By Trevor Griswold – (@tgriswold1)
Welcome to the Full 10 Yards BIG 10 Conference Preview!
There is nothing better than a Big Ten football game in Fall. A blue-grey October sky is the ultimate back drop for college football. Crisp fall air bites at any revealed skin during pre-game festivities. This year every team is vying to knock Ohio State off its pedestal. Will this be the year we get a new Big Ten Champ?
Ohio State has sat comfortably atop the Big Ten standings the last few years. However, with Urban Meyer stepping aside is it time for a new team to rise up and dominate in Indianapolis?
Will a team emerge from the pack in the West? Or will the East continue its stronghold on the conference?
What About 2018?
Last season was a season of continuation. Ohio State continued to dominate the conference, Michigan failed to live up to lofty preseason expectations and the West division failed to live up to its Eastern counterparts. Purdue may have had the game of the season dismantling the Big Ten champ and Northwestern was able to turn their season around after a slow start to win the West. Ohio State and Michigan were the only teams to finish with double digit wins. Whereas, five teams missed bowl eligibility altogether.
Back to Looking Ahead…
So what is going to be different this season. Firstly Ryan “a New” Day takes over the helm of the King’s of the North. As the rest of the conference looks to take advantage of Ohio State’s inexperienced coach, he looks to improve upon the dynasty that Urban Meyer has built. Getting away from the coaches, there are players that are poised for great seasons within the conference. There are four End rushers that quarterbacks will have nightmares about. These four plan to leave a trail of quarterback tears and broken offensive coordinators in their wake. They are AJ Epenesa Jr. from Iowa, Kenny Willekes from Michigan State, Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State, and lastly Chase Young from Ohio State. All future stars of the NFL. On the offensive side we have game breaking talent such as breakout star Rondale Moore superstar talent Jonathan Taylor, big name transfer Justin Fields, and often injured but super talented Tarik Black. The Big Ten is not hurting for talent as there are countless others that will make huge plays throughout 2019.
Top Shelf Heavy Hitters
This season there seems to be only two realistic teams that have a shot at making the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State- the King of the Big Ten and will be tough to knock off again this season. They are favored in every game this season but one. Ohio State can go 12-0 in the regular season winning the East division as long as Justin Fields lives up to the hype and is a nightmare for defenses week in and week out. The defense needs to be much more consistent than last season. This One team that could give them the most trouble if everything goes their way is…
Michigan- The offense in Ann Arbor this season seems to be more up to date than the recent slow paced pro offense Harbaugh has had the last few seasons. If Patterson can get comfortable in this new offense and be able to maintain drives, as well as the defense maintaining its dominance after losing several key pieces this team can be a true playoff contender.
With a little luck and exceptional play there are four other teams notable of a conference championship run. Starting with…
Wisconsin- Jonathan Taylor and company look to prove last season was a fluke and plan for a trip to Indy come November. Can Jonathan Taylor do it by himself? He may have too as the rest of the offense is nothing to write home about. The defense has some young promising defensive backs and hope a couple turn out to be leaders. All in all Wisconsin is spoiled with a weak division and could find itself being carried all the way to a conference championship behind a generational talent in Taylor.
Minnesota- This may come as a surprise as Minnesota hasn’t won a conference championship in over 50 years. PJ Fleck is now on his third year with the Golden Gophers, when he last was in his third year at a new school he took that team to an undefeated season. A light schedule with lots of returning talent and a young thriving coach can put Minnesota where they haven’t gone since 1962.
Michigan State- It seems year in and year out this squad is under rated. This season is no different. As in-state rival UofM is getting hyped for a playoff run Michigan State will quietly have arguably the best front 7 in football. Lead by seniors Kenny Willekes and Joe Bachie the front seven will wreak havoc all year long. However, an anemic offense could hold this team back from competing for a conference championship? Will a healthy Brian Lewerke be able to score enough points week in and week out?
Iowa- a perennial middle of the road Big Ten squad may have enough talent to win a weak West division. Iowa lost plenty of talent this offseason but a solid quarterback in Nate Stanley and arguably the best pass rusher in A.J. Epenesa, Iowa is reloading and ready to compete. Iowa maybe the favorite to win the West if not for the brutal schedule featuring road games at Iowa State, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Northwestern.
