Big Ten Football Preview 2014
By Matt Hetzler
Big Ten Football Predictions 2014
#1 Ohio State
Offense: QB Braxton Miller will be back for his senior season and will once again be a pre-season Heisman favorite. Miller accounted for 36 TD’s last season, with 2,094 yards passing and over 1,000 on the ground. Ohio State loses Carlos Hyde at RB, which leaves huge shoes to fill. Hyde rushed for over 1,500 yards last season, so replacing him will not be easy. Ezekiel Elliot appears to have the first crack at RB in 2014. The receivers will be some of the best in the B1G with Devin Smith, Corey Smith and playmaker Dontre Wilson. TE Jeff Heuerman is a threat as well, he caught four TD’s in 2013 and averaged over 17 yards per catch. One huge concern for the Buckeyes will be the play of the offensive line with only one starter back.
Defense: The defensive line is stacked and returns all the starters from last season. Noah Spence, Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa make up one of the best defensive lines in the NCAA. Spence had eight sacks, Bennett seven, and Bosa seven and half last season. Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant are back at linebacker. CB Doran Grant had three picks last season and is the only returning starter in the secondary. The secondary is going to be a concern for DC Luke Fickell.
Special Teams: Freshman Sean Nuernberger will take over the kicking duties and Cameron Johnston will be the punter again this season. Dontre Wilson will handle the returns.
Overview: It is the 3rd season for Urban Meyer as the HC of the Buckeyes. Ohio State has a very manageable schedule as usual. The game at Penn State could be interesting, and the one very tough game at Michigan State could be the only bumps in the road. The offense should be fine even with the questions at OL, and the defensive line is so good that the secondary should be fine. I don’t see the Buckeyes losing in the regular season as they are more talented than any potential opponent. Another trip to the B1G Championship should be the case and a shot at the CFB playoffs if they can win their first B1G Championship under Urban Meyer.
#2 Michigan State
Offense: QB Connor Cook returns under center for the mighty Spartans in 2014. Cook threw for 2,755 yards and 22 TD’s last season. RB Jeremy Langford is back after rushing for 1,422 yards and 18 scores. The receivers are deep this season with the return of Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings. The offensive line only returns two starters but are a veteran group.
Defense: The Spartans only return five starters from last season’s team. Michigan State will need players to step up after losing as much talent on defense as the Spartans did. Up front Michigan State returns Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush. Calhoun had seven and half sacks and Rush added five. In the secondary Kurtis Drummond returns for his senior season. Drummond was second on the team in tackles last season with 91 and had four interceptions. Senior Taiwan Jones is the veteran in the middle of the defense, Jones recorded 67 tackles last season.
Special Teams: Michael Geiger is back after a solid true freshman campaign in 2013. Geiger hit 15 of 16 FG's with a long of 49. Senior Mike Sadler is the punter again for the Spartans.
Overview: Mark Dantonio had led the Spartans to three double digit win seasons in the last four. The Spartans will look to win the B1G Championship again this season and the schedule sets up quite nicely for them. Michigan State gets Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State at home. Michigan State does get a matchup with Oregon on the road in the second week of the season. There are concerns about the offensive line but other than that the Spartans appear to be loaded for another run at the B1G Championship.
Offense: Devin Gardner will be back at QB for his senior year. Gardner had some great moments last season, including nearly upsetting the Buckeyes. Gardner threw for nearly 3,000 yards and accounted for 32 TD’s. Gardner returning is one of the key pieces for an offense returning seven starters. Derrick Green will handle the running game. Green rushed for 270 yards and a couple scores in a limited role last season. The Wolverines lose Jeremy Gallon at WR, but return Devin Funchess who pulled in six TD’s last season. Michigan has big holes to fill up front on the line. Michigan lost Taylor Lewan up front and has no players ready to fill that need.
Defense: Michigan’s defense may be the best in the entire B1G. The Wolverines return eight starters from last season. The linebackers are some of the best in the country, MLB Jake Ryan is the leader of the defense. OLB’s James Ross and Derrick Morgan had 86 and 85 tackles last season. Big DE Frank Clark also returns and led the team in sacks last season. The secondary will be a fun group to watch, they are all playmakers and true freshman Jabrill Peppers comes in with a lot of hype. Blake Countess had six interceptions last season and is one of the top CB’s in the NCAA. SS Jarrod Wilson added 50 tackles and two picks last season.
Special Teams: Matt Wile will replace Brandon Gibbons as the kicker for Michigan. Will Hagerup will be back as the teams punter.
Overview: Brady Hoke needs a big year in Ann Arbor to potentially save his job. I think Hoke is the right person for the job, but these days in CFB, you have to win consistently. Devin Gardner is the most important player on the team. If Gardner can take care of the ball, the Wolverines will be dangerous. The defense will be good enough to keep Michigan in any ball game. Michigan has three tough road games this season, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. These are the only three games that are question marks for the Wolverines. Michigan should win at least nine games and return to a big bowl game in 2014.
