Big Ten Preview: Expert Predictions
Which team will reign supreme in the Big Ten -- Ohio State or Michigan State? And how will Maryland and Rutgers do in their first year in the league? Our staff breaks it all down in the Big Ten preview for 2014.
Offensive player of the year: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State. This became clear when Braxton Miller said he wasn't going to run as much, Michigan State will win with balance and Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah will cancel each other out. Hackenberg amazes me for a) honoring his commitment despite 'you know what' and b) staying after Bill O'Brien left. The last time James Franklin had a quarterback this good, he was tutoring future NFLer Josh Freeman at K-State. Hackenberg and Penn State will thrive under their new coach.
Defensive player of the year: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State. The fulcrum of the nation's No. 2 defense returns. Despite the loss of corner Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough and leading tackler Denicos Allen, Shilique The Freak (7.5 sacks) will form quite an edge tandem with senior Marcus Rush.
Top newcomer: Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan. The nation's No. 1 recruit (by some services) has game (smooth YouTube rap video) and game (one of the top prospects ever out of New Jersey). Peppers' abs are more exciting than anything Brady Hoke has on offense at the moment. The quicker Peppers becomes the next Charles Woodson, the better.
Coach of the year: Urban Meyer, Ohio State. Coming off a two-game losing streak that ended a 24-game winning streak, Meyer and the Buckeyes are determined to prove Michigan State's championship was a one off. Urb is supremely motivated going into Year 3 without a Big Ten title.
Most underrated team: Nebraska. When was the last time six consecutive nine-win seasons put a coach on the hot seat? Aside from a quarterback who needs some seasoning (Tommy Armstrong), the Huskers have the goods to take the East (weaker of the two reconfigured divisions). Bo Pelini has loosened up to the point that a 10-win season - finally! - seems likely.
Most overrated team: Iowa. I keep reading how the Hawks could win their first 10 -- except that has never happened in the history of Iowa football. Kirk Ferentz will have a fine season coming off a rebound eight-win 2013 but 9-3 is probably the ceiling in 2014.
Most intriguing conference game: Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8. For all the marbles in the East.
Most intriguing non-conference game: Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6. A good old-fashioned intersectional with an epic clash of philosophies. Blur vs. Blocking Sleds.
Bold conference prediction: The Big Ten will have a team in the playoff, its first playing for a championship since the 2006 season (Ohio State vs. Florida in BCS title game).
Offensive player of the year: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. If he stays healthy and the promise of a polished passer is real, Miller will outdistance Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon in this race.
Defensive player of the year: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska. The Big Ten has two premier pass rushers in Gregory and Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun, but expect Gregory to get a slight numbers edge. Too much range, too much speed.
Top newcomer: Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois. A naturally gifted passer in Bill Cubit's offense should inject hope in Illini faithful. If Tim Beckman can fix the defense in year 3, Illinois could have something. Lunt is expected to elevate an unproven receiving corps.
Most overrated team: Penn State. I've seen the Nittany Lions projected for as many as 10 wins, but Franklin seems a year away from shaking up the Big Ten anywhere else but the recruiting trail. The roster is talented but thin because of scholarship reductions.
Most underrated team: Maryland. Best receiving group in the Big Ten, experienced quarterback, fourth year in Randy Edsall's system, reputable defense -- all reasons why the Terps might slide into the top three in the Big Ten East division. The Big Ten could use a lift from one of its two new members.
Most intriguing conference game: Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8. The Buckeyes are trying to get those two lost yards back -- and then some. Both could be unbeaten in conference play by early November. The Buckeyes' revamped defense must disrupt Connor Cook somehow.
Most intriguing nonconference game: Oregon-Michigan State, Sept. 6. Both can smash defenses with the running game but do so with different styles. Whether the Ducks' misdirection can fluster the Spartans' vaunted D will captivate in Week 2.
Bold conference prediction: Nebraska gets the breakthrough Bo Pelini -- and his restless fans -- have waited for, somehow pulling off the Big Ten championship over Michigan State or Ohio State. Cornhuskers win a tight West race over Wisconsin and Iowa.
Offensive player of the year: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. If Miller is truly healthy, this is the season he and Urban Meyer click at a new level. Nov. 8 at Michigan State could be Miller's marquee game to win the Heisman Trophy.
Defensive player of the year: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State. All he does is make big plays. Last year, Calhoun had 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries (with two for scores), two forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown.
Top newcomer: Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan. Brady Hoke correctly says "we've got to be careful about anointing any true freshmen starting their college career." Will Hoke let Peppers play some on offense or keep him strictly at cornerback as a freshman?
Coach of the Year: Urban Meyer, Ohio State. It's often easy to overlook coaches who consistently win big. Meyer falls into that category. He spent much of the offseason revamping the Buckeyes' awful pass defense that contributed to their two losses in 2013.
Most overrated team: Wisconsin. Given the Badgers' recent track record, it's fair to give them some preseason love. But No. 14 in the coaches poll may be a tad too high given that they return only three starters on defense.
