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Big 10 College Football Preview

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Big 10 College Football Preview

I know everyone thinks ACC or SEC when it comes to the best conference but I think the Big 10 is the best conference in all the land at the moment. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State & Wisconsin are all heavyweights and Michigan State had one down year and could be back to par this season. Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana & Iowa are pretty good second tier teams for a conference. Purdue & Minnesota made some big time head coaching hires. Maryland and Illinois are recruiting much better than years past. Then there’s Rutgers, but things can only go up right?

EAST DIVISION

1. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

We all know they shouldn’t have even been in the playoffs last year, even before Clemson shut them out. A team that doesn’t win it’s own division let alone conference should never ever be allowed to be in the playoffs. Now that I’ve said that Ohio State is loaded this year and Urban Meyer probably has a chip on his shoulder. Star QB J.T. Barrett is back at quarterback in what seems like his 12th season as Buckeye quarterback. Barrett really struggled towards the end of last year, especially with the downfield passing game.

Meyer being one of the best coaches in college football recognized that and brought in former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator. Wilson is known to be a prolific coordinator and should have the Buckeyes offense rolling this year. The defensive line is maybe the best in all of college football. There is some questions with the defensive backfield but come on this is Ohio State. They have no shortage of athletes. The out of conference schedule has games vs Oklahoma, vs Army, vs UNLV. 3-0 is what should happen here but Oklahoma is certainly good enough to come into Columbus and get a win despite being underdogs. On the road in conference Ohio State has road games at Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska, Iowa & Michigan.

I’m thinking 3-1 here with Harbaugh finally getting the W vs Urban Meyer. Nebraska & Iowa could certainly test the Buckeyes as well. At home in Columbus the Buckeyes welcome Maryland, Penn State, Michigan State, & Illinois. The one everyone is circling is the Penn State game but remember Michigan State seems to always play OSU tough and they won the last time they played in the Horseshoe. I’m thinking 11-1 or 10-2 for the Buckeyes.

2. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

I must admit I’ve been deleting and retyping Michigan & Penn State for the last 10 minutes. I’m finally just going to put Penn State strictly because of their experience. Penn State returns maybe the best quarterback and running back tandem in the country in quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. They must find a replacement for top wideout Chris Godwin who’s now in the NFL but there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings.

The defense seems to be in pretty good shape, especially at the linebacker position. The out of conference schedule has games vs Akron, vs Pittsburgh & vs Georgia State. All three games being a home is huge. The Pitt game is the one to circle here but PSU should be favored in all three so i’m thinking 3-0 here. On the road in conference the Nittany Lions must travel to Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan State & Maryland.

That’s not the easiest set of road games but they should be favored in all except the Ohio State game. I’m going to say 3-2 or 4-1 there. At home in Happy Valley PSU welcomes Indiana, Michigan, Rutgers & Nebraska. Those are all must win games. The Michigan game will be the one that probably dictates where they fall in the division. For the season I’m thinking 10-2 for PSU.

3. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Harbaugh has gotten ten wins in both seasons in Ann Arbor and despite the loss of so many key players I wouldn’t bet against him to reach that mark again. The talent is there at all the positions but the experience is not. Wilton Speight is back at quarterback and that experience should be vital for a team that could lack it in other positions. The defense lost a ton but Don Brown is one of the best D coordinators in all of college football and let us not forget that the former top recruit in the nation in Rashan Gary is penciled in as a starter. Gary, looked like the real deal when he played last year.

I know it’s misleading when you see all the key players gone but trust me Michigan is loaded with talent at every position on the field. The out of conference games are vs Florida (neutral site), vs Cincinnati & vs Air Force. Originally I had them losing to Florida but after multiple suspensions and some injuries I think the Wolverines get the win in the season opener. So I’m going to say 3-0 out of conference. On the road in the Big 10 the Wolverines have games at Purdue, Indiana, Penn State, Maryland & Wisconsin. I’m thinking 3-2 or 4-1 in those five but Penn State and Wisconsin could deal the wolverines a loss.

