Tag Archives: Big 10 East

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 East

Ohio State won the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship. Can they do it again in 2015? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)
Ohio State won the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship. Can they do it again in 2015? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 East

Part fifteen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview takes a closer look at the Big 10 East division. We will also take a look at the Big 10 Championship game, giving a prediction of that projected contest as well. Below is a look at each of the conferences already previewed as well as the previews still to come.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at the Big 10’s East Division.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Urban Meyer took over in 2012 and led Ohio State to a 12-0 record, but the Buckeyes were not eligible for the postseason. In 2013, the Buckeyes were on their way to the National Championship, but lost to Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship game and then also lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl to fall to 12-2. In 2014, Ohio State suffered a shock loss at home to Virginia Tech in the second game before reeling off 13 straight wins including the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship. 2015 looks like more of the same for Ohio State: excellence.

Ohio State will have seven starters back on offense from a unit that put up 44.8 points and 512 yards per game. Of course, the trio of JT Barrett, Cardale Jones, and Braxton Miller will be back with Miller moving from quarterback to wide receiver. Barrett threw for 2,834 yards with 34 touchdown and 10 interceptions before Jones came in for the injured Barrett and threw for 860 yards with 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in the final three games. Ezekiel Elliott is returning at running back after rushing for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns. Most of the receivers return sans Devin Smith (33 catches for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns). Michael Thomas (54 catches for 788 yards and 9 touchdowns), Jalin Marshall (38 catches for 499 yards and 6 touchdowns), and Dontre Wilson (21 catches for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns) are back along with Miller moving over from QB. The offensive line has four starters back and this offense will continue to be one of the best in the nation.

The defense also returns seven starters from a group that allowed 22 points and 342 yards per game. Joey Bosa returns on the line after recording 53 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss while being named 1st Team All-American last year. He will miss the opening game against Virginia Tech along with Jalin Marshall. Joshua Perry (124 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss) and Darron Lee (81 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) return at linebacker after those two were the #1 and #3 tacklers last year respectively. The secondary has three starters back led by Vonn Bell (92 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 6 interceptions) and Tyvis Powell (76 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions). The defense will be solid once again and could improve on the numbers they allowed last year.

Ohio State opens up with Virginia Tech on the road and will surely be looking to exact a measure of revenge. Their final three non-conference games are at home against Hawaii, Northern, Illinois, and Western Michigan. The Buckeyes will face Indiana, Rutgers, and Michigan on the road while playing Maryland, Penn State, and Michigan State at home. From the West, Ohio State has Minnesota (home) and Illinois (road). Ohio State is clearly the team to beat not only in the East, but all of the Big 10. Ohio State has an excellent chance at running the table and making it back-to-back National Championships in 2015.

2. Michigan State Spartans

Since 2010, Michigan State has been one of the elite teams in the Big 10 with four season of at least 11 wins. 2013 was the best year under Mark Dantonio when they went 13-1 winning both the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl that season. 2014 was another very good year with MSU going 11-2 including that incredible come from behind win against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. What will 2015 bring?

The offense has seven starters back led by quarterback Connor Cook. Cook threw for 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. The trio of Madre London, LJ Scott, and Gerald Holmes will look to replace the production of Jeremy Langford (1,522 yards and 22 touchdowns). The top two receivers are gone, but returning are Macgarrett Kings (29 catches for 404 yards and a touchdown), Josiah Price (26 catches for 374 yards and 6 touchdowns), and Aaron Burbridge (29 catches for 358 yards and a touchdown). RJ Shelton is coming over from running back after grabbing 16 passes for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns. The offensive line has four starters back as well. The offense put up 43 points and 501 yards of offense last year and probably will not match those numbers. However, they can still put up plenty of offense with Cook commanding the offense.

The defense has seven starters back from a group that allowed 21.5 points and 316 yards per game. The line has three starters back in Lawrence Thomas (30 tackles and 3 sacks), Joel Heath (29 tackles and 2.5 sacks), and Shilique Calhoun (39 tackles, 8 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). The linebacking unit has Ed Davis (48 tackles, 7 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss) and Darien Harris (48 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception) back. The secondary has Darian Hicks and RJ Williamson (59 tackles and 3 interceptions) back to help against the pass. The numbers Michigan State allowed in 2014 were pretty good and could improve even more in 2015.

