Michigan State Spartans 12-1 (8-1)
It’s official that the Michigan State Spartans are no longer in the shadow of their Big Ten brethren from Ann Arbor in the Michigan Wolverines. Since Mark Dantonio took over as the head football coach at Michigan State in 2007, the Spartans have only lost to the Wolverines twice. And over that stretch the Spartans also have more conference titles (1) than the Wolverines.
The Spartans begin this season as the defending Big Ten Conference Champs and the team to beat in this 14-team field.
Michigan State junior quarterback Connor Cook came into his own last season as he led the Spartans to a Rose Bowl victory. At 6’4′, 219 lbs., Cook has the size to be an NFL quarterback and if he stays all four years at East Lansing he has the potential to be an early round pick. Senior running back Jeremy Langford gained over 1,400 yards on the ground last season and you can expect him to once again punish defenses in the Big Ten. The Spartans return three starting offensive linemen including both tackles in sophomore Jack Conklin and junior Donavon Clark.
The Spartans must replace six defensive starters from a unit that was ranked second in the nation last year in total defense, but senior middle linebacker Taiwan Jones could be a catalyst.
This season the Spartans host both Michigan and Ohio State which could be the difference in them making it back to the Big Ten Title Game.
Ohio State Buckeyes 10-2 (6-2)
The Ohio State Buckeyes will begin this season knowing that they lost their last two games of the 2013 college football season and they will be out to change that. The Buckeyes lost the Big Ten Championship Game as well as the Orange Bowl and for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and his squad in Columbus they are out to improve off of their 12-2 campaign from a year ago.
The Buckeyes will not have the services of senior quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller underwent shoulder surgery in the off-season. Miller had been rehabbing and was expected to be ready to tackle another season in the Big Ten Conference, but he re-injured the shoulder and thus he’ll be replaced by redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett.
Last season Ohio State’s defense sacked opposing quarterbacks 42 times which was third in the nation and you can expect more of the same this season with an offensive line that is led by junior defensive end Noah Spence.
The Buckeyes non-conference schedule includes a game with Navy that will be tougher than most people expect. But Ohio State’s season in the Big Ten will come down to the month of November when they have showdowns with Michigan State and Michigan which will decide the Eastern Division in the Big Ten.
Michigan Wolverines 10-2 (6-2)
This could be a make or break year for Michigan Wolverines head football coach Brady Hoke. After winning 11 games in his first season in Ann Arbor, Hoke has only won 15 in the last two seasons there which doesn’t sit well with the fan base that supports the maize and blue.
For Hoke, he is hopeful that senior quarterback Devin Gardner will be able to come into his own this season. Historically the Wolverines are known to have a powerful ground attack and they must get back to that this season as they were 103rd in the nation last season in rushing.
The Wolverines begin the season against Appalachian State who upset Michigan to start the season in 2007. With the exception of games against Michigan State and Ohio State, the Wolverines do however have a manageable schedule in 2014.
Penn State Nittany Lions 10-2 (6-2)
For nearly 36 years the Penn State University Nittany Lions had one head football coach in Joe Paterno. Now since Paterno’s departure in 2011 they are welcoming their third head football coach. James Franklin is set to begin a new era of football in Happy Valley. Franklin comes to Penn State already doing the impossible as a head football coach; winning with the Vanderbilt Commodores. In three seasons as the head football coach at Vanderbilt, Franklin led the school to a bowl game in each year that he was there. Franklin knows that the Nittany Lions are still banned from participating in a bowl game for the next two seasons, but he is hard at work establishing himself in Happy Valley while also recruiting heavily in the state of Pennsylvania as well as looking to play spoiler in the Big Ten.
Franklin is not inheriting a bad team at Penn State as he has one of the better quarterbacks in the conference in Christian Hackenburg. Last year as a freshman, Hackenburg passed for nearly 3,000 yards while throwing 20 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions and the sky is the limit for him. Hackenburg’s main target last season was wide receiver Allen Robinson who is now in the National Football League with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last year Robinson accounted for nearly half of the Nittany Lions receiving yardage and Franklin is going to seek a committee this year to replace him.
