Y-Ohio State Buckeyes 12-1 (9-1)
The Ohio State Buckeyes enter the 2019 college football season with a different look, but the same perspective which is to win the Big Ten Conference, and be in contention to win the national championship. The last seven years saw Urban Meyer lead Ohio State onto the field as their head football coach, and he enjoyed a run that could match that of any other head football coach in the history of the program. In seven years at the helm in Columbus, Meyer went 83-9 which included a national title and three Big Ten Championships. Meyer retired following Ohio State’s 13-1 season this past January which included winning a second consecutive Big Ten Title as well as a Rose Bowl victory as he now moves aside in order for Ryan Day to take over the program in Columbus.
Day has spent the last two serving as an assistant coach under Meyer. And when Meyer was suspended by the university for the first three games last season, it was Day that led the team to a 3-0 mark in his absence. But now the spotlight and pressure will be on Mr. Day as he replacing a legend at Ohio State; however he has a team which is more than capable of once again winning the Big Ten.
Day will have to break in a new quarterback as the record setting Dwayne Haskins rode his historical season to being a first-round pick in the National Football League this past spring. And now Ohio State will turn to redshirt sophomore Justin Fields. Fields began his collegiate career in the Southeastern Conference with the Georgia Bulldogs, but following the emergence there of Jake Fromm at quarterback, Fields knew that his opportunities there were going to be limited which led him to Ohio State. And at Ohio State, Fields will have the ability to give the football to two of the best skill position players in the Big Ten.
Speed is the name of the game for junior running back J.K. Dobbins as he will once again excel in Ohio State’s spread offense, while senior wide receiver K.J. Hill will look to solidify himself as “the guy” in the Buckeyes passing game with Parris Campbell now in the National Football League.
Including senior outside linebacker Malik Harrison, the Buckeyes are returning their top five tacklers from last year’s team. Ohio State conducted a bit of gamesmanship this off-season when they were able to lure Greg Mattison away from his position as the defensive line coach for the Michigan Wolverines to become the defensive coordinator in Columbus. And Mattison will have one of the best defensive lines to work with in the Big Ten which includes junior defensive end Chase Young who definitely has the attention of the pro scouts.
Ohio State’s secondary is loaded with athletes that can play both the run and pass as this list includes sophomore cornerback Shaun Wade and senior strong safety Jordan Fuller.
As expected, the Buckeyes will once again contend for the Big Ten Title, and their November showdown with Michigan will go a long way in determining the conference champion as well as shaping the College Football Playoff picture.
X-Michigan Wolverines 10-2 (7-2)
In four years as the head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines, Jim Harbaugh’s record is 38-14, but you would never know that due to questions that surround his tenure in Ann Arbor. In four years at Michigan, Harbaugh has been unable to win the Big Ten Conference as you have to go back to 2003 to find that last time that the maize and blue won the conference crown outright. A big reason for that has been Michigan’s struggles this century versus their arch rivals in the Ohio State Buckeyes. Harbaugh was brought to Ann Arbor to remedy the Wolverines struggles versus the Buckeyes, but under him Michigan is 0-4 against the boys from Columbus, while they are just 3-16 versus Ohio State State since 2003. And each time that Michigan appears ready to reemerge on the national scene, they take a step backwards as they’ll head into the new college football season licking their wounds after they suffered a 41-15 beat down in the Peach Bowl at the hands of the Florida Gators of the Southeastern Conference whom they were favored by 7.5 points over. Harbaugh has made Michigan a respectable football program once again as they’ve finished ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press’ Poll three times during his tenure. But if Harbaugh is unable to get past Ohio State and win the Big Ten in 2019, how much more patience will the folks in Ann Arbor have with him?
Under Harbaugh, one of the biggest things that has hurt Michigan versus the top tier teams is their struggles in the passing game. Last year the Wolverines were 80th in the nation in passing offense as nobody is fearful of the forward pass from the maize and blue.
Senior quarterback Shea Patterson has one year under his belt at Michigan after beginning his collegiate career with the Mississippi Rebels, but he’ll now have to get accustomed to a new offensive coordinator. Josh Gattis joins Harbaugh’s staff a Michigan’s new offensive coordinator after spending last year as the co-offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Gattis has a solid athlete at quarterback in Patterson, but now the key will be to make him more of a polished pocket passer.
