We can finally take a small break from talking about recruiting since most schools had their commits signing their letters of intent yesterday and faxing them in. Michigan held a party for coming in second in Big Ten recruiting while everyone else was just “business as usual.” Ric Flair told everyone how he hates Ohio State and Michigan State. It’s okay, Ric, I would hate the teams my favorite team can’t beat either.
Speaking of beating teams, let’s look into the MotSaG crystal ball and look ahead to this fall with early predictions on how it very will fall out. Buckeyes are the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten and here are my reasons why:
Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State Buckeyes fell short of their goals for the 2015 campaign. The reasons will be debated for generations but bottom line everyone as a team fell short. The Buckeyes will start this summer without a bunch of key pieces from one of the best senior classes in the history of college football (50-4) and nine underclassmen bolting for the NFL. There are also some coaching changes, like co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash going to Rutgers as their new head coach. Greg Schiano was brought on to replace him, Greg Studrawa taking over the offensive line coaching duties so co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner can be up in the box. (A place he proved the last two games last season he needs to be.)
Offensively, the Buckeyes will only have two starters on the offensive line but have studs waiting in the wings. The offense lost RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Michael Thomas, and Jalin Marshall to the riches of the NFL. J.T. Barrett will be under center and the final two games of the season showed that he will probably be back to the 2014 Heisman candidate numbers he had. Wide receivers Noah Brown and Corey Smith bring experience with them for Barrett. The question is will Curtis Samuel be the every down back or Mike Weber.
Defensively, the Scarlet and Gray take huge hits with the losses of DE Joey Bosa, CB Eli Apple, S Tyvis Powel and Vonn Bell, linebacker duo of Darron Lee and Joshua Perry (graduated). Let us not forget the coaching change. The key for Buckeyes besides players like LB Raekwon McMillan and CB Gareon Conley is they don’t reload they rebuild. Head coach Urban Meyer will have this team focused on the biggest of prizes again. Coming in with another Top 5 recruiting class.
Folks in Ann Arbor are riding a high after failing to unseat the Buckeyes again. They signed 29 players to help bring some talent to the team falling short of even beating Ohio State on National Signing Day. The Michigan Wolverines are lead by a coach more know for his antics and pants than wins in big games. He has two Pioneer conference championships, a NFC Championship ring, along with an Orange and Citrus Bowl. Shows that with the his bowl wins I’m biased and sour on the fact folks think he’s better than a man who has three national championships, three Power 5 conference championships (does not include division titles) and a 9-2 bowl record.
Jim Harbaugh did do something right and a big thing with hiring Don Brown away from Boston College. The Eagles had one of the top defenses in the nation last season. The Wolverines have been know for their defense and this will strike fear in opposing offensive coordinators throughout the league. The main issue for them last season was injuries and running out of gas. With more talent on the way this defense will be the most feared after this next season
assuming Harbaugh stays, but they are at least one more season away from being the “it” team like Ohio State or Michigan State.
Offensively the main question will be who is going to be the signal caller. The offensive line still needs an upgrade but the future looks bright. Harbaugh is patterning his style after Bo Schembechler
another coach with zero national championships worshiped in Ann Arbor with a strong run game and former Buckeye commit Kareem Walker is hoping to see the field early.
Michigan State Spartans
Mark Dantonio is going to have his Michigan State Spartans competing for another Big Ten Championship. You don’t have three consecutive years of finishing in the Top 5 to Top 10 of the nation and not continue to. Sparty had a great 2015 its only loss to Nebraska. They enjoyed their first trip to the playoffs, however, with an embarrassing loss to Alabama.
The Spartans will be taking a big loss with quarterback Connor Cook graduating along with the offensive line taking some hits. Who takes over for Cook? Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry both will be competing and they both played against Ohio State in 2015 coming away with a win.
Their secondary and linebacker corp should be improved barring injuries that seem to have plagued them last year. Their defensive line has to replace three big pieces for the 2016 season. The Spartans are never a slouch on defense (unless they play on New Years Eve apparently) so next season will be interesting. Buckeyes visit East Lansing with the road team seeming to be the victorious one.
