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25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 5 Through 1

Wisconsin and Penn State met in the 2016 Big Ten Championship game. Could they meet again in 2017? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 5 Through 1

The 2017 College Football season is starting this weekend and that means it is time to finish up predictions for the upcoming season. Despite what Nick Saban says about predictions, they are fun to make and see how they play out over an entire season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This is the fifth edition and we will finish predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 5 Through 1

5. (SEC) A 2nd year head coach will win the SEC East – To be clear, this prediction is referring to a coach in his second year at his current school. Three coaches actually fall under this one with Kirby Smart at Georgia, Will Muschamp at South Carolina, and Barry Odom at Missouri. We mentioned Missouri in our last article (we really like their offense going into 2017) so our main focus will be on Georgia and South Carolina.

Georgia went 8-5 last year in Smart’s first season. This year he is armed with seven starters back on offense and 10 on defense. One would expect improvements on both sides of the ball, but more so on defense given Smart’s background. The Bulldogs gave up 24 points and 327 yards per game, which is respectable, but another step forward would make them an even tougher opponent. It is very difficult to see this group getting worse.

On offense, Georgia has Jacob Eason (2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) back at quarterback. Also returning are Nick Chubb (1,130 yards and 8 TDs) and Sony Michel (840 yards and 4 TDs) to form a formidable backfield duo. The offense put up 24.5 points and 385 yards per game in 2016 and those numbers are likely to climb this season.

The key is the schedule and Georgia’s toughest games are versus Tennessee (away), Florida (in Jacksonville), South Carolina (home), and Auburn (away). Yes, three games are away from home, but this team can win all of those and claim the East.

South Carolina is interesting heading into 2017. Muschamp has been around the SEC a long time and his second season in charge at Florida resulted in his best result with the Gators. They went 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC as Florida tied Georgia for the SEC East crown, but lost the head-to-head matchup to the Bulldogs. Things went downhill quickly for the Gators after that season, but one thing that remained was a very good defense.

Like Smart at Georgia, Muschamp has a strong defensive background. South Carolina allowed 26.5 points and 412 yards per game in his first season. Six starters return on that side of the ball and a step forward is expected from this unit.

On offense, the Gamecocks put up 20.8 points and 348 yards per game in 2016 with a quarterback carousel. 2017 sees 10 starters return including sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley (1,420 yards with 9 TDs and 4 interceptions after playing only 7 games). The top two running backs and top five receivers return, which should mean a vast improve in the performance of the offense. Of course, the big concern is if the offense does improve given some of the struggles Muschamp had at times in Gainesville.

South Carolina’s toughest SEC games are against Texas A&M (away), Arkansas (home), Tennessee (away), Georgia (away), and Florida (home). They too can win both games versus West opponents and a 2-1 split of the other games would go a long way to being the surprise in the East.

Both Georgia and South Carolina are set up for big moves in 2017 though Georgia looks a bit more ready to make the jump thanks to their offense. However, sometimes an excellent defense can carry a team, which may be what South Carolina needs in 2017.

4. (SEC) Auburn will win the SEC West – Let’s start by saying that Alabama is the team to beat in the West and entire SEC, but why make a prediction like that? We take a shot with the Auburn Tigers.

On offense, Auburn returns 8 starters though one of them will not be at quarterback. That will go to Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham who won the starting role earlier this month. He will have the luxury of Kamryn Pettway (1,224 yards and 7 TDs) and Kerryon Johnson (895 yards and 11 TDs) to run the ball. The passing attack should improve on the numbers of the last two seasons of 169 yards per game in 2016 and 174 yards per game in 2015. Stidham give this offense a boost and makes them even more potent.

The defense returns 7 starters from a unit that allowed 17.1 points and 362 yards per game. The top three tacklers and six of the top seven tacklers return to lead the defense. Keep in mind that 2016 was only the first year under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. In theory, the second season should be even better if the schemes are truly cemented into the players’ heads. Overall, this unit should allow similar numbers to the 2016 squad.

As usual in the SEC West, the schedule is tough with three straight road games at LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. There is a bye between the Razorbacks and Aggies, but that is still a brutal stretch when you consider that Georgia comes to town after the game versus Texas A&M. The final game is the Iron Bowl against Alabama and that comes at home, which should help the Tigers. It will be difficult for Auburn to defeat Alabama as well as win the West, but the Tigers are more than capable of doing both.

3. (Big 10) Northwestern will win at least 9 games – 2017 will mark the 12th season of Pat Fitzgerald in charge at Northwestern. In that time he has posted three seasons of nine or more wins (two of those were 10 win seasons). This year’s squad is loaded to give the Wildcats a shot at one of their big 9+ win seasons.

The offense will rely heavily on Justin Jackson and rightfully so. Jackson has 4,129 yards rushing in his career, which is already second best in Northwestern history. A 1,500 yard season would put Jackson at #2 all time in the Big 10. Also returning with Jackson are 7 other starters including quarterback Clayton Thorson (3,182 yards with 22 TDs and 9 interceptions). Thorson has come a long way since his 2015 season when he struggled at times. He will be missing his top target from last year in Austin Carr (90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 TDs). The one to watch out for in 2017 is Jalen Brown, a former Oregon Duck.