The Spartans have Western Michigan on the road to start the season before a big game at home against Oregon. They round out non-conference play with Air Force and Central Michigan at home as well. In conference, they will face Rutgers, Michigan, and Ohio State on the road while playing Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State at home. From the East, MSU has to play Purdue (home) and Nebraska (road). Michigan State has a chance to win the East if they can upset Ohio State on November 21 along with everything else falling in place. At the least, Michigan State should see another 10+ win season under Dantonio.

3. Michigan Wolverines

Brady Hoke came to Michigan in 2011 with a lot of hype. In his first year, he seemed to validate the hype by going 11-2 and leading Michigan to a Sugar Bowl victory. The next three seasons were all downhill for the Wolverines as they went 8-5 in 2012 to 7-6 in 2013 to 5-7 in 2014, which ended Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. Enter Jim Harbaugh for 2015 and he has created a lot of excitement as well as the constant headlines without coaching a game at UM. What could the actual football season produce then?

The offense for Michigan has eight starters returning from a group that produced a lackluster 20.9 points and 333 yards per game. There will be a battle for the quarterback duties between Iowa transfer Jake Rudock (2,436 yards with 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions last year) and Shane Morris (128 yards and 3 interceptions in backup duty). The running back trio of De’Veon Smith (519 yards and 6 touchdowns), Derrick Green (471 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Drake Johnson (361 yards and 4 touchdowns) will be joined by USC transfer Ty Isaac (236 yards in 2013). Devin Funchess has departed, but the next four receivers all return. Amara Darboh had 36 catches for 473 yards and 2 touchdowns, Jake Butt had 21 catches for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Jehu Chesson won 14 catches for 154 yards. There are four starters back on the offensive line and the Michigan offense should be able to produce much better this year compared to 2014.

The defense has seven starters back from a unit that allowed 22.4 points and 311 yards in a solid year. The line has two starters back from a unit that allowed 118 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry. The top returning linebacker this year will be Joe Bolden after recording 102 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss last year. The secondary will be strong with three returning starters and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons had 124 tackles in 22 starts in his three years at Stanford. Jarrod Wilson will be safety again this year after recording 50 tackles last year, which was good enough for third on the team. The defense will be solid once again, even in Harbaugh’s first season.

Michigan has a tough non-conference schedule with the opening game against Utah on the road before three straight home games versus Oregon State, UNLV, and BYU. In conference, they will play Maryland, Indiana, and Penn State on the road and take on Michigan State, Rutgers, and Ohio State at home. From the East, Michigan faces Northwestern (home) and Minnesota (road). Harbaugh should be able to lead Michigan back to a bowl game and might have a chance to reach 10 wins with a victory in the bowl game.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions

Bill O’Brien took over in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and did quite well given the sanctions levied against Penn State. He led PSU to back-to-back winning seasons going 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013. The Nittany Lions were not eligible for a bowl either season due to the scandal and O’Brien left to take over the Houston Texans in the NFL. James Franklin became head coach in 2014 and led PSU to a 7-6 record and one point win in the Pinstripe bowl over Boston College.

The offense will have eight starters back from a group that put up 20.6 points and 335 yards per game. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for 2,977 yards with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while being considered by some as the top prospect of the 2016 NFL Draft. Akeel Lynch ran for 678 yards and 4 touchdowns despite only starting two games last year. Three of the top four receivers are returning led by DaeSean Hamilton, who had 82 catches for 899 yards and 2 touchdowns as a freshman. Geno Lewis (55 catches for 751 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Chris Godwin (26 catches for 338 yards and 2 touchdowns) return as well. With four starters back on the offensive line, the offense should perform better in 2015 with a year of Franklin’s schemes under their belts.

The defense was excellent in 2014 allowing just 18.6 points and 279 yards per game. They now return seven starters from last year including the second through sixth leading tacklers. The line has Austin Johnson (49 tackles, 1 sack, and 5 tackles for loss) and Anthony Zettel (42 tackles, 8 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions) back from a unit that allowed only 100 yards rushing per game and 2.9 yards per carry. Two are back at linebacker led by Nyeem Wartman, who had 75 tackles (#2 on team). They do lose Mike Hull, who was fantastic in 2014 with 140 tackles, 2 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. The secondary will have three starters back in Trevor Williams (27 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 2 interceptions), Jordan Lucas (58 tackles, 2 sacks, and 9 pass breakups), and Marcus Allen (58 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 pass breakups) to make this one of the better secondaries in the Big 10. The defense could match last year’s numbers, but at the very least, should be solid again.