Harbaugh learned at feet of former Michigan head football coach Bo Schembechler which means that he wants to run the football right down the throat of opponents. And with senior left tackle Jon Runyan leading the way, the Michigan offensive line is one of the biggest and best in the Big Ten as they’ll look to dictate the pace, while opening holes for sophomore running back Christian Turner.
Last year Michigan’s defense was stingy until they ran into Ohio State and Florida who each took them behind the woodshed. The Wolverines will have to replace a ton of talent on the defensive side of the football, but two players to keep an eye on will be junior middle linebacker Josh Ross and senior strong safety Josh Metellus who each know how to bring the lumber in regards to stopping the run.
Michigan will have a couple of road tests on their hands when they travel to face the Wisconsin Badgers and Penn State Nittany Lions. But the Wolverines season will be defined by what they’ll be able to do in the regular season finale at home versus Ohio State as this will more than likely determine who will win the Big Ten East.
X-Penn State Nittany Lions 9-3 (6-3)
When James Franklin was hired to be the head football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions in 2014, he was brought to Happy Valley to restore the school’s football program to being a national power which is exactly what he has done. In each of the last three years Penn State has been one of the top team’s in the Big Ten Conference which includes one conference crown. And although that the Nittany Lions will have to replace some talent heading into the 2019 college football season, don’t expect them to take a step back in the Big Ten.
Over the past few years Franklin has been able to rely on the play making ability of Trace McSorley. But with having lost McSorley to graduation, Penn State will have a new quarterback this fall in sophomore Sean Clifford. Clifford played sparingly behind McSorley last year, but he has two years in the Penn State system (if you count his redshirt season). And now he’ll be under center full-time, while also being expected to keep the Penn State machine rolling.
Clifford won’t be the only youngster getting his feet wet for Penn State on offense as sophomore Ricky Slade will be the featured ball carrier. Slade spent last year as a backup to Miles Sanders, but 2019 will be his time to shine. Slade is a burner who like Sanders is deadly in space, and if he is able to get to the second level of a defense, he will be off to the races.
The youth movement on offense continues for Penn State in their passing game with the focus being on sophomore wide receiver KJ Hamler. Hamler was Penn State’s leading receiver in 2018, and he brings the speed element to the table which will keep secondaries around the Big Ten on their toes.
Like it was on offense, Penn State is young on defense as well in 2018, and now that experience should serve them well in 2019. Last year as a true freshman, outside linebacker Micah Parsons led the Nittany Lions in tackles, and as his sophomore campaign is set to begin, he is poised to add his name to the annals of the great tradition of linebackers at Penn State which includes Shane Conlan and LaVar Arrington.
A pedestrian like non-conference schedule will allow Penn State to rack up in the win column. But when Big Ten play begins, the Nittany Lions will have to contend with road contests with the Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Golden Gophers, and Ohio State Buckeyes.
X-Michigan State Spartans 7-5 (4-5)
After enjoying their best run in program history, the past three years have not been as easy for the Michigan State Spartans. Over the last three years Michigan State’s record is 20-18 compared to the 36-5 mark that they had in the previous three years. Mark Dantonio is set to begin his 13th season as the head football coach at Michigan State, and even though he has presided over one of the best stretches in program history, he definitely wants to get his program back to contending for the Big Ten Title.
But if the Spartans are indeed going to contend for the Big Ten Championship, their offense needs to find some explosion. Last year the Spartans were 117 in the nation in total offense which included them only scoring a combined 32 points in their last four contests of the season. Brad Salem is set to begin his first-year as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator, and he will be charged with getting the most out of an offense which lacks play makers.
Under Dantonio, the Spartans defense has always been tough. Last year Michigan State was tenth in the nation in total defense, and they have the makings of being stingy once again in 2019.
Senior middle linebacker Joe Bachie will be in the mix to be the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year for his solid play and tackling ability, while senior defensive end Kenny Willekes who possesses some of the best pass rush skills in the conference.
Michigan State will be able to handle their business during the non-conference portion of the schedule. But Big Ten play will not be easy for the Spartans with road contests versus the Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, and Michigan Wolverines.