Most underrated team: Maryland. The recent track record (three ACC wins, bowl loss to Marshall in 2013) suggests the Terps will struggle in the Big Ten's more difficult division. But they're returning an awful lot of experienced players, including wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who will become one of the Big Ten's elite players.
Most intriguing conference game: Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8. The Big Ten's two best teams can no longer meet in the conference championship game so Nov. 8 could decide the Big Ten title. The Spartans have a bye the week before this clash, which Mark Dantonio calls a "big chip game" if his team takes care of business before Nov. 8.
Most intriguing nonconference game: Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6. The Big Ten is 8-25 against ranked Power 5 nonconference opponents since 2010. This is the kind of tough nonconference game the Big Ten needs to win more of again to change its national reputation.
Bold conference prediction: Maryland -- yes, Maryland -- will win at least one road game it shouldn't at either Wisconsin, Penn State or Michigan. If the Brady Hoke era is floundering to an end, the Terps could steal a win at the Big House on Nov. 22.
Offensive player of the year: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. Last season was a disappointment for Miller at the beginning (injury) and the end (loss to MSU). He plans on erasing all that this year.
Defensive player of the year: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska. Led the Big Ten in sacks a year ago and may be the career leader when he's done.
Top newcomer: Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan. He's too athletic to keep off the field, even if coach Brady Hoke isn't ready to anoint him yet, but he's more likely to have an impact as a returner than as a corner.
Coach of the year: Urban Meyer, Ohio State. If the Buckeyes win the league and make the playoffs, as predicted, this is a no-brainer.
Most overrated team: Northwestern. The Wildcats schedule may make it hard for them to live up to preseason expectations. They have most of their 50-50 games on the road.
Most underrated team: Penn State. The Nittany Lions need to stay healthy because they aren't deep, but they have a schedule that sets them up for a better-than-expected year.
Most intriguing conference game: Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8. Last year, this was the title game. This year, it will likely decide the East division. The Buckeyes look for revenge, but have to hit the road to get it.
Most intriguing nonconference game: Wisconsin vs LSU, Aug. 30. Right off the bat, the Badgers get a chance to make a statement for the league against the almighty SEC.
Bold conference prediction: Even with two more teams added to the roster, the league will fail to fill its nine bowl commitments.
Offensive player of the year: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. He's the most exciting player in the Big Ten, hands down. As long as he stays healthy, with his talent, and the system he's playing in, he's going to have a huge season.
|Big Ten All-Conference|
|QB||Braxton Miller||Sr.||Ohio State|
|TE||Jeff Heuerman||Sr.||Ohio State|
|DE||Shilique Calhoun||Jr.||Michigan State|
|DE||Joey Bosa||Soph.||Ohio State|
|DT||Michael Bennett||Sr.||Ohio State|
|LB||Mike Hull||Sr.||Penn State|
|LB||Chi Chi Ariguzo||Sr.||Northwestern|
|CB||Trae Waynes||Jr.||Michigan State|
|S||Kurtis Drummond||Sr.||Michigan State|
|K||Michael Geiger||Soph.||Michigan State|
|P||Cameron Johnston||Soph.||Ohio State|
Defensive player of the year: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State. Calhoun had 7.5 sacks last season, but that alone doesn't quite show his impact as a pass rusher. It's the 18 QB hurries that did. He's entering his junior season and he'll take another step forward while playing on the best defense in the conference.
Top newcomer: Jeff Jones, RB, Minnesota. Jones is a four-star running back coming into a system that should be perfect for him. Odds are good that he'll end up splitting time with David Cobb in a Minnesota offense that threw only 20 times per game last season, and Jones may end up becoming the lead back.
Coach of the year: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. Pretty simple reason for this pick: I have Iowa winning the West Division. If it happens, Ferentz will win the award.
Most overrated team: Wisconsin. I certainly understand why so many people pick Wisconsin to win the West, as picking Wisconsin to win its division usually pays off, but this is a team with only three returning starters on defense, and none in the front seven. Wisconsin won't be bad, as its offense is still strong, but it's going to hit a few bumps in the road.
Most underrated team: Penn State. The Big Ten media has Penn State finishing fourth in the East this season, and I look at this team and see top three at least. There are questions on the offensive line, and Allen Robinson is gone, but Christian Hackenberg is only going to improve after a strong freshman season, and the Nittany Lions have a somewhat favorable schedule this season getting both Ohio State and Michigan State in Happy Valley.
Most intriguing conference game: Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8. Right now Michigan State has replaced Michigan in the order of importance for Ohio State. There's a very good chance that the winner of this game will go to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten title.
Most intriguing nonconference game: Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6. How good will this year's Michigan State defense be? Well, we'll get a good indication of that when it travels to Eugene to face Marcus Mariota and company during the second week of the season.
