Y-Penn State Nittany Lions 11-2 (8-2)
In four years as the head football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, James Franklin has done what he was hired to do which was to return this program to prominence. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Conference in 2016, while the 2017 college football season ended with them winning the Fiesta Bowl for the first time in 21 years. Franklin has lost some talent to the National Football League, but with his ability to recruit as well as the strong hold that Penn State has over getting the top high school talent in Western Pennsylvania to come to Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions are poised to have another big campaign here in 2018.
The Nittany Lions no longer have the services of running back Saquon Barkley who is now in the National Football League as junior running back Miles Sanders will no have his chance to add his name to the ledger of great runners who have suited up for Penn State. In limited action last year Sanders averaged 7 yards per carry, and being that he has a similar frame to that of Barkley, the folks in Happy Valley are hopeful that he’l be able to cushion the blow after they lost one of the program’s greatest ball carriers.
But even though that Penn State will be working to replace Barkley, they still have the services of senior quarterback Trace McSorley. At 6’0, 195 lbs., McSorley might be undersized according to the prototypical National Football League standards, but he fits in perfectly to Franklin’s system. McSorley is very elusive as a quarterback, but he doesn’t use that ability to scramble as for him it is more about buying time for his receivers down the field. Over the last two years McSorley has thrown 55 touchdowns to just 16 picks, while he was able to complete more than 65% of his passes in 2017. And McSorley’s ability will definitely keep him in the conversation of being a first-team All-Big Ten performer.
In 2017, all of the attention that was heaped on Penn State was put on their offense, but their defense was 17th in the nation in total defense. However the Nittany Lions lost their top four tacklers last year’s team to graduation, but senior outside linebacker Koa Farmer could be ready to add his name to a long list of solid backers who have played at “Linebacker U.”. After leading Penn State in interceptions last season with 4, senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye is back, while this defense as a whole knows how to get after opposing signal callers as they recorded 42 sacks last season.
Franklin has once again made Penn State a power within the Big Ten, but consecutive home games versus the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans will determine whether or not that this team can make it to Indy for the second time in the last three years for the conference title game.
Y-Michigan State Spartans 11-1 (8-1)
The 2016 college football season saw the Michigan State Spartans endure their worst year since 1980 as they went 3-9. However the Spartans would rebound last year to go 10-3 which included securing wins over the Michigan Wolverines and Penn State Nittany Lions to once again become one of the top teams in the Big Ten Conference. The Spartans got back to the basics which means a simple, but effective offense, and a stingy defense. That formula has brought Michigan State plenty of success under head football coach Mark Dantonio who once again has a team that is worthy enough to win the Big Ten.
Junior quarterback Brian Lewerke won’t wow people with a huge arm as he is more of a game manager. In the three games last year in which Lewerke passed for more than 300 yards, the Spartans were 1-2 as he is a quarterback that feeds of his running game to balance out the offense.
But for Sparty to go where they want to go in 2018, senior running back LJ Scott is going to need to have a big impact. In three years at Michigan State, Scott has never recorded 200 carries in a season which needs to change this year. At 6’1″, 229 lbs., Scott is a load and his physicality at the point of attack will allow the Spartans to lean on opposing defenses and wear them out by the time that the fourth quarter rolls around.
The Spartans had the seventh ranked defense in the nation last season as only four opponents were able to score more than 20 points against them. Junior middle linebacker Joe Bachie and senior outside linebacker Andrew Dowell are two of the better tacklers in the Big Ten as they’ll hit anything that moves. Junior defensive end Kenny Willekes is a solid edge rusher, while led by junior free safety David Dowell who had 5 picks last season, the Spartans recorded 14 interceptions in 2017 as this will once again be one of the top defenses in the nation.
As Michigan State looks to win their third outright Big Ten Title under Dantonio, their season will comes down to how they’ll fare when they take on the Ohio State Buckeyes, along with Michigan and Penn State.
