There are a number of storylines in Big Ten country for the 2014 football season. First off, Maryland and Rutgers will join the conference this year bringing the total to 14. Legends and Leaders are now East and West. Michigan State and Ohio State headline the Big Ten’s best chance at a playoff berth. Brady Hoke and Bo Pelini are both on the hot seat. Braxton Miller is a Heisman contender. We’ll also see the first Big Ten November night games. But at the end of the day, can the conference finally capture its first national championship since Ohio State’s title back in 2002?
Ohio State (2013: 12-2) After dropping the final 2 games of the season last year, the Buckeyes are looking for redemption. In 2014, that means winning the Big Ten for the first time since 2010 and being selected into the inaugural College Football Playoff. That’s all a possibility thanks to Heisman Contender, Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will also boast the top defensive line in the country featuring guys like Joey Bosa and Noah Spence. Chris Ash will take over as the Co-Defensive Coordinator, so expect a much improved pass defense. Urban Meyer is getting this program closer and closer to their 8th national championship. Expect it to happen soon.
Michigan State (2013: 13-1) The reigning Big Ten and Rose Bowl Champions look to capitalize on last season’s success as they move forward into 2014. Mark Dantonio has completely transformed Sparty into a national title contender while pestering the Wolverines and Buckeyes along the way. Connor Cook could be one of the nation’s best quarterbacks by seasons end and he has plenty of playmakers to help him out. RB Jeremy Langford and WR Tony Lippett are both game changers with high ceilings. The defense only returns 5 starters while losing corner Darqueze Dennard to the Draft but expect them to still put a strong D on the field come August 30. They’ll be contenders in November.
Penn State (2013: 7-5) The Nittany Lions bring in ex-Vanderbilt HC James Franklin to take over the program after Bill O’Brien left for the Houston Texans. Happy Valley has already felt the Franklin effect as they have one of the top recruiting classes for 2015. But back to this season, I love Christian Hackenberg and expect him to have a huge year statistically. He has a lack of weapons at his disposal in the air but on the ground they bring back Zack Zwinak who may very well have a 1,000 yard season. The defense brings back most of its key playmakers which should put the offense in better field position. This squad could surprise a lot of people this year and will be a dangerous team to play in November as they are still banned from the postseason.
Michigan (2013: 7-6) It’s a make or break year for fourth year HC Brady Hoke and the road is looking bleak. The Wolverines return starting QB Devin Gardner for his senior season and will get a big boost with new offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier. They lack playmakers with the departure of Jeremy Gallon so expect to see a lot of fresh faces this fall. The defense returns seven starters including future NFL first round pick, Jake Ryan. This team has plenty of question marks but a weak schedule gives them hope. Hoke might keep his job after all.
Indiana (2013: 5-7) Boomer Hoosier? I’m a big fan of former Oklahoma OC, Kevin Wilson and truly believe if they were playing in the West, IU would legitimately compete for the division title. But unfortunately for them, they’re stuck in the West and will struggle most of the season. The offense is the bright spot and has been the last few years. The Hoosiers averaged 38 points per game last season behind QB Nate Sudfeld and will likely keep up near that pace this season. But the defense was atrocious and couldn’t provide any sort of help to get the W. This will most likely be the same song played in Bloomington again this season. However, if the D improves, they could surprise a lot of teams in 2014.
Maryland (2013: 7-6) Welcome to the Big Ten, Terrapin Football! Randy Edsall leads Maryland into a new age and they have quite a tough schedule ahead of them. Stefon Diggs (former Buckeye target) is by far the biggest playmaker on the offensive side of the ball, perhaps in the entire conference, and will keep the Terps in position to compete against better teams. But the offense fizzles after him. Defensively, they return most of their players and could pose a problem for the bottom half of the Big Ten. But expect them to struggle most of the season as they transition to a new conference.
Rutgers (2013: 6-7) Welcome to the Big Ten, Scarlet Knight Football! It’s going to be a rough year. Rutgers struggled in the AAC and now that they move to a much better conference, they will experience some serious growing pains. Gary Nova will most likely get the nod as the starting QB but don’t expect him or anyone else to light up the scoreboard. Defensively, they are very young and inexperienced with a secondary that had plenty of troubles in 2013. It won’t improve this year either. It may be awhile before Rutgers is competitive in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin (2013: 9-4) In a wide open West Division, Gary Andersen’s Badger squad looks to get back to Indy for the Big Ten Championship. And he has the team to do it. Joel Stave is a solid QB and grossly underrated; he will turn a lot of heads in Camp Randall this season. Also on that side of the ball is Heisman dark horse, Melvin Gordon, who rushed for over 1,600 yards last season. This guy has it all and could very well be a first or second round pick next April. The weak spot back in Madison is the receiving corps after losing Jared Abbrederis but the running game will make up for it. The defense took a big hit after losing LB Chris Borland but an improved secondary will keep them in the majority of their games. IF they get to Indy and IF they can pull off a huge upset over the East Champ, they may be heading to the Playoff.