The defense also returns 8 starters and this group did well in 2016 as they allowed 22.2 points and 404 yards per game. The front four and secondary return seven of the eight starters, which makes for a weaker linebacking group. Good thing they have a head coach in Fitzgerald who knows a thing or two about that position. In 2015 when Northwestern had 8 starters back they allowed 18.6 points and 319 yards per game. An improvement to those numbers in 2017 would make this team very dangerous.

Northwestern opens with three games they should win: Nevada (home), Duke (away), and Bowling Green (home). After a bye week, the Cats face Wisconsin (away) and Penn State (home) to start Big 10 play. The rest of the Big 10 schedule could result in wins: Maryland (away), Iowa (home), Michigan State (home), Nebraska (away), Purdue (home), Minnesota (home), and Illinois (away). Nebraska is the toughest of those games especially away from home, but 9 or 10 wins is definitely realistic.

2. (Big 10) Michigan State will miss a second straight bowl game – Between 2013 and 2015, the Spartans won the Rose Bowl and played in two Cotton Bowls, winning one. Then 2016 happened when they slumped to 3-9 winning just one game in the Big 10. The defense allowed 27.8 points per game, the most under Mark Dantonio. 

2017 sees four starters return on each side of the ball. Th offense loses quarterback Tyler O’Connor and top receiver RJ Shelton. LJ Scott does return after rushing for 994 yards and 6 TDs last year. Scott may burden a big load early in the season as new starters all over the field go through the learning curve. In 2016, the offense also had four returning starters and put up 24.1 points and 395 yards per game.

The defense has four starters back from a group that allowed 27.8 points and 365 yards per game. The biggest concern is the defensive line that allowed 159 yards rushing per game in 2016 and have just one returning starter after off the field issues saw two others dismissed. Similar numbers are expected, but with Dantonio the defense could surprise to the good side.

The schedule for the Spartans is filled with tough games. After a bye on September 16, they will face Notre Dame (home), Iowa (home), and Michigan (away) in three straight games. The end of October and beginning of November is another brutal stretch: Northwestern (away), Penn State (home), and Ohio State (away). The margin for error is small this year for Michigan State especially with the inexperience and off-season turmoil.

We will be honest, 2018 looks like it could be an exceptional season for Michigan State. Assuming that all the 2017 non-senior starters return, there would be 20 starters back in 2018 (10 on each side of the ball). That could be a team to watch next season.

1. (Big 10) The Big 10 will win the National Championship – There are three main contenders to win the Big 10: Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. And as we saw in 2016, you do not need to win your conference to make the Playoffs.

Ohio State had just 6 starters back in 2016 yet went 11-2 and made the Playoffs. Now they have 15 starters back and once again are the Big 10 favorites with all the firepower returning on offense an defense. Ohio State has three tough games in 2017: Oklahoma at in week two, Penn State at home at the end of October, and at Michigan to end the regular season. Expect the Buckeyes to be favored in all their games in 2017 barring some serious trouble.

Penn State is another contender to win the Big 10 after their awesome 2016 season. They went 11-3 while winning the Big 10 and made numerous comebacks in the second half of games throughout the season. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley make a dangerous backfield combination that is up there with any other backfield QB/RB duo in the country. Just imagine how good the Nittany Lions might be if they decide to not spot their opponents points in the first half.

Penn State has a brutal four game stretch over a five week span: Northwestern (away), Michigan (home), Ohio State (away), and Michigan State (away). The Spartans should not pose a serious threat, but given the game is after back-to-back games against the Wolverines and Buckeyes, there is the slight chance for a let down.

The third top contender is Wisconsin, who has an incredibly friendly Big 10 schedule. They do face BYU on the road September 16 before a bye week. The Big 10 schedules opens with Northwestern at home and Nebraska on the road. In November, they welcome both Iowa and Michigan to Madison while playing Minnesota in the finale. The Badgers have a good shot of going undefeated where they will probably meet up with either Ohio State or Penn State.

There are two dark horse contenders in Michigan and Northwestern. We discussed the Wildcats two predictions above and concede that they are a very long shot to even reach the Big 10 title game. Michigan will be in year three under Jim Harbaugh, but the losses are severe. Just four starters are back on offense and only one starter returns on defense. They have a brutal schedule of Florida (in Arlington, Texas), Penn State (away), Wisconsin (away), and Ohio State (home). The Wolverines are capable of getting to the Big 10 Championship and even the Playoffs, but it does not look likely in 2017.

It it tough to project the four teams in the College Football due to the multitude of matchup possibilities. Ohio State is probably the best of the trio mentioned above and loom as the Big 10’s best chance to win the National Championship. However, do not underestimate Penn State or Wisconsin from reaching the Playoffs where anything can happen.

That concludes our 25 predictions for the 2017 season, however, we will give one bonus prediction below.

Bonus: At least 10 FCS teams will defeat FBS teams – Does it seem like FCS teams upsetting FBS teams is happening more often? If so, that is because it is happening more often. Between 2004 and 2009, FCS teams averaged 4.3 wins per year against FBS teams with a high of 9 in 2007. Since 2010, that average has more than doubled to an average of 9.6 wins per season. 2013 saw the most FCS upsets with 16 and each of the last five seasons have produced at least 8 FCS wins against the FBS.

Here is a link to all the FCS versus FBS matchups in 2017. There are 98 matchups featuring FCS against FBS teams, which means roughly 10% of the games will require an upset for this prediction to be correct. With FCS teams becoming more and more competitive, it makes sense they would defeat FBS teams more often. Let’s hope that is the case in 2017 as well.

