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Ohio State’s roller coaster season still ended with a Big Ten championship. Then, they lost their coach. One man leaving opened up the race for the Big Ten, and there are a bunch of teams with potential to win it. The East is as tough as ever, but the West is loaded too. Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska all can win the division, and should give the East a run for their money. Big Ten football is as exciting to watch as it’s ever been.
Big Ten West
We know Purdue’s capable of beating elite teams. They showed that last year against Ohio State. We also know they struggle with consistency, hence the 6-7 record last year. Rondale Moore gives the Boilermakers the most explosive player in the Big Ten, but other players must emerge to win a Big Ten West title.
They’ll always be in it, even if they have a down year. Wisconsin’s consistency is a model in the West division. No surprise, they’re the team to beat this year. Jonathan Taylor’s a monster, the offensive line will be elite, and playmakers at receiver give the Badgers tremendous potential offensively. They just need a quarterback. That them isn’t new, but we’ve yet to see a change since Russell Wilson came to campus. The Badgers can compete with anyone, they just need a couple of key pieces to elevate their game.
Northwestern may never be a favorite in the division, and this year is more evident of that than ever. After winning the division and facing Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Wildcats aren’t getting much love. They can surprise the West again, but taking that next step remains the biggest question.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
P.J. Fleck’s brought this team to heights not seen since the early 1900’s. The talent’s there, but it needs to translate into wins. The Gophers proved they can hang with Ohio State, and even beat Wisconsin, but they also were blown out by Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois. The only tough divisional crossover matchup is Penn State this year, so a double digit win season is possible.
Well, the hype’s there. Scott Frost and Adrian Martinez brought it to the program. That doesn’t win games, though. The Cornhuskers looked good in the second half of the season last year, giving fans hope. Winning the West becomes their biggest challenge, and there’s still plenty to do before we buy into Nebraska’s preseason hype.
Illinois Fighting Illini
We know Illinois can run the ball well. Reggie Corbin’s one of the best running back’s in the country, but there’s not a ton of help around him. Lovei Smith’s uphill battle continues to be difficult, and the West is getting more difficult to win.
Whether Nate Stanley can excel without T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant remains to be seen. His progress implies he’ll be just fine. Besides Iowa State, the Hawkeyes don’t have a tough non-conference schedule. They do travel to Michigan and host Penn State to start October, and that will tell us how good the can be.
Big Ten East
Ohio State Buckeyes
Everything comes down to Ryan Day. Urban Meyer’s gone, but he left a ton of talent behind. The Buckeyes are the most talented team in the conference, but it comes down to what Day can do. His first task is to get Justin Fields to be the next great quarterback. Winning the East hasn’t been easy the last couple years, and there’s a team right on his team’s heels.
In addition to facing Ohio State, Michigan State ad Penn State, the Wolverines get Notre Dame again. That’s a playoff resume right there. Winning all of those games puts them in the playoff. No question. Jim Harbaugh needs it to cool his seat. With how Michigan started (loss to Notre Dame) and finished (blowout loss to Ohio State, bad bowl game against Florida) last year, the Wolverines need a great run.
Michigan State Spartans
It all comes down to the offense. Michigan State’s defense features Top 10 talent at every level, but the offense needs consistency. Especially at quarterback. Brian Lewerke struggled at times, but also battled a shoulder injury too. We know this team can compete with the best of the best, but we’ve also seen the Spartans struggles at the same time. A solid offense puts this team in contention this year.
Penn State Nittany Lions
First Saquon Barkley, then Trace McSorley, and finally Tommy Stevens left. What does James Franklin do next? He’s recruited well to keep his team competitive, but that’s tough to do in this division. Winning the East would be a surprise, but beating Pitt in Week 3 presents a tougher than expected challenge too.
Mike Locksley inherits a disastrous situation that D.J. Durkin created. Winning on the field almost becomes irrelevant this year. Repairing the program’s image becomes his top priority, and the wins that come with it are just an added bonus.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
If your program can’t even beat Kansas, then it sucks. Plain and simple. Week 1 might be winnable, but there’s nothing after that.
They were one win away from making a bowl game last year. This isn’t a team that will win a Big Ten title, but they’re going to compete with anyone. A 3-1 start will be the goal, and a bowl game is a strong possibility in 2019.