X-Ohio State Buckeyes 10-2 (7-2)
The Ohio State Buckeyes were able to go 12-2 last year which included winning the Big Ten Conference as well as the Cotton Bowl. For many college football programs, that would equate to a tremendous season, but not for Ohio State as they will enter the new campaign with a chip on their shoulders. In spite of winning the Big Ten, the Buckeyes were unable to participate in the College Football Playoff as they were passed for the final spot in the field of four in favor of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama failed to win the Southeastern Conference, nor did they play in the conference title game. But Alabama only had one loss on the season, while the Buckeyes had two which included a 31-point loss late in the year to the mediocre Iowa Hawkeyes. Ohio State had to sit back and watch Alabama win the national title as they could only ponder about what could have been. However Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in college football when it comes to developing talent and motivating his players which is evident by his 73-8 record in six years in Columbus. And as Meyer once again has a team which is good enough to win the Big Ten, will his Buckeyes be able to pull it off, while also reaching the College Football Playoff this time around?
As the Buckeyes once again have their sights on winning the Big Ten, they will have to do it with a different a quarterback. The past four years saw J.T. Barrett become one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Ohio State history, but as he is now pursuing a career in the National Football League, Meyer will look to a redshirt sophomore and a redshirt freshman to replace him. Dwayne Haskins saw limited action in 2017, but his familiarity with Meyer’s spread offense should give him the edge in the quarterback race over redshirt freshman Tate Martell.
The Buckeyes were 17th in the nation in rushing last season and you can expect another heavy dose of the ground attack with sophomore J.K. Dobbins leading the way. At 5’10”, 208 lbs., Dobbins is a burner as his elusiveness led to him gaining at least 100 yards on the ground in six games last season. Dobbins will once again put stress on opposing defenses in the Big Ten, while he should have more of a role in Ohio State’s passing game this season which will have him in the mix to win the Heisman Trophy.
Defensively the Buckeyes were ninth in the nation in total defense, and although that they had some occasional lapses in 2017, I expect them to be more focused this year. The anchor of this defense is junior defensive end Nick Bosa. Bosa led the Buckeyes in sacks last season with 8.5, and his natural pass rushing ability should led to him being an All-American at season’s end, while giving offensive tackles around the Big Ten Conference nightmares.
Unlike most national powers in college football, you cannot accuse Ohio State of playing a cupcake non-conference schedule. On September 15, the Buckeyes will travel to AT&T Stadium in Arlington to face the TCU Horned Frogs of the Big 12 Conference which will get them ready for the gauntlet that is the Big Ten slate. And when Big Ten play begins, the Buckeyes will be on the road for their key meetings with the Michigan State Spartans and Penn State Nittany Lions, while they’ll finish the regular season in Columbus versus their arch rivals in the Michigan Wolverines as these three contests will go a very long way in determining who’ll get to Indianapolis for the conference title game in December.
X-Michigan Wolverines 9-3 (7-2)
In three years as the head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines, Jim Harbaugh has compiled a record of 28-11 which includes a pair of 10-win seasons. But even with that success Harbaugh enters the 2018 college football season with the eyes of the Michigan fan base on him. The reason for this is that under Harbaugh, the Wolverines are 3-6 versus their three biggest rivals in the Big Ten Conference which are the Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan State Spartans, and Penn State Nittany Lions. Michigan went 0-3 versus these conference behemoths last season. And once you factor in that Michigan has only defeated Ohio State three times since 2000, while losing eight out of their last ten to Michigan State, the folks that follow the Maize and Blue want those trends to change. Harbaugh has all of the resources at his disposal to make it happen, but will he be able to get past his rivals, along with leading Michigan to their first outright Big Ten Title since 2003?
The Wolverines will get a boost at the quarterback position with the addition of junior Shea Patterson. Patterson spent the first two years of his collegiate career with the Mississippi Rebels before deciding to transfer. Generally players must sit out for one year after they transfer, but the NCAA decided to give Patterson the opportunity to play immediately for Michigan as Ole Miss is in the process of facing sanctions. Patterson will give the Wolverines some stability at the quarterback position for the first time in a long time as he is a play maker. Patterson plays with a ton of moxie which will make him a fan favorite in Ann Arbor, and of his head coach if he is able inject some life into an offense which was 105th in the nation in total offense last season.