Penn State opens with a road game at Temple before facing Buffalo, San Diego State, and Army at home to close out the non-conference slate. Rutgers, Indiana, Michigan will be coming to State College while PSU will travel to play Ohio State, Maryland (Baltimore), and Michigan State. From the West, Penn State will take on Illinois (home) and Northwestern (road). The Nittany Lions should be better in 2015 and could have a chance to win 10 games with an upset or two.

5. Indiana Hoosiers

Kevin Wilson has been in charge at Indiana since 2011 and has yet to make a bowl game. He has an overall record of 14-34 and his best chance of making a bowl game was in 2013 when the Hoosiers went 5-7. The offense has not been much of an issue under Wilson while the defense is the Achilles heel in his tenure thus far. Will the defense be good enough to reach 6-6 in 2015?

The offense has seven starters back after putting up 25.1 points and 405 yards per game. Gone is Tevin Coleman, who ran for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns. Replacing Coleman is UAB transfer Jordan Howard, who ran for 1,587 and 13 touchdowns in 2014. He probably will not match Coleman’s output, but he is quite the pick up to replace him. Nate Sudfeld started the first six games throwing for 1,151 yards with 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, but suffered a shoulder injury that knocked him out for the year. Zander Diamont came in to start the last six and threw for 515 yards with 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. He was also more mobile than Sudfeld and ran for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns. Receiver is a bit of a concern with the top returning target in J-Shun Harris. Harris had only 18 catches for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns. Camion Patrick has transferred from junior college while Dominique Booth (8 catches for 70 yards) and Simmie Cobbs (7 catches for 114 yards) could step up. There are four starters back on the offensive line to provide ample time for the receivers and running backs. The offense should be able to improve this season with a healthy quarterback.

The defense has five starters back from a unit that allowed 32.8 points and 434 yards per game. Those numbers were the best under Wilson in his tenure, but will need to get better if Indiana is to make a bowl game this year. The line has three starters back led by Nick Mangieri, who had 37 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception. TJ Simmons is the lone linebacker returning after recording 72 tackles (#2 on team), 2 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss. The only returning member of the secondary is Antonio Allen, who led the team with 74 tackles, but also had 1 sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The defense will probably have similar numbers to last year, which puts the burden on the offense.

Indiana opens the year with three home games against Southern Illinois, Florida International, and Western Kentucky. Their final non-conference game is on the road at Wake Forest, but they could be 4-0 heading into conference play. In division play, Indiana has Ohio State, Rutgers, and Michigan at home while facing Penn State, Michigan State, and Maryland on the road. From the West, Indiana has to play Iowa (home) and Purdue (road). If Indiana goes 4-0 in non-conference play, they have an excellent chance at reaching 6-6 by winning two of three against Rutgers, Maryland, and Purdue.

6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Kyle Flood started at Rutgers in 2012 when they were still in the Big East. He went 9-4 in this first year, then dropped down to 6-7 in 2013 when Rutgers was in The American. 2014 was the first season of Rutgers’ Big 10 career and it ended well with an 8-5 record and a 40-21 dusting of North Carolina in the Quick Lane bowl. 2015 could a rough year for Rutgers after early success in the Big 10.

The offense will have five starters back from a unit that put up 26.7 points and 390 yards per game. Quarterback will most likely go to Chris Laviano, who threw for only 107 yards with 1 interception in backup duty behind Gary Nova last year. There is a plethora of running backs returning with the top five rushers from 2014 all back. Paul James started the first four games and rushed for 363 yards with 5 touchdowns, but was injured and missed the rest of the year. Desmon Peoples was the top rusher with 447 yards and 3 touchdowns while Josh Hicks ran for 440 yards and 2 touchdowns. Robert Martin added 434 yards and 7 touchdowns while Justin Goodwin had 328 yards and a touchdown. The top receiver returns for Rutgers in Leonte Carroo, who caught 55 passes for 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns. Janarion Grant also returns after having 25 catches for 312 yards. There are three starters back on the line and there is plenty of pieces in place for the offense to match last year’s numbers.

