Leading up to the kickoff of the 2019 college football season, The Game Haus will be previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. As it continues today with the Big Ten, league predictions and top performers will be looked at, while key games will be highlighted from each conference.
Here is the Big Ten.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are not expected to skip a beat after the promotion of offensive coordinator Ryan Day to head coach. Georgia transfer Justin Fields has already been anointed the next great quarterback in Big Ten history. Not to mention, Ohio State is still pretty stacked on both sides of the ball.
There’s plenty of excitement around Ann Arbor with the belief the offense will open up more under new OC and former Alabama assistant Josh Gattis. Thus, big things are expected from QB Shea Patterson (2,600 passing yards, 22 touchdown passes in 2018). However, no matter how well things go, it all comes down to what happens versus Ohio State on Nov. 30.
3. Penn State
The Nittany Lions will move on from QB Trace McSorley and RB Miles Sanders, so a fourth consecutive season of at least nine wins might be a challenge. Linebacker Micah Parsons (82 tackles) is a stud, but Penn State has Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State on the road.
4. Michigan State
Defensive end Kenny Willekes (8 1/2 sacks, 20 1/2 tackles for loss) is one of the best in the country, and the Spartans should once again be stingy on defense. It’s the offense that has questions. Also, they must go to Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan.
It was a rather tumultuous 2018 season on and off the field for the Terrapins. The program hopes former Alabama assistant and new head coach Mike Locksley will restore some respect and credibility to things. Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson appears to be the man capable of guiding Maryland’s offense.
There are a few coaches on the hot seat in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers’ Tom Allen might be one of them after two straight 5-7 campaigns. Running back Stevie Scott, though, is someone to keep an eye on after rushing for 1,137 yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman in 2018.
Speaking of coaches on the hot seat, it really can’t get any hotter than what Chris Ash is sitting on. Rutgers went 7-29 in his first three years and is coming off its second winless Big Ten season. Though it won’t be easy, the Scarlet Knights could be much improved on an offense that averaged 13.5 points in ’18.
The Cornhuskers are the sexy pick to win the Big Ten West, but they are not a sure thing. This is a competitive division. However, they did win four of the final six from 2018, boasting a strong QB in Adrian Martinez (2,617 passing yards, 629 rushing yards) and another season in Scott Frost’s system. Plus, they get Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa at home.
An 8-5 finish in 2018 was a down year for the Badgers, so they’ll be focused. Jonathan Taylor is among the best running backs in the country, but the offensive line needs some retooling and there is obvious uncertainty at quarterback. Yet, it’s never wise to sleep on the Badgers.
The Hawkeyes have just as much chance as anybody in the Big Ten West. Especially with QB Nate Stanley (2,852 passing yards, 26 passing TDs) and an experienced backfield in tow. Defensively, end A.J. Epenesa is one of the elite pass rushers in the nation after recording 10 1/2 sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for loss in 2018.
Pat Fitzgerald might be the best coach in the Big Ten. Seriously. He took the under-the-radar Wildcats to a Big Ten West title in 2018, and they should have a shot to repeat. Linebacker Paddy Fisher (116 tackles) has All-American talent and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson could be a star quarterback.
Coach P.J. Fleck is making progress at Minnesota with a 7-6 mark and bowl win in 2018. RB Mohamed Ibrahim (1,160 rushing yards) and receiver Tyler Johnson (78 receptions, 1,169 yards, 12 TDs) might be two of the more underrated talents in the Big Ten.
First WR Rondale Moore (114 receptions, 1,258 yards, 14 total TDs) is the most versatile, all-purpose performer in the country. So, with Moore back, the Boilermakers have the ability to make noise like in 2018, when they beat Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa.
The Illini are the only team in the Big Ten West not capable of winning the division. They are 9-27 in three years under Lovie Smith. However, the addition of quarterback and Michigan transfer Brandon Peters is intriguing.
Players to watch
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: While it’s uncertain if the Badgers can bounce back from their first single-digit victory season in the last five, Taylor should still be a force in the Big Ten. Over the last two seasons, nobody has rushed for more yards than the junior Taylor’s 4,171. He’s rushed for 29 touchdowns in 27 games.
Chase Young DE, Ohio State: Some believe Young can be the overall No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, assuming this will be his last collegiate season. He was among the national leaders with 10 1/2 sacks in 2018 and his 15 1/2 tackles for loss were also tops for the Buckeyes.
Oct. 26: Penn State at Michigan State. If Ohio State and Michigan are the favorites in the Big Ten East, then what about third place? It seems the Nittany Lions and Spartans are the front-runners for that spot . Michigan State has won five of the last six meetings.
Nov. 16: Wisconsin at Nebraska. The Big Ten West is pretty wide open, with arguably four teams having a legitimate chance at the title. We think this matchup in Lincoln could be the one that goes a long way in determining the champion.
Nov. 30: Ohio State at Michigan. By all accounts, this should be for the Big Ten East title. If Michigan is to be taken seriously, it must end that seven-game slide against the Buckeyes.