Big Ten Football Preview 2015
By Tyler Smith (@arenafanatic) and Matt Hetzler (@thehetz)
*All images are via CBSsports.com
Big Ten Football Predictions 2015
#1 Ohio State
Offense: Ohio State returns plenty of weapons from the national championship team a year ago. The Buckeyes find themselves with a problem that many other programs wish they had. Ohio State returns 3 quarterbacks that are capable of starting at every major program in the country. Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones will all be competing for the starting job in the fall. It is remarkable the season that Barrett and Jones had in 2014. The Buckeyes will be fine with any scenario at quarterback. The quarterbacks will get most of the attention but they will not be the best player on the field. RB Ezekiel Elliott returns for the Buckeyes and is one of the favorites to win the Heisman trophy. Elliott was a force in the backfield with 1,878 yards rushing and 18 TD’s in 2014. The receiving core is missing some key players from a year ago. Michael Thomas will look to have a breakout season. Thomas caught 54 passes last season and 9 for TD’s. Keep an eye on play makers Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, both guys are moved all over the field. The offensive line returns 4 starters from last season’s team. After the Virginia Tech game, the line became one of the better units in the country.
Defense: The Buckeyes return Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington in the trenches. Bosa is coming off of a big 2014. Bosa recorded 13.5 sacks and was instrumental in many of the forced turnovers. He’s explosive coming off the edge. The team’s leading tackler Joshua Perry is back at LB. Perry ended the season with tackles. Sophomores Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan will look to surpass Perry in tackles in 2015, both players are promising and Lee performed well as a freshman. The secondary is loaded with experience and talent. Eli Apple will be the top corner for the Buckeyes. Von Bell returns at safety, Bell led the team in interceptions with 6 in 2014.
Special Teams: Sean Nuernberger will return as place kicker and Cam Johnston returns at punter. Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall will handle the returning duties.
Forecast: Ohio State opens on the road at Virginia Tech on Labor Day night. After that game their toughest road game is at Michigan. Ohio State has a very favorable schedule with Penn State and Michigan State at home. The Buckeyes have the players to return to the CFB playoffs. I predict they get there and get a shot to win back-to-back national championships.
#2 Michigan State
Offense: Senior QB Connor Cook returns for the Spartans this fall. Cook threw for over 3,200 yards a season ago. Cook may be the best pocket passer in the Big Ten this season. Cook added 24 passing TD’s and only 8 INT’s in 2014. Cook loses a handful of playmakers. Michigan State will need to replace Jeremy Langford. TE Josiah Price will look to add to his 6 receiving TD’s a season ago. Macgarrett Kings is the leading WR returning with 29 catches and 400 plus yards. The offensive line returns 4 starters. Senior C Jack Allen may be one the best in country.
Defense: Senior Shilique Calhoun is back for a defensive line that returns 3 starters from 2014. Calhoun recorded 8 sacks last season. Ed Davis added 7 sacks and 58 tackles playing the SAM position. The Spartans front 7 may be the most complete unit in the B10 this season. The secondary features R.J Williamson, Williamson had 3 interceptions and 59 tackles last season.
Special Teams: Michael Geiger returns as the kicker. He went 14-22 last season with a long of 42. RJ Shelton and Macgarrett Kings will handle the returning duties.
Forecast: Michigan State gets Oregon at home in week 2. If the Spartans can get revenge on the Ducks at home, MSU will likely be 6-0 when heading to Ann Arbor to play rival Michigan. Michigan State also plays at Nebraska and at Ohio State before finishing at home against Penn State. The November 21 game at Ohio State could likely be a winner take all for the Big Ten East. Michigan State will return to a big bowl game and has an outside shot at the CFB Playoff.