The defense has slumped the last two years for Rutgers. In 2013, the defense gave up 29.8 points and 413 yards per game with only four starters back. Last year, the defense did worse by allowing 30.2 points and 443 yards per game with seven starters back. There will be five starters back this season with two residing on the defensive line. Darius Hamilton had 45 tackles, 6 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss and Djwany Mera had 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year will lead the line this year. Quentin Gause is one of two returning linebackers after recording 72 tackles, 1 sack, and 6 tackles for loss. The other is Steve Longa, who led the team with 102 tackles and also recorded 2 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. Just one starter is back in the secondary and that is Nadir Barnwell. He had 29 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 4 pass breakups last year. The defense could struggle again in 2015 for the third straight year.

Rutgers opens the season with Norfolk State and Washington State at home. Their non-conference schedule also includes Kansas at home and a road trip to Army on November 21. Rutgers will face Penn State, Indiana, and Michigan on the road while playing Michigan State, Ohio State, and Maryland at home. From the West, Rutgers has to play Wisconsin (road) and Nebraska (home) in one of the toughest draws. Rutgers will need a couple of upsets to reach another bowl game in 2015.

7. Maryland Terrapins

Randy Edsall came to Maryland from Connecticut in 2011 after leading Connecticut to a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010. It has been a steady improvement under Edsall with the Terps going 2-10 in 2011 and 4-8 in 2012. The past two seasons have produced identical 7-6 records. What does 2015 have in store for Edsall and company?

The offense has six starters back from a group that produced 28.5 points and 342 yards per game. Caleb Rowe will take over the quarterback duties. He threw for 489 yards with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions last year, but does have starting experience dating back to the 2013 campaign. The top rusher last year was quarterback CJ Brown, who had 539 yards, but he has departed. Brandon Ross ran for 419 yards and 4 touchdowns while Wes Brown had 356 yards and 6 touchdowns. They will need to be much more productive in 2015 if the offense is to perform better. Stefon Diggs was the top receiver the last few years, but he has gone on to the NFL. Marcus Leak is the top returning receiver with 20 catches for 297 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jacquille Veil had 16 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown while Amba Etta-Tawo had 10 grabs for 22 yards and 1 touchdown. The offensive line has three starters back, but the losses may hurt the Terps this year.

The defense has only four starters back this season. Last year’s group allowed 30.2 points and 436 yards per game with nine starters returning. Yannick Ngakoue is back on the line after recording 37 tackles, 6 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss. The linebacking unit was decimated with no starters returning. Jermaine Carter is the top linebacker returning after recording 27 tackles in 2014. The secondary is the strength of the defense with three starters back including Sean Davis at safety. He had 115 tackles, 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups last season. Despite the strong secondary, the defense will have some issues with the lack of experience in the front seven.

Maryland opens the season with Richmond, Bowling Green, and South Florida at home before traveling to face West Virginia on the road. They will play Michigan, Penn State (Baltimore), and Indiana at home while going on the road to take on Ohio State, Michigan State, and Rutgers. From the West, they will have to play Iowa (road) and Wisconsin (home). Maryland will get close to bowl eligibility, but may have to settle for a rebuilding year with the lack of experience in 2015.

Overview

The Big 10 East appears to be fairly easy to discern. Ohio State is clearly the top team while Michigan State is the only challenger to them. Michigan and Penn State are in the next tier while Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland will battle to stay out of the cellar. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Ohio State

2. Michigan State

3. Michigan

4. Penn State

5. Indiana

6. Rutgers

7. Maryland

Big 10 Championship

Wisconsin was predicted as the winner of the Big 10 West division earlier this week, which sets up a rematch of 2014’s Big 10 Championship Game. In a game between Wisconsin and Ohio State, we will go with Ohio State to win again and to make the College Football Playoff.

The Pac-12 Conference will be previewed next week with the North Division on Tuesday and the South Division on Friday.

