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: DE Matt Nelson, A lanky 6-8 275 pound athlete.
BETTER WATCH OUT: Last season the Hawkeyes picked off 19 passes, while only throwing five. Expect more of the same.
WISCONSIN 7-5 5-4 I still can’t believe the Badgers finished at 10-3 last year, with all the injuries and poor quarterback play. Four starters return to an offensive line that was decimated by injury. This should be the strength of the offense, and provide the new quarterback the protection he will need. I expect Bart Houston to win the job. He is a senior and been in the system now since day one on campus. Corey Clement is also back. The often injured tailback has unlimited talent! Last year’s defense was ranked number one in the country, allowing only 13.7 ppg. The front seven should be once again outstanding, but the secondary needs to replace three starters. Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda bolted to LSU, perhaps leaving a void. The schedule is also filled with land mines this year. A season opening clash at Lambeau Field with LSU, could set the tone for the season. They also draw Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the East!
IMPACT NEWCOMER: WR Robert Wheelwright, A big target, with tons of talent if he can stay healthy.
BETTER WATCH OUT: The Badgers were 10-0 last season when rushing for over 90 yards.
NORTHWESTERN 6-6 3-6 Head coach Pat Fitzgerald continues to get more out of his players year in and year out than most do. The master motivator will look to sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson to lead the offense. Thorsen led the Wildcats to a 10-3 mark last season. The Wildcats, played more like Mildcats on offense last season. They ranked 119th in the nation in passing offense. Getting the rock downfield will be paramount. Finding capable receivers could also be a problem. Justin Jackson who rushed for over 1,400 yards returns. He will run behind a veteran offensive line. The Wildcats defense finished 13th overall, was a brick wall against the run, and was third in the nation in pass efficiency defense. They will need to replace both defensive ends, but have the athletes to do so. The biggest concern I have is the schedule. They draw Michigan State and Ohio State from the East, and only four league home games. I think the Wildcats will be a better team, with a worse record from a year ago.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: WR Austin Carr, Carr has the ability to stretch the field. In limited play, he averaged 19 yards per catch.
BETTER WATCH OUT: The home team has won eight of the last nine, in the Badger series. Wildcats host the Badgers this year.
ILLINOIS 6-6 3-6 I love the potential of this football team! Head coach Lovey Smith has brought with him a wealth of NFL experience and optimism to Champaign. The fan base and players are already buying in. Joining Smith on his staff is offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, who has had a lot of success at multiple programs. Hardy Nickerson will serve as the defensive coordinator. Nickerson played in five Pro Bowls, and has served under Smith before. Nickerson then convinced his son to transfer from California, where he was third team Pac-12 last year. What has me really excited is the potential that quarterback Wes Lunt brings to the table. Lunt, could be one of the top quarterbacks in the league this year. Much of the spring was spent on trying to find weapons, to compliment Lunt. If the Illini, can uncover a few gems, this offense could take off. Only four starters return on defense, but I think that is actually a good thing. Smith and Nickerson will be installing a Tampa-2 defense. Starting fresh will work as an advantage. The secondary does have me concerned with three starters gone. Taylor Barton does return, and he will be the straw that stirs the drink from his safety position. He has NFL size and talent, a must for this type of defense. A 6-6 season is on the horizon, along with a bowl bid.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: DE Gimel President, an Auburn transfer.
BETTER WATCH OUT: North Carolina comes to town in week two. I’ll be there to watch Illinois upset them.
MINNESOTA 4-8 2-7 Tracy Claeys was named the full-time head coach, after taking over for Jerry Kill mid-season. I don’t expect big changes here, as he severed under Kill. The Gophers will look to quarterback Mitch Leidner to once again lead the team. He has been a solid contributor since his freshman campaign. The offensive line must be rebuilt after losing three starters. Claeys dipped into the junior college ranks, to try to fill the void. If they come together as a unit, they could see much better results from a running game that was non-existent at times last season. The front seven on defense looks strong, but the secondary needs to be overhauled. Claeys, again has gone the junior college route. The Gophers have gone to a bowl for four straight seasons. With a tougher schedule and uncertainty in key areas, I will call for a sub-500 season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: LB Carter Coughlin, top freshman recruit, who should play game one.