At home in Ann Arbor Michigan welcomes games vs Michigan State, Rutgers, Minnesota & Ohio State. They need to be 4-0 here and I think they will be. Meyer and OSU won the game last year but Michigan clearly looked like the better team. I expect Michigan to be experienced enough to knock off a potentially undefeated Ohio State team. All together I’m going to say another 10-2 season for Harbaugh and company.

4. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

Mark Dantonio bottomed out last year ending the year with just a 3-9 record. Despite that the offseason things got even worse with the dismissal of several key players. Dantonio was one of college football’s best coaches just 12 months ago around this time, now he’s on the hot seat! Crazy times in East Lansing. I’m still not betting against Dantonio who seems to somehow get the best out of his players. A bowl game should keep Dantonio from getting fired. Brian Lewerke is back under center for the Spartans and he’ll need to be much improved if the Spartans want to be a player in the division.

L.J. Scott is back at running back so that should take some of the weight off Lewerke and company. The out of conference schedule has games vs Bowling Green, Western Michigan & Notre Dame. If Dantonio can come up 3-0 at home in that stretch that would be great. Notre Dame should be favored in that one but MSU seems to always give the Irish a hard time. I’ll still say 2-1. On the road in the Big 10 Michigan State has matchups at Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State & Rutgers. If they can find a way to go 3-2 in those games that would be a win for Spartan fans. I’m thinking 2-3. At home in East Lansing MSU gets Iowa, Indiana, Penn State & Maryland. I’m thinking 3-1 or 2-2 there. I’m thinking 7-5 or 6-6 for the Spartans which should keep Dantonio’s job safe.

5. INDIANA HOOSIERS

Kevin Wilson was doing a great job as head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers but he resigned over a player treatment situation. Wilson’s defensive coordinator was Tom Allen who is now the new head coach of Indiana’s football team. Allen and his defense should be the strength of this year’s Hoosier team. Quarterback Richard Lagow is the key player on this team. Lagow has flashed plenty of talent before but with that comes a number of turnovers.

If Lagow can limit the turnovers the Hoosiers should be bowling come post season. The out of conference schedule has games @ Virginia, vs Florida International & vs Georgia Southern. Indiana needs to be 3-0 in these games. On the road in conference the Hoosiers have road games at Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland, Illinois & Purdue. I’m thinking 3-2 or 2-3 here but they can’t afford going 1-4. At home in Bloomington Indiana welcomes Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin & Rutgers. I’m thinking 1-3 here but IU could be capable of an upset. All together I’m thinking Indiana has a decent 6-6 season.

6. MARYLAND TERRAPINS

DJ Durkin had a solid first season at Maryland, going 6-6 in the regular season and ultimately going 6-7 after the bowl game loss. Still, it was a good first year and a great offseason for Maryland who landed a great recruiting class. Now can they get back to a bowl in year two for Durkin? I’m assuming the new quarterback under center will be North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson who was once a four star recruit.

If Henderson can play anywhere close to the level that he was projected the Maryland offense should be better than last years. The out of conference schedule has games @ Texas, vs Towson & vs Central Florida. They should be favored in two of those but Central Florida should be pretty good this year so watch out for that. Let’s say they go 2-1 in that stretch.

On the road in the Big 10 the Terps have road matchups at Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Rutgers & Michigan State. I’m thinking 1-4 in those but maybe they upset Minnesota or Michigan State. At home in College Park the Terps welcome games vs Northwestern, Indiana, Michigan & Penn State. I’m thinking 1-3 here or 0-4. All together I’m thinking 5-7 for the Terps but they’re headed in the right direction.

7. RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

Chris Ash had a tough first year at Rutgers going just 2-10 and getting really embarrassed by a few big 10 foes. The offense was absolutely awful last year. Ash decided to hire former Minnesota and Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill to run the offense so the offense should be improved. Kyle Bulin comes over from Louisville to potentially be the new QB under center. Bulin has some decent skills that should give the Knights a lift in the passing game. The out of conference schedule has games vs Washington, vs Eastern Michigan & vs Morgan State.

