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Why: I’m so tempted to pick the Buckeyes here, as they are without question the most talented team in the conference on paper. But intangibles matter, and Michigan returns the most experienced team in the conference, highlighted by All-American multi-year starters Jourdan Lewis and Jabril Peppers, pacing what should be one of the best defenses in the country.
Michigan does, however, have a few issues to overcome to become a champion for the first time since most of us discovered jerking off. First, Jim Harbaugh, who I theorize took this job as an excuse to have university sponsored “sleepovers” with young boys, needs a quarterback. Currently, the Wolverines have reportedly narrowed the summer-long competition to Houston transfer John O’Korn and third-year former Hoke recruit Wilton Speight, both of whom should have Michigan fans as nervous as a “you should really get tested” text.
Harbaugh is supposedly a QB genius, somehow hoodwinking the 49ers into throwing $100 million at Colin Kaepernick and making Iowa castoff Jake Rudock into an all-conference caliber signal caller, but a kid who couldn’t hack it at Houston and a fringe three-star recruit with a shot-put delivery and 5.2 forty? Jim has his work cut out for him.
Michigan does have perhaps the best defensive line and secondary units in the nation, led by two lock first round picks (the aforementioned Lewis and Peppers) and the addition of #1 overall recruit Rashan Gary. The linebackers, though, are dangerously inexperienced for a position dependent on split-second reads, as the Wolverines are likely starting freshman Devin Bush on the outside.
A great season in Ann Arbor and the first Big 10 Title since the glory days of George W. Bush, but, again, the Wolverines fail in Columbus.
2. Ohio State
Why: This is an outlandish prediction, as I realize Urban Meyer has lost a combined two conference games in the last three seasons, a mark I expect the Buckeyes to equal this year alone. At some point, though, losing seven top sixty overall draft picks has to take a toll, with perhaps the greatest running back in school history (sorry, Eddie George) Zeke Elliott crashing the first round of your fantasy draft this year and the loss of their three main receiving targets (Braxton Miller, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas), the Buckeyes are, at best, in “reloading” mode.
JT Barrett returns to lead what remains a talented, but extremely inexperienced offense. Mike Weber, a highly touted sophomore from Detroit, takes over at running back while three all-conference level offensive linemen must be replaced. Defensively, the Buckeyes lose top corner Eli Apple (now ironically playing for the Giants in the Big Apple), linebacker Darron Lee, lineman Joey Bosa, and safety Vonn Bell.
Ohio State must replace a staggering 11 of the 2016 top 102 overall draft picks, more players selected in the top 100 in a single season than rival Michigan has had taken in the last 7 seasons combined. Even with the incredible Florida-level recruiting Urban Meyer has brought to Columbus, hopefully without the known murderers, the Buckeyes will simply lose too much.
I see losses at Oklahoma, at Michigan State, and in an absolute shocker at Wisconsin. You’re welcome, DeVry.
3. Michigan State
Why: Now, before you comment “wait, how can they be 9-3 and third?,” let me explain: the Big 10 has a bizarre tiebreaker rule in the event of three teams splitting a series evenly. What I mean by that is, my prediction is that Michigan will beat MSU but lose to Ohio State, while Ohio State will beat Michigan but lose to MSU. In that event, Big 10 rules stipulate the conference ranking between teams of equal record in conference (in this case MSU and Ohio State) is decided by final ranking, and with the Buckeyes last weekend of the season defeat of undefeated Michigan, I am surmising it will be OSU. Got it?
With that out of the way, you guys know I like MSU and their perpetually scowling coach Mark Dantonio to win more than the Vegas-allotted 7.5 games this season. Dantonio has averaged nearly 11 wins per season since 2011, and has defeated “big brother” Michigan in a staggering six of the last seven matchups, not to mention handing OSU its only two in-conference losses of the last three years. Betting against Dantonio and the Spartans has cost me, and other doubters, dearly.
The Spartans do not recruit at a Michigan/Ohio State level, but have now proven with their sustained success that their formula is repeatable, recruiting players fitting their system regardless of ranking and relying on superior development and scheme to overpower “superior” (on paper) rosters. Now, after the three best overall classes in modern Spartan history, and the emergence of Malik McDowell as perhaps the best defensive player in the nation, the Spartans will rely on a stout front 7 and power running game featuring running back LJ Scott to help first-year starting quarterback Damion Terry/Tyler O’Connor.
MSU loses at ND, at home vs. Michigan, and to a desperate Penn State team with the Big 10 East on the line on the season’s final day.
4. Penn State
Why: It’s going to be a very rough start for the Nittany Lions, with losses to rivals Pittsburgh and Michigan before the end of week 4. The formerly beloved James Franklin is starting to feel his seat warm, as the loss of “wow, he’s horrible… but great” quarterback Christian Hackenberg looms this fall in Happy Valley as a former walk-on and true freshman battle to take the first snap from under center.