BETTER WATCH OUT: The Gophers are 15-1 over the last three seasons when rushing for over 200 yards.
PURDUE 2-10 1-8 The Boilers have gone 6-30 in three years under Darrell Hazell. Many actually expected a strong season last year, but once again expectations did not meet reality. Hazell has brought in a new coaching staff to try to shake things up. The recruiting David Blough will call the plays under center. He has a solid tailback in Markell Jones, who should top 1,000 yards. The offensive line could once again be a major concern, as they under-performed last year. They must replace three starters from that group. The defense is in better shape with eight returning starters. The front seven should perform much better. The secondary will once again be a work in progress. I’m not sure they can improve on the 36 ppg they allowed last season. I anticipate another long season in West Lafayette. Hazell must find a way to win recruiting battles, if they are to improve. The big question will be, can Hazell keep his job.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: DT Langston Newton, transfer from Kentucky
BETTER WATCH OUT: The Boilermakers have 16 returning starters, making them the most experienced team in the league.
MICHIGAN 11-1 8-1 We all saw what Jim Harbaugh did in his first year at the helm. A 10-3 season ended with a 41-7 bowl victory over Florida. Expectations are even higher this season, after a terrific recruiting class. Quarterback Jake Rudock has moved onto the NFL, leaving the only question mark on the offensive side of the ball. Transfer John O’Korn (Houston) and Wilton Speight are involved in a heated battle. I expect O’Korn to eventually win the job. I think O’Korn will actually be an upgrade at the position. He has plenty of experience and the better arm. He will operate behind a solid offensive line, and will have plenty of weapons to distribute the ball too. The defense ranked fourth in total defense last year. However they lose all three linebackers, making this a problem area. The Wolverines do have a group of highly touted linebackers ready to step up! I honestly think there is a good chance they could run the table at 12-0. Two stumbling blocks are road tilts at Iowa and Ohio State. Don’t be surprised to see a 13-0 team make the playoff!
IMPACT NEWCOMER: LB Mike McCRAY, Big thumper, must step up at crucial position.
BETTER WATCH OUT: Michigan hasn’t won in Columbus since 2000. That ends this year.
OHIO STATE 10-2 8-1 Urban Meyer will have what I think, will be his biggest challenge, since arriving on campus. Only six total starters return, three each on both sides of the ball. The good news on offense, is the return of quarterback J.T. Barrett. The bad news, the rest of the offense has major holes. The offense will be very young, but very talented. How long will it take to get in sync, will be the key. The same goes for the defense. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan will spearhead the defense. The All-American, led the team in tackles last year. There are NO projected senior starters on the defense. I believe the Buckeyes will be vulnerable early. I would not want to play this group late in the season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: RB Mike Weber, The redshirt freshman will get the first shot at replacing Ezekial Elliot.
BETTER WATCH OUT: The Buckeyes are the least experienced team in the country, yet could still win 10 games.
PENN STATE 8-4 6-3 Head coach James Franklin enters his third season, after back to back 7-6 campaigns. Christian Hackenberg has moved on, allowing Trace McSorley an opportunity to actually improve an inept offense. McSorley fits the system of what Franklin is looking for in his offense. He is a mobile quarterback who can toss the rock. The offensive line should also continue to grow. The last two years has seen a porous front, which continually left the team in long yardage situations. Tailback Saquon Barkley ran for 1,076 yards as a freshman! The Lions will need to replace all three defensive linemen. The law firm of Johnson, Nassib, and Zettel, where all NFL draftees. The back seven remains solid. Overall I expect much better numbers on offense, which should result in a solid season in Happy Valley.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: DT Kevin Givens, Redshirt freshman being counted on to fill a spot on the line.