Iowa (2013: 8-5) Honestly, I can’t believe Kirk Ferentz is still coaching the Hawkeyes after that horrendous 4-8, 2012 campaign but here we are. QB Jake Rudock has the talent to drive Iowa into the Big Ten title game after a solid 2013 season. The RB’s and WR’s have most of their playmakers returning so expect a powerful offense. But, the defense will have 3 brand new LB’s and a restructured secondary. This is the weak spot that will make it difficult for the Hawkeyes to contend in the West. They’re No. 2 on my list but that’s because of this awful division. However, if the defense comes together, they could go far.
Minnesota (2013: 8-5) It feels like every year, Jerry Kill’s Golden Gophers come flying out of the gate with an undefeated record. But once mid-October hits they completely collapse. In 2014, they’ll avoid the collapse and take advantage of a weak West Division. RB David Cobb will be Minnesota’s biggest playmaker and could go as far as breaking the 1,500 yard barrier. They’ll have a new QB in sophomore, Mitch Leidner, so look for some inconsistent play as the offense leans on Cobb. Defensively, they return 7 starters led by DE Theiren Cockran and their secondary will be strong. It could be a Golden year for the Gophers.
Nebraska (2013: 9-4) The big story in Lincoln is whether or not Bo Pelini can keep his job after underachieving since arriving to the Big Ten back in 2011. Sophomore QB Tommy Armstrong will start after the departure of Kellogg. The bright spot of the offense is easily RB Ameer Abdullah after coming off an almost 1,700 yard campaign. He is about to be relied on even more this season, especially because of the inexperienced QB and OL play. On defense, the linebacker corps brings back their guys but the line and secondary are completely depleted and will be rebuilding. Pelini has his work cut out for him if he wants to be employed in January.
Northwestern (2013: 5-7) Disaster. Hard to believe 2013 ended how it did for the Wildcats after that great start including a College Gameday appearance for the Ohio State game. But it happened. And this season won’t be much better, especially since there will be no hype. With Kain Colter gone, senior QB Trevor Siemian will permanently take the snaps. But a lack of playmakers around him will make for a long year. The defense won’t be horrible as they return the majority of their guys, however they haven’t developed players well and just don’t have the talent there to make a run. Pat Fitzgerald is basically starting over.
Illinois (2013: 4-8) It’s a long road ahead. The Illini are going to struggle in one of the weakest divisions in college football and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt will likely be the starting QB which is the most promising part of this entire team. RB Josh Ferguson will get plenty of carries as the WR’s coming back will struggle. The secondary is the strong point of the defense but that’s all that’s going for them.
Purdue (2013: 1-11) West Lafayette better get ready for the long haul, because this will be a tough team to watch. After a 1 win campaign last season, QB Danny Etling will have to do it all for the Boilermakers. They do have most of their offense coming back so that’s a positive I guess, but wins or touchdowns will still be hard to come by. The defense will be equally bad. It may not be the scheme or the experience because Purdue just doesn’t have the talent to win. And I truly don’t know when they’ll be competitive again, something that’s escaped them since the Joe Tiller days.
Players to Watch
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Connor Cook, Michigan State
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Stefon Diggs, Maryland
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Jake Ryan, Michigan
Randy Gregory, Nebraska
Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Shalique Calhoun, Michigan State
Carl Davis, Iowa
Theiren Cockran, Minnesota
Michael Bennett, Ohio State
Games to Watch
Wisconsin vs LSU, Aug. 30
Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6
Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6
Virginia Tech at Ohio State, Sept. 6
Miami (FL) at Nebraska, Sept. 20
Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8
Wisconsin at Iowa, Nov. 22
Nebraska at Iowa, Nov. 28
Minnesota at Wisconsin, Nov. 29
Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 29
Ohio State, 12-0, Big Ten Champs, Loses in Final Four
Michigan State, 10-2
Penn State, 8-4
Maryland, 4-8, No bowl game
Rutgers, 2-10, No bowl game
Wisconsin, 10-2, Loses to Ohio State in Big Ten Championship
Nebraska, 6-6, No bowl game, Pelini fired
Northwestern, 4-8, No bowl game
Illinois, 4-8, No bowl game
Purdue, 2-10, No bowl game
Braxton Miller, Ohio State: Offensive Player of the Year, B1G MVP
Jake Ryan, Michigan: Defensive Player of the Year
James Franklin, Penn State: Coach of the Year (Buckeyes snubbed again)
Heisman: Marcus Mariota, Oregon (Winner), Jameis Winston (2nd), Braxton Miller (3rd)
College Football Playoff
No. 1 Florida State beats No. 4 Ohio State
No. 2 Oregon beats No. 3 Auburn
National Championship: No. 1 Florida State beats No. 2 Oregon
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