The Eastern Michigan game is a 50/50 game and they should split on the others. I’m going to say they go 2-1 in those three. On the road in conference Rutgers plays at Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, Penn State & Indiana. If they can find a way to steal one they should be happy with that. I’m thinking 0-5 here. At home in Piscataway Rutgers hosts Ohio State, Purdue, & Michigan State. They have a neutral site game vs Maryland. I’m thinking 0-4 in those but maybe they can pull an upset. All together I’m thinking another 2-10 season is likely in Piscataway.

WEST DIVISION

1. WISCONSIN BADGERS

Paul Chryst is doing a great job at Wisconsin that’s undeniable, could this team be a serious contender for the playoffs? I think they are, not just because of Paul Chryst but the schedule sets up real nice with them avoiding Ohio State, Penn State & Michigan State. Alex Hornibrook is back at quarterback and should be improved with another year under his belt. The running game returns a few key players from last year and also inherits Pittsburgh grad transfer Chris James.

The defense should be nasty under first year head coach Jim Leonard but they did just take a serious blow a few days ago when they lost their star linebacker Jack Cichy for the season. The out of conference schedule has games vs Utah State, vs Florida Atlantic & @ BYU. The BYU game is potentially a trap game for the Badgers. Win that one and it could set up great for them. The road games in conference are at Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, & Minnesota.

The Nebraska game is huge but I expect Wisconsin to be favored in all of those so I’ll say 4-0. At home in Madison the Badgers welcome Northwestern, Purdue, Maryland, Iowa & Michigan. Imagine that Wisconsin is undefeated when they take on Jim Harbaugh and company in late November. There is no for sure loss on their schedule. The big road tests are BYU & Nebraska. I’m going to say they trip up somewhere but go 11-1 or 10-2 on the season and play for the Big 10 championship.

2. NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

Everyone thinks the division is up to Wisconsin & Northwestern but I think Nebraska could be a player in this division. Mike Riley is now in year three at Nebraska and the seat might be starting to heat up but I think Riley will surprise some people this year, the main reason why is quarterback Tanner Lee who comes over as a transfer from Tulane.

Lee is good and the best actual passer that Nebraska has had in the Riley era. Riley made another great move in bringing in Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator. Diaco who struggled at Uconn but always had a great defense should give the huskers a much needed defensive boost. The out of conference schedule has games vs Arkansas State, @ Oregon & vs Northern Illinois. Those are three teams that should be bowling this year so they need to not take any of those lightly.

I’m going to say they go 2-1 in those but wouldn’t be surprised if they won all three. On the road in conference the huskers get games at Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota & Penn State. I’m thinking 3-1 here but Purdue and Minnesota could certainly give them a game. At home in Lincoln the Huskers welcome Rutgers, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern & Iowa. That’s a tough home slate of games but it could set up nicely for them if they can take care of Wisconsin & Northwestern.

3. NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

There sure is a ton of hype surrounding Pat Fitzgerald’s wildcat program this offseason. I’ve heard all offseason how this is Pat Fitzgerald’s best team he’s ever had as head coach. With those expectations come pressure. Northwestern is loaded on offense with the return of quarterback Clayton Thorson who’s showing up on the NFL draft radar. The Wildcats also return three of their top four wideouts and also bring in Oregon grad transfer in Jalen Brown. Did I also mention that 1,000 running back Justin Jackson is back as well? The team is loaded so why do I have them picked third?

I think it’s going to be a tight race and they’re very well capable of winning this division but the main reason why I have them third is because of their schedule. The out of conference games are vs Nevada, @ Duke & vs Bowling Green. They should be favored to win all three but Northwestern always seems to lose a game that they shouldn’t. I’ll go with 3-0 here but I could see any of those three being tricky. On the road in conference Northwestern has games at Wisconsin, Maryland, Nebraska, & Illinois.

I’m thinking 2-2 here but they very well could be good enough to beat Wisconsin and Nebraska. At home the Wildcats welcome games vs Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue & Minnesota. I’m thinking 3-2 or 4-1 here but maybe I’m underestimating just how good this team is. I see the talent but I need to see the consistency. I’m thinking 9-3 or 8-4 for the Wildcats this year but don’t get it confused this team is a legit contender this year.