You have reached the end of our predictions. We hope you enjoyed reading them and hope you follow along  to see how they turn out for the 2017 season. Enjoy the start of the 2017 season!

2015 Week 11 Big Ten Roundup

Michigan had another thriller in 2015 and they came out on top once again. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
Michigan had another thriller in 2015 and they came out on top once again. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

2015 Week 11 Big Ten Roundup

#3 Ohio State Buckeyes at Illinois Fighting Illini

Result: Ohio State Win 28-3

Ohio State did not have any issues dealing with Illinois despite a slow start on offense. JT Barrett returned at quarterback and went a solid 15 of 23 for 150 yards with a touchdown and interception. He was also effective with his legs running for 74 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

Ezekiel Elliott continues to have an excellent season, albeit without the fanfare of over players in the nation. He ran for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 carries. Elliott has now ran for 100 or more rushing yards in 15 straight games dating back to last year.

Michael Thomas was the leading receiver with 6 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown, Jalin Marshall caught 4 passes for 38 yards, and Nick Vannett had 3 grabs for 31 yards. Ohio State struggled on third down with only 4 conversions on 13 attempts, but did convert 2 of 3 fourth down attempts. They put up 460 yards of offense.

Illinois struggled to put together any big drives. Wes Lunt went 23 of 47 for 241 yards, but struggled to find his top playmaker in Geronimo Allison (1 catch for 38 yards). Josh Ferguson was held to 49 yards on 12 carries while also having 5 catches for 26 yards. Desmond Cain had 10 catches for 102 yards for his second consecutive big game for the freshman. Malik Turner finished with 5 catches for 61 yards. Illinois went 5 of 17 on third down and put up 261 yards of offense.

Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) has a big game next week at home against Michigan State while Illinois (5-5, 2-4) faces Minnesota on the road.

Maryland Terrapins at #13 Michigan State Spartans

Result: Michigan State Win 24-7

Michigan State played a large portion of their game against Maryland without quarterback Connor Cook, but that was not much of an issue as the defense stifled the Terrapins on offense.

Connor Cook struggled in his playing time going 6 of 20 for 77 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Backup Tyler O’Connor went 6 of 11 for 44 yards and a touchdown pass to Macgarrett Kings who finished with 4 catches for 48 yards to lead the team. R.J. Shelton had 3 catches for 35 yards while Aaron Burbridge was held to just 3 catches for 27 yards.

10 different Michigan State players registered a rush, but Gerald Holmes had the most rushes going for 83 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The Spartans put up just 262 yards of offense and went 6 of 16 on third down. It was clear they were not the same offense with Cook out.

Maryland was led by Perry Hills again, but he only went 14 of 30 for 140 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He finished second on the team in rushing as well with 39 yards on 16 carries. Caleb Rowe also had some time at quarterback, but went 3 of 5 for 42 yards with 2 interceptions.

Wes Brown had 52 yards rushing on 12 carries while Brandon Ross had the lone touchdown via the rushing game for Maryland. Amba Etta-Tawo led Maryland with 5 catches for 63 yards and Levern Jacobs had 3 catches for 55 yards. Maryland actually outgained Michigan State by 27 yards (289 to 262), but went 4 of 16 on third down.

Maryland (2-8, 0-6) faces Indiana next weekend at home with a chance to keep Indiana out of a bowl game. Michigan State (9-1, 5-1) has the tough task of going on the road to the Horseshoe and play Ohio State.

Purdue Boilermakers at #18 Northwestern Wildcats

Result: Northwestern Win 21-14

Northwestern used a dominant rushing attack to power their way to 8-2. The Wildcats threw only 24 passes the entire game and needed a late touchdown to get past Purdue 21-14.

Clayton Thorson went 9 of 19 for 82 yards with an interception after an injury scare last week knocked him out against Penn State. Zack Oliver went 2 of 5 for 50 yards and threw an interception as well. Justin Jackson ran for 116 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. It was his 6th game with over 100 yards rushing and Northwestern is 6-0 when he runs for over 100 yards this year.

Warren Long had 6 rushes for 52 yards and 2 touchdowns while Thorson had 48 yards on 7 carries. Miles Shuler even ran twice for 30 yards. Solomon Vault had 2 catches for 53 yards to lead the team. Northwestern ran for 250 yards as a team and finished with 382 yards of offense. They were solid on third down going 8 of 17.

Purdue did not play poorly, but could not get some of their drives going to threaten the Northwestern defense. David Blough went 26 of 45 for 287 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Markell Jones had 58 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, but the run game was largely held in check by Northwestern.

Domonique Young led the team in receiving with 5 catches for 107 yards thanks to his 68 yard touchdown grab early in the game. Markell Jones had 68 yards on 5 catches while DeAngelo Yancey caught 4 passes for 39 yards. Purdue’s offense had 360 yards and went 8 of 19 on third down.

Purdue (2-8, 1-5) will have a second straight road game next week with a trip to Iowa. Northwestern (8-2, 4-2) has a road game next week as well. They will play Wisconsin in Madison with the Badgers coming off a bye week.

#14 Michigan Wolverines at Indiana Hoosiers

Result: Michigan Win 48-41 in double overtime

Michigan survived yet another late game scare to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive. Indiana lost another close game to keep them winless in conference play.

