Big Ten East Preview: Can't Tell the Leaders without a Legend
The Big Ten's Eastern Division welcomes Maryland and Rutgers into their fold with open arms this season.
Each of the power teams in that group should walk away with two easy wins as a result.
Ohio State looks like the favorite going into 2014, and they're accustomed to pushovers, so the Terps and Scarlet Knights should fit right into their milieu. Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes look to take the next step to the new college playoff after coming oh-so-close last season, and victories over teams no one remembers in October won't hurt. Ohio State does have to go to Penn State and Michigan State, but being led by quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes should have enough to get back to the conference title game.
Michigan State upset the Buckeyes last season in that game, and the Spartans will again be Ohio State's biggest competition this season. Connor Cook returns at quarterback for Michigan State after winning the MVP in both the championship game and the Rose Bowl last year. Cook has a strong stable of receivers as well as an experienced offensive line, so the Spartans figure to make a major bowl game again this season.
The division's next tier drops off a bit with Penn State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions are on their way back but, as it stands now, still have two years of probation left after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. New coach James Franklin will depend on sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenburgh to have a season as good as or better than his freshman campaign.
Michigan has a new offensive coordinator in former Idaho quarterback -- as well as Washington Husky and Alabama OC -- Doug Nussmeier. He's expected to be a factor as the Wolverines are hoping to improve after a lackluster 7-6 run last season. Quarterback Devin Gardner returns to guide Nussmeier's offense, and Michigan is hoping an experienced defense will keep them in more games this time around.
Indiana will join the newcomers, Maryland and Rutgers, as bottom-feeders. The Hoosiers can score with anyone, but one of their two quarterbacks -- Tre Roberson -- transferred, so it's now up to Nate Sudfeld to carry the full load. The trouble lies with Indiana's defense; they'll never contend until that unit starts pulling its weight. What there is of it, anyway.
With an upset or two, Maryland has a chance to finish with a decent record. The Terrapins have been hit with a flood of injuries over the past couple of years, so if their trainers raise their game and with their strong defense, it's not out of the question for the Terps to approach the six-win mark.
Rutgers is in big trouble and may be so for years. Their quarterback, Gary Nova, was benched last season for ineffectiveness that bordered incompetence, and now many of their recruits have started moving on to Penn State. Look for the Big Ten to feast on the Scarlet Knights for years to come.