2015 CFB Preview – Big Ten

    Big TenGo to Selection page           Oh how the narrative has quickly changed. By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak In the span of a just a few short months, the

    September 26, 2016

     
       

    Oh how the narrative has quickly changed.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    In the span of a just a few short months, the Big Ten went from being the biggest bust conference among the Power 5, to being all puffy-chested and ready to rumble with the big boys again.

    Think back to where the league was at mid-September of last season. Ohio State was sacked at home by a mediocre Virginia Tech team. Michigan State’s impenetrable defense was penetrated by Marcus Mariota and Oregon. Wisconsin couldn’t throw a forward pass against LSU, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue lost to MAC teams, Michigan was pasted by Notre Dame and Utah, Iowa lost to a horrible Iowa State team, Illinois was housed by Washington, and Nebraska needs an Ameeracle from Abdullah to beat McNeese State.

    Fast-forward to where the league is at coming into this year, and it’s a night-and-day difference.

    The bowl season overall might not have been all that great, but with the Buckeyes’ national title, Michigan State’s shocking comeback win over Baylor, Wisconsin’s win over Auburn, and solid losing performances from Minnesota and Nebraska, 2014 closed out strong and 2015 looks like it should be something special.

    Rutgers and Maryland proved they could play a little bit as the new guys entering all of the fun. James Franklin is finding his groove at Penn State with a whopper of a recruiting class coming in, Northwestern should be better with a nice base returning, and Minnesota has turned into a bit of a player under Jerry Kill.

    Indiana and Purdue have enough positives to provide a little bit more hope coming into the season, and while Iowa and Illinois are a bit questionable, they’re still coming off of bowl seasons.

    Wisconsin and Nebraska each had a seemingly smooth transition of power, Michigan State might be even better than it was in the Rose Bowl-winning season of two years ago, Michigan went with the nuclear option and bought one of the five best coaches in college football, and Ohio State is the no-doubt-about-it preseason No. 1 team in the land.

    It’s the league the Big Ten higher-ups have been pushing towards – it’s all coming together.

    The conference has a few superstar programs including its big-time big boy in Ohio State up top, and it has enough good, quality depth now to provide a better context to what the leaders are doing. It’s a far cry from the Big 2, Little 8 days when Michigan and Ohio State ruled the world, and to make things even more exciting, there’s hope for big things to come with so many big names – Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin – all in a positive transition. Throw in the TV markets added with Maryland and Rutgers, and the cache of having Nebraska brought seamlessly into the fold, and it’s all working out nicely.

    The Big Ten still isn’t the SEC, and the Pac-12 is probably the second-best conference all-around coming into the season, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the Big Ten. If its champion has one loss, it’s going to get into the playoff, and the bowl tie-ins are sweet enough to set the stage for several high-profile moments.

    Now that the conference has put itself back into a strong position, it has to keep producing. The narrative can suddenly swing back around again.

    Bold Statements
    – Cardale Jones will be taken in the 2016 NFL draft ahead of Christian Hackenberg.

    – Even if Braxton or J.T. gets the starting gig.

    – Don’t discount the possibility that it’s the team and the system and the coaching staff and the surrounding talent at Ohio State, not the quarterback talent.

    – At this point, with Urban Meyer’s track record, why wouldn’t any top dual-option quarterback prospect think about going anywhere else?

    – At this point, with the program’s track record, why wouldn’t any top running back prospect think about going anywhere but Wisconsin?

    – The Badgers need Melvin Gordon to become an NFL star. The only thing missing from a phenomenal resume of college superstar backs is any real next-level success.

    – This will be one of the best Badger defenses in years. The secondary will be a rock.

    – Even with all of the recent success, Michigan State will sneak up on everyone in the playoff hunt. However …

    – Michigan will beat either Michigan State or Ohio State.

    – It sort of got lost in the narrative, but the Michigan State defense was lit up last year by most teams that had a decent offense.

    – It sort of got lost in the narrative, but with that defense, Michigan is a ten-win team last year with any sort of offense.

    – Woody Hayes won 238 games in 33 seasons. In a far tougher era, Urban Meyer has won 142 games in 13 years.

    – The truly scary part is that Urban isn’t even through a full recruiting cycle.

    – More on this in an article later this summer. Obviously it’s no contest on a longevity scale, but a case could be made – albeit a tough one – that with one Super Bowl runner-up, two other NFC championship appearances, and turning a downtrodden Stanford program into an Orange Bowl winner, the top lines of Jim Harbaugh’s accomplishments are every bit as strong as Bo Schembechler’s two Rose Bowl wins and one Fiesta.

    – Of course, Bo has the mic drop with the 13 Big Ten championships.

    – As it turns out, the Simon Cvijanovic allegations against Tim Beckman were a soft kiss on the cheek compared to what’s being thrown out there by other Illinois student-athletes.

    – Tim Beckman has a better team, but will have a worse season.

    – In terms of pure value, as last year proved, Nate Sudfeld apparently means everything to the Indiana offense.

    – Don’t write off Maryland despite the massive personnel losses. The receiving corps is dangerous and the defense will be fast and athletic. The Terps are one healthy quarterback away from being an annoying fly in the Big Ten East ointment.