Jake Rudock had himself a game going 33 of 46 for 440 yards with 6 touchdowns and one pick. He was able to pass at will on the defense while also leading the team in rushing with 64 yards. De’Veon Smith had 58 yards rushing on 12 carries.

Jehu Chesson had a big game as well catching four (!) touchdown passes to finish the game with 10 catches for 207 yards. Amara Darboh had 8 catches for 109 yards and the eventual game winning touchdown while Jake Butt had 7 grabs for 82 yards and a score. Michigan put up 581 yards of offense and went six of 12 on third down.

Nate Sudfeld had a solid game going 20 of 34 for 220 yards and a touchdown. However, the story was running back Jordan Howard rushing for 238 yards and 2 touchdown on 35 carries against what had been a stout Michigan defense. Simmie Cobbs had 4 catches for 86 yards and Ricky Jones had 4 catches for 42 yards. Indiana put up a staggering 527 yards of offense against Michigan and went a combined 9 of 22 on third and fourth downs.

Michigan (8-2, 5-1) faces Penn State next week on the road while still having a chance to win the Big Ten East division and play in the Big Ten Championship. Indiana (4-6, 0-6) has to win their final two games to make a bowl game, but they are both winnable. They face Maryland next week on the road before playing against Purdue in two weeks on the road.

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Result: Nebraska Win 31-14

Nebraska followed up their big win last week against Michigan State with a nice victory over Rutgers on the road.

Tommy Armstrong had an up and down day going 14 of 21 for only 188 yards. He had 3 touchdowns through the air, but also threw 3 picks. Imani Cross ran for 90 yards on 20 carries. Cethan Carter had his best game in 2015 going for a not only 32 yard touchdown run, but also catching 4 passes for 57 yards and another score. Jordan Westerkamp was relatively quiet catching 3 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. Nebraska put up 362 yards of offense and went 5 of 11 on third down.

Rutgers was led by Chris Laviano at quarterback, but he only went 13 of 27 for 165 yards and 2 interceptions. Janarion Grant had the lone passing touchdown for Rutgers throwing to Laviano on a trick play for the 5 yard score.

Josh Hicks had 61 yards rushing on 12 carries while Robert Martin had 12 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown. Leonte Carroo came back from injury to post a team high 62 yards on 4 catches. Janarion Grant had 4 catches for 58 yards as well as his passing touchdown. Rutgers posted 259 yards of offense, but went 3 of 14 on third down and did not convert any of their 4 fourth down attempts.

Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) will need to win the final regular season contest on November 27 against Iowa to make it to a bowl game. That game will be at home so the Huskers will have that in their corner. Rutgers (3-7, 1-6) faces Army on the road next week in their final non-conference game.

Minnesota Golden Gophers at #5 Iowa Hawkeyes

Result: Iowa Win 40-35

A defensive game was expected between Minnesota and Iowa, but the offenses took over the show as Iowa held on for a 40-35 victory to stay undefeated.

Mitch Leidner had another big game through the air again going 19 of 27 for 259 yards and a touchdown. He also had a rushing touchdown along with 32 rushing yards. Shannon Brooks showed off his wheels and arm with a 42 yard touchdown pass to Drew Wolitarsky and rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

KJ Maye had 7 catches for 106 yards to keep his hot streak going. In the last 4 games, Maye has caught 34 passes for 374 yards and a touchdown. In the first 6 games, he had 22 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Brandon Lingen had 6 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown for his second 100 yard receiving game in the last 3 contests. Wolitarsky finished with 3 catches for 71 yards and the score from Brooks. Minnesota put up 434 yards per game and went 5 of 10 on third down.

C.J. Beathard went 18 of 26 for 213 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, but did have success on the ground. He had 50 yards and 2 scores on 10 carries while LeShun Daniels ran all over the field to the tune of 195 yards and 3 touchdowns on 26 carries. Jordan Canzeri ran just 10 times for 31 yards in his return from injury.

Matt VandeBerg recorded 6 catches for 74 yards, Henry Krieger Coble had 3 catches for 61 yards, and George Kittle had 5 grabs for 44 yards. Tevaun Smith had 2 catches for 35 yards. Iowa racked up 506 yards of offense and went an excellent 10 of 15 on third down.

Minnesota (4-6, 1-5) can still make a bowl game by winning out and it begins next week at home against Illinois. Iowa (10-0, 6-0) clinches the Big Ten East title with a win at home against Purdue next week.

Check back next Sunday for a recap of Week 12’s Big Ten action.

2015 Week 8 Big Ten Roundup

JT Barrett was named starter earlier this week and the Ohio State offense looked great under his guidance. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America)
JT Barrett was named starter earlier this week and the Ohio State offense looked great under his guidance. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America)

2015 Week 8 Big Ten Roundup

There were five Big Ten Conference games in Week 8 with Michigan, Iowa, Purdue, and Minnesota all on a bye week. Below is a look at each game.

Northwestern Wildcats at Nebraska Cornhuskers

Result: Northwestern Win 30-28 (Saturday, October 24)

Northwestern’s offense came to life against Nebraska, but their defense continued to struggle. Meanwhile, Nebraska lost another close game to drop them to 3-5 on the year.

