Big Ten East: 2015 Preview
The old joke used to be this conference was actually the Big Two & Little Eight.
Now, with the Power Five's new math, it's simply the Big One and a cast of thousands.
Damn. Better dust off that deed to the ranch.
And just to get this out of the way now:
Ohio State should be stronger than they were last year and flat-out expect to play the favorite's role well on their way to a second consecutive national title. Urban Meyer now has a mere two elite quarterbacks from which to choose, as Braxton Miller is now playing wide receiver after missing last season with an injury. He can also return punts while JT Barrett and Cardale Jones duke it out for the starter's role.
Running back is set in Columbus with Heisman Trophy favorite Ezekiel Elliott returning after a great playoff run last season. The defense will be good as usual, even though star DE Joey Bosa is suspended for the first game against Virginia Tech. The only question there is, will anybody notice?
Michigan State is the only team in the Eastern Division that can give Ohio State a run for its money this season.
The Spartans, who defeated Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten title tilt, would be getting much more publicity if not for the Buckeyes and Michigan's hiring of Jim Harbaugh. Senior QB Connor Cook has an experienced offensive line; he just hopes things settle at receiver before Oregon visits in Week 2.
The defense could be one of the best in the country, led by Shilique Calhoun and Ed Davis. Then there's Sparty's schedule; if an upset of Oregon happens, it's designed to build momentum before hitting a cresecdo at Ohio State and home against Penn State.
The rest of the division can only hope for Cinderella seasons. Their main objective will be in fighting for bowl berths.
Penn State needs QB Christian Hackenberg to have a bounceback season after a below par sophomore campaign. Hackenberg welcomes back running back Akeel Lynch, while the Nittany Lions' defense should be competitive again in 2015.
With an embarrassing non-con schedule -- Temple, Buffalo, and Army; really? -- Penn State should be 6-0 heading into Ohio State on 17 October. The next day, they'll be 6-1.
This season, Iowa transfer Jake Rudock looks to have locked down the quarterback position, but the Wolverines need help everywhere else on offense. The defense is more advanced and will welcome back injured safefy Jabrill Peppers, who should be that unit's leader.
The remaining three teams are all fighting to reach the division's top echelon and will struggle to do so.
Maryland went 4-4 in their first Big Ten season and needs to get off to a fast start. How fast? Well, the Terrapins travel to Ohio State and Wisconsin in October. As coach Randy Edsall enters his fifth year at College Park, he's hoping medical redshirt QB Caleb Rowe steps it up. Rowe has RBs Wes Brown and Brandon Ross to port the pigskin and is waiting for someone to replace star WR Stefon Diggs.
Indiana won only one league game last year, and coach Kevin Wilson's buns are baking in his fifth season at Bloomington. The Hoosiers have QB Nate Sudfeld back and brought in RB Jordan Howard from UAB. Porous defense has virtually become an Indiana tradition, and if that unit doesn't shake the tag, Indiana will yet again spend autumn looking longingly for the hoops season to begin.
Everyone seems to mock Rutgers, but last season, the Scarlet Knights won eight games overall -- three in conference -- and should've beaten Penn State.
This season will be tough, though, as the State University of New Jersey must replace AB Gary Nova. Chris Laviano and Hayden Retting are the early favorites. Leonte Carroo is one of the best receivers in the country -- just ask him -- and RB Paul James is returning from a knee injury.
Defensively, Rutgers should be better. Darius Hamilton and Steve Longa will be the leaders who need to step up early and often as they visit Penn State and then run the gauntlet of Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin in October.
Ohio State is the heavy favorite to beat up on Wisconsin or Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game in December. If the Buckeyes are sitting home that weekend, it's anyone's guess who will take their place.
And not even the nation's wives, mistresses, and girlfriends want to see that.