Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2014-2015: Previewing the Big Ten

Christian Hackenberg
The Big Ten 2013 Review: Throughout the bulk of 2013, the Ohio State Buckeyes were rolling through the Big Ten, starting off the season 12-0 with victories over Michigan, Wisconsin and the rest of the Big Ten's top contenders. It earned them a date with the scorching hot Michigan State Spartans, who hadn't lost since Connor Cook had taken over at quarterback. The Spartans shut down Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes, costing Ohio State any shot at the national championship, while MSU earned a berth in the Rose Bowl, a game they won over Stanford. Meanwhile, Michigan struggled to a 7-6 mark with a pretty embarrassing loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. After an 11-2 start to his coaching career in Ann Arbor, Brady Hoke's win total with the Wolverines have decreased to eight and then seven a year ago. Northwestern, many people's dark horse pick inside the conference, began the year 4-0 before injuries hit and they fell apart, losing seven straight before a victory over Illinois in the season finale.

 Ranking the Big Ten: Click on name of Top 25 teams for complete in-depth previews.

1. Michigan State Spartans (13-1 in 2013) National Rank: 5
The Spartans' offense was a real issue last season, but it could be improved in big ways in 2014. Junior quarterback Connor Cook really improved as last season went on and should be more comfortable in MSU's offense in his second year as starter. Running back Jeremy Langford ran for 1,422 yards in 2013 and is a dark horse Heisman threat, while Tony Lippett could turn into a dangerous receiver. Defensively, a lot of leadership and talent is gone, but defensive end Shilique Calhoun is a monster and the secondary should be strong, with senior safety Kurtis Drummond returning. Even if the Spartans lose to Oregon in early September, a win against Ohio State at home on November 8th could push them to the Big Ten Championship Game and into the College Football Playoff.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-2 in 2013) National Rank: 7
Urban Meyer's third team is hoping they can take the next step and win a Big Ten title, which eluded them a season ago (they were ineligible to win it in 2011-2012). Senior quarterback Braxton Miller returns as a real Heisman threat if he can stay healthy. He should lead an extremely dangerous offense that includes wide receiver/running back hybrid weapon Dontre Wilson, senior receiver Devin Smith and sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who will hope to replace the production of Carlos Hyde. The defense should take some big steps with how dominant the defensive line is; Joey Bosa and Noah Spence are scary off the edge while Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington are great up the middle. The secondary is an issue, as Bradley Roby, Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett all depart from a unit that wasn't very strong in 2013.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Bill O'Brien decided to head to Houston and take over the Texans, leaving Penn State to bring in James Franklin, who completely turned around the Vanderbilt program. He will have a very talented quarterback to work with, in sophomore Christian Hackenberg, who was great as a true freshman a season ago. There is a lot of talent returning on offense, including running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, wide receiver Geno Lewis and tight end Kyle Carter. The defense is certainly not a weakness, especially in the secondary, where Jordan Lucas and Adrian Amos both are back. The offensive line could be an issue, with four starters gone and little depth. If Hackenberg takes the next step, Penn State could be very dangerous in 2014.

4. Michigan Wolverines (7-6 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier arrives from Alabama hoping to improve an offense that was 86th in the entire nation. The Wolverines will start senior Devin Gardner over Shane Morris at quarterback, but he has struggled with consistently throughout his career. Sophomore running back Derrick Green will hope to improve a rush offense that was terrible last season, while tight end Devin Funchess will be Gardner's top option in the passing game. Defensively, senior linebacker Jake Ryan is healthy and could be a tackling machine this season, while defensive end Frank Clark could breakout in his senior season. Do-it-all Jabrill Peppers is the nation's No.2 overall recruit and was a huge get for Hoke; he will spend most of his time at cornerback, but he can legitimately play both ways.
Stefon Diggs
5. Maryland Terrapins (7-6 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
The Terps arrive from the ACC hoping to improve on last year's 7-6 mark. There is still a lot of room for improvement; the Terrapins finished the season 2-6 and the offense was below average in 2013. Fifth-year quarterback C.J. Brown is back for his last season in College Park, Maryland, hoping to lead the Terps' offense, which also has Stefon Diggs returning, who broke his leg last season, but is fantastic when healthy. Diggs will also be surrounded by senior Deon Long, who also broke his leg last season. The defense will be led by versatile defensive linemen Darius Kilgo and athletic linebacker Cole Farrand. The Big Ten East will be very difficult, but Maryland is rapidly improving and they could be a dark horse in 2014.

6. Indiana Hoosiers (5-7 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Few offenses in the nation can score like the Hoosiers, who averaged 38.4 points per game in 2013, while averaging over 500 yards per game. The bulk of that offense returns, including QB Nate Sufield who will team up with Tre Roberson at the position, running back Tevin Coleman and speedster Shane Wynn. The defense has been the issue in the Kevin Wilson era but 9 starters return, from a unit that ranked 120th in the entire nation. With 18 starters returning, the time is now for the Hoosiers to make a bowl game after winning five games last season. Unfortunately, the schedule is very different, meaning Indiana's ceiling again might be around five games.

7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-7 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten East is going to be very difficult for the Scarlet Knights. Third-year head coach Kyle Flood does have some talent returning, including powerful running back Paul James and five starters back on the offensive line. Though, the quarterback position could really hold this team back. Senior Gary Nova hasn't been consistently strong and lost his starting gig late last season to Chas Dodd. The defense was absolutely terrible against the pass and things aren't looking any better. The Scarlet Knights are the weakest they have been in a long time and they are in danger of not making a bowl for the first time since 2010.