Clayton Thorson went 13 of 28 for 177 yards and a touchdown, but it was his legs that led the Wildcats in the first half. He had two big runs to propel him to 126 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries. Justin Jackson struggled in the first half and finished the game running for 40 yards on 14 carries. Jackson made his presence felt in the passing game with 2 catches for 55 yards. Dan Vitale also had a nice game with 5 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.

The offense had 333 yards total and went 5 of 13 on third down. Nick VanHoose had a 72 yard interception returned for a touchdown midway through the second quarter to give Northwestern a 14-5 lead, but the defense had their issues in the second half giving up 16 points.

Tommy Armstrong had an inaccurate game going 24 of 49 for 291 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for two touchdowns while Terrell Newby led the team with 52 yards on 16 carries. Jordan Westerkamp had 5 catches for 92 yards while Brandon Reilly caught 4 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. The Huskers finished with 373 yards of offense and were 9 of 20 on third down. They also held the ball for almost 39 minutes compared to 21 for Northwestern.

Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) has reached bowl eligibility for the first time since 2012. They face Penn State on November 7 after a bye next week.

Nebraska (3-5, 1-3) has lost their 5 games by a combined 13 points. They will face Purdue next week on the road.

Wisconsin Badgers at Illinois Fighting Illini

Result: Wisconsin Win 24-13 (Saturday, October 24)

Wisconsin put together a solid offensive performance despite losing quarterback Joel Stave very early in the game.

Stave went 3 of 7 for 49 yards, but was knocked out due to a head injury. He was replaced by Bart Houston, who did well at times, but also made some poor throws. Houston went 22 of 33 for 232 yards with 2 touchdowns, but also threw two picks. Those two interceptions were thrown in the end zone taking the chance for more points away. The offense finished 9 of 16 on third down, but racked up 419 yards.

Alex Erickson, normally the leading receiver, led the team in rushing with 81 yards on 4 carries. Dare Ogunbowale had 16 carries for 42 yards while Alec Ingold had the lone rushing touchdown to go along with 26 yards on the ground. Erickson did lead the team in receiving as well with 10 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. He was a big target for Houston to move the chains with Ogunbowale catching 5 passes for 63 yards. Troy Fumagalli had 5 catches for 52 yards while Robert Wheelwright had 3 catches for 47 yards and a touchdown that was pure determination on his part.

Illinois was stymied at times on offense with Wes Lunt going 22 of 43 for 278 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Ke’Shawn Vaughn was the only player to record a carry with 13 attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown. Geronimo Allison had 8 catches for 99 yards while Malik Turner caught 4 passes for 80 yards. Illinois finished with 333 yards on offense, but managed just 3 of 12 on third down conversions and also went 0 for 2 on fourth down.

Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1) will go back home to face Rutgers next week with an uncertain situation at quarterback. Even if Stave cannot play, Houston looked capable of picking up the slack while the defense will probably be its usual stout self.

Illinois (4-3, 1-2) still sits two games from bowl eligibility and next week’s road contest at Penn State will not be easy.

Penn State Nittany Lions at Maryland Terrapins

Result: Penn State Win 31-30 (Saturday, October 24)

Penn State’s offense came to the rescue this week to secure a big 31-30 road win over Maryland.

Christian Hackenberg went only 13 of 29, but threw for 315 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. He found Chris Godwin 4 times for 135 yards and a touchdown while also hitting DaeSean Hamilton with 5 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. Saquon Barkley was not as effective this week with 65 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Penn State was an awful 3 for 12 on third down including a terrible third down throw in the final 90 seconds clinging to a one point lead. They finished with 363 yards of offense despite having the ball only 24 minutes.

Perry Hills went 19 of 28 for Maryland with 225 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. He also had a nice game on the ground with 26 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. He was giving the Penn State defense fits throughout the entire game. Levern Jacobs led the team with 5 catches for 93 yards and Malcolm Culmer had 3 catches for 65 yards. Maryland was barely better than Penn State on third down with a 4 of 13 tally. The Terps finished with 470 yards of offense, but will rue the fact they settled for 4 field goals (converted 3 of them) and had 5 turnovers that yielded a touchdown, but also caused them to miss out on potential points on three occasions.

Penn State (6-2, 3-1) takes on Illinois at home next week. Maryland (2-5, 0-3) faces a tough task next week on the road against Iowa, the leaders of the Big 10 West Division.

Indiana Hoosiers at #7 Michigan State Spartans

Result: Michigan State Win 52-26 (Saturday, October 24)

The final score of this game is far from indicative of how close this contest was until late in the fourth quarter. Indiana kept it close, but the Spartans pulled away late.

Nate Sudfeld went 23 of 37 for 308 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. Jordan Howard returned to the lineup and went for 78 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Simmie Cobbs had 5 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown while Mitchell Paige had 8 catches for 99 yards. The offense put up 389 yards of offense and went 5 of 11 on third down.

Connor Cook nearly had a record day passing for the Spartans with 398 yards and 4 touchdowns on 30 of 52 passing. The running game was bolstered with the game in hand late. LJ Scott ran for 68 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries while Gerald Holmes had 10 rushes for 39 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Burbridge finished with 8 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, R.J. Shelton had 6 catches for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Macgarrett Kings had 7 receptions for 69 yards. The Spartans were dominant on offense with 570 yards, holding the ball for 39 minutes, and 13 of 20 on third down.