But the ground attack will be en vogue for Penn State as it will be a pair of senior running backs in Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak carrying the rock.
Penn State has an easy non-conference schedule this season as they will use conference games such as their tilt against Ohio State and their regular season finale with Michigan State as de facto bowl games for 2014.
Indiana Hoosiers 5-7 (2-6)
The Indiana Hoosiers are not known as a football powerhouse as they are consistently cannon fodder for the big boys of the Big Ten and you can expect more of the same in 2014. In three seasons as the Hoosiers head coach, Kevin Wilson has improved the team’s win total, but it will be tough for him to get that much needed sixth victory this year in order to become bowl eligible.
Junior Nate Sudfeld is entering his second season as the Hoosiers starting quarterback. Last year Sudfeld threw 21 touchdown passes and for him to help Indiana make a bowl game for the first time since 2007, he will need to improve on those numbers. If junior running back Tevin Coleman is able to gain at least 1,200 yards on the ground this fall it could symbolize big things for the Hoosiers.
As members of the Big Ten East, Indiana will face Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State which means that they must beat up on the bottom feeders if they’re going to become bowl eligible this year.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 3-9 (1-7)
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have high hopes for themselves heading into this season, but there is a harsh reality check waiting for them at the doorstep of the Big Ten Conference. In eight of the last nine years Rutgers has made a bowl game, but that will change in 2014. Rutgers was quick to accept the Big Ten’s money, but there is a consistent butt kicking that will come with it as the Scarlet Knights simply don’t match up with the better teams in the Big Ten.
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova is back for his senior season in Piscataway and he will look to be more consistent as he has been up down during his collegiate career. Rutgers head football coach Kyle Flood is hopeful that junior running back Paul James will be able to stay healthy this season and flirt with the 1,500 yard mark on the ground.
With road games this season against Ohio State, Nebraska, and Michigan State, Rutgers fans will be reminded of the old days of Scarlet Knights football in the Big East Conference when they were cannon fodder for the superior teams.
Maryland Terrapins 2-10 (0-8)
Last year Maryland Terrapins head football coach Randy Edsall was able to get off of the hot seat as he he led the Terps to their first bowl game under his watch. But that was in the Atlantic Coast Conference, not the Big Ten. Like Rutgers, Maryland was drooling when the Big Ten opened up the vault and flashed the cash which they fell for hook, line, and sinker. Now it is time for Edsall to become very creative.
As a senior, Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown will look to be more assertive as he prepares to participate in a more physical brand of football in the Big Ten. Last season Maryland was 84th in the nation in rushing and for them to hang in the Big Ten this season they will need a heavy dose of junior running back Brandon Ross and then some.
Maryland’s non-conference schedule will see them meeting a trio of former Big East schools in South Florida, West Virginia, and Syracuse before they will face the big boys of the Big Ten that includes Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State.
Wisconsin Badgers 10-2 (7-1)
The Gary Anderson era with the Wisconsin Badgers is off to a roaring start. In his first year as Wisconsin’s head football coach, Anderson led the Badgers to a 9-4 record and this team in ready to once again contend for a Big Ten Title in 2014.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is a redshirt junior that will have NFL scouts focusing on him this fall. Last year Gordon gained 1,609 rushing yards and if healthy he will be a candidate to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. At 6’5″, 225 lbs., Wisconsin junior quarterback Joel Stave has a live arm and he is extremely mobile which will be important in Anderson’s offense.
The Badgers will have a huge test when they begin the season against the LSU Tigers of the Southeastern Conference. A late season trip to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes will determine whether or not that the Badgers will be able to win the Western Division of the Big Ten.
Iowa Hawkeyes 10-2 (6-2)
Things have changed with the landscape that is college football, but one things that remains the same is that Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Kirk Ferentz is going to roll out a tough, blue-collar team every year in Iowa City. This season Ferentz will rely on a basic offense led by junior quarterback Jake Rudock and and senior running back Mark Weisman to get the job done for the Hawkeyes.