    – Okay, C.J. Beathard. You’d better be worth it. There’s a chance that Iowa’s best quarterback – Jake Rudock – is now fighting for the Michigan job.

    – Mike Riley is a tremendous football coach. Don’t dismiss the idea that a square peg might be able to change enough to fit into a round hole.

    – Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa is the best defensive player in the Big Ten. Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins might not be far behind.

    – 73% of college coaching is being able to recruit well, but it would be interesting to see what Jerry Kill could do with Ohio State talent.

    – The Gopher corner combination of Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray can hold up with any in the conference.

    – No one will run on the Penn State defensive tackle combination of Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel. The Nittany Lion D will be a beast again.

    – There are no more excuses. Penn State got the breaks to be back among the living, there’s talent in place including an NFL-caliber quarterback, and the wins are supposed to start coming.

    – Everyone will ignore Rutgers again, but it’ll be late November and the team will still be in the hunt for a bowl game.

    – Purdue has the experience, but it’s missing the star power. The tackle combination of Jake Replogle and Ryan Watson will anchor an improved defense.

    – Michigan State at Ohio State on November 21. The winner will be in the playoff.

    Team That’ll Surprise
    Indiana – As long as QB Nate Sudfeld can stay in one piece, and if there’s a semblance of a passing game again, Indiana could make a wee bit of noise in the terrific Big Ten East. No, the Hoosiers won’t be able to handle Ohio State or Michigan State, but they should be able to get through the first four games – Southern Illinois, FIU, WKU and at Wake Forest – with at least three wins. Can they beat Rutgers or Iowa at home? Can they get by Purdue? There’s enough there to shoot for at least six wins and a bowl game.

    Team That’ll Disappoint
    Illinois – No one is predicting Rose Bowl for the Illini, but after a surprising 2014, and despite all the drama in the athletic department, the hope is for QB Wes Lunt to lead the way for a decent year. It’s not going to happen. The 50/50 games against Minnesota and Iowa are on the road, and getting past Purdue in West Lafayette will be tough for Tim Beckman’s group. Getting Ohio State from the East isn’t going to help in what should be a losing season.

    Game of the Year …
    Michigan State at Ohio State, November 21. The Wisconsin trip to Nebraska on October 10th will decide the West, and Michigan will have its say at home against both the Spartans and Buckeyes, but the Big Ten Game of the Year might turn out to be the national showdown of the season. In what’s growing into a major rivalry, Michigan State and Ohio State should come up with a phenomenal battle that should be for the Big Ten title. Don’t be shocked if both teams are unbeaten going into this.

    5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight …

    1. CB Sojourn Shelton, Jr. Wisconsin
    2. DT Maliek Collins, Jr. Nebraska
    3. LB Mason Monheim, Sr. Illinois
    4. CB/KR William Likely, Jr. Maryland
    5. LB Joe Bolden, Sr. Michigan

    Coach on the Hot Seat
    Mike Riley, Nebraska – Tim Beckman is on the hottest seat in terms of possibly losing his gig, and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst has the pressure of win-West-or-bust expectations, but the spotlight is all on Riley. Bo Pelini’s teams might have folded in big moments, and not being in the national title chase isn’t okay in Lincoln, but winning nine games or more in all seven seasons at the helm was still a decent run. Of course, it’s Nebraska. Tom Osborne won nine games or more in all 25 of his seasons and 11 or more in each of his last five. Good luck, Mike.

    5 Non-Conference Games the Big Ten had better take very, very seriously
    1. Minnesota at Colorado State, Sept. 12
    2. Penn State at Temple, Sept. 5
    3. WKU at Indiana, Sept. 19
    4. Bowling Green at Maryland, Sept. 12
    5. Middle Tennessee at Illinois, Sept. 26

    5 Best Pro Prospects
    1. DE Joey Bosa, Jr. Ohio State
    2. QB Cardale Jones, Jr. Ohio State
    3. QB Christian Hackenberg, Jr. Penn State
    4. DE Shilique Calhoun, Sr. Michigan State
    5. QB Connor Cook, Sr. Michigan State

    5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
    1. RB Corey Clement for Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
    2. RB Jordan Howard for Tevin Coleman, Indiana
    3. RB Terrell Newby for Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
    4. TE Lincoln Plsek for Maxx Williams, Minnesota
    5. CB Darian Hicks for Trae Waynes, Michigan State

    2015 Team Previews
    Illinois
    Indiana
    Iowa
    Maryland
    Michigan
    Michigan State
    Minnesota
    Nebraska
    Northwestern
    Ohio State
    Penn State
    Purdue
    Rutgers
    Wisconsin
    Ten Best Big Ten Players
    1. DE Joey Bosa, Jr. Ohio State
    2. RB Ezekiel Elliott, Jr. Ohio State
    3. QB Connor Cook, Sr. Michigan State
    4. DE Shilique Calhoun, Sr. Michigan State
    5. QB Christian Hackenberg, Jr. Penn State
    6. QB Cardale Jones, Jr. DT Ohio State
    7. QB J.T. Barrett, Soph. Ohio State
    8. CB Sojourn Shelton, Jr. Wisconsin
    9. DT Maliek Collins, Jr. Nebraska
    10. DT Anthony Zettel, Sr. Penn State

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