1. Wisconsin Badgers (9-4 in 2013) National Rank: 15
The Badgers will do what they have done for a long time: run the ball, control the clock and play hard-nosed defense. The offense should be headed by Heisman candidate, Melvin Gordon, an extremely explosive junior. Also returning is Corey Clement, a sophomore, who should help take over for the production of James White. On the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers should rely on steady cornerback Darius Hillary and hard-hitting safety Michael Caputo. If Joel Stave can take major steps at quarterback, the Badgers will roll to a West Division title.

2. Nebraska Huskers (9-4 in 2013) National Rank: 22
Even through injuries and turnover at quarterback really hindered Nebraska throughout 2013, the Huskers still managed to win nine games and upset Georgia in their bowl. They will once more be led by senior running back Ameer Abdullah, who will help spark an offense that is without Taylor Martinez at quarterback for the first time in years. New quarterback Tommy Armstong Jr. will have a dangerous weapon to throw to in senior Kenny Bell, but the offensive line returns just one starter. The defense could really improve, as junior defensive end Randy Gregory is one of the best pass rushers in the nation. Something that could really hold back Nebraska? No kicker has emerged, Drew Brown, a true freshman may start.

3. Iowa Hawkeyes (8-5 in 2013) National Rank: 24
Quietly, Iowa was a pretty surprising team a year ago, improving their win total from four to eight. A big reason was a defense that was sixth in the nation in 2013 but now loses linebackers Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey. The front seven should be very strong, with the returns of hard-nosed defensive tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis. Sophomore Reggie Spearman could breakout at outside linebacker and become the team's top pass rusher. Offensively, senior running back Mark Weisman is an absolute work horse and junior quarterback Jake Rudock returns. The Hawkeyes could really improve on last year's eight victories because of one thing: a schedule that is devoid of any big tests outside of Nebraska and Wisconsin.

4. Minnesota Gophers (8-5 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Although the Gophers could not decide on a quarterback between Phillip Nelson and Mitch Leidner, they still won eight games and recorded a pretty major upset over Nebraska. Nelson transferred to Rutgers (he was kicked off there for assault) leaving redshirt sophomore Leidner as the man in Minneapolis. He has an extremely deep backfield helping him; one that includes senior David Cobb, powerful Donnell Kirkwood and true freshman Jeff Jones, the Gophers' most notable recruit in a long time. Tight end Maxx Williams could be a breakout star and the offensive line is deep and experienced. The schedule does include a tough non-conference road test with TCU, but being in the West Division gives the Gophers a real shot at improving on last season's record.

5. Northwestern Wildcats (5-7 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Expectations were the highest they have been in a long time in Evanston, but the Wildcats couldn't deliver, as they were wracked by injuries. While quarterback Kain Colter is gone, Trevor Siemian takes over after splitting time with Colter the past few years. In the season finale, Siemian was dominant, throwing for 414 yards and four scores against Illinois. The offense will be pretty explosive, with the return of Treyvon Green at running back and versatile Dan Vitale. Chi Chi Ariguzo (106 tackles in 2013) anchors a strong defense. The Wildcats have all the talent to be a dark horse team, if they can stay healthy.

6. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-8 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
While Tim Beckman and Illinois took steps in 2013 (improving record from 2-10 to 4-8) they clearly still have a long way to go. While longtime quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse is gone, Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt is ready to take the reigns of the offense. He will be joined by junior running back Josh Ferguson, a speedy weapon who recorded seven touchdowns last year. On defense, a lot of talent is back from a unit that was atrocious a season ago, especially against the rush. Do-it-all junior linebacker Mason Monheim will help this team out a lot, while senior Earnest Thomas III will make the move from safety to the "Star" linebacker position.
7. Purdue Boilermakers (1-11 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Disaster is maybe the only way to describe 2013 for the Boilermakers under first-year head coach Darrell Hazell. They were only able to grab one win, a six-point victory over Indiana State, a FCS team. They do have some talent back, including senior running back Akeem Hunt, senior defensive end Ryan Russell and sophomore quarterback Danny Etling, who won the QB competition. Along with Hunt, senior Raheem Mostert is back, joining him at running back. The two should form a pretty dangerous combo, which will help Purdue improve a rush defense that managed just 67.1 yards per game in 2013, 122nd in the nation. The back seven is full of experience and will be the strength of the team. While Hazell and Purdue will be improved, not a ton more wins are going to be likely.



Offensive Player of the Year: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Defensive Player of the Year: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
Newcomer of the Year: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Coach of the Year: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Coach on the Hottest Seat: Brady Hoke, Michigan
Breakout Player of the Year: Maxx Williams, Minnesota

All-Big Ten Team
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State*
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland
WR Kenny Bell, Nebraska
TE Devin Funchess, Michigan
OL Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OL Taylor Decker, Ohio State
OL Donovon Smith, Penn State
OL Zac Epping, Minnesota
OL Jack Allen, Michigan State
DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
DT Carl Davis, Iowa
DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State
DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska
LB Jake Ryan, Michigan
LB Chi Chi Ariguzo, Northwestern
LB Taiwan Jones, Michigan State
CB Blake Countess, Michigan
CB Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
S Kurtis Drummound, Michigan State
S Adrian Amos, Penn State
K Brad Craddock, Maryland
P Peter Mortell, Minnesota
Returner Dontre Wilson, Ohio State

*= Possibly out for season

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.