#3 Penn State
Offense: QB Christian Hackenberg returns for his Junior season. Hackenberg has all the tools to become one the best QB’s in the country. He struggles with consistency and makes too many mistakes. Granted he hasn’t had the best offensive lines. Hackenberg still managed to throw for nearly 3,000 yards last season. Akeel Lynch returns and was the leading rusher from last season. While splitting carries he still managed nearly 700 yards and 4 TD’s. Penn State is loaded with talent at WR. DaeSean Hamilton pulled in 82 catches for 899 yards last season. Geno Lewis added 55 catches and Chris Godwin with 26. Kyle Carter is a big target at TE. Penn State returns 4 starters on the offensive line.
Defense: Penn State returns plenty of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Austin Johnson had 49 tackles up front in 2014. Anthony Zettel recorded eight sacks and three picks. Nyeem Wartman is the leading returning tackler, Wartman finished with 75 last season. Brandon Bell added 47 tackles of his own. The secondary returns both Jordan Lucas and Marcus Allen who had 58 tackles apiece.
Special Teams: Joey Julies will take over for Sam Ficken at kicker. Daniel Pasquariello will return as punter, he averaged 37.3 yards per punt.
Forecast: Penn State should open the season 6-0 heading into a big matchup in Columbus with the Buckeyes. After that game, Penn State gets Maryland, Illinois and Northwestern. Meaning Penn State could be 9-1, 10-0 before hosting Michigan and visiting Michigan State. With the talent they have on offense, Penn State could be a double digit win team this season and return to a big bowl game.
Offense: Iowa transfer Jake Rudock will most likely begin the season as QB for the Wolverines. Rudock threw for 2,383 yards last season with 18 TD’s. De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green, and Drake Johnson all return at RB. Michigan will have to replace Devin Funchess in the receiving game. Amara Darboh and Jake Butt are the two leading receivers returning. Michigan returns 4 starters on the OL.
Defense: Michigan returns 6 starters on defense. The line returns Mone and Wormley. Wormley recorded 21 tackles and 3 sacks. Joe Bolden is the leading tackler from 2014 with 102 tackles and 2 sacks. Jabrill Peppers will be featured in the Wolverines secondary. Peppers is the best player on the Michigan roster. Peppers will be surrounded by Jourdan Lewis (2 INT’s) and Jarrod Wilson. (50 tackles)
Special Teams: Kenny Allen will get his first chance to place kick for Michigan. Blake O’Neill will be the punter. Expect to see Dennis Norfleet in the return game.
Forecast: Jim Harbaugh has brought a lot of energy back to the program. Michigan opens the season on the first Thursday of the season with a huge game at Utah. They will then return home for 3 straight games vs Oregon St, UNLV and BYU. Michigan gets its two toughest opponents at home (Michigan State, Ohio State). Road games at Minnesota and Penn State will play a big part in the success of the season. I look for Michigan to make a bowl game with 7-8 wins at the most.
Offense: Maryland must replace do it all QB C.J Brown in 2015. Senior Caleb Rowe looks like the man who will take over. Rowe completed 63% and had 5 TD’s in limited action last season. Running backs Brandon Ross and Wes Brown should split carries. The tandem combined for 10 TD’s in 2014. Maryland loses stand out WR Stefon Diggs. Marcus Leak is the leading returning receiver, catching 20 balls for 3 TD’s a year ago. Senior guards Andrew Zeller and Ryan Doyle are 2 of 3 returning starters up front for the Terps.
Defense: The defense loses a ton of key players from last year’s team. DE Yannick Ngakoue returns as the only starter from a year ago. Ngakoue recorded 6 sacks. Young LB’s Jalen Brooks and Jermaine Carter will look to have breakout seasons. The secondary will be the most experienced unit on their side of the ball. William Likely returns with 83 tackles and 6 INT’s. Sean Davis had 115 tackles and 8 break ups.
Special Teams: Groza Award winner Brad Craddock is back. He hit 18-19 last season with a long of 57. Lee Shrader will start at punter. William Likely will returns kicks and is an explosive weapon, taking 2 kicks back for TD’s last season.
