Big Ten football preview: Ohio State is the early favorite, but where does Penn State stand?

Saturday, 26 August 2017, 03:02:30 PM. Ohio State is the popular pick to win the Big Ten championship for only the second time in the tenure of Urban Meyer, now entering his sixth season.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett has been at Ohio State for a long time, long enough to establish numbers that boggle the mind, and he has one more season to put those numbers out of reach for any future signal caller.

Barrett, twice a top-10 finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting, is a major reason why the Buckeyes are a popular choice to win the Big Ten and advance to the College Football Playoff. He is 26-4 as a starter, has been responsible for 100 touchdowns (69 passing, 31 rushing) and, with 8,837 yards, is 14 yards away from breaking the program record for career total offense.

And this season, after Ohio State finished a mediocre 81st in FBS in passing offense in 2016, Barrett is working with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the former Indiana head coach whose teams featured a dynamic attack.

Coach Urban Meyer said he feels Wilson will have a major impact on the passing game, and he added that Barrett is excited, too.

“His accuracy and just his energy level right now are incredible,” Meyer said earlier this month. “He’s providing that energy for everybody. He’s always done that but … he’s got complete ownership of everything going on in that offense. The thing he’s most improved at right now is accuracy.”

The Buckeyes lost six juniors to the NFL draft after having nine juniors selected in 2016. Their secondary lost three starters to the pros for the second straight season, but Meyer has been a master rebuilder as evidenced by his 61-6 record in five years at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes, even though they made the playoffs last year, have won just one Big Ten title since Meyer took over, and they said it’s time for a second. Other than Michigan, their biggest game of the season is an Oct. 28 contest at the Horseshoe against Penn State.

Here is a look at the rest of the Big Ten:

Eastern Division

Michigan needs to replace 10 starters on defense and finding capable replacements will serve as a test of head coach Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting skills. Defensive end Rashan Gary, the No. 1 recruit in the 2015 class, and tackle Maurice Hurst anchor the unit. Wilton Speight returns at quarterback with a strong running game. His young receiving corps probably will include freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones, the top-ranked high school wideout.

Michigan State took a huge step backwards last season. After making the College Football Playoff in 2015, the Spartans went 3-9 on the field and experienced off-the-field issues. Redshirt sophomore Brian Lewerke is back at quarterback after suffering a broken leg last year against Michigan. The Spartans struggled in getting to the passer a year ago and will rebuild with the aid of a solid group of linebackers.

The Maryland offense still is looking for a starting quarterback from a three-man battle in training camp but has some fine returning skill players in junior Ty Johnson, who rushed for 1,004 yards and averaged a school-record 9.1 yards per carry, and junior wide receiver D.J. Moore (Imhotep Charter High). The defense brings back linebackers Shane Cockerille and Jermaine Carter Jr., but the secondary needs to step up.

Indiana owns one of the best receiving tandems in the conference with deep threat Nick Westbrook coming off a 54-catch season and Simmie Cobbs back from injury following 60 receptions and 1,035 yards the year before. Both will catch balls from 6-foot-6 senior Richard Lagow, who threw for 3,362 yards with 19 touchdowns but also suffered 17 interceptions.

Rutgers coach Chris Ash has added former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator and named Kyle Bolin, a graduate transfer from Louisville, as his starting quarterback for an attack that averaged less than 16 points per game last year. The Scarlet Knights’ defense, keyed by junior linebacker Deonte Roberts, remains a work in progress.

Western Division

Wisconsin is ready to make a return trip to the Big Ten championship game with an experienced quarterback in Alex Hornibrook, a Malvern Prep graduate. The Badgers suffered a major blow in preseason when starting linebacker Jack Cichy suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Wisconsin’s schedule is lightened by the fact they don’t play Ohio State or Penn State in the regular season.

Northwestern appears ready to contend for a conference title with senior Justin Jackson, who posted his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season last year, and junior Clayton Thorson, who set a school record last year with 22 touchdown passes. The secondary, led by safety Gordon Igwebuike, is the strength of the Wildcats’ defense. The first two conference games, at Wisconsin and home against Penn State, will be telling.

With Kirk Ferentz entering his 19th season, the longest tenure of any FBS head coach, Iowa seeks to improve on last year’s 8-5 record with a veteran offensive line leading the way for senior Akrum Wadley, who rushed for 1,081 yards. Ferentz has yet to decide on a starting quarterback between Tyler Wiegers and Nathan Stanley. Senior linebacker Josey Jewell, a Butkus Award finalist last year, leads a defense that’s tough against the run.

Nebraska has gone with a new defensive coordinator, former Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco, after last season when the Cornhuskers allowed 140 points and 1,519 total yards in their last three losses. Head coach Mike Riley has a new starting quarterback in Tanner Lee, a graduate transfer from Tulane, and an experienced offensive line.

P.J. Fleck, who led Western Michigan to a 13-1 record and a spot in the Cotton Bowl last year, is the new head coach at Minnesota and says for now he is willing to go with two quarterbacks – senior Conor Rhoda and sophomore Demry Croft. All-Big Ten tackle Steven Richardson anchors a defense that finished 21st in scoring defense in the FBS last season.

Purdue has a new head coach in Jeff Brohm, who won 30 games in three years at Western Kentucky. Quarterback David Blough led the Big Ten averaging 279.3 passing yards per game last season but threw 21 interceptions. After finishing last in points allowed in the conference in 2016, the Boilermakers will count on a linebacker group led by sophomore Markus Bailey.

Former NFL head coach Lovie Smith went 3-9 in his first season at Illinois and needs to keep building on both sides of the ball. Quarterbacks threw only 13 touchdown passes last year while the defense allowed nearly 32 points per game. Wide receiver Mike Dudek, who is back from a torn ACL, is a player to watch.

Read more by Joe Juliano

More Coverage

  • POLL: Can Villanova make an NCAA run next season?
  • 2017 NCAA men's basketball tournament TV schedule
  • Get the latest local sports news with the FREE Philly Sports Now app for iPhone and Android
  • Latest college football rankings
  • SHOP: NCAA College Football Gear

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines Commenting policy | Comments FAQ

Comment policy: comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments

...Read more
Share this

You might also like