Beat writers break down Big Ten East

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
How Michigan deals with J.T. Barrett could be a factor in the Big Ten East Division title race.

Angelique S. Chengelis talked to beat writers about what to expect this season from the Big Ten East Division teams they cover. Teams are in order of finish predicted by Big Ten media.


Last season: 12-1 (7-1 Big Ten)

Coach: Urban Meyer (154-27, 15 years; 50-4 at Ohio State, four years)

Beat writer’s take: "We're about to find out whether the recruiting services' annual rankings are legit, because as the Buckeyes – with 16 new starters – reload, they are, uh, loaded with four- and five-star talent accumulated the past four years. Critical is replacing the never-leave-the-field Ezekiel Elliott on offense and the omnipresent Darron Lee on defense. But according to the recruiting rankings, talent abounds, which by midseason should mean another run at the big trophy.” – From Tim May (@Tim_MAYsports), Columbus Dispatch


Record: 10-3 (6-2 Big Ten)

Coach: Jim Harbaugh (68-30, eight years; 10-2 at Michigan, one year)

Beat writer’s take: "Since just after the national championship game in January, Michigan seems to have been thrust into the playoff spotlight. But why? National pundits weigh heavily coach Jim Harbaugh’s ability to coach and shape quarterbacks, which he is doing again this season as John O’Korn and Wilton Speight compete for the starting job. Also working in the Wolverines’ favor is a highly-respected defense that returns plenty of veterans on the line and secondary, not to mention the addition of defensive coordinator Don Brown, who led the nation’s top-ranked defense last season at Boston College. There are plenty of questions, though, and while QB has been the most discussed, the offensive line still needs to offer answers. Center Graham Glasgow is gone, Mason Cole has moved from left tackle to center, and it appears left tackle will be manned by a sophomore, Grant Newsome, or a true freshman, Ben Bredeson. The schedule opens comfortably for the Wolverines with five straight home games, but the final five will define the regular season with road games at Michigan State, a night game at Iowa and the regular-season finale at Ohio State." – From Angelique S. Chengelis (@chengelis), The Detroit News

Tyler O’Connor steps in for the departed Connor Cook as Michigan State’s quarterback.


Record: 12-2 (7-1 Big Ten)

Coach: Mark Dantonio (105-50 12 years; 87-33 at MSU, nine years)

Beat writer’s take: "Michigan State is coming off its second Big Ten championship in the last two seasons and a spot in the College Football Playoff, but very few believe the Spartans can win the conference again and get another shot at a national title. There are legitimate concerns as Connor Cook – the winningest quarterback in school history – is off to the NFL, as are All-American offensive linemen Jack Conklin and Jack Allen. Defensively, end Shilique Calhoun is gone along with two other starters up front. The holes are significant, but MSU believes its defense could be better than a year ago and the offense has playmakers, though experience is lacking. If the offensive line gels and fifth-years senior Tyler O’Connor is steady at QB, it could put MSU in position to win the East again with both Michigan and Ohio State visiting Spartan Stadium." – From Matt Charboneau (@MattCharboneau), The Detroit News

Beat writers break down Big Ten West


Last season: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten)

Coach: James Franklin (38-27, five years; 14-12 at Penn State, two years)

Beat writer’s take: “For the first time ever, traditionalist Penn State will run an up-tempo spread offense with West Coast roots under coordinator Joe Moorhead. A new quarterback, a defensive line that lost three starters to the NFL and a banged-up (albeit gung-ho) linebacker unit will make games this season a little hectic and very, very fast. Phenom running back Saquon Barkley and a deep, athletic receiving corps will dress up what will almost certainly be a ‘learning year’ for the Nittany Lions.” – From Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue), Centre Daily Times


Last season: 6-7 (2-6 Big Ten)

Coach: Kevin Wilson (20-41, five years, overall and at Indiana)

Beat writer’s take: “Indiana's offense is trying to keep pace as it moves to replace graduated quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The early returns are promising, with junior college transfer Richard Lagow in position to win the job. If he does, he'll be aided by plenty of experience at the skill positions and up front, where IU expects to start four fifth-year seniors, including All-American right guard Dan Feeney. IU coach Kevin Wilson believes injured running back Camion Patrick is the team's best player, and Patrick could be ready to return from an ACL injury by the conference opener against Michigan State. The real concerns with Indiana are familiar. The Hoosiers' defense was one of the worst units in the nation last year, pulled down by a young and injury-prone secondary that watched opponents spring for big plays. New defensive coordinator Tom Allen has installed a 4-2-5 scheme that includes an extra defensive back who functions as a hybrid safety/linebacker. IU is hoping an extra year of experience helps its sophomores and juniors in the secondary develop as it builds onto the back end. Depth and experience are also concerns for IU's defensive line. The strongest players on that side of the ball include IU's two linebackers, Marcus Oliver and Tegray Scales. Although IU's secondary is ripe for criticism, Rashard Fant has proven to be one of the league's better cover corners. Fant finished second nationally with 22 breakups last year.” – From Mike Miller (@MikeMillerHT), Bloomington Herald-Times


Last season: 3-9 (1-7 Big Ten)

Coach: DJ Durkin (first year)

Beat writer’s take: “I think there is still some talent there but there are deficiencies in some areas. Quarterback is a question mark. Coaching is a huge upgrade. They’re going to win some games and be in some games because of coaching. The schedule sets up nicely for a coach in his first year. He has go on the road twice in the non-conference, but the three non-conference opponents were 6-29 last year. It sets up nicely to be – honeymoon period is the wrong description – but it’s going to be an easier transition. It will give them a chance to try things out, play around a little bit.” – From Dan Gallen (@Danieljtgallen), Baltimore Sun


Last season: 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten)

Coach: Chris Ash (first year)

Beat writer’s take: "During the offseason, Rutgers changed athletic directors, head coaches, offensive schemes and just about everything within the football program … except for the starting quarterback. Chris Laviano withstood a challenge from TCU graduate transfer Zach Allen and reclaimed the job he held for 11 games in 2015. How he fares in the new power spread distributing to playmakers like Janarion Grant and Robert Martin is one key. The other is how quickly new coach Chris Ash – the former defensive coordinator at Ohio State and Wisconsin – can turn around a defense that has surrendered 16,666 total yards over the last three seasons combined." – From Ryan Dunleavy (@rydunleavy),