#4 Penn State
Overview: James Franklin is the head coach now at Penn State and he has some very talented players. QB Christian Hackenberg is as solid as QBs come. Hackenberg nearly threw for 3,000 yards as a freshman, along with 20 TD’s. Zack Zwinak returns at RB, he nearly reached 1,000 yards last season. Freshmen WR’s Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin should be able to make an early impact. The offensive line is going to be a problem for the Nittany Lions coming into the season, injuries and inexperience could derail the Lions early. The defensive line and secondary are fairly strong, however the middle of the defense will be a big question mark. Penn State could very well win double digits this season, if they can stay healthy and get some play from the young WR’s. James Franklin is a great coach and will continue to bring Penn State back to the top.
Overview: QB’s Tre Robinson and Nate Sudfeld are back from an offense that averaged over 38 points a game last season. They combined for over 4,000 yards of total offense. Telvin Coleman who rushed for over 900 yards is also back. Shane Wynn is their most experienced wideout. 4 star recruit Dominique Booth could be a factor for the Hoosiers offense. The offensive should be solid. The defense was awful last season, giving up a ton of yards and points. LB David Cooper had 85 tackles last season. Tim Bennett is a player to watch at CB. The defense will need to improve if they want to get to a bowl game this season. The schedule is tough with road trips to Bowling Green and Missouri early. Trips to Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State in the conference slate will hurt.
Overview: Maryland jumps from the ACC into B1G play this season. Maryland is equipped to make a little noise this season. QB C.J. Brown returns as will playmaker Stefon Diggs at WR. Brandon Moss returns in the backfield, rushing for 776 yards last season. WR Levern Jacobs could also be a big target for Brown. The defense gets DE Andre Monroe back, Monroe had 9.5 sacks last season. The linebackers are a veteran group. The secondary needs to step up a notch if Maryland wants to contend. Maryland has a pretty tough schedule with trips to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan. Maryland will end up at the bottom half of the East, but has some great pieces for the future.
Overview: Rutgers joins the B1G in 2014, moving over from the American. Rutgers returns plenty of starters, but the B1G is not the AAC. Rutgers will have some growing pains as they step up in competition. Rutgers returns a veteran QB in Gary Nova and a solid RB Paul James. The defense returns some great pieces, mainly the linebackers. Rutgers received no breaks from the scheduling, as the Knights visit OSU, Nebraska and Michigan State. Rutgers will need Nova and the offense to score some points if they want to get a couple of wins in their first season of Big Ten play.
Offense: Joel Stave will be back as the QB for the Badgers in 2014. Stave wasn’t terrible last season throwing for 2,494 yards and 22 TD’s, but also threw 13 interceptions. Stave loses all the meaningful receivers from last season, so there will be learning curves in the passing game. Jordan Frederick will be a big target at 6'4". Wisconsin may have the best running back in the country in Melvin Gordon. Melvin Gordon ran for 1,609 yards last season and 12 TD’s. Those numbers are amazing considering he split carries with James White and had 15 less carries. Gordon averaged nearly 8 yards per carry. The offensive line returns four starters which makes you believe Gordon is going to have a big year.
Defense: The Badgers are going to be interesting on the defensive side of the ball. Wisconsin returns only three starters from last season. All three of those starters are in the secondary which will be one of the better units in the B1G. There is plenty of playing experience amongst the linebackers, but the Badgers lose star Chris Borland. The defensive line will be the biggest question mark on the team. Warren Herring did record four sacks last season for Wisconsin.
Special Teams: Jack Russell will return as the kicker after hitting 9 of 13 FG's last season. Drew Meyer also returns at punter. Kenzel Doe will be a threat in the return game.
Overview: Gary Anderson will have his work cut out for him in his second season in Madison. Wisconsin has a huge game in week 1 against the LSU Tigers in Houston. Then they open up B1G play at NW which could be very tricky. After that game, Wisconsin really won’t be tested until they get Nebraska at home on November 15. Wisconsin finishes with a road game at Iowa and home against Minnesota. Wisconsin gets the top spot in the West, mainly because of the schedule. Melvin Gordon is the front runner for the Heisman trophy. With the best OL in the B1G, Wisconsin should be back in a big bowl game, with possibly a B1G Championship.
Offense: Tommy Armstrong will have to be the man this season at QB for the Huskers. Armstrong struggled last season when called upon. Armstrong threw for nine TD’s but also threw eight picks. Nebraska has maybe the best running back in the country in Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah rushed for 1,690 yards last season and nine TD’s. Kenny Bell is a sure thing at WR, and should be Armstrong’s biggest target. The offensive line loses four starters. Like most of the contenders in the B1G this season there will be big questions about the OL play.
