Big Ten East Division: Key players will keep Spartans ahead of Buckeyes

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News breaks down the Big Ten East Division teams, in predicted order of finish.

1. Michigan State

Trending up: The Spartans were a defensive powerhouse last season, and while they suffered some important personnel losses, they return Shilique Calhoun, the Big Ten’s preseason defensive player of the year. And then there’s quarterback Connor Cook, who returns from last year’s Rose Bowl title run as a seasoned veteran.

Trending down: Michigan State’s defense was strong in part because of linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Overall, the Spartans lose six starters. That’s a lot of talent to replace for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. MSU also is inexperienced at right guard and right tackle.

Last season: 13-1 overall, 8-0 Big Ten

Coach: Mark Dantonio, 64-29 at Michigan State, 82-46 overall

2. Ohio State

Trending up: The Buckeyes are a confident bunch and they don’t know much about losing. This is a team that subscribes to the cliché that they don’t rebuild, they reload, and they will have to prove that to be the fact at quarterback.

Trending down: Quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season when he re-injured his surgically-repaired right (throwing) shoulder. Losing Miller is enormous for the Buckeyes, who are breaking in a newer offensive line and looked to rely on his athleticism.

Last season: 12-2 overall, 8-0 Big Ten

Coach: Urban Meyer, 24-2 at Ohio State, 128-25 overall

3. Michigan

Trending up: The Wolverines’ defense is returning plenty of experience and features depth that coordinator Greg Mattison has not had to work with the first three seasons. Much will be expected from the defense while the offense works out its kinks. Freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers has a starting role and nickel and as the punt returner.

Trending down: Michigan’s offensive numbers, particularly in the run game last season, were dismal. The Wolverines were ranked No. 121 of 123 teams in the country in tackles for loss allowed. They gave up too many sacks and the offensive line again will be a question mark this year as U-M must replace both tackles.

Last season: 7-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten

Coach: Brady Hoke, 26-13 at Michigan, 73-63 overall

4. Penn State

Trending up: Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the best at his position in the Big Ten and he’s only a sophomore playing for new coach James Franklin. Hackenberg, a traditional drop-back passer, was the Big Ten’s freshman of the year last season.

Trending down: The offensive line was inconsistent protecting Hackenberg last season, and it doesn’t look like it will be a whole lot better this year. Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions are also going to miss receiver Allen Robinson. This program is still struggling in the aftermath of NCAA sanctions.

Last season: 7-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten

Coach: James Franklin, 0-0 at Penn State, 24-15 overall

5. Indiana

Trending up: The Hoosiers were record-setters on offense last season, establishing single-season records for total yards (6,102), average yards per game (508.5), points (461), points per game (38.4) and passing touchdowns (36). Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is running the show and some think he could be a 4,000-yard passer. After all, he had 3,295 last season.

Trending down: It’s hard to imagine the Indiana defense could trend lower than last season, but this group has a long way to go. Last season, the Hoosiers allowed all but two opponents to score 35 points or more. Defensive coordinator Doug Mallory was fired and has been replaced by Brian Knorr, who has moved the team to a 3-4 alignment.

Last season: 5-7 overall, 3-5 Big Ten

Coach: Kevin Wilson, 10-26 at Indiana and overall

6. Maryland

Trending up: The Terps are coming off a bowl game last season before their move to the Big Ten and haven’t lost too many starters from that team. Their brightest light is receiver Stefon Diggs, a gifted athlete who missed the final six games last season with a broken leg.

Trending down: Maryland has a challenging schedule with games at Penn State and Michigan, and even though the Terps have Ohio State and Michigan State at home, they do not have a dominating home-field advantage. And in the last five years, they’re 1-11 against ranked teams.

Last season: 7-6 overall, 3-5 ACC

Coach: Randy Edsall, 13-24 at Maryland, 87-94 overall

7. Rutgers

Trending up: The Scarlet Knights hired former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen as offense coordinator, and the hope is he will be able to help the program transition to the Big Ten. He’s probably a good start. There is some talent to work with on offense, particularly running back Paul James. James is coming off an injury that knocked him out of part of last season.

Trending down: The defense was an issue last year and could be this fall, as well. Big plays burned the Scarlet Knights. There are five seniors and three juniors returning, and they said they have matured since last year and bonded during camp. But will that be enough for the secondary?

Last season: 6-7 overall, 3-5 AAC

Coach: Kyle Flood, 15-11 at Rutgers and overall