Is it college football season yet? The 2017 campaign cannot come fast enough.
For the Big Ten specifically, they begin play on August 31 when Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio State toe the field for the first time. In fact, the Hoosiers and Buckeyes open the season against each other in Bloomington that Thursday night… what? Why? Doesn’t matter. FOOBAW!
Time for a crash course on the Big Ten. Who are the favorites? How about other notable contenders? And who are the sleepers? All of those will be answered momentarily, from east to west.
The Buckeyes appear, once again, to be the favorite to win the East Division, albeit not by much. They unload and reload talent every year as good as any other team in the country. And after seeing seven more selections in this year’s NFL Draft, they bring in a top-2 recruiting class. Hard to find coaches that recruit and develop better than Urban Meyer.
It’s an intriguing schedule for OSU. They season opener, a conference game at Indiana, presents itself for a possible trap game right off the bat. They also host Oklahoma and Penn State. Potential slip-ups along the way are road games at Nebraska and at Michigan.
But bottom line, Ohio State appears to have the fewest questions entering the season.
Penn State probably poses the biggest threat to Ohio State. The defending Big Ten champions bring back a dynamic duo of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, perhaps the best tandem in the conference.
Scheduling wise, in addition to the trip to Columbus, their West Division crossover games include visits to Iowa and Northwestern, could be a challenge. But the meeting with the Buckeyes on October 28, could decide the East Division.
As for Michigan, after seeing more draft selections than any other school, they have to virtually replace their entire defense, along with some key weapons on offense. But if anyone can plug in new bodies and get them to excel right away, it’s head coach Jim Harbaugh.
There’s a lot of important games for what is sure to be a young Wolverines bunch, starting with the season opener in Arlington vs. Florida. They also travel to Penn State and Wisconsin, and host Ohio State.
Use the term “sleeper” loosely here, it’s a top-heavy East Division in the Big Ten. But if you’re looking for a dark horse program to perhaps shake things up, give Maryland some consideration.
Head coach D.J. Durkin has the Terps back on the rise, it would appear. They got back to a bowl game in 2016 after a dreadful 3-9 season the year prior. There’s reason to be optimistic in College Park, a lot of it having to do with having the fourth-best recruiting class in the Big Ten (behind only the three programs mentioned above) and 12 returning starters from a year ago.
Maryland gets Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State all at home, with road games at Ohio State and at Wisconsin. They also get an early measuring stick contest at Texas to open the year. It wouldn’t be entirely out of the realm of possibility to see Maryland rack up 7-8 wins in 2017.
The Badgers won 10+ games a year ago, ho-hum. It was the eighth time in the last 12 years they reached double-digits in the win column. They’re about as steady as they come and that should be the case in 2017.
One can safely predict improved development from quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who will have experienced weapons Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli at his disposal. And any fan of Big Ten football knows that Wisconsin is predominantly a “ground n’ pound, hit em’ hard” team, they epitomize what Big Ten football has been traditionally for years. Oh, and they return 17 of 22 starters on offense and defense.
The Badgers stick out as the favorite partly due to their schedule. They avoid playing Ohio State and Penn State in division crossover games, and get Michigan at home. Their toughest tests appear to be at Minnesota and at Nebraska, as well as at BYU. But like Ohio State, they have the fewest questions/concerns.
So this part of the West Division will be a serious logjam. All of them have legitimate chances to take down Wisconsin, but what about their other 11 games?
IOWA: Road games at Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin. That alone is a tough ask, even for a team returning 15 starters.
MINNESOTA: Should be one of the more intriguing teams this year, with P.J. Fleck taking over. They host Nebraska and Wisconsin, but travel to Iowa, Northwestern and a crossover at Michigan. Circle that game.
NEBRASKA: Similar boat to Minnesota, a lot of key games to make a statement. Their biggest point in the season are back-to-back games at home vs. Ohio State and Nebraska. But they also have consecutive road games at Minnesota and Penn State in November.
NORTHWESTERN: The Wildcats seem to be the sexy pick early on. They’ll be tested early with intriguing games vs. Nevada and at Duke, plus road games at Wisconsin and Nebraska. But a number of important ‘swing’ games are at home (IOWA, MSU, MINN)
It’s hard to map out routes for either Illinois or Purdue to make some noise in the West Division, simply due to the other five teams being better than them. They’ll trip up some teams here or there along the way, but it’d be a real shock to see them flirting with a division crown.
Stay focused on that quartet of contenders above. Ultimately, I see them all beating up on each other and Wisconsin prevailing as the superior in the West, defending their title from a year ago.
- Ohio State | 12-0 (9-0 Big Ten)
- Penn State | 11-1 (8-1)
- Michigan | 9-3 (6-3)
- Michigan State | 7-5 (4-5)
- Maryland | 6-6 (4-5)
- Indiana | 5-7 (2-7)
- Rutgers | 3-9 (1-8)
- Wisconsin | 10-2 (8-1)
- Nebraska | 8-4 (5-4)
- Northwestern | 8-4 (5-4)
- Iowa | 7-5 (4-5)
- Minnesota | 6-6 (3-6)
- Illinois | 5-7 (3-6)
- Purdue | 1-11 (0-9)