Indiana (4-4, 0-4) still need two wins to reach bowl eligibility after losing four games in a row. They have a bye next week before taking on Iowa at home on November 7.

Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) also have a bye next week and face Nebraska on the road November 7.

#1 Ohio State Buckeyes at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Result: Ohio State Win 49-7 (Saturday, October 24)

Ohio State looked well oiled on offense with JT Barrett behind center as they crushed Rutgers on the road.

Barrett finished the game going 14 of 18 for 223 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns on 13 carries. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns on 19 carries while Michael Thomas had 5 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown receiving. Braxton Miller had 2 catches for 55 yards, as the offense racked up 528 yards. They went 5 of 10 on third down and 2 of 3 on fourth down.

Rutgers struggled for much of the night with Chris Laviano going 10 of 20 for 117 yards and an interception. Hayden Rettig went 3 of 7 for 72 yards and a touchdown in garbage time to give Rutgers their only points. Paul James ran for 56 yards on 10 carries while Robert Martin had 6 rushes for 43 yards. Carlton Agudosi had 2 catches for 76 yards and Leonte Carroo had 3 grabs for 55 yards.

Rutgers finished the game with 293 yards of offense and went 5 of 15 on third down. They managed just 12 first downs for the game.

Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) have a bye next week before a home date against Minnesota on November 7. Rutgers (3-4, 1-3) will travel to face Wisconsin next week.

Check back next Sunday for a recap of the ninth week of Big Ten action.

2015 Big Ten Week 3 Roundup

Northwestern had a big road win at Duke, but it was not all good for the Big Ten. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)
Northwestern had a big road win at Duke, but it was not all good for the Big Ten. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

2015 Big Ten Week 3 Roundup

The Big Ten opened the season with an 8-6 record in the first week of the season while the conference went 12-2 in the second week headlined by a massive win at home for Michigan State against Oregon. The Big Ten had its first conference game in week 3 with Penn State taking on Rutgers at home.

Illinois Fighting Illini at North Carolina Tar Heels

Result: North Carolina Win 48-14 (Saturday, September 19)

Illinois took a huge step up in competition from their first two games and it showed. They struggled in all phases of the game in a 48-14 blowout loss.

Wes Lunt struggled passing, as he connected on just 15 of 32 passes for 140 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The one bright spot was Josh Ferguson, who ran for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

The defense was horrendous against Marquise Williams, who had 203 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick on 17 of 24 passing. Williams also ran for 105 yards on 9 carries while Elijah Hood had 129 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

Ryan Switzer led the Tar Heels on the special teams front with a nice 85 yard punt return for a touchdown and he also caught 3 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown through the air.

Illinois found out they will need to be far better to contend in the Big Ten West division. They have their final non-conference game next week at home against Middle Tennessee. They will have to fix their big issues in that game before the Big Ten conference schedule begins in October.

South Florida Bulls at Maryland Terrapins

Result: Maryland Win 35-17 (Saturday, September 19)

Maryland fell behind 7-0 early in the game, but they rebounded nicely to end the game on a 35-10 run. It was not always pretty, however, as Caleb Rowe struggled at times behind center. Rowe went 21 of 33 for 297 yards with 4 touchdowns, but also threw 3 interceptions. Two of those picks led to touchdowns for South Florida

Maryland lost running back Wes Brown early in the second quarter due to a targeting call, but Brandon Ross stepped up for 68 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The duo of Levern Jacobs (8 catches for 107 yards) and Taivon Jacobs (2 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown) led the Terps in receiving. Avery Edwards had 3 catches for 36 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The defense looked better and the first touchdown was hardly their fault as the USF offense started at the Maryland four yard line. The Terps did struggle against the run as they allowed 240 yards and a touchdown on 50 carries. However, they allowed only 60 yards and a touchdown through the air to USF, which helped them win this game. Sean Davis picked off two passes for Maryland with his second setting up a touchdown for the offense.

Maryland looked better this week, but they are going to be tested again next week against rival West Virginia with the game in Morgantown.

UNLV Rebels at Michigan Wolverines

Result: Michigan Win 28-7 (Saturday, September 19)

The Wolverines improved to 2-1 on the season, but it was not pretty once again. Jake Rudock went a paltry 14 of 22 for 123 yards with a touchdown an interception. The interception did not lead to anything, but it was Rudock’s fifth of the season – the same amount he threw in all of 2014.

The Michigan running game was strong against UNLV with 39 rushes for 254 yards and 3 touchdowns as a team. Ty Isaac led the way with 114 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. The touchdown came on a nice 76 yard dash to the end zone. Jehu Chesson had one rush that resulted in a 36 yard touchdown while De’Veon Smith was held to 33 yards on 13 carries. Smith did catch a five yard touchdown as well.

The Michigan defense was stout again this week giving up 235 total yards with 143 through the air and 92 on the ground. The defense allowed only 88 yards of offense in the first half while Channing Stribling’s interception on the opening drive allowed the offense to get a head start early on.

Michigan has played well at home the last two weeks and the defense looks particularly stingy. They will have to be really good next week with BYU coming into the Big House.

Air Force Falcons at #4 Michigan State Spartans

Result: Michigan State Win 35-21  (Saturday, September 19)

Michigan State played well in the first half to race out to a big lead over Air Force, but there were some concerns out of this game. One of them was not Connor Cook.

