Michigan (11-1, 8-1) so let's check in on the defense, shall we? One of the deepest, most talented lines in school history, capable of both stuffing the run (welcome back, Ryan Glasgow!) and getting to the quarterback? Check. Talented secondary, with the 2016 Thorpe award winner at one corner, a 2-year starter at the other and wonderfully boring safeties? Check. Linebackers are...okay. I like Ben Gedeon, and I think one of the freshman (Devin Bush?) will come on by season's end; the defensive line will be good enough to cover for the linebackers as they gel. Oh, and the #1 recruit in the country, wearing all the markings of a future top-five NFL draft choice. But it seems like I’m forgetting something else...what could it be? Oh, yeah, that Peppers guy, only the best all-over-the-field defender we've had since 1997 and another top-five NFL draft pick. This defense will rank among the best in school history by year end. Book it.
Offense is good, too - adequate line, the best receiving corps in the country, and a healthy group of running backs that can give just about any look you want. And the best quarterback coach in the world as head coach. This is a coach, staff, and most of the personnel that, once it got going, played very well against an NFL-laden Ohio State team (not kidding, by the way - check the stats. Seven drives, zero three-and-outs, and three drives of over 10 plays. We did bog down in the red zone, which killed us, and Rudock got knocked out early in the 4th quarter but overall we moved the ball pretty well) and then blew out Florida to end the season. I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll do the same this year, and the defense will cover us early.
Honestly - I’d like to predict 12-0, but the road schedule is just too tough. I figure we lose at Iowa.
Michigan State (10-2, 7-2) unknown quarterback, defense still in transition from the 2014 team...L.J. Scott is a good player and Malik McDowell is a beast, but the pass defense has really fallen apart (3rd in the nation in 2013, 61st in 2014, and an amazing 73rd in 2015), and while it might improve a bit on coaching alone, there are some talent deficiencies here. There's nobody to point at in the secondary that you can say "ooh, that guy is going to be good, ala Darqueze Denard.
Let's not forget that Sparty could easily have been 8-4 last season - they lost to Nebraska, stole one at Michigan, had to score with under a minute left to beat Rutgers (!) and had to knock down a tying touchdown pass in the end zone against Purdue...can we not pretend that this was some kind of dominating season?
Sparty is really fighting a talent deficiency to Michigan and Ohio State. A huge coaching edge has allowed them to surpass Michigan for a few years, but going forward you're going to see extremely well-coached 3-stars vs extremely well-coached 4- and 5-stars. There’s no way to overcome that in the long term. Paranoia and a chip on your shoulder can only take you so far. we're not talking about big 2 and little 8 10 12, but I have little doubt that they will slip down a notch starting this season, and it's likely to last for the foreseeable future.
Ohio State (10-3, 7-2) ignore the "how will Ohio State replace all the nfl entries?" questions. You’re talking about replacing current NFL players with future NFL players, almost without exception; the talent level is that high. And they have one of the five best coaches in the country. That said, there are always transition costs; while I’m not a "who will step up, and what about chemistry" guy, in this case it's a legitimate question. Urban followed his first national championship with a mediocre 9-4 season in 2007 (featuring a Heisman winner at QB), and did a similar number in 2010; after going 13-0 and 12-1, they fell to 7-5 and Urb quit. He's not exactly built for the long haul – the meltdown at Florida happened in year six (really? Only six seasons?); this will be his fifth season in Columbus.
Figure they lose at Oklahoma, to either Michigan or MSU, and have a "what the hell happened there" loss along the way. Don’t forget that this team was ever so close to losing a couple of times last season (against Northern Illinois and Indiana, no less) before the Urb brain fart against Sparty. Figure them to lose one they shouldn't this year.
Penn State (7-5, 5-4) when I first started thinking about this season, I figured that they'd be better. They are back to normal scholarship levels, they have possibly the best back in the conference in Saquon Barkley, and the defensive front should still be pretty good despite some losses.
But it's still James Franklin on the sideline, and if you look at the schedule it's pretty easy to find five losses. Michigan, Sparty and Ohio State are easy picks, plus one of Pitt or Temple and Iowa - that's five. They might get to 8 wins, but to do it they'll have to sweep the non-conference, and I don't know that they'll be able to do that with a new quarterback.
Indiana (7-5, 4-5) team chaos can be scary. Wide open offense, no interest in defense, so they're always interesting to watch. Roll the dice...they probably both win one and lose one that they shouldn't. In any case, non-conference (Florida International, Ball State, and Wake Forest) are probably wins, then add in Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue, and Nebraska at home and you're at seven wins.