Forecast: Maryland has a tricky non-conference game at home vs Bowling Green early in the season. Maryland visits WVU, Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State. That’s a pretty brutal road schedule for a young team. Maryland gets Penn State in Baltimore, hosts Wisconsin and Michigan. Maryland’s schedule does not set up well for the talent they have on this roster. Inexperience on the defensive front 7 could be the factor in not making a bowl game this season.
Offense: Nate Sudfeld will return as starting QB for the Hoosiers. Sudfeld threw for 1,151 yards and 6 TD’s in limited action. Indiana loses 2,000 yard rusher Tevin Coleman, which will hurt big time. Indiana will look to replace him with UAB transfer Jordan Howard. J-Shun Harris returns at WR with 18 grabs and 2 scores. 4 returns up front on the line will help Howard break in the new offense.
Defense: The defense was poor again last season, poor may be an understatement. The Hoosiers simply can’t figure out what to do on defense. Returning tackle leaders Antonio Allen and TJ Simmons will help. Nate Hoff and Nick Mangieri are big guys on the line that could make a difference this season.
Special Teams: Griffen Oakes returns after a 13-18 season with a long of 58. Erich Toth also returns at punter, he averaged 40.7 yards per punt. J-Shun Harris will handle the returns again this season.
Forecast: Indiana could very well open the season strong at 4-0. Western Kentucky and at Wake Forest will be good games. Indiana has a pretty brutal B10 schedule. They do get Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan at home. I don’t see the Hoosiers getting to a bowl game this season and wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Wilson is on his way out.
Offense: Rutgers will turn to Sophomore Chris Laviano to replace Gary Nova. Paul James will be the starter in the backfield. Leading receiver Leonte Carroo will be a big target for the new QB. Carroo had over 1,000 yards receiving and caught 10 TD’s. The offensive line is filled with some gaps and inexperience.
Defense: The defense returns leading tacklers Steve Longa with 102 tackles and Quentin Gause with 72. The secondary returns only one starter. Darius Hamilton returns having 6 sacks from last season.
Special Teams: Kicker Kyle Federico is back, coming off of a 16-21 season. Joey Roth will handle the punting for the Knights. Janarion Grant will be the return man.
Forecast: Rutgers gets an early return game from Washington State. Then an early Big Ten opener in week 3 at Penn State. Rutgers get Michigan State, Ohio State and Nebraska at home but travels to Wisconsin and Michigan. It will be a rebuilding year for Rutgers, maybe notching 4-5 wins at the highest.
Offense: Wisconsin returns veteran QB Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy who played in the two QB system. Together they were both pretty lackluster. Combining for 14 passing TD’s and 16 INT’s. McEvoy was a weapon in the running game with 574 yards, averaging nearly 9 yards per rush. Corey Clement will be the star at RB, replacing the departed Melvin Gordon. Clement is every bit as good as Gordon. Clement rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season, while only getting about 1/3 of the carries. Clement could be a dark horse Heisman candidate. Wisconsin returns its leading receiver from a year ago. Alex Erickson caught 55 passes for 772 yards. Wisconsin will have to replace 3 offensive starters on the line.
Defense: The defense returns only 3 starters in the front 7. Joe Schobert had a solid season in 2014 with 69 tackles, 10.5 for loss. Vince Biegel is also back at LB, Biegel led the team in sacks with 7.5 in 2014. Leading tackler senior Michael Caputo returns at safety. Caputo had 106 tackles in 2014. The secondary is filled with experience with Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton also returning.
Special Teams: Kicker Rafael Gaglianone was 19-22 last season with a long of 51. Drew Meyer will return as punter.
Forecast: Wisconsin opens the season with a huge game in Arlington vs. Alabama. After that matchup, Wisconsin will cakewalk into the B1G home opener vs Iowa. After Iowa, the Badgers travel to Nebraska. Wisconsin should be able to win the next 5 games heading into the season finale at Minnesota. Wisconsin has a pretty manageable schedule and some key returners on offense and defense. If they can win one of the conference road games mentioned above, Wisconsin should return to the B1G Championship.