Bold conference prediction: Illinois will make a bowl game. In the last three seasons Illinois has gone 3-21 in Big Ten play, but as terrible as it's been, there are reasons for optimism this year. Former Oklahoma State QB Wes Lunt is now in charge of the offense, a young defense that was beaten up last year is now a year older and stronger, and the home schedule is very favorable. Illinois isn't going to win a lot of games, but it should manage to get six.
Offensive player of the year: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. Remember when Miller was the offseason favorite for the 2013 Heisman? Given his relatively low profile during this offseason, it seems longer ago than that, but he's still the same electrifying dual threat he's always been -- and if he stays healthy and the Buckeyes make good on their Big Ten favorite status, he could make the trophy push he was supposed to make last year.
Defensive player of the year: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. He's still a sophomore, but when you convert ten starts into 44 tackles, 7.5 sacks and six tackles-for-loss as a freshman -- and the rest of your outrageously good linemates ensure you can't be double-teamed -- just being young isn't going to be enough to keep expectations in check.
Top newcomer: Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan. Secondary wasn't the biggest of Michigan's issues -- and no, Peppers won't feature on the offensive line -- but every indication is that the five-star from New Jersey will force his way into the lineup from Day 1, and like Vernon Hargeaves for Florida in 2013, become a game-changing star from the first snap. A Myles Jackian offensive cameo for an offense that could use a playmaking spark could make his impact even larger.
Coach of the year: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. The old dog didn't exactly have any new tricks in leading the Hawkeyes to a quietly impressive 8-4 regular season mark a year ago -- strong running game, sound defense, same as it ever was -- and they won't be necessary in 2014, either, with a schedule that misses the top four teams in the East and brings Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern all to Kinnick.
Most overrated team: Nebraska. The Huskers' four losses in 2013 came by a combined 65 points, their four wins over bowl-bound teams by a combined 15. In short: Bo Pelini's bunch weren't quite as good as their record, and though a kind home schedule means their 2014 mark might stay the same, an equally brutal road slate means they're very likely not good enough to challenge for the West title.
Most underrated team: Michigan. The Wolverines have to visit both Michigan State and Ohio State, keeping their odds of winning the East low, but they might still be the third-best team in the league. A healthy Jake Ryan and a loaded secondary should give Greg Mattison his best defense yet, and going from Al Borges to Doug Nussmeier might be the biggest offensive coaching upgrade in the FBS. If the offensive line has a pulse, 10 wins will be in play.
Most intriguing conference game: Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8. It might not be the Big Ten championship game, but it'll probably decide the league title all the same. Whatever the runner-up in this category is, it's not close.
Most intriguing nonconference game: Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6. No Max Bullough, no Darqueze Dennard, no Denicos Allen, no Isaiah Lewis. If the Spartans are poised for a dropoff on defense, we won't have to wait long to find out, with the Ducks waiting in Autzen for a Week 2 showdown that should tell us a ton about both teams.
Bold conference prediction: Indiana will make a bowl game. The Hoosiers were nine yards away in 2013, coming up short vs. Minnesota in a 42-39 loss that would have sent them to the postseason. With an even more explosive offense and an under-new-management defense that simply cannot be as terrible as it was last season, it should finally happen for Kevin Wilson.
Offensive player of the year: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. Gordon steps up in the No. 1 role with high expectations and a hope to overcome a late-season slump from 2013. With a lack of proven receiving options, Gordon will have a chance to put up some impressive numbers.
Defensive player of the year: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State. Ohio State's defensive line is going to be so much fun to watch this season. Bennett will be the star and make it count with the eyes of the NFL watching.
Top newcomer: Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan. He's got all the physical tools to make an impact early, and Brady Hoke has no reason to keep talent that like that on sidelines in a must-win year.
Coach of the year: Urban Meyer, Ohio State. Meyer did not get the coach of the year nod the first or second time the Buckeyes finished 12-0 in the regular season -- Bill O'Brien in 2012 and Mark Dantonio in 2013. If Ohio State wins the Big Ten, Meyer should have some hardwood coming his way.
Most overrated team: Wisconsin. The Badgers have a lot of reloading to do on defense for how casually they are being penciled in at the top of the Big Ten.
Most underrated team: Maryland. You like Maryland because of Stefon Diggs, but 12th-year quarterback C.J. Brown and a strong defense led by Andre Monroe will be the reason the Terps are bowling in year one of B1G play.
Most intriguing conference game: Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8. The Buckeyes haven't lost a conference game under Urban Meyer, but the loss to the Spartans in 2013 quickly erased the shine of 24-0. Ohio State has to get its revenge in East Lansing, making this game one of the biggest of the year.
Most intriguing nonconference game: Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6. Ohio State and Oregon don't run the same offense, but facing the Ducks in Eugene will be a good test for the defending Big Ten champs.
Bold conference prediction: Ohio State will challenge Michigan State for best defense in the league. This prediction falls apart if the pass defense doesn’t take a step forward with some experience and a change in coordinator, but Ohio State has the best defensive line in the league and Raekwon McMillan could step in and become a difference-maker at the second level.
|Big Ten Predicted Order of Finish|
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