We think we can, we think we can, can we…?
Lost in the fold, there are five teams that have a slim shot of pulling some upsets, riding on their young superstars and shocking the conference, maybe. These teams have reasons to be hopeful, but in the end, just ins’t as talented as the teams mentioned above. Starting with,
Penn State- This offense has been spoiled with superstars manning the backfield over the last few seasons. This year the East divison will look to exploit the youth on offense. Penn State will have to lean on its defense for the first time under James Franklin. Yetur Gross-Matos will cause disruptions in the back field. A pair of sophomores in Sean Clifford and Ricky Slade look to score points on offense.
Purdue- Purdue has found a superstar in WR Rondale Moore. Jeff Brohm has turned this program around and has created a winning atmosphere in West Lafayette. The defense should be better this season with a lot of starters returning. Can the offense find any one other than Rondale Moore to make plays? One thing is for sure, the late great super fan Tyler Trent will continue to be motivation for this under dog team. Expect a miracle or two this season for the Boilermakers.
Northwestern- The reigning champs of the Big Ten West will have a tough road back. The defense will be adequate to win the West but can the offense get to a championship level? Incoming Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson will look to be the answer at QB. Hunter Johnson will have to start fast as four of the first five games are against quality opponents. This season looks to be a challenge for coach Pat Fitzgerald who enters his 14th year manning the sideline in Evanston.
Nebraska- Fans in Lincoln believe Nebraska is back after Husker legend Scott Frost led the team to a promising second half of the season last year. Patience is a virtue, I believe Husker fans will need some as this team is not yet ready to contend for a conference championship. One could argue that Adrian Martinez is the most talented QB in the Big Ten. Combine that and the fact that the players will have another year under Frost’s system has led fans to believe this is their year. Frost and Martinez are both the real deal. However, I believe it will take atleast one more year to see this team bloom enough to fulfill these lofty expectations.
Maryland- Similarly to Nebraska, Maryland has a new coach that is receiving high expectations. However, most know that this program will take a couple years to turn around after it was left in turmoil for Mike Locksley. Anthony McFarland plans to build off his solid freshman campaign and Virginia Tech transfer QB Josh Jackson looks to make this coaching transition a smooth one and to shock the East division with a couple upsets.
Good luck next year
Three teams come to mind that have little to no expectations on the season. A 6-6 record and a bowl bid would be ceiling for these squads.
Indiana- The Hoosiers are bringing back 15 starters from their 2018 campaign. That is usually a sign of good things to come. However the talent gap between Indiana and the top 4 teams in the East division are much too great for Indiana to make a move up the rankings. Indiana needs to produce a line to protect their signal caller, as well as a QB to disburse the ball between their adequate skill players. A name to watch is Stevie Scott who ran for over 1000 yards as a freshman.
Rutgers- Head Coach Chris Ash is on the hot seat after finishing 1-11 last season in his third campaign. The offense couldn’t score and the defense couldn’t get stops. Ash expects his team to get bowl eligible this season. To do this QB Artur Sitkowski has to see major improvement, as well as lean on running backs Raheem Blackshear and Isaih Pecheco.
Illinois- Three seasons ago Illinois landed Lovie Smith who famously coached the Chicago Bears to the super bowl. There has been any excitement since as Coach Smith has a 9-27 record entering this season. This team, on paper doesn’t look much better than last seasons. However, with a soft non-conference schedule and getting Rutgers from the East the Fighting Illini are just a couple upsets from bowl eligibility. The defense brings back nearly every starter from a season ago that saw the team struggle to stop opponents. They look to improve after another year to work with each other. On the offensive side Reggie Corbin looks to make an impression on his senior year campaign after rushing for over 1,000 yards last season.
- Ohio State 12-0 Big Ten Champ
- Michigan State 9-3
- Michigan 9-3
- Penn State 7-5
- Maryland 4-8
- Indiana 3-9
- Rutgers 2-10
- Minnesota 10-2
- Wisconsin 9-3
- Purdue 8-4
- Iowa 8-4
- Nebraska 6-6
- Illinois 5-7
- Northwestern 5-7