Offense: Tommy Armstrong is back for what seems like his 10th year. Armstrong had a solid season in 2014 and will look to build on his 22/12 TD/INT ratio and 2695 passing yards. Armstrong rushed for over 700 yards and 6 TD’s. The Huskers lose Ameer Abdullah, Terrell Newby and Imani Cross will look to replace him. Jordan Westerkamp returns at WR. Westerkamp averaged 17 yards per catch and had 5 TD’s. De’ Mornay Pierson-El pulled in 4 TD’s last season. Both OT’s return for the Huskers.
Defense: The Huskers return 3 starters on the DL. Maliek Collins is a big DT, who managed 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss last season. Vincent Valentine was just as disruptive inside, recording 3 sacks. Greg McMullen has 47 tackles and 4 sacks. The LB core is fairly young. Only David Santos returns but Banderas and Rose-Ivey have seen some significant playing time. Nate Gerry is the leader in the secondary. Gerry had 5 INT’s and 88 tackles in 2014.
Special Teams: Drew Brown returns at kicker, Brown hit 14-21 FG’s last season with a long of 44. Sam Foltz averaged over 42 yards per punt last season. Pierson-El had 3 TD’s returning punts last season.
Forecast: Nebraska opens with a solid BYU team, I think this game will decide how the season goes. Nebraska makes a trip to Miami (FL) in week 3. The Huskers have a favorable B1G schedule. The only true test on the road will be at Minnesota. Nebraska gets Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa at home. Nebraska is a real threat to reach the B1G Championship game. If Armstrong can build on the success of last season, I see Nebraska getting there.
Offense: It will always hurt when you lose a playmaker such as David Cobb. The Gophers will return a leader at QB. Mitch Leidner had a decent 2014 campaign. Leidner ran for nearly 500 yards and threw for 1,798. The running back position should come down to fall camp with a couple players vying for the top spot. KJ Maye is the best receiver coming back, but he only caught 16 passes in 2014. Minnesota has 3 starters up front returning which will give the young playmakers time to develop.
Defense: Theiren Cockran is the only starter returning from last season. Cockran had 4 sacks in 2014. Minnesota returns a couple of really good LB’s. De’Vondre Campbell is leading returning tackler with 75. Jack Lynn recorded 57 tackles, 6 for loss. Eric Murray was solid at CB last season, he had 7 break ups. Damarius Travis returns off of a 61 tackle season.
Special Teams: Ryan Santoso struggled with 12-18 FG’s made with a long of 52. Peter Mortell was great as punter averaging 45.1 yards per punt.
Forecast: Minnesota opens the season hosting national title contender TCU. I would fully expect them to be 0-1 after the game. They then have a tricky game at Colorado State. As for the B1G schedule, it’s pretty balanced. They host Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. The Gophers have to travel to Ohio State and Iowa. I see Minnesota going .500 in the league and getting back to a bowl game with 6-7 wins.
Offense: CJ Beathard will start the season at QB for the Hawkeyes. Beatherd looked good in limited action in 2014. Jordan Canzeri rushed for 494 yards in 2014 and will get a chance to start at RB. Tevaun Smith and Jake Duzey will be the main weapons in the passing game. Iowa returns 3 starters on the offensive line.
Defense: Drew Ott is a stud at DE for Iowa. Ott is coming off over an 8 sack season. Nate Meier is opposite of Ott and is just as good. Meier matched Ott’s 57 tackles in 2014. Bo Bower and Josey Jewell return at LB. Jordan Lomax returns at FS after a 92 tackle season. Desmond King and Greg Mabin are good corners that are returning, King had 3 INT’s.
Special Teams: Marshall Koehn was 12-16 with a long of 52 last season. Dillon Kidd and Connor Kornbrath will compete for the punting job.
Forecast: Iowa has a big non-conference game against Pitt. Iowa has to visit both Wisconsin and Nebraska this season. The rest of the B1G looks pretty manageable. Iowa should get to another bowl game after an 8-9 win season.