But even with the addition of Patterson, Michigan must get back to the identity that they had during Harbaugh’s first two years which was running the football. Last year running back Karan Higdon was able to average 6.3 yards per carry, but he needs more touches as he only tallied 147 carries. And as a unit, Michigan’s offensive line must develop a nasty personality which will allow them to swap some paint with opposing defensive lines.
Under defensive coordinator Don Brown, Michigan had the third best defense in the nation last year as only three opponents were able to score more than 20 points against them. Junior middle linebacker Devin Bush is a prime candidate to be the Big Ten Conference’s Player of the Year, while he is also one of the top defenders in the nation. There isn’t too much that Bush cannot do on the gridiron, and his ability should once again pace Michigan to be a force on defense.
Unlike most teams in the nation, Michigan has the luxury of having a quality place kicker. Last year Quinn Nordin was able to make four of his six attempts from beyond 40 yards, and he’ll once again give the Wolverines an edge on special teams.
The Wolverines will begin the season by tangling with an old friend as they’ll travel to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But for Harbaugh and Michigan, 2018 will come down to whether or not if they can finally get past Ohio State in order to reach the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time in school history.
Maryland Terrapins 4-8 (2-7)
It’s been tough sledding for the Maryland Terrapins ever since they joined the Big Ten Conference in 2014 which should not come as a surprise to any observer. The Terrapins call the Big Ten East home, and with conference superpowers in the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans, Penn State Nittany Lions, and Ohio State Buckeyes playing in that division, the deck is supremely stacked against Maryland if they ever intend to win the Big Ten. In 2016, D.J. Durkin had some success in what was his first go round as Maryland’s head football coach as he was able to help the Terps reach a bowl game. But 2017 would be much different as Maryland dealt with the onslaught which is the Big Ten as four of their eight losses were against teams that won New Year’s Six bowl games. And as Maryland looks to climb out of the rubble which was a tough 2017, will 2018 shine brighter for them and their fan base in College Park?
If things are going to turn around for Maryland, they will need more consistency from their offense. Last year the Terrapins were able to score a combined 114 points in their first two games, but as the season progressed their offense went south which included them scoring just 20 points over their final three contests. Overall Maryland would finish 120th in the nation in total offense. And after Walt Bell left to become the offensive coordinator of the Florida State Seminoles, Durkin would find Matt Canada to replace him. Canada joins Durkin’s staff after serving as the offensive coordinator of the LSU Tigers last year. And hopefully Canada’s ability as a play caller will be able to ignite the Maryland offense.
But one player on offense who can help to turn things around for Maryland will be senior running back Ty Johnson. In three of Maryland’s first four games last season, Johnson gained at least 100 yards on the ground, and it wasn’t a surprise that the Terps were able to win those contests. Johnson had 137 rushing attempts last year, but this time around he will need 200 as Maryland needs to dictate the pace more on offense.
Johnson will also have the pleasure of running behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Big Ten. Led by senior left tackle Derwin Gray, the Terps have four seniors on their offensive line as they will need to play with much more physicality this year.
The Terps also took it on the chin defensively as they were 87th in the nation in total defense. Two players to keep an eye on will be junior outside linebacker Isaiah Davis and senior free safety Darnell Savage Jr. Davis was the third leading tackler for Maryland last year, and he has the become a leader for this unit, while Savage needs to become an enforcer in the secondary.
Due to the stacked Big Ten East, Maryland will once be fighting an uphill battle which means that they must take care of their business versus the lower-tier competition that they’ll face which won’t be that easy either.
Indiana Hoosiers 4-8 (2-7)
The Indiana Hoosiers will enter the 2018 college football season looking to build off of being so close to making their third consecutive bowl appearance for just the second time in school history. The Hoosiers entered their final game of the year with a record of 5-6, but a 31-24 loss to their arch rivals in the Purdue Boilermakers ended those dreams. However after going 5-7 in his first full season as Indiana’s head football coach, does Tom Allen have something up his sleeve to make the Hoosiers relevant in the Big Ten Conference?