This season the Big Ten West will come down to Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes will host both schools over a six day stretch to end the regular season as Ferentz and his team will be looking to book a trip Indianapolis for the Big Ten Title Game.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 9-3 (5-3)
In every year that Bo Pelini has been the head football coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers he has led the school to at least 9 wins. But for some of the Big Red Nation it is not good enough because the ‘Huskers have not won a conference title since 1999. However that could change in 2014.
Pelini expects his quarterbacks to be dual-threats and at 6’1″, 220 lbs., Nebraska sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong is a load. As a runner Armstrong is tough to take down, but he still must improve as a passer if the Cornhuskers are going to contend for a Big Ten Title this year. Aside from Armstrong’s running ability, Peleni can also rely on senior running back Ameer Abdullah who is a burner.
With seven starters returning on the defense Pelini is hopeful that Nebraska’s defense can return to the days of the famed “Black Shirts”.
Non-conference games against Fresno State and Miami will get Nebraska ready for the riggers of the Big Ten this season that includes road games against Michigan State, Iowa, and, Wisconsin.
If Nebraska can run the football effectively and force turnovers on defense they will be in the mix all season long in the Big Ten.
Illinois Fighting Illini 5-7 (3-5)
In his first year as the head football coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini, Tim Beckman won two games. Last year the Illini went 4-8. So I guess that it is safe to say that Illinois will be bowl eligible this year with a record of 6-6?
In order for Illinois’ dream of going to a bowl game this year to become a reality, the rushing attack must improve. The Illini were 93rd in the nation last season in rushing and it will come down to a spirited effort in 2014 by junior running back Josh Ferguson who must become the workhorse.
A non-conference test in Seattle against the Washington Huskies will let Beckman know if the Illini will have what it takes to compete this season in the Big Ten, but the Illini will still have their work cut out for them.
Minnesota Golden Gophers 5-7 (3-5)
Minnesota Golden Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill is hopeful that he is building something magical in Minneapolis. Last season his Golden Gophers won 8 games for the first time since 2003. But taking that next step for Minnesota this season in the Big Ten will not be easy. The Gophers had a winning record last season in spite of having the 107th ranked offense in the nation and they won’t be able to get away with that in 2014.
A daunting road schedule with games against TCU, Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin should crush Minnesota’s bowl dreams in 2014.
Northwestern Wildcats 5-7 (2-6)
The Northwestern Wildcats were able to end their lengthy bowl victory drought in 2012 and they had high expectations in 2013. Last season the Wildcats got off to a 4-0 start before they proceeded to lose their next seven contests. Wildcats head football coach Pat Fitzgerald is looking to put the losing season behind him as well as fighting off the potential distraction of a football union at Northwestern.
The Wildcats are able to run the football, but they must be more progressive in their passing game which will mean that the onus will be on Northwestern senior quarterback Trevor Siemian.
Northwestern has an easy non-conference schedule and if they can navigate through conference road games against Penn State, Minnesota, and Iowa then they should be able to go bowling in 2014.
Purdue Boilermakers 3-9 (0-8)
After a 1-11 season last year for Purdue Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell and his squad there is only one way to go for them in 2014 as they will once again try not to be swallowed up by the monster that is the Big Ten. Out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams Purdue was 121st in total offense last season and you can expect more of the same in 2014.
Purdue’s first two games of the season are against Western Michigan and Central Michigan respectively. If the Boilermakers struggle with those two foes from the Mid-American Conference, it will be a preview of things to expect in West Lafayette, Indiana when the Big Ten season begins.
Big Ten Championship Game: Lucas Oil Stadium-Indianapolis, Indiana-Michigan State vs. Wisconsin
Big Ten Champions-Michigan State
Sources: Nationalchamps.net, Cfbstats.com, sports-reference.com