Maryland Terrapins 3-9 (2-7)
Due to the immense success that the Alabama Crimson Tide have had over the last ten years which includes winning five national championships, their assistant coaches are hot commodities when a head coaching vacancy opens up at a school. And as the Maryland Terrapins have finished with a losing record in each of the last four years, they decided to take a dip into that Alabama pool as they hired former Tide assistant coach Mike Locksley to be their next head coach.
Locksley is a Washington D.C. native that aside from attempting to make Maryland a competitive squad in the Big Ten, must get this program as a whole on track following the untimely death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair which led to the school parting ways with former head football coach D.J. Durkin. And as Locksley looks to build a contender at Maryland, he will have a tough task ahead of him in the Big Ten East.
Last year Maryland’s bread and butter on offense was their rushing attack as they were 17th in the nation in the category. Sophomore running back Anthony McFarland was a big part of that as he averaged 7.9 yards per carry as he was always a step away from making a big play. McFarland will once again be the Terrapins home run hitter in their running game as his blazing speed will make him one of the best ball carriers in the Big Ten.
Maryland was 63rd in the nation last season in total defense, and first-year defensive coordinator Jon Hoke will definitely look to get more out of this unit. One player to keep and eye on will be senior inside linebacker Isaiah Davis who is a sure tackler, while also being one of the better players at his position in the conference.
Locksley’s first year at Maryland won’t be an easy as non-conference showdowns with the Syracuse Orange of the Big Ten Conference and the Temple Owls of the American Athletic Conference will be big tests for the Terrapins, while they also have to avoid getting caught up in the wash that is the Big Ten.
Indiana Hoosiers 5-7 (2-7)
The past couple of years have seen the Indiana Hoosiers on the cusp of breaking through in the Big Ten Conference, but they’ve just been unable to overcome the heavyweights in their division. Indiana is a combined 10-6 over the last two years versus their competition that is not the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Penn State Nittany Lions as they are the four juggernauts that control the Big Ten East. And if that isn’t a tough enough pill for Indiana to swallow, they have entered their final regular season game needing to beat their arch rival in the Purdue Boilermakers needing to win in order to be bowl eligible in each of the last two years only to come up short. But as Tom Allen is entering his third year at Bloomington, will this be the year that he breaks through and gets the Hoosiers to a bowl game?
Indiana will have a puncher’s chance to become bowl eligible this season due to the cohesion that they have on offense. Led by quarterback Peyton Ramsey, Indiana will have seven starters on offense that are either seniors or juniors. Ramsey is coming off of a solid season where he threw 19 touchdowns and completed 66% of his passes as he could be one of the better quarterbacks in the conference in this his junior year.
Making the jump from high school to college was not a daunting task for running back Stevie Scott last season as he toted the rock 228 times as he proved to be a durable ball carrier at the collegiate level. The Hoosiers are also returning their top two pass catchers from last year’s team in senior wide receivers Donovan Hale and Nick Westbrook as this offense has the potential to be a problem for defenses around the Big Ten.
The defensive side of the football could prove to be the downfall of Indiana in 2019 as after being ranked 83rd in the nation in total defense last year, the only standout player on that side of the football heading into a new season is sophomore free safety Bryant Fitzgerald.
Facing the “big four” of the Big Ten East, along with having to tango with an improving Purdue squad will make it tougher for Indiana to reach a bowl game which means that Allen and his squad must find a way to take care of their business versus the teams that they are supposed to beat.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2-10 (0-9)
When the Rutgers Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten Conference in 2014, it was expected that they’d struggle and unfortunately they’ve lived up to those expectations. After winning 8 games in 2014, Rutgers has won a combined 11 games since which includes only winning one contest last season. There is plenty of football talent at the high school level in the State of New Jersey, but Rutgers has failed to keep that talent within the Garden State as those players have instead opted to go to other schools in the Big Ten such as Penn State and Michigan. And as Chris Ash enters his fourth year as the head football coach at Rutgers, the clock could be ticking on his tenure there is he is unable to get things turned around.
The Scarlet Knights have to find a way to compete in 2019 as they lost six games last season by 21 points or more. Rutgers was 128th in total offense last year, while they were 69th in total defense. And with the talent pool so thin for Rutgers, don’t expect things to get better anytime soon for them in Piscataway.
