Big Ten Football Season Preview
Tom Shively, John McHugh, Dave Arroyo and Zach Seco preview this year's talent in the Big Ten and give their predictions for the conference.
It’s been 211 days since a Big Ten team last took the football field in a competitive game, so it’s safe to say everyone is itching for some action. Every team in the conference plays a game on opening weekend in what is only the first hurdle in a three-month marathon to see which teams will represent their divisions in Indianapolis and have a shot at the College Football Playoff.
Players to Watch
J.T. Barrett, QB (Junior), Ohio State:
After splitting reps with Cardale Jones on last year’s Fiesta Bowl squad, Barrett looks to have an immediate impact on a team that only returns six starters. His dual-threat ability caused havoc against Big Ten defenses last year en route to over 1,500 all-purpose yards in minimal action. He will be tested early as the Buckeyes pay a Week 3 visit to Oklahoma, but Barrett’s experience surely will be a driving factor for a team who hasn’t lost more than two games in a season since 2011.
Saquon Barkley, RB (Sophomore), Penn State
The spread offense under new coordinator Joe Moorhead is sure to open up the running game for Barkley in Happy Valley. The then-freshman broke onto the national scene with 1,076 rushing yards in 2015, third only behind Ezekiel Elliott and Justin Jackson, and most among Big Ten freshmen. Barkley becomes the most important cog in the Penn State offense following the departure of Christian Hackenberg to the NFL.
Jabrill Peppers (Junior), Michigan
You’ll notice the absence of a position next to Peppers’ name simply because he can do it all. He played significant minutes in all three facets of the game last year, returning kicks and locking down wide receivers as well as catching and carrying the ball a few times himself on the offensive side of the ball. He looks to have an expanded role at each position in 2016 and his name has been tossed around with the likes of Deshaun Watson and Christian McCaffrey as favorites for the coveted Heisman trophy.
Desmond King, CB (Senior), Iowa
The 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner for the best defensive back in the country has a bitter taste in his mouth after back-to-back losses in the postseason made a perfect regular season look fluky. King led the Power Five conferences with eight interceptions last year and he believes there is work left to be done as he bypassed the NFL for another shot at a Big Ten crown.
East Division Prediction
Games to Watch
Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)
Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 29)
Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 19)
Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 26)
The list of games above paints the simple picture of the Big Ten East. With a tip of the cap to Penn State’s improvements, this is essentially a three-team race to be decided through head-to-head matchups. The Spartans are perhaps the least likely team of the three to represent the East in Indy, but they are the most experienced team, having won the conference in 2015, and they host both the Wolverines and Buckeyes. The teams will likely split all three of these games, leaving the championship hopes up to whichever team can avoid a slip-up against a lesser opponent. The Wolverines are the top candidate for that position and after looking like the most complete team throughout summer practice.
Michigan 11-1 (8-1 Big Ten)
Michigan State 10-2 (7-2)
Ohio State 9-3 (7-2)
Penn State 9-3 (6-3)
Indiana 6-6 (4-5)
Rutgers 5-7 (3-6)
Maryland 4-8 (1-8)
West Division Predictions
Games to Watch
LSU vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 3)
Nebraska at Northwestern (Sept. 24)
Wisconsin at Iowa (Oct. 22)
Michigan at Iowa (Nov. 12)
This division is much harder to predict as four teams (Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin) can stake a legitimate claim as the title favorite but no team can fully separate from the pack. The Hawkeyes have the slimmest of edges as the defending champs, but they have some challenging crossover games which include a visit from Michigan and a primetime trip to Penn State. Wisconsin faces perhaps the toughest four-game stretch for any one team in the entire country as they face Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa in consecutive weeks, three of which being on the road. If the Badgers can ride Corey Clement to a victory over Iowa as well as steal one from one of the East powerhouses, they could emerge out of this Midwest bloodbath victorious. Don’t sleep on the Wildcats either, who are coming off a 10-win season under Pat Fitzgerald in which they took down eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford on opening weekend.
Wisconsin 8-4 (6-3 Big Ten)*
Iowa 9-3 (6-3)
Northwestern 8-4 (5-4)
Nebraska 6-6 (4-5)
Minnesota 5-7 (3-6)
Illinois 4-8 (2-7)
Purdue 2-10 (1-8)
*Wisconsin advances because of head-to-head win over Iowa
Big Ten Championship
Wisconsin vs. Michigan
In the brief history of the Big Ten title game, the lower-ranked team has won four of the five games, and I believe the Badgers can pull a shocker over the Wolverines, who may be looking ahead to the College Football Playoff. Wisconsin has played in this game as the underdog three times, winning twice. A strong defensive performance in a low-scoring game could propel the boys from Madison to their third Big Ten Championship Game victory and a spot in the Rose Bowl while Michigan could be relegated to the Cotton Bowl, leaving the Big Ten out of the College Football Playoff for the first time.
Tom Shively is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at email@example.com.