Five Predictions For The Big 10 Conference In 2016
The 2016 College Football season is less a week away as Hawaii and California kick off on next week in Sydney, Australia. Below are five predictions for Big Ten Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.
There are no changes to the teams for the Big Ten Conference as the fourteen teams remain the same and are split into East and West Divisions. The seven teams in the East Division are Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers. The seven teams in the West Division are Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
The one change that will occur in 2016 is each team will now play nine conference games instead of eight and teams will no longer feature FCS opponents on their schedules going forward. There are plenty of FCS opponents on this year’s schedule in the opening weeks, however.
Here are five predictions for the Big Ten Conference in 2016:
1. Indiana will play in their second consecutive bowl game – The Hoosiers went 6-7 last year with a close loss in the highly entertaining Pinstripe Bowl against Duke 44-41. Now, Indiana will look to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since the 1990 and 1991 seasons.
The offense has six starters back, but will lose both quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard. Howard was hobbled with injuries in 2015, which allowed Devine Redding to get some big reps (finished with 1,012 yards and 9 touchdowns). Redding is back as are the top three receivers in Simmie Cobbs (60 catches for 1,035 yards and 4 touchdowns), Ricky Jones (54 catches for 905 yards and 5 touchdowns), and Mitchell Paige (57 catches for 684 yards and 6 touchdowns). No matter who wins the quarterback battle, they will have plenty of options to go to.
The defense took a step back in 2015 when they allowed 37.6 points and 509 yards per game. That was worse than 2014 when they gave up 32.8 pints and 434 yards per game. There are seven starters back, including the top five tacklers in 2015, along with a new defensive coordinator in Tom Allen (from South Florida). The numbers in 2016 should look more like 2014 than 2015 and possibly better than 2014.
The schedule is favorable for Indiana to reach another bowl game. They open on the road against Florida International before back-to-back home games against Ball State and Wake Forest with a 3-0 record looking likely. They do have a daunting Big Ten schedule to start: Michigan State (home), Ohio State (road), Nebraska (home), and Northwestern (road). The back part is much easier with Maryland (home), Rutgers (away), Penn State (home), Michigan (away), and Purdue (home). Wins against Maryland, Rutgers, and Purdue would give them six wins. Indiana might need an upset along the way if they stumble, but they are capable of getting it.
2. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson will lead the conference in rushing – Justin Jackson deserves to be in the upper echelon of running backs in the nation, but he is rarely mentioned with the best. In 2015, he finished second in the conference with 1,418 yards rushing behind only Ezekiel Elliott who had 1,821 yards on the ground.
Consider this: Jackson alone averaged 109 yards per game in 2015 while the Northwestern passing attack average 139 per game. Jackson had little help with the passing attack, was the main focal point of the offense (and conversely the main focal point for the defense), and still ran for over 100 yards per game.
The passing attack should be better in Clayton Thorson’s second season. He lost some playmakers in the receiving corps (Christian Jones, Dan Vitale, Miles Shuler), but the numbers will be better as long as he has progressed. Jackson will face Western Michigan, Illinois State, and Duke in his first three games while playing Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois in the final three games. Northwestern also faces Indiana in the middle of the season. As long as he stays healthy, Jackson should have a big year.
3. Wisconsin will not win 10 games – No prediction hurts more to make than this one. As a Wisconsin fan and someone who attended the school, it is always tough to make a prediction like this. But reality is too stark to ignore.
The Badgers lost defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, which is a huge loss. His defense never allowed more than 305 yards per game for a season, nor did they allow more than 21 points per contest over the course of a season. They get Justin Wilcox as a replacement from USC and he will have six starters to work with on defense. Wilcox is a solid guy as a DC, but he is not quite on the same level as Aranda.
The schedule is brutal for Wisconsin. They open with LSU (and face Aranda) in Green Bay before getting Akron and Georgia State at home. In Conference, they run a buzz saw from the start with Michigan State AND Michigan both at on the road. After a bye week they face Ohio State at home, Iowa on the road, Nebraska at home, and Northwestern on the road. They close out the season with Illinois (home), Purdue (away), and Minnesota (home). That is a demanding schedule to reach 10 wins, but I will still be hoping this prediction is wrong.
4. The winner of The Game will make the College Football Playoffs – This is a cop-out for having to pick the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game. It is really tough to pick a winner of that game because it does look like a pretty even game (though Ohio State does have a slight edge being at home as well as having won four in a row and 11 of the last 12 games). It looks likely that whichever team wins the Michigan-Ohio State game will be in the College Football Playoffs.
This prediction looks solid but there are some hurdles that need to be cleared. First, Michigan State plays both Michigan and Ohio State at home this season. Ohio State also faces Oklahoma on the road September 17 as well as Wisconsin and Penn State on the road in back-to-back games in October (15 and 22). The next two games after PSU are Northwestern and Nebraska at home before they end with Michigan State (road) and Michigan (home).
Michigan has a schedule that sets them up well this year, but there are a few challenging games. Like OSU, they play Penn State and Wisconsin in back-to-back games, but both are at home. They do have some possible trap games as well. After Michigan State on the road (Oct. 29), they play Maryland at home (Nov. 5) and then face Iowa on the road (Nov. 12). In between Iowa and Ohio State (Nov. 26) they have Indiana at home (Nov. 19). The Wolverines should handily win those games against Maryland and Indiana, but they cannot take those games lightly given their next opponent.
Looking at Ohio State and Michigan, they are the two best teams in the Big Ten. Michigan State might have something to say about that and even if either the Buckeyes or Wolverines win the Big Ten East, they still have to take care of business in the Big Ten Championship Game, which has proven to be a tough hurdle in the past for teams in position to make the Playoffs or National Championship.
5. Iowa will be pushed to the brink by North Dakota State – If this game were held in the Fargodome, this would be a prediction for an outright NDSU win. But then again, Iowa would not be scheduling a road game against an FCS opponent and FCS opponents will be a thing of the past for Big Ten teams in the near future.
North Dakota State will be going to Iowa City on September 17 in Iowa’s third game of the year. It is sandwiched between Iowa State (home) and the Big Ten opener against Rutgers (away). North Dakota State is the five time FCS National Champion, but their record against FBS teams is outstanding. They are 8-3 overall and have won five in a row against Kansas (6-3 in 2010), Minnesota (37-24 in 2011), Colorado State (22-7 in 2012), Kansas State (24-21 in 2013), and Iowa State (34-14 in 2014).
NDSU has a well known blueprint to beating teams: a strong rushing attack and offense that eats up the time of possession and a very good defense. Iowa boasts a strong defense as well, which could lead to a defensive game. If North Dakota State can grind out long possessions, they can make this game way too close for comfort and possibly pull off the upset.
The Prediction Schedule
With the Big Ten predictions above, predictions have been made for every conference with the exception of the SEC. Those predictions will be made next Saturday, August 27. Below are links to each of the conference predictions completed.
July 17 – FBS Independents
July 17 – Sun Belt
July 23 – C-USA
July 24 – MAC
July 30 – American Athletic
July 31 – Mountain West
August 7 – Big 12
August 13 – Atlantic Coast
August 14 – Pac-12
August 20 – Big Ten
August 27 – SEC