Indiana had their ups and downs on offense last year, but things could be better in this the sophomore campaign of quarterback Peyton Ramsey. Ramsey was able to see action in eight games for the Hoosiers last season. Ramsey is still developing as a quarterback, but he does have some upside.
Ramsey wasn’t the only Indiana player who saw significant time last year as a freshman as more will be expected from running back Morgan Ellison in this his sophomore campaign. The running game will need to be en vogue for in Indiana as in the three games last year in which Morgan had at least 16 carries, they won. At 6’1″, 225 lbs., Morgan can be a bruising back whom the Hoosiers must rely on to punish opposing defenses.
Defense could be a problem for Indiana as they lost four of their top five tacklers from last year’s team. And with no players jumping out as leaders for the 2018 squad, the Hoosiers will have their hands full with the top offenses in the Big Ten.
Indiana will be game as they won’t be an easy out for any opponent, but being that they don’t have the same talent level as the powerhouses of the Big Ten, it will be very difficult for them to keep up.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 3-9 (1-8)
There’s no one who has been shocked to see the Rutgers Scarlet Knights struggle as members of the Big Ten Conference. In four years in the Big Ten, Rutgers has only won seven conference games which has given their following not so fond memories of the 1990’s when they were the whipping boys of the Big East Conference. However for the Scarlet Knights, they were able to win three conference games last year. And as Chris Ash is set to begin his third season as the head football coach at Rutgers, will he be able to propel this program to bigger and better things in 2018?
If Rutgers is going to survive in the Big Ten, their offense must improve. Last year the Scarlet Knights were 129th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in regards to total offense which included them failing to produce at least 20 points in nine games. And as Ash has failed to keep some the top high school football talent in New Jersey, don’t expect the Scarlet Knights to improve as far as being able to matriculate the football down the field.
And if Rutgers is unable to get things going on offense, it will once again put too much stress on their defense. The lone bright spot for this Rutgers team in 2018 will be a pair of senior linebackers in Deontre Roberts and Trevor Morris. Both Roberts and Morris were able to amass more than 100 tackles last season, and if they played on a better team, they would get more recognition for their ability.
The only help for Rutgers to collect some wins is when they take on the also-rans, but the success train will once again pass them by in the Big Ten.
Z-Wisconsin Badgers 12-1 (9-1)
In 2015, Paul Chryst was named as the head football coach of the Wisconsin Badgers and it was the hope that he would provide the program with some stability. In the three years prior to Chryst taking over in Madison, Wisconsin had three different head coaches in the previous three years. But Chryst has shown that he is the right man for the job at Wisconsin as he wants to be there. In three years with the Badgers, Chryst is 34-7 which includes a pair of appearances in the Big Ten Championship Game as well as wins in the Cotton and Orange Bowls. Wisconsin’s program has never focused on bringing in the top-tier high school recruits as it has been more about finding the right guys for their system. And that system should lead Wisconsin to once having another strong season in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin is set to begin a new college football season with a pair of Heisman Trophy candidates in their backfield. The current rules require that a player must be out of high school for at least three years in order to be eligible for the National Football League Draft which means that running back Jonathan Taylor will be hanging around in Madison for a couple of more years. In 2017, Taylor enjoyed a freshman campaign for the ages as he ran for 1,847 yards which included gaining 200 yards or more in three of those contests. Taylor checks in at 214 lbs., but he is a downhill runner as he only needs a slither of daylight before he is off to the races. Wisconsin and Chryst have yet to fully utilize Taylor as a receiver, but when this aspect is added to repertoire, we might be looking at the most complete running back in the nation.
Then there is junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook who is unflappable under center. It seems like Hornibrook has been around Madison for some time since he was starting as a freshman, but he is reliable and more than just the prototypical “game manager” that Wisconsin has at quarterback. At 6’4″, Hornibrook is more mobile than his is given credit for being. However Hornibrook is not moving around to run as it more to allow his receivers more time down the field. But most importantly Hornibrook is a winner which is something that will once again be on display as the Badgers look to win the Big Ten.