Cook threw for 247 yards and 4 touchdowns on 15 of 23 passing and found a new favorite target in Aaron Burbridge, who had 8 catches for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. R.J. Shelton had a solid game with 5 catches for 68 yards as well. The Spartans did not run the ball well at all with just 77 yards on 42 carries as a team. Madre London was the top rusher with 40 yards on 17 carries.

The defense gave up a lot of yards on the ground to Air Force, which is not really a surprise given the triple option offense they run. What was shocking was the amount of passing yards they gave up. Karson Roberts only went 6 of 9, but had 149 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Several of those completions showed wide open Air Force receivers including two passes to Jalen Robinette, who had no one around him. Considering Robinette is the biggest passing threat for Air Force, that is inexcusable for the Spartans.

The defense did play well for most of the first half as they built a 28-7 lead at the break. Kicker Michael Geiger had a kick blocked late in the second quarter on a low attempt.

Michigan State stays home for their final non-conference game with Central Michigan visiting.

Kent State Golden Flashes at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Result: Minnesota Win 10-7 (Saturday, September 19)

Minnesota struggled mightily against Kent State in a sloppy 10-7 win. Both teams struggled on offense (as if the score was not an indication) with neither team have more than 300 yards of total offense.

Mitch Leidner went 17 of 27 for 184 yards with a touchdown, but also threw 2 interceptions. Both of those picks were in the first half and did not result in points for Kent State. Rodney Smith had a hard time getting big chunks of yards as he finished with 73 yards on 30 carries.

The defense did very well in this game giving up only 142 yards with 63 through the air and 79 on the ground. Incredibly, the Kent State offense did not run a play in Minnesota territory until the fourth quarter.

One Kent State player who deserves a massive shout out is Demetrius Monday. Monday had both of Leidner’s interceptions and also returned a fumble 80 yards for a touchdown. He played incredible during this game.

Minnesota faces Ohio next week at home in their final non-conference game.

#23 Northwestern Wildcats at Duke Blue Devils

Result: Northwestern Win 19-10 (Saturday, September 19)

It was an ugly win for Northwestern on the road at Duke, but all wins count the same. A massive second half from the offense and special teams spurred them to a 3-0 record. The Northwestern offense had only 57 yards on their first nine drives, which encompassed the entire first half. Their first drive of the second half resulted in 53 yards and a field goal.

Clayton Thorson struggled at times and he finished the game going 9 of 23 with just 70 yards through the air. He also had 2 interceptions, both of which were poor decisions with multiple defenders in the area. Justin Jackson ran for 120 yards on 35 carries while Warren Long’s 55 yard touchdown run helped put the Wildcats up for good.

The defense gave up a touchdown early in the first quarter after an interception by Thorson, but they allowed just a field goal the rest of the game. Defensive end Dean Lowry had a big game and picked off a pass with Duke in the red zone late in the second quarter to keep it a 7-0 game. The defense allowed 327 yards of offense to Duke, but did not allow them to get into a rhythm at all during the game.

The special teams were also huge as Solomon Vault took the opening kick of the second half 98 yards to the house. They missed the extra point on the ensuing try, but Jack Mitchell was also two-for-two on his field goal attempts.

The Wildcats continue to be stifling on defense and will face Ball State at home next week.

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Miami Hurricanes

Result: Miami Win 36-33 in 1 overtime (Saturday, September 19)

This was an odd game. Miami looked well on their way to a big win as they led 33-10 early in the fourth quarter. Nebraska made a furious rally to tie the game at 33 and send the game into overtime. However, Nebraska fell short in overtime as they lost 36-33.

Nebraska could not get anything going in the first half as they tallied 137 yards of offense and only three points. Tommy Armstrong had another good game with 309 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions on 21 of 45 passing. He also ran for 49 yards on 11 carries while Terrell Newby had 82 yards on 14 rushes. Armstrong was able to lead Nebraska to 23 fourth quarter points including the game tying drive with an 8 yard pass to Stanley Morgan (had 4 catches for 78 yards and a score) and the 2 point conversion to Jordan Westerkamp (5 receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown).

The defense looked lost early on as they were blitzed in the first quarter with 17 points allowed on Miami’s first three drives. They were better in the fourth quarter as the team made its comeback. The defense allowed 511 yards in this game, but held the Hurricanes to 3 of 14 on third down.

Nebraska will have to find a way to bounce back off a second devastating loss this year and they have Southern Miss next week at home to help.

Northern Illinois Huskies at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Result: Ohio State Win 20-13 (Saturday, September 19)

Ohio State played an ugly game against Northern Illinois, but survived in their bid to win a second straight national title.

The quarterback play was uneven once again with Cardale Jones going 4 of 9 for 36 yards, but also had two interceptions. He was replaced by JT Barrett, who did better, but was also not overwhelming. He went 11 of 19 for 97 yards with 1 touchdown and an interception. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 108 yards on 23 carries while Michael Thomas was the top wide receiver with 3 catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. The Buckeyes put up only 298 yards of offense while they committed five turnovers that led to 10 NIU points. It was an incredibly poor performance and the Buckeyes also went only 2 of 13 on third down.

The defense was strong in this game allowing only 190 yards of offense to NIU with 80 through the air and 110 on the ground. Darron Lee had a 41 yard pick six that ultimately proved to be the game winning score. The defensive line was disruptive as well during the game as the defense bailed out a putrid offensive performance.