Maryland (5-7, 2-7) I have no idea what to think here. 5 wins is probably too low, but when I go through game-by-game? Non-conference (Howard, Florida International, and Central Florida) are three easy ones, as are Rutgers and Purdue, but beyond that...I don't know. Minnesota, I guess, and Indiana, but beyond *that*...hard to see them beating Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, or Nebraska on the road. Seven wins max, and that's assuming they take one or two they shouldn't.
Rutgers (2-10, 0-9) I’m told that there's a school called "Rutgers" in the conference. I think this is some sort of mass hallucination, and I refuse to believe that it ever happened.
Iowa (10-2, 7-2) back in the early 2000s, Wisconsin was the ultimate fraud team. They’d beat a few terrible non-conference teams, pound on the conference patsies, somehow avoid playing the best team in the conference, and maybe steal one more, and before you knew it, a mediocre team was in the top ten and playing on New Years' Day, where they'd get their asses handed to them.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Iowa, 2015 and 2016. An almost entirely nondescript team with a nondescript coach, a maybe-good but probably generic quarterback and the easiest schedule you will ever see. They somehow avoid Ohio State and Michigan State and get Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska at home. Their toughest road game is...Penn State, I guess. Maybe they lose there and at home to Wisconsin, but honestly, I’m scrambling to give them two losses - they could easily go undefeated. That, my friends, is why conference expansion sucks. A 14-team conference is a conference in name only.
Northwestern (9-3, 6-3) I don't like this prediction, at all. There are two reasons for this. First, I think Pat Fitzgerald is just vastly, vastly overrated as a coach. I look at last year's team, which came in to Michigan undefeated and rolling with a supposedly terrific defense, then gave up a return TD on the opening kick and promptly checked out completely, I mean 100% gave up. it was over by the end of the first quarter. I see that, and the jumping around like a girl that he did on the sideline late in the 2012 Michigan game - worth watching here), and...well, it doesn't fill me with confidence that this will ever be a smart, disciplined team. And with the talent deficit (impossible to escape at northwestern), if you can't be smart and disciplined you're never going to get anywhere. With all that said, they're okay, probably capable of stealing a game they shouldn't win.
Wisconsin (7-5, 5-4) man, this is some division. What a bunch of leftovers.
Anyway, for the first time ever, Wisconsin has a tough schedule. LSU, at Michigan, at Michigan State, at Iowa. They do get Ohio State at home.
But it won't matter. Word out of Madison is that the offensive line is thin (ha! it's funny because it's WISCONSIN, the home of 350-pound sausage incinerators) and they'll have trouble running the ball. If Wisconsin can't run, they ain't shit.
For some reason the specter of Barry Alvarez hovers over everything they do here. It’s as if George Perles was still calling the shots in East Lansing. I mean, yeah, he was alright, I guess, but it's pretty hard to coach your team when a relic from the wing-t past is whispering "run, run, run" in your ears. But I digress.
Minnesota (8-4, 5-4) last season I think my entire preview said "I love Jerry Kill." and that still holds here, even though he's (sadly) gone from the scene. I really want this team to do well, for some reason, and I think they'll be pretty good. They have probably the second-best returning QB in the conference (J.T. Barrett is the first, obviously), and there's a grit to this team that's really appealing. I may be letting my heart override my head here, but I like their chances, and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if they made a run at Iowa. The schedule is spectacular - they somehow avoid Michigan, Michigan State AND Ohio State - and get Iowa at home. If it's ever going to happen, this would be the year
Nebraska (7-5, 4-5) meh. Tommy Armstrong is still here to disappoint, but the schedule is not kind (they do miss Michigan and Michigan State, but play Ohio State, northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa on the road). They seem to just be spinning their wheels - as a Big 12 team they'd be a lot more interesting, but in the Big Ten they're just kinda there.
Illinois (5-7, 3-6) I think Lovie smith was the right kind of hire - he is the first professional coach they've had since..who? John Mackovic? And before that...my goodness, what a coaching graveyard.
And the schedule is not kind...they might start out 5-1 (Nebraska and North Carolina are essentially the only roadblocks...Western Michigan will give them a battle,too), but finish with Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Northwestern. Ouch. They’re probably a year away from turning the ship around.
Purdue (1-11, 0-9) I can't believe Darrell Hazell still has a job: 1-11, 3-9, and 1-11, with another miserable season ahead. Fun fact - Darrell Hazell got a 6-year contract worth 12 million dollars, and he's got three seasons left counting 2016. Ouch ouch ouch.
So we're left with Michigan vs Iowa in the B1G championship game, and it goes to the good guys, 31-7. On to the playoff!