Defense: DE Randy Gregory is a great talent for the Cornhuskers, Gregory is coming off of a 2013 season that saw him have 10.5 sacks. Gregory will be the star of a very good Huskers DL this season. The linebackers all return for 2014 which will help boost the defensive numbers. SS Corey Cooper returns after leading the team in tackles a season ago.
Special Teams: Freshman kicker Drew Brown will take over for Pat Smith. Sam Foltz returns as the punter. Kenny Bell is a threat on special teams and took one to the house last season.
Overview: Nebraska has won nine or more games in each Bo Pelini’s six seasons at the helm. Nebraska has plenty of questions across the roster, but so does most of the B1G. Pelini is a great coach and the Huskers should reach double digit wins again. Road games in conference vs Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa are all manageable. The Huskers also get a big non-conference showdown with the Hurricanes of Miami at home. Abdullah is a sleeper for the Heisman trophy and could very well win it if the Huskers are winning games.
Overview: Northwestern was set for a big season in 2013, until the wheels fell off. After a close loss to Ohio State at home, the Wildcats face planted and limped to a 5-7 record. Trevor Siemian returns at QB after throwing for over 2,000 yards last season. Venric Mark will return from injury and will need to return to his 2012 form. The wideouts are experienced with Dan Vitale, Christian Jones, and Tony Jones back. All five starters from last season return on the offensive line. On defense there is a lot to like about the Wildcats. Chi Chi Ariguzo made 106 tackles last season. The secondary may be one the best in the conference and up front they look good on paper. The Wildcats may come back in 2014 with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove to the entire B1G. NW is in a position to make it back to a bowl season and gets Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan at home.
Overview: Iowa turned in an 8-5 season in 2013 and the Hawkeyes will look to continue the success. The offense returns many key players, including QB Jake Rudock. Rudock went through some growing pains last season, but showed some potential. RB Mark Weisman was the leading rusher last season, with 975 yards and 8 scores. Kevonte Martin-Manley is an impact player at WR. The offensive line returns 3 starters to give some stability to the offense. The defense is not as lucky as the offense, returning just a handful of starters. Iowa lost some key players on defense including all of the linebackers. Carl Davis is player to watch up front and safety John Lowdermilk returns after making 78 stops last season. Iowa has a chance to enjoy the same success as last season, after drawing Indiana and Maryland out of the East. Iowa gets home games with NW, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The offense should be able to produce, but Kirk Ferentz has to get the defense settled early in the season.
Overview: Jerry Kill has turned Minnesota’s football program around, winning eight games last season. David Cobb returns at running back and is a playmaker. Cobb ran for over 1,200 yards last season. Mitch Leidner will be the starting QB. Leidner is a good runner, but completed only 55% of his passes last season. The offensive line is experienced, while the receiving core is very young. The defense was really good last season and returns nearly all of the starters. Theiren Cockran recorded 7.5 sacks last season and is back up front. The linebackers look like a strong unit for the Gophers. The secondary struggled a bit last season and will look to add onto the experience of last season. The Gophers are an interesting team. Minnesota has plenty of talent to contend in the West, but the schedule is tough to manage. They get Iowa, NW and Ohio State at home, but travel to Michigan, TCU, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to close out the season. It will be tough to duplicate last season’s success with the schedule they have, and the talent of the B1G this season.
Overview: Illinois gets a boost at the QB position with Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt coming to Champaign. Lunt will have a couple veteran receivers to throw to with Barr and Allison back. Josh Ferguson will return after rushing for nearly 800 yards last season. The offensive returns 4 starters. The defense was pretty awful last season, giving up a ton of points. The defensive line is young and lacks experience to handle the big guys in the B1G. Linebacker Mason Monheim is a bright spot for the Illini, he’s a proven leader with 97 tackles last season. The secondary should be able to hang with most passing attacks in the league. Illinois is a young team, and Lunt may be what they need to get into a bowl game. The schedule does Illinois no favors though, with road trips to Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State and NW.
Overview: In 2013, the Boilermakers won only 1 game, and will look to improve greatly on the win total. However the roster lacks talent and is filled with question marks at key positions. The offense averaged about 15 points per game last season. RB’s Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt will be a decent 1-2 punch for Purdue. QB Danny Etling needs to improve as a passer but does not have a proven WR. The defense will look to improve. That side of the ball has plenty of experience, but lacks the talent and depth to contend in the West this season. The secondary will be a lot better, but needs the front seven to produce. Purdue has a chance to double up on the win total from last season in the non-conference, but the conference slate will be too much for the Boilermakers.
Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
Noah Spence, LB, Ohio State
Big Ten Coach of the Year
Gary Anderson, Wisconsin
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