Fellow Big Ten fan Anthony Ventura and I decided to team up and tackle the East together, which is by far the better of the two divisions in the Big Ten. It is a division whose competitiveness is obvious, since the winner is usually decided within the last two weeks of the season. The division has sent a team to the College Football Playoff each of the last three years, and it doesn’t seem like that will change this year, thanks to the leadership of elite coaches like Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin. This is the Big Ten East and how it will break down this season with predicted records.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes 12-0 (9-0)
The Buckeyes will bring back star quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is 1 touchdown away from breaking Drew Brees’ Big Ten touchdown record. They bring back stud running back Mike Weber, while also looking to rotate snaps to freshman J.K. Dobbins, who has been impressing coaches in camp. To block for J.T. and Mike, the Buckeyes return 4 of 5 offensive linemen, although they are a unit that must improve if they hope to raise the trophy this year. They bring back a defensive line with 5 defensive ends who can rotate in and cause havoc anytime, and a few big defensive tackles to plug up the middle.
The defensive unit loses a lot in the secondary, but they have a lot of blue-chip recruits to come in and play. Also, remember: they lost a lot after 2015 and came back last year with one of the best secondaries in the country. They must replace almost all production from receivers, and after a terrible passing season in 2016, that is worrying for Buckeye fans going into the season. After a horrendous offensive season, the Buckeyes lost both of their OC’s, but they were replaced with one of the greatest offensive minds in college football, Kevin Wilson. As OC on an Oklahoma team that averaged over 50 ppg, Wilson hopes to revitalize the Buckeye attack and put them back on top.
2. Penn State Nittany Lions 10-2 (7-2)
The Nittany Lions have nine starters returning from an offense that finished 14th in the nation in passing efficiency and was magical time and again in the fourth quarter. In other words, the attack should be unstoppable. Can’t forget about Trace McSorley, who might have been a bit erratic at times, and sometimes needed a few quarters to warm up, but managed to throw for over 3,600 yards with 29 touchdown passes and in an All-Big Ten season. As good as the passing game should be, the offense works around Saquon Barkley, one of the nation’s top do-it-all backs who exploded when healthy, but only hit the 100-yard mark five times. Their defense is solid and their offense is explosive. Look for Penn State to be deadly next year.
3. Michigan Wolverines 10-2 (7-2)
The Wolverines rebound to dominance will be led by returning quarterback Wilton Speight, who will need to look for new weapons. He lost FB Khalid Hill, who scored against Ohio State last year, RB De’Veon Smith, stud TE Jake Butt and top 2 WR’s Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Michigan will need to find a way to get new guys integrated into the system, and fast since they open their season against the Florida Gators.
On defense, they must replace their entire defensive line except for Rashan Gary, who rotated in as a freshman last year and looks to be one of the best d-linemen in the country this year. They lose star LBs Ben Gedeon and Jabrill Peppers and the best CB combo in the country in Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling.
Without a doubt, Michigan must replace a lot on both sides of the ball, but with a coach like Jim Harbaugh and defensive wizard Don Brown, anything is possible for the Wolverines this year.
4. Michigan State Spartans 6-6 (4-5)
The Spartans get back offensive line stud Brian Allen in the interior, but lose three starters from a group that was pretty solid in all aspects of blocking. With the three-headed monster of L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Madre London pounding away, as long as the line is okay, the Spartans will run well. The quarterback is still a question mark, but Brian Lewerke is a mobile young player with great upside, while Damion Terry is a decent veteran, also with a bright upside; they just need to find receivers to throw to.
This year’s defense is loaded with veterans, though, with all four starters back up front. The question mark is the positions behind the line. The Spartans couldn’t get to the quarterback, generating just 11 sacks on the season with five of them coming in the first three games. If the Spartans look to have anything other than a bounce back season then they need to pick it up on defense.
5. Maryland Terrapins 6-6 (4-5)
Can the Terps finally find a steady quarterback who can take the job by the horns? There might be a few options, but everything is on hold until their superstar recruit at the position, Kasim Hill, can show what he can do. Regardless of who it is, the O-line needs to give the QB some time if they hope to get better as a team considering they surrendered 49 sacks last year.
A fantastic running back situation features Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison as a dangerous tandem, combining to average close to eight yards per pop. Receiver D.J. Moore is a good target who needs to be fantastic in order for the rebuilding receiving corps to succeed.
It’s a loaded defense, at least in terms of experience, with ten players back who could be counted as returning starters. Eight of the top 11 are back along with a bulk of the pass rushing production and a stellar linebacker core.
6. Indiana Hoosiers 5-7 (2-7)
It all starts with QB Richard Lagow, who was able push the ball down the field for big gain after big gain last season. But, he threw 17 picks along the way. As long as he can cut down on the errors, he should be among the Big Ten’s most productive passers. With the return of receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. from injury, along with top target Nick Westbrook, the passing production won’t slow down after a season with 274 yards cranked out per game.
Nine starters return on defense, and that doesn’t even include T.J. Simmons, who was injured last season, but was one of the team’s leading linebackers for two years. Now he joins Tegray Scales, who should be in the hunt for All-America honors no matter where he plays. Great against the run and in the backfield, he’s the superstar, but the Hoosiers have other playmakers, too. The secondary that did a good job last season is loaded, with Richard Fant, one of the Big Ten’s top corners, leading the group of four returning starters. Now, they need help from the pass rush. As long as the tackles hold up against the run, the Hoosier D won’t slip a bit, but still look for another poor season.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2-10 (0-9)
What is there to say about the Scarlet Knights? They bring back their top 2 passing players, top rusher Robert Martin, and their top receiver, but lose the number 2 and 3 receivers. They bring back their top 2 total tacklers from last year, but lose their top sacks guy. Also, off the 5 guys who had interceptions for them last year, they return 4 of them.
Overall, Rutgers is sure to be in some trouble this year (as always). Nobody expects them to cause a stir, either in the conference or nationally. They are a young team still, so their main goal for the season will be improvement. Chris Ash is a young coach, still building up what is his first head job. I don’t expect to see Rutgers in a bowl game this year but it sure is fun as hell to root for the underdogs and to watch Ash and the young team progress together.
Pac 12 North
Pac 12 South