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 West

Corey Clement has big shoes to fill in replacing Melvin Gordon while Wisconsin has been to three of the first four Big 10 Championship Games. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)
Corey Clement has big shoes to fill in replacing Melvin Gordon while Wisconsin has been to three of the first four Big 10 Championship Games. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 West

Part fourteen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview delves into the Big 10’s West Division. There are only three conferences left in the preview series with the Pac-12 and SEC still a few weeks down the road. Below is the schedule of conference previews completed and those still to come.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

The Big 10 West Division is broken down below.

1. Wisconsin Badgers

Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin after the 2012 season to go to Arkansas while Gary Andersen came in for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He led the Badgers to a 9-4 record in 2013 before a double digit win season in 2014 including a 59-0 destruction at the hands of Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship. He too bolted Madison and went West to Oregon State. Paul Chryst returns to his alma mater where he played quarterback from 1986 to 1988 and was the offensive coordinator from 2005 through 2011. He was also the head coach at Pittsburgh from 2012 t0 2014.

The offense was very good under Andersen where they had nearly identical output over his two years. In 2013, they put up 34.8 points and 481 yards per game and it was 34.6 points and 469 yards in 2014. The offense has five starters back with Joel Stave not having to worry about another QB. Stave threw for 1,350 yards with 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Melvin Gordon is gone after his monstrous season with 2,587 yards with 29 touchdowns, but Corey Clement is willing to try and fill the void. Clement had 949 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing while Dare Ogunbowale had 193 yards and a touchdown on only 34 carries. The go to guy last year, Alex Erickson, is back after recording 55 catches for 772 yards and 3 touchdowns. Troy Fumagalli caught 14 passes for 187 yards last year and a second wide receiver will need to develop in 2015. The offensive line also has only two starters returning, but the quarterback numbers should be better with Chryst in charge. The loss of Gordon will hurt, but the offense should be solid even with Chryst coming in.

The defense for Wisconsin is constantly solid. Between 2009 and 2014, the defense has not yielded more than 22 points and 325 yards per game. The defense had only 3 starters back in 2014 and allowed 20.8 points and 294 yards per game. There are six starters back including most of the secondary. Chikwe Obasih had 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks in seven starts. The depth is also better after plaguing them the past two seasons. The linebacker unit has the two outside ‘backers returning in Vince Biegel (56 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Joe Schobert (69 tackles, 3 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 7 pass breakups). The secondary has three starters back led by Michael Caputo. Caputo was the top tackler last year with 106 stops while also recording 1 sack, 5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and an interception. Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton will be at the cornerback spots, but need to interception more passes after those two failed to record any in 2014. Tanner McEvoy has also moved to safety after splitting time at quarterback and safety in 2014.

Wisconsin opens with a daunting game in Arlington, Texas against Alabama that will surely test them to their highest capability. After that, it is much easier with the trio of Miami (OH), Troy, and Hawaii all coming to Madison. In conference, Wisconsin faces Iowa, Purdue, and Northwestern at home while playing Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota on the road. From the East division, the Badgers take on Rutgers (home) and Maryland (road). The Badgers will surely make a bowl game in 2015 and can expect to be the team to beat for the West, but they have their question marks.

2. Northwestern Wildcats

Pat Fitzgerald did something that only Bob Voigts was able to do: win a bowl game. Voigts won the 1949 Rose Bowl while Fitzgerald won the 2012 Gator Bowl after losing the previous four bowl games. Since that 2012 season, Northwestern has not been back to a bowl game after back-to-back 5-7 seasons that have been filled with injuries. 2015 must result in a bowl game for the Wildcats and Fitzgerald.

The offense sputtered last year after putting up 23 points and 353 yards per game despite eight starters back. This year, the offense will have six starters back, but one of them will not be at quarterback. That may not be a bad thing as Trevor Siemian only threw for 2,214 yards with 7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Zack Oliver threw for 367 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, but he will be battling with Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti for the starting job. Justin Jackson is back after a stellar freshman season. Despite only starting five games, Jackson ran for 1,187 yards with 10 touchdowns while also catching 22 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. There is plenty of talent back at wide receiver with Dan Vitale leading the way. He had 40 catches for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cameron Dickerson (24 catches for 318 yards and a touchdown) and Miles Shuler (23 catches for 190 yards) back as well. The biggest returner is Christian Jones, who had a solid 2013 season with 668 yards, but missed all of 2014. The offensive line has three starters back and the entire offense should be able to perform better this year.

