Just 29 sleeps until college football starts again! Can you believe it? The offseason’s been a drag, but we finally (nearly) made it.
To get you ready for the season to come, I’m going through every Power 5 conference and naming off several teams to watch. Who’s gonna win? Who’s gonna be just OK? And who’s gonna fall flat on their faces?
That’s what we’re taking a look at today. And for more college football insights and hot takes, follow me on Twitter at @WatchingCFB.
I’ve given you my thoughts on the ACC. Now we come to the Big Ten, which (as you’ll see) is a headache to predict this year. Let’s dive in!
Look, you can accuse me of following the pied piper of the punditry. I mean, every year lately a few sportswriters talk about how Michigan surely has the pieces together, and how they’ll be in the hunt for Big Ten glory.
Without fail, the Wolverines fall short.
But I really think this year’s different. The big bad Buckeyes aren’t so much of a threat anymore now that Urban Meyer’s skipped town. And Jim Harbaugh may finally have learned that delegating duties is not a bad thing. Josh Gattis is calling plays, emphasizing spread looks to take advantage of an embarrassment of receiving riches.
And sure, Shea Patterson won’t be winning the Heisman, but he won’t be hurried, and he has the experience needed to keep the offense level-headed. Though that may not be necessary; their offensive line is a terrifying group of large men, and the best unit in the conference. The D’s lost some talent, but they can still hang with most of the lumbering offenses this conference boasts.
So call me crazy, but I think this is Michigan’s year.
RUNNER-UP: Ohio State
I expect that, to some degree, history will repeat itself this year. Not in terms of Ohio State’s recent dominance, no. In terms of college football teams in their first post-Urban-Meyer year.
When Meyer bolted from Florida, Will Muschamp led the program to a doldrummy 7-6. And I expect a similar effect this coming year for the Buckeyes, but maybe less pronounced. They’ll lose a few more games with relative neophyte Ryan Day on the sidelines than they would if led by the steely, stone-faced, stressed Meyer.
But Meyer did recruit well, and I expect enough of his recruits remain to win often on talent alone. Reliable threat J.K. Dobbins remains the starting tailback, and the Buckeye receiving corps is no joke. Yet with a new QB (Justin Fields, in from Georgia) and a shaky D, I’m not convinced they’ll have a true shot at the title.
DARK HORSE: Michigan State
And here’s where people start raising eyebrows. Hear me out.
Lots of folks are underrating the Spartans’ offense. Veteran hand Brian Lewerke is back after injury, and I expect him to captain their scoring ship ably. And MSU has the luxury of the best overall defensive unit in the conference.
Usually Mark Dantonio’s forces have solid years with a few notable dud games that cost them. But every so often, they break through with something special. If they don’t have their usual struggles in important games, watch out.
Early tests against Arizona State and Indiana at home – followed by a potentially excellent game at Ohio State’s house – should give us a good idea of Sparty’s potential before they face…
DISAPPOINTMENT: Penn State
I’m gonna get flak for placing the Spartans above the Nittany Lions, but the math checks out. They’re somewhat iffy on offense, probably lagging behind both Ohio State and Michigan. Their defense, while impressive, isn’t Sparty’s, and even the Buckeyes might have them beat on the defensive line.
So while many may expect them to compete for and even win the Big Ten title, I’m less than optimistic. Sparty, tOSU, and Big Blue all look like better bets.
NOT A CHANCE: Purdue
This breaks my heart. The story of Tyler Trent last year was magnificent. Tyler was a Boilermaker for life, a superfan and Purdue student. But he was also afflicted with a rare, debilitating form of bone cancer. It had progressed to the point that this would probably be the last college football season he could witness on this earth.
He continued to fight the disease, becoming a close friend and inspiration to the Purdue football team and coaching staff. When College GameDay interviewed Tyler, he predicted an improbable Purdue victory against the heavily favored Buckeyes. Purdue ran Ohio State out of the building that night, and went on to a bowl game where Tyler served as honorary captain.
A short time later, two days into the new year, Tyler passed away.
Last year was an emotional rollercoaster for Purdue. But unfortunately, their miracle season doesn’t look repeatable.
Returning from a medical redshirt, QB Elijah Sindelar is too much of a question mark. I have absolutely no idea how he will perform, but if I had to put money down, I’d say poorly. Purdue’s offensive line is weak, and that will cause Sindelar to hurry too often. Even though Purdue has a strong receiving corps, they still need a reliable ball delivery method. And their D is completely unimpressive.
So sadly, Purdue will likely have a down year. Time to put more coal in the engine, Boilermakers.
That’s it for the Big Ten! Like I said, follow me at @WatchingCFB on Twitter for more sweet, sweet college football content. See you next week, when we’ll examine the Big 12.