Rutgers wanted the big bucks which led to them joining the Big Ten, and in the process they’ve become an additional homecoming game for everyone around the league.
X-Wisconsin Badgers 10-3 (7-3)
After going 13-1 in 2017 which included a victory in the Orange Bowl, the Wisconsin Badgers entered the 2018 college football season with a ton of expectations, but they failed to live up to them. The Badgers began the year ranked fourth in the Associated Press poll, but a shocking September home loss to the BYU Cougars was followed by several losses to some of the heavyweights of the Big Ten Conference, and it would result in Wisconsin’s first five-loss season since 2012 as things never came together for them. But one thing that we’ve seen from the Badgers over the years is their ability to put subpar seasons in the rear-view mirror quickly and get back to contending for the Big Ten Title which we should once again see in 2019.
Wisconsin’s offense will have a different look this year as following the transfer of quarterback Alex Hornibrook to Florida State, the Badgers will be going with junior Jack Coan under center. Coan has played sparingly since coming to Wisconsin as he was Hornibrook’s backup, but he is capable of getting the job done. At 6’3″, 211 lbs., Coan has the size factor, and it won’t hurt his case that he can lean on Wisconsin head football coach Paul Chryst for guidance has he built his reputation around college football on his ability to develop quarterbacks.
It will definitely help Coan that he will be handing the football off to junior running back Jonathan Taylor who is arguably the best ball carrier in the nation. If it weren’t for the National Football League’s rule that players must be out of high school for at least three years before joining their ranks, Taylor could have left school in 2017 as he proved that he is more than capable of being a solid ball carrier. In just two years Taylor has already gained more than 4,000 yards on the ground, and 2019 should see him add his name to the great Wisconsin runners such as Ron Dayne and Anthony Davis.
In recent years the Badgers defense has been propelled by their strong play at the linebacker position, and they have another one this year in senior outside linebacker Zack Baun. Baun embodies what the Badgers are all about linebacker as he is tough minded, and will do whatever it takes to win which is the mindset that is needed to succeed in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin should bounce back in order to be force in the Big Ten West, but their schedule is no joke as it includes home games with the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans, along with road contests versus the Ohio State Buckeyes and Nebraska Cornhuskers.
X-Northwestern Wildcats 9-3 (7-2)
Just when you least expect it, the Northwestern Wildcats will step up and overachieve which is what they did in 2018. The Wildcats began 2019 with a 1-3 mark, but they would rally to win seven of their next eight games which earned them their first appearance in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game. The Wildcats would finish the season ranked for the third time in the last four years as their head football coach Pat Fitzgerald continues to show that his crew from Evanston won’t be pushovers. And as another college football season is around the bend, the Wildcats are ready to once again wreak some havoc in the Big Ten West.
Northwestern’s offense has been guided by Clayton Thorson for the past few years. But with Thorson now pursuing a career in the National Football League, Fitzgerald will have to break in a new quarterback this year. That duty will fall onto sophomore quarterback Hunter Johnson who like Thorson is a big, physical signal-caller who can beat opposing defenses with his legs as well as his arm.
The Wildcats were not able to run the football as effectively last year as they historically do under Fitzgerald, but they should have a stronger rushing attack this season with sophomore Isaiah Bowser being the featured ball carrier.
Defensively the Wildcats are poised to have one of the better defenses in the Big Ten as they are filled with talent at every level, while they also play with an attitude. Sophomore middle linebacker Paddy Fisher and sophomore outside linebacker Blake Gallagher will tackle anything that moves, and together they’ll push each other to be the team’s leading tackler. Junior defensive end Joe Graziano plays with a high motor which is why more often than not he ends up in an opponent’s backfield, and in the secondary, junior safety J.R. Pace has a nose for the football.
The scheduling gods weren’t kind to Northwestern as they’ll begin the season on the road versus the Stanford Cardinal of the Pac-12 Conference, while consecutive road games against the Wisconsin Badgers and Northwestern Wildcats will go a long way in letting us know if this team will be able to get back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Title Game.