The defense was decent in 2014 with seven starters back, giving up 25.2 points and 384 yards per game. Eight starters are back in 2015, the most for Fitzgerald since 2009 (gave up 24.5 points and 350 yards per game). The entire defensive line is back led by Dean Lowry, who had 41 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups. The linebacking unit is the worry for Northwestern with only Anthony Walker returning (51 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions). The secondary is another strength with three starters back. Traveon Henry had 73 tackles (#2 on team) and 2.5 tackles for loss while Matthew Harris had 70 tackles (#3 on team), 3.5 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense should be solid once again for Northwestern and should improve on the numbers the allowed last season.

Northwestern does not have an easy start to the season with Stanford coming to town followed by Eastern Illinois. A road trip against Duke comes before their final non-conference game against Ball State at home. In conference, the Wildcats will face Minnesota, Iowa, and Purdue at home while taking on Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. They also face Illinois in Chicago on the final weekend in November. From the East, they will have the pleasure of facing Michigan (road) and Penn State (home) in two tough games. All around, Northwestern should be better in 2015 and could have a chance to take the division with a win over Wisconsin (Nov. 21).

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska was led by Bo Pelini starting in 2008 and going through 2014. During that time, Pelini led Nebraska to at least 9 wins each year including three 10 win seasons. Pelini, however, did not make a BCS or Group of Five bowl in that time and was let go after the 2014 season. Mike Riley comes over from Oregon State after 15 years there and only once led the Beavers to at least 10 wins (2006).

The offense has six starters back from a group that put up 37.8 points and 452 yards of offense per game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw for 2,695 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while also rushing for 705 yards and 6 touchdowns as the teams second leading rusher. Ameer Abdullah will not be back, which leaves Imani Cross (384 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Terrell Newby (297 yards and 5 touchdowns) as the top returning running backs. Nearly all of the receivers return led by Jordan Westerkamp (44 catches for 747 yards and 5 touchdowns) and De’Mornay Pierson-El (23 catches for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has two starters back at the tackles. The offense will probably not put up the same numbers as they did last year with a new coach and new schemes.

The defense has six starters back from a unit that allowed 26.4 points and 384 yards per game. Three starters are back on the defensive line that gave up 178 yards and 4.7 yards per carry last year. Greg McMullen (4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups), Maliek Collins (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss), and Vincent Valentine (45 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 pass breakups) are the returners. David Santos is the lone returning linebacker after recording 50 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. The secondary has two starters back led by Nathan Gerry (#1 tackler), who had 88 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 5 interceptions en route to making the 2nd Team Big 10 squad. There may be some growing pains in 2015, but the numbers should not fluctuate too much.

Nebraska opens with BYU and South Alabama at home before traveling to face Miami (FL) on the road and getting Southern Miss at home. The Cornhuskers face Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue on the road while playing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa at home. From the East, Nebraska will take on Michigan State (home) and Rutgers (road). Nebraska should be in a bowl game in 2015 and could even make the Big 10 Championship Game with a few stumbles and surprises.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Ron Zook was in charge of Illinois from 2005 through 2011 and led the Illini to three bowl games including the 2007 Rose Bowl. Zook was let go before the 2011 bowl game that Illinois won 20-14 over UCLA. Tim Beckman came in starting with the 2012 season and went 2-10 followed by a 4-8 record in 2013. The Illini had to make a bowl game in 2014 for Beckman to keep his job and they did, but lost to Louisiana Tech 35-18. 2015 is another chance for Illinois to make a bowl game.

The offense put up 25.9 points and 367 yards per game in 2014 with Wes Lunt taking over at quarterback. Lunt had injury issues throughout the season while finishing with 1,763 with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Josh Ferguson is returning at running back after a sub par year with only 735 yards and 8 touchdowns. Ferguson also was the team’s third leading receiver with 50 catches for 427 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mike Dudek led the team in receiving as a freshman in 2014 with 76 catches for 1,038 yards and 6 touchdowns, but tore his ACL in April. He status for 2015 is still up in the air. Geronimo Allison (41 catches for 598 yards and 5 touchdowns), Malik Turner (25 catches for 256 yards and a touchdown), and Justin Hardee (19 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown) all return in case Dudek is unable to go. Three starters are back on the offensive line to bring the total up to eight for the offense. A healthy Lunt will mean higher numbers for the Illini offense even if Dudek is out for the year.