Sometimes a team just has to win and survive and that appears to be the case for Ohio State. They have another MAC team next week at home again in Western Michigan.

Virginia Tech Hokies at Purdue Boilermakers

Result: Virginia Tech Win 51-24 (Saturday, September 19)

Purdue had a massive test at home against Virginia Tech and were clearly not up to par, but did show some flashes on offense.

Austin Appleby struggled going 9 of 28 for 110 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Appleby also ran 13 times for only 11 yards, but had a rushing touchdown. Markell Jones had a big day thanks to his 60 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The offense did struggle against the Virginia Tech defense as they only converted 2 of 15 third down conversions and had three turnovers with the fumble being returned for a touchdown by Virginia Tech.

The defense struggled as well giving up 471 yards of offense and allowing 7 of 16 third down conversions to Virginia Tech. The defense did get a 90 yard fumble return for a touchdown via Danny Ezechukwu that gave Purdue a 14-10 lead. The special teams unit had a punt blocked and it was returned for a touchdown by Virginia Tech.

Purdue has another stiff test next week at home against Bowling Green. It will test their defense again with the high-powered Falcons offense.

Troy Trojans at #24 Wisconsin Badgers

Result: Wisconsin Win 28-3 (Saturday, September 19)

The Wisconsin Badgers were without Corey Clement for a second straight game due to a groin injury, but they had little trouble defeating Troy. The score was not flashy, but they were dominant particularly on defense.

Joel Stave was very efficient going 13 of 17 for 202 yards and a touchdown while also having a rushing touchdown from 4 yards out. Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale split carries in the absence of Clement. Deal led the team with 84 yards on 16 carries while Ogunbowale had 75 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Tanner McEvoy saw some action at quarterback in the wildcat and he had a nice 32 yard touchdown run to finish the day with 41 yards on 2 carries.

Alex Erickson was the leading receiver with 3 catches for 87 yards while Robert Wheelwright had 2 grabs for 50 yards. Tight End Austin Traylor had 2 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown with both of those catches coming late in the fourth quarter. The offense will need to work on the 3 for 10 on third down conversions, but there was more signs of life on the offensive line and in the running game.

The defense was stout with only 255 yards of offense given up. They held Troy to 81 yards rushing on 33 carries and 174 yards passing through the air. The defense forced only one turnover and allowed 7 of 16 on third down conversions. Overall, the defense was very good in this game.

Wisconsin has Hawaii next week at home in their final non-conference tune up.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Indiana Hoosiers

Result: Indiana Win 38-35 (Saturday, September 19)

Indiana had a massive third quarter that allowed them to win another shootout. They survived a 35 of 46 for 484 yards and 3 touchdowns passing performance from Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty.

The offense looked good for Indiana as Nate Sudfeld threw for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns on 20 of 27 passing. Jordan Howard ran wild with 203 yards on 31 carries and Devine Redding had 79 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Ricky Jones had his second 100 yard performance of the season with 5 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. The offense finished with 639 yards and went 8 of 12 on third down.

As usual, the defense is the worry for Indiana. They allowed 9 catches for 196 yards and a score from Taywan Taylor while Tyler Higbee had 11 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. They allowed a total of 568 yards of offense, but did force two interceptions out of Doughty that were turned into 14 points.

It will probably need to be the offense that gets the job done for Indiana as their defense will struggle. They face Wake Forest next week on the road in a big game for Indiana’s bowl hopes in 2015.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Penn State Nittany Lions

Result: Penn State Win 28-3 (Saturday, September 19)

The first Big Ten conference game of the season resulted in an easy win for the Nittany Lions. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was not overly impressive going just 10 of 19 for 141 yards with no touchdowns and a pick, but the rushing game sure was for PSU.

Saquon Barkley carried the ball 21 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns while Akeel Lynch ran for 120 yards and a score on just 10 carries. Those two were very impressive as was the offensive line that paved the way for them.

Rutgers, on the other hand, could not run the ball as they managed just 43 yards on 32 carries as a team. Chris Laviano had a little success through the air, but was largely stymied by the Penn State defense. Laviano finished 27 of 42 for 251 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Rutgers defense was not very good as they allowed 491 yards to Penn State.

Rutgers faces Kansas next week in their third non-conference game. Penn State takes on San Diego State at home next week.

Pittsburgh Panthers at Iowa Hawkeyes

Result: Iowa Win 27-24 (Saturday, September 19)

I was able to take a 10 point lead into halftime, but needed a last second, 57 yard field goal from Marshall Koehn to win the game 27-24.

C.J. Beathard had a decent game going 27 of 40 for 258 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. It largely fell on him to get the big plays as the rushing offense managed 105 yards on 29 carries. Jordan Canzeri had 12 carries for 49 yards and 2 scores while Beathard had 39 yards and a touchdown. Beathard led the Hawkeyes late in the game to set up Koehn’s 57 yard field goal.

The defense played a solid game giving up 282 yards and held the Panthers to just 55 yards on the ground. They forced two picks from Pittsburgh on their first two drives including one in the end zone. Desmond King came up with both of the interceptions and now has three on the season. The defense will be important for Iowa to continue strong start.

North Texas will visit next week in Iowa’s final non-conference game.

Check back next week for the round up of the Big Ten action in week four.

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.