Big Ten East Division Preview
The Big Ten East is one of three divisions that can stake a legitimate claim to bet division in college football this year, along with the SEC West and ACC Atlantic. With both Ohio State and Penn State expected to be stellar programs this fall the winner of the East should have a good shot at making the playoffs.
Top Draft Prospects
1: Saquon Barkley, Penn State
2: Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
3: Mason Cole, Michigan
4: Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State
5: Simmie Cobbs, Indiana
Order Of Finish
1: Ohio State The Buckeyes are still among the top programs in the country and as long as Urban Meyer brings SEC mentality to the Conference no one else will be able to keep up with them over time without doing the same. Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard are the top prospects and leaders of a solid defensive line, that returns all four starters, and the defense will be more talented than any offensive unit they face, save Penn State, unless they make the playoffs. JT Barrett gets one more shot at leading OSU to a National Championship on an offense that returns 8 starters, including four linemen. As if their talent advantage wasn’t enough the Conference schedule matches up the Buckeyes with Iowa and Nebraska from the West, two teams that are unlikely to pull an upset against a far superior team. Ohio State will win either 11 or 12 games in the regular season depending on what happens against Penn State. They’ll be one of the 6 teams under consideration at the end of the year for a playoff spot.
2: Penn State The Nittany Lions are on the right track. James Franklin, like Urban Meyer, brings SEC experience to the Big Ten and he has upped the recruiting in State College, PA to levels unseen for decades. What will benefit Penn State this year is the presence of Saquon Barkley, a Heisman favorite that is the type of punishing ball carrier who can take over games. With 9 returning starters on the offense Barkley will not be their only weapon. Tight end Mike Gesicki had a good 2016 but seems poised to have a great 2017 as Trace McSorley’s favorite target in the redzone. Defensively the Nittany Lions return a pair of starters along the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary, each. Marcus Allen is the defensive leader at free safety while Jason Cabinda and Curtis Cothran will lead the linebackers and line respectively as returning starters. All three should be in contention to be All Conference players this year. Penn State should, like Ohio State, beat everyone else on their schedule. How well the Buckeyes handle Saquon Barkley will determine which of the two teams plays for the Big Ten Championship and which team hopes 1 loss, in perhaps the toughest division in college football, will get them into the playoffs. They will win 11 or 12 regular season games, but I think 11 is more likely.
3: Michigan This was the toughest position for me to select as I believe Indiana has a very good chance at being the third best team in the East. Michigan only has 5 returning starters, and while the have ample talent to plug into the other 16 spots, they will be playing against much more experienced teams - with close to comparable talent. They also have the toughest out of conference game, the Florida Gators, which they will almost certainly lose. Wilton Speight Jr returns and has some ability to make plays. Mason Cole will be back to protect his blind side but the Wolverines lost their top three leading receivers from 2016. Defensively Rashan Gary should have a breakout year as a pass rusher, and there will be some other star players that emerge (I like Devin Bush and David Long to be two of those players) but with only a single returning starter, Mike McCray, they Wolverines simply have too much work to do to win much more than 7 games.
4: Indiana Kevin Wilson is such a disaster as a person that he took away more than he brought as a gifted offensive mind to Bloomington. His loss will will be the Hoosiers gain and I expect the team to blossom with his idiocy out of the way. Simmie Cobbs is a rare talent for Bloomington and should be among the contenders for first team all Big Ten. What I really like about Indiana moving forward is that head coach Tom Allen and defensive coordinator Mark Hagen both have recent experience in the SEC, which will help them in recruiting the Southeast and Texas, as well as help them design a far more robust and efficient recruiting vision. Of the three team clustered here in the middle I think the Hoosiers have the best chance at 8-9 wins, while still being most likely to win 6 or fewer. I’m going to split the difference and give them 7 regular season wins since they have 15 returning starters, which is more than both the Michigan programs that they will be competing with for third place in the East.
5: Michigan State After a long run of success Mark Dantonio is starting to come back to earth a little bit as major issues are beginning to surround Michigan State’s program. This isn’t abnormal and a University's ability to weather these types of scandals typically determines whether or not their success is permanent or fleeting. The biggest problem facing the Spartans this year is that they simply do not have a lot of talent. Offensively LJ Scott returns to the program and should have a second consecutive 1000 yard season but there is nothing else about the offense that can be counted on. Defensively Chris Frey will be a good leader for an inexperienced unit and Raequan Williams looks like the next great Spartan defensive lineman. Their OOC schedule included Western Michigan and Notre Dame, and they unfortunately draw both Northwestern and Minnesota from the West in seasons where they should both be competing for 10 wins. They look like a 7 win team to me.
6: Maryland Look at the Terrapins schedule and try to find more than 4 wins. It can’t be done objectively. Linebackers Shane Cockerille and Jermaine Carter deserve mentions and should lead their unit to some success and Jesse Aniebonam is a defensive end that could push for All Conference honors as well. The defense should be able to keep the team in games. Offensively Ty Johnson is coming off a 1000 yard season, and might repeat, while DJ Moore has some game at receiver. The Terrapins simply aren’t good enough to compete in the Big Ten yet, but while their record will be worse this year, they are moving in the right direction. 4 wins is my prediction.
7: Rutgers Rutgers is probably a 2-3 win team. They simply don’t have the modern infrastructure, or talent currently to compete. I would pay attention to players like Tariq Cole at left tackle and Janarion Grant at receiver on offense and Blessuan Austin and Trevor Morris on defense as they each have the potential to play on Sundays. If Cole, Austin, and Morris all return for their senior seasons and some of the younger players develop the Chris Ash could have a much better team in 2018.