Defense has been an issue for Illinois under Beckman, as the unit has not allowed less than 32 points per game in his tenure. Last year, the defense gave up 34 points and 456 yards per game with seven starters back. That same number is back this year with Jihad Ward and Rob Bain back on the line. Ward had 51 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss last year. Two linebackers return in Mason Monheim and TJ Neal, which is good news for Illinois. Monheim had 111 tackles (#1 on team), 1 sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while Neal had 98 tackles (#4 on team) and 6.5 tackles for loss. The secondary has three starters back including Taylor Barton, who had 100 tackles (#3 on team). V’Angelo Bentley is back in the secondary as well, but he will also be utilized in the return game. The defense should improve in 2015 with seven starters back.

Illinois opens with home games against Kent State and Western Illinois before traveling to face North Carolina on the road. They close out the non-conference portion of their schedule against Middle Tennessee at home. Within their division, Illinois will play Nebraska and Wisconsin at home while facing Northwestern in Chicago. They also play Iowa, Purdue, and Minnesota on the road. From the East, the Illini play Penn State (road) and Ohio State (home), which is a tough draw. There is enough offense and defense on this Illinois squad to make a second straight bowl game under Beckman.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes

Kirk Ferentz is entering his 17th season at Iowa. In that time, Iowa has 11 winning season and four season with at least 10 wins. Since going 11-2 in 2009, however, Iowa has not reached that success with their best recording being 8-5 in both 2010 and 2013. The pressure may be on Ferentz to get Iowa back to double digit wins sooner rather than later.

The offense will return five starters from a group that put up 28.2 points and 400 yards per game. CJ Beathard is taking over at quarterback for the now transferred Jake Rudock (went to Michigan). Beathard threw for 645 yards with 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while also not having Mark Weisman (812 yards and 16 touchdowns). Jordan Canzeri (494 yards), Akrum Wadley (186 yards and a touchdown), Jonathan Parker (141 yards and a touchdown), LeShun Daniels (49 yards and a touchdown), and CJ Hilliard will all see some looks at the running back spot. Tevaun Smith (43 catches for 596 yards and 3 touchdowns), Jake Duzey (36 catches for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Matt VandeBerg (14 catches for 256 yards and 1 touchdown) are back. The line has three starters back while the offense could put up similar numbers in 2015 as they did last year.

Last year’s defense was not as effective as an Iowa defense usually is. They gave up 25.6 points and 344 yards per game with only five starters back. The number of starters returning increases by two, to seven, which is good news. Drew Ott (57 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Nate Meier (57 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) are back to anchor the defensive end positions. Bo Bower and Josey Jewell are the two starters returning at linebacker while the secondary has three starters back. Jordan Lomax will be at one of the safety spots after recording 92 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception last year. 2015 should see Iowa’s defense improve.

Iowa opens the season against Illinois State at home before facing in-state rival Iowa State on the road. The non-conference schedule ends with Pittsburgh and North Texas both coming to Iowa City. Iowa will face Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska on the road while playing Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue at home. From the East, Iowa has Maryland (home) and Indiana (road) in two winnable games. Iowa should be back in a bowl game this year, but will that be enough to keep Ferentz around another year?

6. Purdue Boilermakers

Darrell Hazell came in from Kent State in 2013 and had a rough first year. The Boilermakers went 1-11 with their lone win against FCS Indiana State in a game they only won 20-14. The offense (14.9 points and 345 yards per game) and defense (38 points and 460 yards allowed per game) were dreadful. 2014 was a very good step in the right direction with a 3-9 record and 2015 should continue that trend.

The offense in 2014 had 8 starters back and shot up to 23.8 points and 345 yards per game. There are eight starters back again in 2015 with the quarterback position in the air between freshmen David Blough and Elijah Sindelar and Austin Appleby (1,449 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). Running back is not settled with DJ Knox, Keyante Green (199 yards), David Yancey, and Markell Jones all having a chance to win the top duties. Danny Anthrop is back as the top wide receiver after grabbing 38 passes for 616 yards and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line has all the starters back, which is great news for whoever wins the quarterback and running back battles. The offense should be better in 2015 with even better numbers than last year.

