After Ohio State defeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game this past season, pundits and fans alike immediately started looking forward to what should be an incredibly competitive 2018 season within the conference. With that, it is interesting to look at three teams who could improve their stock this year, and three teams that should expect a decrease.
I know Ohio State fans do not want to hear it, but Shea Patterson will improve the Wolverines. Without a good quarterback, the Wolverines underachieved last season and finished with a 7-5 record. Now, they add a quarterback who has experience starting in an elite conference and one who should improve an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten last season. Michigan will also welcome back wide receiver Tarik Black, who was having an excellent season before it was cut short due to injury.
On defense, the Wolverines return two stud linebackers—Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush—and also bring back elite defensive linemen Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. With Don Brown entering his third season at the helm of the Michigan defense, it is reasonable to expect another stout group on that side of the ball for the Wolverines.
After "Good Guy" Mike Riley's tenure in Lincoln expired, the Cornhuskers hired one of their own as former national champion quarterback Scott Frost was plucked from Orlando to replace Riley. Despite being an alum, Frost is a damn good coach who led UCF from 0-12 to 13-0 in just two seasons.
On offense, the Huskers will have to replace quarterback Tanner Lee, who departed from the NFL, but have four-stars Tristan Gebbia and Adrian Martinez waiting in the wings. At the running back position, the Huskers will add junior college transfer Greg Bell and return Devine Ozigbo, who rushed for almost 500 yards a season ago. The main group, however, is expected to be the wide receivers. Led by Stanley Morgan Jr.—who had 986 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago—Nebraska's Zone 6 should be impressive in 2018.
As for why the Huskers stock will rise, one of the main reasons is that it simply cannot get much lower. Frost has proven that he can coach, and it is reasonable to see an improvement from the 4-8 Huskers, even if they do have a tough 2018 schedule.
The Illini were abysmal last year. Just horrible. A 2-10 season doesn't exactly ooze optimism for the next year, but there are a few reasons for Illinois fans to be excited for this season. For one, the Illini feature a decently favorable schedule, in which they avoid Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan entirely and will have a chance to upset Penn State, Iowa, and Nebraska at home in Champaign.
Illinois brings back starting quarterback Cam Thomas, as well as leading rushers Mike Epstein and Sycamore High School's very own (go aves) Ra'Von Bonner.
ICYMI: Who's next to commit to Illinois? Who are potential break-out performers in 2018? Will the new spread offense produce more points? Those questions and more answered in the #Illini football mailbag. https://t.co/cw6H4xESS1— Doug Bucshon (@IllinoisRivals) April 14, 2018
While Illinois has recently received some positive momentum on the recruiting trail, coach Lovie Smith and company certainly hope that it will carry over to the field in 2018.
Faller: Penn State
Penn State will be good in 2018. In fact, they may be very good. But it is reasonable to expect a drop-off after the departures of Saquon Barkley, Dae'Sean Hamilton, and Mike Gesicki, as well as the entire Nittany Lion secondary.
The Nittany Lions have an interesting schedule in 2018. They play noted giant-slayer Appalachian State to open the year, before heading to Pittsburgh for a rivalry clash. Ohio State comes to town three weeks later, before a bye week, and then a clash with Michigan State. The Nittany Lions also get to face Iowa and Wisconsin at home, sandwiched around a trip to Ann Arbor. They will conclude their season with Maryland at home.
Overall, it seems as though there will be an inevitable downswing from Penn State, simply because of the amount of production they are losing. However, James Franklin has pulled off bigger upsets before, and it would not be a shock to see the Nittany Lions in the thick of the Big Ten race come late November.
Every few years, it seems that Northwestern has a team that surprises a lot of people. Well, the 2018 Wildcats were just that, rolling to 10 wins, including a bowl game over Kentucky. This upcoming season, however, could be a step back.
After losing leading rusher Justin Jackson to the NFL and starting quarterback Clayton Thorson to a torn ACL, Pat Fitzgerald's squad is due for a setback in 2018.
The Wildcats schedule is also a mishmosh. Northwestern avoids Ohio State and Penn State, but has to go to Michigan State and Iowa, and will face Michigan, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame at home. Overall, it is reasonable to expect Northwestern to not repeat their 2017 efforts.
I was honestly surprised the Hoosiers even won five games last season. Now, with quarterback Richard Lagow, wide receiver Simmie Cobbs, and linebacker Tegray Scales all out of the program, I don't see how Indiana will even reach that benchmark in 2018.
I believed that firing Kevin Wilson was a huge mistake. While Indiana never was an elite team, Wilson had them on the level of respectability every season it seemed. Tom Allen has not looked the part in the early going.
The Hoosiers have three relatively easy out of conference games (although it is reasonable that they will drop at least one) and they must travel to both Columbus and Ann Arbor this season. Looking at their schedule, I don't see five sure wins there. Do you?