X-Iowa Hawkeyes 8-4 (6-3)
The past 20 years have seen Kirk Ferentz put together quite the resume as the head football coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Ferentz’s 152 wins are more than any other head football coach in the program’s history which includes him claiming a piece of two Big Ten Titles. Ferentz has done this while not being able to get the top tier recruits to come to Iowa City as he’s done it with players who were overlooked coming out of high school, and in the case of some guys who have worn the black and gold, they’ve had to go the junior college route. Iowa flew under the radar once again last season en route to finishing with a winning record for the tenth time in the last 11 years, while also being tied for second place in the Big Ten West. And as the talent pool for Iowa is not eye popping, they should be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten West.
Senior quarterback Nathan Stanley is another in a long line of quarterbacks for Ferentz that have the term “game manager” attached to them, but don’t sleep on his skills. Stanley is a solid passer who has the courage to stay in the pocket in the face of oncoming defenders, while also being mobile enough to also make plays with his feet. And that “never say die” attitude of Stanley will once again make Iowa a tough out.
Under Ferentz, Iowa has also been known for developing offensive lineman, and they will once have again have a strong unit up front which includes senior left guard Landan Paulsen.
Last season the Hawkeyes were seventh in the nation in total defense and they have the makings of being a unit that can once again be stingy. Junior defensive end AJ Epenesa has a motor that never stops as at time he camps out in the opponent’s backfield, while sophomore outside linebacker Djimon Colbert has the potential to be one of the best weak side backers in the Big Ten. And in the Hawkeyes secondary, junior strong safety Geno Stone can play both the pass and run equally effective.
Iowa has the potential to be a force in the Big Ten, but they’ll face a rough stretch of games that includes meetings with the Michigan Wolverines, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Northwestern Wildcats, and Wisconsin Badgers.
X-Nebraska Cornhuskers 8-4 (5-4)
The Nebraska Cornhuskers football program is full of tradition which includes their claim to five national championships. But the last two years have been a struggle for the ‘Huskers who posted consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1960-1961. And even though that Nebraska went 4-8 last year just as they did in 2017, it had a different feel to it.
Last year Nebraska welcomed one of their famous sons home as Scott Frost began his tenure as the school’s head football coach. In 1997, Frost was the starting quarterback for Nebraska’s last undefeated team, and since then he embarked on a playing career in the National Football League, as well as a coaching career in the collegiate ranks. Frost’s tenure at Nebraska didn’t begin on the right foot as the ‘Huskers lost their first six games last season. But as the season progressed, the Cornhuskers would be a team that nobody wanted to face as they won four of their last six games. And as Nebraska finished the season on a strong note, there is hope in Lincoln that it could carry over for them into 2019.
It appears that Frost has found his quarterback to lead this Nebraska football team and his name is Adrian Martinez. Last year Martinez took his lumps at times as a true freshman quarterback on a losing team, but by season’s end he became a polished vet. Martinez has the ability to run and pass, but the bottom line is that he is a play maker which could make him a sleeper in regards to being one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
Last year running back Maurice Washington saw limited time carrying the football as a true freshman, but Frost will give him every opportunity to be the featured ball carrier this season. Frost is a disciple of former Nebraska head football coach Tom Obsorne who stressed an effective running game which means that Washington should get at least 200 carries this year.
Another breakout player to keep an eye on for Nebraska will be junior wide receiver JD Spielman who after spending last year playing off of wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr., will now have the spotlight on him. But Spielman will be up for the challenge as aside from being one of the fastest players in the Big Ten, he will also benefit from Nebraska’s power running attack that’ll open up more play-action possibilities in the passing game.
But even though that there is plenty of potential on offense for the Cornhuskers, it won’t mean anything if their defense is unable to stop opponents. Last year the ‘Huskers were 94th in the nation in total defense as this unit needs to get back to having the mentality of the infamous “Black Shirts”. One player to keep an eye on defensively will be senior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry who is one of the surest tacklers in the conference.
The Cornhuskers won’t go 4-8 for a third consecutive year, and as they avoid the majority of the heavyweights in the Big Ten East, this team should be bowl bound.
X-Purdue Boilermakers 7-5 (4-5)
Since 2008, the Purdue Boilermakers have only had two winning seasons, but for the first time in a long time, there is a wealth of excitement for this program in West Lafayette. Jeff Brohm has two years under his belt as the head football coach at Purdue, and although his record is only 13-13, he is building the program, while also attempting to take things back to how they were under former head football coach Joe Tiller when the Boilermakers were contending for Big Ten Championships. Purdue served notice last year that the tide is preparing to turn when they upset the Ohio State Buckeyes at home. And Purdue’s 29-point demolition of the Buckeyes kept them from participating in the College Football Playoff. But the big thing for Brohm and Purdue is now become a factor in the Big Ten West.