The defense was awful in 2013 by giving up 38 points and 460 yards per game. Year two was better with the defense allowing 31.7 points and 416 yards per game. Seven starters return in 2015 including the second through fifth top tacklers from last year. Ryan Watson (17 tackles, 4 sacks, 1.5 tackes for loss) and Jake Replogle (40 tackles, 3 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss) return on the line that improved from 235 rushing yards allowed per game in 2013 to 192 yards per game in 2014. That number should drop in 2015. The strength of the defense is at linebacker with the top three starters back. Ja’Whaun Bentley (76 tackles; #2 on team), Jimmy Herman (56 tackles, #4 on team), and Danny Ezechukwu (43 tackles; #8 on team) all back after starting last year. The secondary has three starters back led by Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams at the corner spots. Like the offense, the defense should improve in year three of Hazell’s tenure.

Purdue opens the season on the road at Marshall in a tough game before facing Indiana State, Virginia Tech, and Bowling Green at home. In their division, Purdue will play Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois at home while facing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa on the road. From the East, they will have to play Michigan State (road) and Indiana (home). Purdue is going in the right direction and will probably need two upsets to reach a bowl game.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Jerry Kill has been at Minnesota since 2011 and has made them into a gritty team that is not easy to defeat. After going 3-9 in his first year, the team improved to 6-7 in 2012 and lost by a field goal, 34-31, to Texas Tech in the bowl game. 2013 saw them finish 8-5 and they did the same in 2014 as they had a chance to win the Big 10 West in the final week against Wisconsin. 2015 will be an interesting test for Minnesota and Kill.

The offense for Minnesota is run-based and will have five starters back in 2015. Mitch Leidner threw for 1,798 yards with 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while rushing for 452 yards and 10 touchdowns. Backup Chris Streveler ran for 235 yards and 1 touchdown as well. David Cobb has exited after rushing for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns leaving a big void at running back. Berkley Edwards (140 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Rodrick Williams (114 yards and 3 touchdowns) will be vying to start at running back. Top target Maxx Williams (36 catches for 569 yards and 8 touchdowns) is gone as well, leaving KJ Maye as the top wide receiver. Maye had 16 catches for 298 yards and a touchdown as the #2 receiver. The offensive line has three starters back, but it will probably be tough for the Gophers to match last year’s production of 28.4 points and 357 yards per game with Cobb and Williams gone.

The defense has been solid for Minnesota the last three years. In 2014, the defense gave up 24.2 points and 368 yards per game and returns seven starters from that group. Theiren Cockran (23 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss) and Steven Richardson (23 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) will be teaming up with the Ekpe brothers of Scott and Hendrick. De’Vondre Campbell (75 tackles, 2.5sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Jack Lynn (57 tackles, 1 sack, and 6 tackles for loss) will be the returning linebackers. In the secondary, three starters are back led by Eric Murray at corner. Murray had 69 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and an interception last year. The defense should be solid once again for Minnesota.

Minnesota opens with TCU at home before facing Colorado State on the road. Kent State and Ohio both travel to Minneapolis to close out the non-conference slate. In division, Minnesota will play Northwestern, Purdue, and Iowa on the road while taking on Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin at home. From the East, Minnesota draws Michigan (home) and Ohio State (road). It will be a challenging year for Minnesota if the offense sputters and will need a couple of upsets to make a bowl game, but they are more than capable of getting those upsets.

Overview

The Big 10’s West division is quite the conundrum with every team having questions. Wisconsin has a new coach and lost a star in Melvin Gordon while Northwestern has some offensive worries. Nebraska is in the same boat as Wisconsin with a new coach and lost Ameer Abdullah. Illinois has worries on defense while Iowa is constantly underachieving. Purdue is still learning Hazell’s system and Minnesota lost a lot of offensive production in David Cobb and Maxx Williams.

We will go with Wisconsin to win the division, but Northwestern or Nebraska could also finish on top. Illinois is likely to make noise with a more veteran team along with Iowa. Purdue and Minnesota will both be close to bowl eligibility and could easily finish higher than predicted, especially the Gophers. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Wisconsin

2. Northwestern

3. Nebraska

4. Illinois

5. Iowa

6. Purdue

7. Minnesota

Check back on Friday for a preview of the Big 10 East Division as well as a look at the Big 10 Championship Game prediction.