4. IOWA HAWKEYES

I keep flip flopping between Iowa & Minnesota for this spot. Kirk Ferentz is a great coach there’s no denying that but over the years when Iowa is supposed to be good they somewhat disappoint and when they’re supposed to be bad they always greatly overachieve. Well this year Iowa is supposed to take a step back, key word supposed. The quarterback situation is one to watch. I’m assuming Nathan Stanley will win the job but everything I read says it’s still wide open between Stanley and Tyler Wiegers.

The offense gained a bit of a spark when it landed Nevada grad transfer in running back James Butler who’s has proven to be a legit talent. The defense should still be the strength of the team. The out of conference schedule has games vs Wyoming, @ Iowa State & vs North Texas. They will most likely be favored in all three. Iowa State should be better and Wyoming is certainly capable of the upset. I’ll say they go 2-1 in those three. On the road in the Big 10 Iowa has games at Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin & Nebraska. They’ll most likely be underdogs in all of them but I think they steal one and go 1-3 on the road. At home in Iowa City the Hawkeyes welcome Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State & Purdue. I’m thinking 3-2 here which would have Iowa back in another bowl game.

5. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

Can P.J. Fleck work his magic in Minneapolis? Minnesota has quite the favorable schedule if Fleck can come out of the gate strong. They have a senior quarterback in Conor Rhoda and a very talented backfield in Rodney Smith & Shannon Brooks but still the defense should be the strength of this team. The out of conference schedule has games vs Buffalo, @ Oregon State & vs Middle Tennessee. I’m thinking 2-1 here but Middle Tennessee is a good mid major.

On the road in conference the Gophers have games at Purdue, Iowa, Michigan & Northwestern. I’m thinking 1-3 here or at best 2-2. At home in Minneapolis the Gophers host Maryland, Illinois, Nebraska & Wisconsin. I’m thinking 2-2 here but maybe Fleck gets his first upset of his Minnesota career and takes down a Nebraska. I have Fleck going 6-6 and making a bowl game in year one.

6. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

Purdue is one of the teams I’m very excited to watch this year. They have a star QB in David Blough and now landed a heck of a head coach in Jeff Brohm who comes over from Western Kentucky. I know year one is always the most difficult when a new coach comes over but I think Purdue could be vastly improved this year. Blough is one of America’s best kept secrets and if Brohm can cut down on some of his turnovers this could be a really improved team.

At wideout they have a former four star recruit in Notre Dame transfer Corey Holmes so watch out for the Blough to Holmes connection. The out of conference schedule has games vs Louisville (neutral site), vs Ohio & @ Missouri. That’s a tough out of conference schedule. Ohio is a one of the best teams in the MAC. I’ll say Purdue goes 1-2 but 0-3 is certainly possible. On the road in conference Purdue has games at Wisconsin, Rutgers, Northwestern & Iowa. I’m thinking 1-3 here but maybe they pull an upset at Iowa or N’western. At home the Boilermakers have games vs Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois & Indiana. I’m thinking 2-3 here but 3-2 is certainly possible. I’m thinking 4-8 or 5-7 in year one but trust me Purdue is on the right track.

7. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI

Lovie Smith went 3-9 in his first season as head coach of the Illini. The offense was pretty bad in year one so in comes Virginia Tech transfer Dwayne Lawson who should compete with Jeff George Jr. & Chayce Crouch. Still this team is far from where it wants to be but give Smith time the recruiting is getting better. The out of conference schedule has games vs Ball State, vs Western Kentucky & @ South Florida.

I’m thinking 1-2 in those three but it’s possible they lose all three. On the road in conference the Illini have road games at Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue & Ohio State. I’m thinking 0-4 here but maybe they steal a game or two. At home in Champaign they welcome Nebraska, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Indiana, & Northwestern. I’m thinking 2-3 here as they upset one of those teams and beat Rutgers. It should be interesting to watch the continued development of the program. I’m thinking a 3-9 season for Lovie Smith and company but be patient there’s more talent coming in.

Colby Dant is a stand up comedian and The Sports Gambling Podcast's official college football and basketball expert. Unfortunately he's also a huge Jets fan.

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