Brohm knows a thing or two when it comes to working with quarterbacks and his task this season will be to get the most out of senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar. Last year Sindelar played sparingly behind David Blough. But with Blaugh now pursuing a career in the National Football League, it is Sindelar’s time to shine in West Lafayette.
Blaugh will be able to get his feet wet by throwing to one of the more talented pass catchers in the Big Ten in sophomore wide receiver Rondale Moore. Moore is the Big Ten’s reigning Freshman of the Year as he hauled in 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns grabs in 2018, and the shifty wide receiver will once again keep secondaries around the conference on their toes.
Purdue will definitely score points, but they must start being able to stop people on defense. Last year the Boilermakers were 113th in the nation in total defense as returning starters such as senior outside linebacker Markus Bailey and sophomore cornerback Kenneth Major will have to step their respective games up in order to make enough stops.
The Big West will be an improved division this year, and the Boilermakers should be able to hold their own there.
X-Minnesota Golden Gophers 6-6 (3-6)
Under head football coach P.J. Fleck, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have been a work in progress over the past two years. Last November, all signs pointed to the Gophers missing out on a bowl bid for a second consecutive year until they played one their best games of the year as they destroyed the Wisconsin Badgers 37-15. The Golden Gophers would keep that momentum going into their bowl game versus the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets of the Atlantic Coast Conference to secure a winning campaign. And as Fleck wants to build off of the momentum that Minnesota was able to finish the 2018 college football season with, will his squad be able to make some noise in the Big Ten West in 2019?
The biggest question that Fleck must answer heading into a new season is whether or not that it will be sophomore Zack Annexstad or sophomore Tanner Morgan that will be the starting quarterback. Both Annexstad and Morgan got their fair share of reps last season as starters, but at some point Fleck is going to have to decide who is going to give this team the best chance to succeed, and stick with them.
Minnesota will also have one of the more inexperienced offensive lines in the Big Ten Conference with no seniors up front, while two sophomore, and a freshman will be starting.
Defensively for the Golden Gophers, all eyes will be on senior defensive end Carter Coughlin who’s ability as an edge rusher will see him be double-teamed often which will open up other defenders in the front seven to make plays.
Historically Minnesota tends to play a cupcake non-conference schedule which continues this year, but they’ll be tested in the Big Ten with road affairs versus the Purdue Boilermakers, Iowa Hawkeyes, and Northwestern Wildcats, along with home meeting against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Penn State Nittany Lions, and Wisconsin Badgers.
Illinois Fighting Illini 4-8 (1-8)
2019 is shaping up to be a very important year for the Illinois Fighting Illini. Illinois head football coach Lovie Smith is beginning his fourth year in Champaign, and his squad had failed to keep up with the rest of the pack in the Big Ten. Over the last three years, the Illini have only won four conference games. And as the Big Ten West has the makings of being a very improved division this year, the Fighting Illini will have their hands full in regards to keeping up.
The Illini will begin the year with a ton of questions at quarterback, but one saving grace that they have going for themselves on offense is senior running back Reggie Corbin. Last year Corbin showed off his speed as he averaged a blistering 8.5 yards per carry. It will be difficult for Corbin to repeat that kind of average in 2019, but Illinois will need to get the football in hands 200 times in order for their offense to have a chance.
Defensively the Fighting Illini have not been up to par as to what you would expect from a team that’s coached by Smith. Last year the Illini were 128th in the nation in total defense which included them surrendering at least 46 points in a contest on five separate occasions. Any improved play for Illinois on defense will come down to the play of junior outside linebacker Jake Hansen and junior defensive end Bobby Roundtree as this unit has to become more physical in order for this team to have a chance to compete in the Big Ten.
2019 will more than likely be a make or break year for Smith, and if he cannot lead the Illini to a bowl game, his time in Champaign could be coming to an end.
Big Ten Championship Game-Indianapolis, Indiana
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State
Conference Champion: Ohio State