The Badgers had the second ranked defense in the nation last season as 11 of their 14 opponents failed to score at least 20 points again them. In recent years the Badgers have developed a history of solid linebacker play which will continue here in 2018. Senior inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly are the leaders of this 3-4 scheme that Wisconsin uses, and their ability to call the shots on defense as well as tackling will once again make it hard for Badger opponents to have any success.
As a team Wisconsin recorded 42 sacks last season, and although that their system is focused on multiple players blitzing, one player to keep an eye on will be senior outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel. The same thing can be applied to the Badgers secondary being that they recorded 20 picks last season as winning the turnover battle in the Big Ten is always crucial.
The Badgers conference schedule won’t be as easy as it was last year as this year they’ll be on the road to face the Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Northwestern Wildcats, and Penn State Nittany Lions. But make no mistake about it that the Badgers will once again be in the mix to win the Big Ten.
X-Northwestern Wildcats 9-3 (7-2)
Over the last three years the Northwestern Wildcats have compiled a record of 27-12. The Wildcats like some of their counterparts who reside in the Western Division of the Big Ten Conference have been able to take advantage of the fact that they are able to consistently avoid the heavyweights who reside in the Big Ten East such as the Ohio State Buckeyes. But whereas Northwestern has been able to pile up the wins, they’ve never qualified for the Big Ten Title Game which has prevented them from taking that next step as a program? And as Pat Fitzgerald is set to begin his 13th year as Northwestern’s head football coach, will his Wildcats have enough to get to Indianapolis in December for the conference title game?
Northwestern will enter the upcoming college football season with one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten under center. Clayton Thorson is set to begin his senior campaign as the Wildcats starting quarterback, and although that he is not coming off of a big season passing yardage wise, he is a winner. Last year Northwestern finished the season on an eight-game winning streak and in those contests, Thorson only threw 5 interceptions. The greatest attribute of Thorson is that he plays with tremendous poise, and that calm in the pocket will lead to Northwestern having another good fall on the gridiron.
Last year as a freshman, Jeremy Larkin saw limited action as a back to Justin Jackson, but now he is set to be the main ball carrier for Northwestern. Larkin averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2017 which included going for 112 yards on just 9 carries in Northwestern’s win in the Music City Bowl over the Kentucky Wildcats. At 5’10”, 194 lbs., Larkin is a burner and he should flourish in Fitzgerald’s system which focuses on running the football.
Led by left tackle Blake Hance, the Wildcats will have three seniors on their starting offensive line as he along with senior left guard J.B. Butler will be in line to be All-Big Ten performers.
Defensively Northwestern will return a wealth of talent which should lead them to being one of the stingiest units in the Big Ten. The Wildcats will get their top two tacklers back from last season in freshman middle linebacker Paddy Fisher and senior outside linebacker Nate Hall. Fisher led Northwestern in tackles last season with 113 and although that he’s only a sophomore, he will be in the mix to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. The Wildcats also have a pair of bookends at defensive end in senior Joe Gaziano sophomore Sam Miller. This duo combined to total 14.5 sacks last season and they’ll once again be a terror on opposing offensive lines around the conference.
The Wildcats also have experience in their secondary as led by senior cornerback Montre Hartage, they have four players in the unit with good hands which is always important as winning the turnover battle is crucial for any team that has championship aspirations.
Northwestern is good enough to win the Big Ten, but their season will come down to their meeting at home with the Wisconsin Badgers on October 27th as this more than likely will be the game which decides the winner of the Big Ten West.
X-Iowa Hawkeyes 8-4 (5-4)
“Steady Eddie” should be the slogan for the Iowa Hawkeyes under head football coach Kirk Ferentz as 15 of the last 17 years have seen this program participate in a bowl game. Year in and year out the Hawkeyes are unable to attract the top-tier high school football talent in the nation to Iowa City, but they welcome those who want to be there, and the rest is history. Ferentz has built his program on the overlooked players who come in with a chip on their shoulders as they are looking to prove the naysayers wrong. And as Iowa will head into another college football season flying below the radar, they are ready to once again rub elbows with the top teams in the Big Ten Conference.