Penn State Nittany Lions
James Franklin landed himself on the hot seat withPenn State fans and alum. 2016 looks like a rebuilding year from the outside. The offensive line has been offensive, they have to replace their quarterback with Sackenburg running to NFL for protection. Franklin lost his defensive coordinator to the SEC but have promoted from within so they know the system and players. PSU defense has been a top defense also but the problems on offense have been to big to ignore. They will be bringing in a better recruiting class by the current numbers than Sparty but Dantonio is a better coach than Franklin.
The Indiana Hoosiers have signed Kevin Jones to a contract extension. They have some key pieces coming back offensively but that isn’t their biggest issue. Indiana can’t stop anyone on offense and until Jones learns how to it can be another six years of the same thing: wash, rinse and repeat.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Sure the Rutgers Scarlet Knights made a great hire in Chris Ash. There are too many problems to fix for this rabid fan base. Their time isn’t now, but hopefully Ash will build this team into something that Rutgers fans can be in their seats before the kickoff
so they can get rid of that got aweful train whistle and stay for the whole game. “Shoot the cannon”
The Maryland Terripeans themselves made a great hire convincing D.J. Durkin to run the program. Having some Big Ten experience and having worked with Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh should be great for their future. The thing is their future isn’t this upcoming season, there was a reason the previous head coach was let go.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are the Jekyll and Hyde of the Big Ten. Last season picked to win the conference by many fell way short. This season they surprised everyone by playing how they were suppose to. They have a lot of key pieces coming back offensively that is if they are found wandering around the Rose Bowl and returned home. Quarteback C.J. Beathard will be back to lead the Hawkeyes with corner Desmond King who looks like he can be one of the best in the nation.
What a crazy season for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. What started the season with wild crazy losses watched them turn around and finish 3-1 in the last month of the season. It appears the players are buying into Mike Riley’s system. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is a huge piece coming back to Lincoln. They lose their top fullback and two offensive lineman. They will be a formidable foe but they need to figure out how to play defense. The land of the Black Shirts surely has proven they are far from that. Nebraska figures out how to stop opponents from scoring they can become dangerous.
The Wisconsin Badgers have been know for big lineman and running the ball down your throat. Since they were destroyed 59-0 in the 2014 Big Ten championship game they lost a head coach, along with their way, it appears. The irony is they hired Paul Chryst who is extremely experienced with the way the program is suppose to run. Yes, injuries played a role, but years past there have been more than one running back to scare an opponent. Quarterback Joel Stave is finally gone so who replaces him? If Stave was your first and best choice, how good is the next one on the list? The loss of the defensive soul with Michael Caputo graduating is a major one to overcome. Can they recover in Madison having to play possibly the toughest schedule in the conference.
Northwestern Wildcats had a very successful season in 2015. Clayton Thorson returns under center with one of the leagues best running backs Justin Jackson. Thorson needs some targets to throw to becasue in this conference you cannot win being one sided. Defensively the Wildcats were pretty good last season but they have to replace both defensive ends and will have two holes in their secondary.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
This Minnesota Gopher is officially Tracy Claeys team. He has basically been running the team on and off while working with Jerry Kills but since Kills had to step away it allowed Caeys the opportunity that the school recognized he deserved. Last season the biggest problem for the Gophers was an offensive offense. Quarterback Mitch Lidner returns but needs more weapons around him to flourish. He will have new assistant coaches around to help plus they will have a new coach calling the offensive plays. Claeys know he needs to focus on the defensive side for 2016 season. They will be basically replacing the secondary.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Lets face it there are way too many issues going on in Champaign. Left from the fallout from last year’s mess, but they are still trying to sort out everything on the campus with new leadership.
Darrell Hazell needs to get this Purdue team turned around. Being on the hot seat and not getting much of a recruiting class is the wrong direction he and the Boilermakers want to go.
Ohio State over Iowa in Big Ten Championship