BETTER WATCH OUT: Penn State has not had a winning season in BIG 10 play since 2012. That comes to an end this year.
MICHIGAN STATE 7-5 5-4 Connor Cook has moved onto the NFL. It seemed as though the veteran quarterback was under center the last decade. The Spartans also lose three offensive linemen and the top two receivers! Ouch. It looks as though Tyler O’Connor has won the quarterback job. He has little experience, but will have one of the top running back corps in the country. L.J. Scott will lead that group. I look for him to easily top the 1,000 yard mark. The defense also loses key cogs at the line of scrimmage. Head coach Mark Dantonio, has made this a priority. The secondary could also be a problem after being lit up for over 285 yards on seven occasions. The schedule is also daunting with non-conference games at Notre Dame and home against BYU. This will be a rebuilding year for Sparty, but a bowl is still attainable.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: WR Donnie Corley, 6-3 true freshman who should play immediately.
BETTER WATCH OUT: The Spartans have played in a record, nine straight bowl games. Make it ten in a row!
MARYLAND 6-6 3-6 This program is going to be fun to watch. D.J. Durkin was hired to bring Maryland back to the promise land. The 38 year old, brought with him some seasoned veteran head coaches to fill out his staff. Pete Lembo and Mike London both have been head coaches. The staff has created a buzz around campus and energized the fan base. The Terrapins have seen a huge uptick in recruiting, as 16 commits have given verbals for 2017. Spring practice was filled with enthusiasm and heated battles. A heated battle to start under center is still unresolved, but Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe looked far better than last year. The Terrapins passing attack was abysmal last season. Hills and Rowe combined to complete just 47% of their passes, and threw 28 interceptions last season. If they get some consistent quarterback play, the offense will come together. The defense needs to replace a depleted secondary, but welcomes back it’s best player William Likely. He could be an All-American. The Terps could start 4-0 before heading to Penn State. The culture has already changed here in just a few short months. I think it will work it’s way down to the playing field as well.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: RB Trey Edmunds, Transfer from Virginia Tech.
BETTER WATCH OUT: The Terrapins threw 29 interceptions as a team, and only picked off nine! That has to change!
INDIANA 5-7 2-7 How many people realize the Indiana was 14th in the nation last year, averaging over 500 yards per contest? That won’t happen this year with the departures of Nick Sudfeld and Jordan Howard, but they could get close. The offensive line and receiving group look strong once again. Finding a quarterback and tailback could be a problem. Richard Lagow is a 6-6 240 pound gunslinger, who should get the call under center. I’ve heard him refered to as a “Big Ben” clone. Replacing Howard should be much easier, with two fleet footed candidates. Both Devine Redding and Kiante Enis could shine. The defense was a problem last year, giving up 38 points per game. I see more of the same. The Hoosiers had the second worse passing defense in the country last year. To make matters worse, the entire defensive line needs to be replaced! There are to many obstacles to overcome. This team takes a step back this season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: DB Wesley Green, Transfer from South Carolina
BETTER WATCH OUT: Indiana has lost 20 straight to Michigan, make it 21.
RUTGERS 5-7 2-7 Chris Ash is the new sheriff in town. The Scarlet Knights were able to pry him away from Ohio State, where he served as defensive coordinator. Ash, inherits a squad loaded with experience, with sixteen starters back. Eleven of the projected starters are seniors. Quarterback play was wildly inconsistent last season. Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig both return, and both have seen plenty of playing time. The spring focus was on an up-tempo running game. The Knights have a solid stable of running backs, and solid offensive line to accomplish that. The defense was a glaring weakness last year. The past defense was ranked 118th in the country! Three freshman started in the secondary, and the hope is, they will all be much better. This year all three linebackers have departed. Finding replacements will be tough! The schedule is actually soft, providing an opportunity to improve on last years 4-8 mark.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: LB Solomon Manning, A true freshman who should start game one.
BETTER WATCH OUT: If the Scarlet Knights don’t find away to increase last years sack total (14) It will be another long season.