Junior Nathan Stanley is another in a long line of “game managers” who’ve played quarterback for Ferentz at Iowa. Stanley is not going to beat teams with his arm as it is more about him using his wits. Stanley only threw 6 interceptions in 336 attempts last year as he relies on his running game, while there’s nothing wrong with also punting and living to see another day. Stanley will once again keep it close to the chest when the ball is in his hands, but having the quarterback protect the football is what Iowa football is all about.
Last year running back Toren Young saw limited action as a sophomore, but he will have more of a chance to show what he can do in 2018. Young weighs in at 220 lbs., and as Ferentz loves to use physical ball carriers, expect Young to get at least 200 rushing attempts this season.
Defensively Iowa must replace their top three tacklers from last season as well as cornerback Josh Jackson who was named as the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year. But two players to look out for will be junior defensive end Anthony Nelson and senior free safety Jake Gervase. Nelson is one of the better pass rushers in the Big Ten, while Gervase must find a way to pick up the slack in Iowa’s secondary after the unit lost the play making ability of Jackson as he is now in the National Football League.
As usual Iowa will be one of those teams that flies under the radar in the Big Ten, but come December they’ll finish as one of the top teams in the conference.
X-Minnesota Golden Gophers 7-5 (4-5)
In his first year as the head football coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, P.J. Fleck received a harsh dose of what life in the Big Ten Conference is like. The Golden Gophers went 3-0 in non-conference play, but when the Big Ten season rolled around they struggled as they would only go 2-7. However the silver lining in that dark cloud was that three of those losses were by seven points of less. But with the Big Ten West expected to be more competitive this year, will the enthusiasm of Fleck be enough to lead the Gophers to a bowl bid for the sixth time in the last seven years?
If Minnesota is going to improve this year, it will start by them getting more production out of their offense. Last season the Golden Gophers were 123rd in the nation in total offense which is a far cry from Fleck’s last season as the head coach of the Western Michigan Broncos in 2016 when his squad was 19th in the nation in the category.
The Gophers are going to need more production out of the quarterback position, but their offense is going to be predicated by the production of senior running back Rodney Smith. Smith’s productivity tailed off in 2017 being that he didn’t have a passing game to compliment his ability as a runner. The Golden Gophers are going to need Smith to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground like he did a sophomore in 2016, and I expect Fleck to find every way imaginable to get the football into his hands.
Defensively the Golden Gophers held four opponents under 20 points last season and their back seven will be the strength of this unit. Junior middle linebacker Thomas Barber is one of the surest tacklers in the Big Ten, while he is also a leader. Junior outside linebacker/defensive end Carter Coughlin is versatile, and his ability to rush the passer will once again be important to Minnesota’s chances. Then there is senior safety Jacob Huff who has solid range in the secondary as he’ll look to once again lead the team in interceptions.
The non-conference schedule will once again be easy for Minnesota, but they’ll need to find a way to navigate their way to enough wins in the Big Ten in order to bowl eligible. And that Big Ten slate for the Golden Gophers includes road meetings with the Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers which means that they must take care of business against the teams that they are supposed to beat.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 5-7 (3-6)
When you think of Nebraska Cornhuskers football, the words “tradition” and “consistency” come to mind. Nebraska has staked their claim to five national championships, while 45 of the last 48 college football seasons have seen them participate in a bowl game. But as good things have been overall for Nebraska, they have had some issues. The Cornhuskers have not won a conference title since 1999, while they’ve had three different head football coaches in the last five years; however stability appears to be finally heading to Lincoln.