Like rats jumping off the Titanic, PSU has faced more coaching turnover this past offseason than any program in recent memory, highlighted by the loss of star defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to Tennessee, an abrupt and bizarre departure. James Franklin seems to be trapped in the eye of a hurricane of sustained insanity, as the Penn State faithful, who for some reason still imagine themselves as “elite,” actually petition to rebuild statues of deceased and shamed former coach Joe Paterno.
Fortunately for Franklin, though his in-game coaching rivals Butch Jones as the worst in power five football, even his walk-on quarterback can hand the ball to the two-headed monster Penn State has at running back with returning sophomore Saquon Barkley and 5-star freshman Miles Sanders. If Penn State can form any semblance of an offensive line, with their much beleaguered former line coach now an Auburn Tiger, the Nittany Lions could weather the early season schedule and make a little noise in Big 10 play.
Penn State loses to Pitt, Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa on its way to a respectable 8-4.
Why: I’ll be honest, I’m really rooting for Indiana Head Coach Kevin Wilson, so perhaps I’m a bit biased. I do not have any ties to the university, but recognize Wilson, who was an extremely hot commodity as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, had the testicular fortitude to take over an absolute train wreck in Bloomington and has done a damn good job gaining respectability in college football’s most top-heavy division.
With that said, the loss of star running back Jordan Howard and the school’s most prolific passer ever in Nate Sudfeld will severely hamstring the Hoosiers in 2016. It’s simply difficult to recruit when your geographic base (Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois) is dominated by some of the most dynamic recruiters in the nation (Meyer, Harbaugh, Kelly), and your school is unwilling to expend the resources to compete in what is now the arms race known as football recruiting.
However, fortunately for the Hoosiers, the non-conference slate is pathetic, with the biggest test a downtrodden Wake Forest team coming to Bloomington. I think IU can beat the absolutely awful Rutgers, and sneak by Maryland and Purdue in conference play to secure a low-level bowl berth and hopefully an extension for Coach Wilson.
Indiana, get real. You play in a stadium smaller than that of Texas high schools and pay your assistants like migrant workers. This is the best case scenario.
Why: Here’s the good news for Terrapins fans and first-year Coach DJ Durkin: it’s very possible the mighty Turtles start the season 4-0 for just the second time in the last two decades. Maryland faces Howard to start the season (that’s a college, apparently) and then tours the worst schools in the state of Florida (FIU, UCF) before opening conference play with perennially pathetic Purdue.
The bad news, though, is I think Maryland will lose their next seven games consecutively. At least on paper, Maryland and their first-time coach should be outmatched the entire second half of the season, playing at Penn State, Michigan and a much improved Nebraska. Perhaps the best chances for a conference win outside of hapless Purdue (who will be somewhat less terrible) will be at Indiana, at home against Minnesota and their Jerry Kill-replacement coach who may or may not be mentally disabled (refer to the last minute of the 2015 Michigan game), and a last weekend matchup with the abysmal Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.
Fortunately, this level of ineptitude should be short-lived, as Durkin has proven his chops as a recruiter early in his College Park tenure, securing a commitment from 5 star defensive end Josh Kaindoh, and going head to head victoriously with Ohio State and Michigan for offensive lineman Terrance Davis.
For next year, however, departed Coach Randy Edsall leaves an absolute mess for his successor to stew through during his difficult first year.
Why: Honestly I think this is the worst Big 10 team I’ve seen since I was old enough to see PG-rated movies, maybe ever. The Scarlet Knights have literally nothing of note on either side of the ball, coming off of a season in which they suffered the conference’s worst point differential, and a recruiting class ranked dead last by several scouting services.
First-year coach Chris Ash claims to have “built a wall around New Jersey,” but saw the state’s top 7 recruits flock to Michigan and Ohio State, while Rutgers filled their class with what, on paper at least, seems to be MAC/D1 AA-level talent. Ash, who has entered the head coaching ranks with almost Harbaugh-level arrogance, has yet to coach a game, and has just two years experience at the coordinator level, a recipe for growing pains.
Rutgers also is the victim of a brutal schedule, aside from Howard who apparently has become the new whipping boy of the Big 10. I see Rutgers beating mighty Howard, but am hesitant to predict any conference wins. Shit, I don’t know if they’ll beat a Division I team, as New Mexico finished the season much improved under former Notre Dame Head Coach Bob Davie, and a week one matchup at Washington seems a sure loss.
This is the sort of season for the young Rutgers staff and fans that will severely test their resolve and faith in the administration’s decision to join the Big 10 conference..
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