Offense: QB Wes Lunt is back for the Illini. Lunt was impressive until he suffered an injury. Lunt completed 64% of his passes for 1763 yards and 14 TD’s to only 3 INT’s. Josh Ferguson returns at RB, Ferguson had 735 rushing yards and 8 scores last season. Lunt has a load of weapons at WR. Mike Dudek and Malik Turner are both young playmakers. Dudek had over 1,000 receiving yards. Geronimo Allison is also back, coming off of a 598 yards receiving year. The offensive line is experienced returning 3 starters.
Defense: Illinois returns some really good players on the defensive side of the ball. Mason Monheim led the team in tackles with 111 last season. TJ Neal wasn’t far behind with 98 and 6.5 for loss. They may some of the better linebackers in the conference. Taylor Barton returns will 100 tackles at SS. Overall the secondary returns 3 starters and a couple return up front. This is a defense poised to make some noise.
Special Teams: David Reisner and Taylor Zalewski will compete for the starting kicker job. Both played last season and were pretty average. Ryan Frain should get the start at punter. V’Angelo Bentley will be the return man.
Forecast: Illinois has to visit North Carolina in the non-conference. Illinois should win the other 3 for sure. Illinois gets lucky having to play Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State at home. The road schedule is pretty tough will games at Iowa, Penn State and Minnesota. Illinois may be a year away from moving up the conference standings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took down a ranked opponent this season. Illinois has the talent to win 7-8 games but with that schedule, it may be extremely difficult.
Offense: Northwestern returns star RB Justin Jackson. Jackson ran for nearly 1,200 yards and 10 scores last season. The Wildcats will have to replace QB Trevor Siemian with either Clayton Thorson or Zack Oliver. Northwestern returns 4 receivers that had over 20 catches in 2014. Dan Vitale led with 40 catches last season. The OL looks pretty stable with 3 returners.
Defense: Wildcats return all 4 starters on the DL. Dean Lowery had a good season with 41 tackles and 4 sacks. Anthony Walker has 7.5 tackles for loss and is back at MLB for the Wildcats. The secondary has plenty of experience returning. Traveon Henry, Matthew Harris and Nick VanHoose all played well in 2014 and will look to build off it.
Special Teams: Jack Mitchell converted 14-18 FG’s with a long of 46. Hunter Niswander will handle the punting duties.
Forecast: Non-conference games against Stanford and Duke look like tough tasks for NW. The B1G schedule is pretty brutal also. They play at Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin. They do get Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State at home. I would find it hard for the Wildcats to make it to a bowl game this season. They will have to steal a couple B1G games where they will likely be home underdogs. A 6 win season would have to be considered great looking at the schedule.
Offense: Purdue will begin the season with a QB competition between Austin Appleby and David Blough. Appleby saw a lot of action in 2014, but his numbers weren’t that great. Purdue loses Akeem Hunt at RB and will look to replace him with Keyante Green or DJ Knox. Danny Anthrop had 38 receptions and 4 TD’s and DeAngelo Yancey is looking to build off a 12 catch and 3 TD year. Purdue returns all 5 OL which is pretty huge for this team.
Defense: Jake Replogle led the team in sacks with 3 in 2014. He returns with Ryan Watson up front. All 3 linebackers from last season return. Ja’Whaun Bentley played well in his freshman season with 76 tackles. Frankie Williams is one of the two returning corners. Williams had 3 INT’s and 74 tackles.
Special Teams: Paul Griggs returns at kicker and was solid last season with 16-20 made FG’s and a long of 53. Thomas Meadows is the returning punter who averaged nearly 40 yards per punt.
Forecast: Purdue opens the season at a very good Marshall. Purdue hosts Virginia Tech and Bowling Green in the non-conference. The B1G schedule will be tough for this team to compete. Purdue may go winless in conference play. Looking at the schedule, I’m not sure this team can reach 3 wins like 2014.
Big Ten Offensive POY
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Big Ten Defensive POY
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Big Ten Coach of the Year
James Franklin, Penn State