During the mid-1990’s, Scott Frost starred as the starting quarterback for Nebraska. Frost helped the ‘Huskers claim a share of the national title in 1997 as they were the last undefeated team in program history. Since then Frost went on to play in the National Football League before embarking on a coaching career. In 2016, Frost got his crack to run his own program as he took over a Central Florida Knights team that in 2015 went 0-12. And by 2017, the Knights went 13-0 which included beating the Auburn Tigers of the Southeastern Conference in the Peach Bowl. Frost’s ability to turn things around in Orlando caught the eye of the folks in Lincoln as it is time for the Cornhuskers to go old-school. When Nebraska was at its best under former head football coach Tom Osborne, they beat opponents into submission with their “black shirts” defense, and a powerful running game. Frost played under Osborne, and you had better believe that the work ethic, along with the attitude will be returning to Lincoln.
One of Frost’s first orders of business will be to fix an offense which was 87th in the nation last year in total offense. Frost will have to start over from scratch as the ‘Huskers are lacking talent on that side of the football, but this unit should improve as the season progresses.
The outlook on defense isn’t that much better for Nebraska as they were 101th in total defense. But one player to keep an eye on will be senior inside linebacker Dedrick Young. Young is the best tackler and defender that Nebraska has as Frost will rely on his talent and leadership as he looks to get through what should be a rocky first year for him in Lincoln.
Things won’t be easy for Frost as he looks to establish his program with Nebraska, but he understands what it takes to win there, and in the long term he is the right man for the job.
X-Purdue Boilermakers 6-6 (3-6)
It has not taken head football coach Jeff Brohm that long to turn around the fortunes of the Purdue Boilermakers as in just one year, he led the school to its first bowl appearance in five years. Brohm was able to take a program which had been down on its luck, and make them respectable. But now the next task for Brohm will be to make Purdue a contender in the Big Ten Conference which starts with consistency.
Junior quarterback Elijah Sindelar will be under center when the season starts for the Boilermakers and he has already proven himself to be a leader for this team. Amazingly Sindelar played with a torn ACL during the last 3 1/2 games of 2017. Sindelar has recovered and is back to work with the Boilermakers. And the fact that Sindelar was willing to leave his guts on the field will fly over well in Purdue’s locker room as his teammates know that their quarterback will leave it all on the line.
Brohm is still in the process of getting players who fit his system to West Lafayette, but one point of interest for Purdue this year will be that their offensive line is one of the more experienced in the Big Ten. Led by senior left tackle Eric Swingler, the Boilermakers will have four seniors on the O-line as it’ll be important for this unit to keep Sindelar’s uniform clean this year.
On paper the Boilermakers might not have the most talented defense in the Big Ten, but they know how to get after opponents. And led by junior middle linebacker Markus Bailey, the Boilermakers will once again employ that workman like attitude on defense as they look to set the tone.
With the expansion of the power conferences, things have changed, thus Purdue’s first game of the season will be against the Northwestern Wildcats. The Boilermakers don’t have what it takes to win the Big Ten, but they are much more competitive than in year’s past as Brohm has his program right on track for great things.
Illinois Fighting Illini 2-10 (0-9)
The struggle for the Illinois Fighting Illini to be a contender in the Big Ten Conference have continued under head football coach Lovie Smith. In Smith’s two years at Illinois, the Illini have only been able to win five games which includes going winless last year in the Big Ten. The bottom line is that the opponents of the Fighting Illini do not respect them as this is the first task which Smith and his team have to deal with as the new college football campaign is set to begin.
The Illinois offense was not a thing of beauty in 2017 as they were 127th in the nation in total offense which included failing to score at least 20 points in six games. And unfortunately for the Fighting Illini, they once again lack the talent at the skill positions which could change that.
Defensively things were not much better for Illinois as they were 86th in the nation in total defense, but some of that was due to the fact that they were constantly on the field as the result of a porous offense. However two players to keep an eye on will be senior middle linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips and sophomore strong safety Bennett Williams.
The only way that things will get better for the Illini is if they can catch a few breaks. But with a schedule that doesn’t have too many soft spots, expect another long fall on the gridiron in Champaign.
Big Ten Championship Game-Lucas Oil Stadium-Indianapolis, Indiana-Wisconsin vs. Penn State
Conference Champion: Wisconsin
Y-New Year’s Six
Z-College Football Playoff
Sources: Cfbstats.com, Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com