Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo break down Michigan and Michigan State for the 2017 college football season.
Another season, another projection as the best team in the Big Ten and one of the top in the country.
Ohio State, it seems, is the perennial choice to win the Big Ten and this preseason has been no different, as the accolades have been piled high calling the Buckeyes the favorites to win the conference and make the four-team national playoff again.
“Obviously we weren’t at the top a year ago. We were near the top,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said during the Big Ten media days, referencing the fact Penn State won the Big Ten. “And Ohio State is always going to be there. I mean, it should be one of the top schools in our conference. And other than that, I think that’s just respect to our players, respect that we recruited some good players.”
Penn State won the Big Ten last season, but Ohio State made the playoff, where it was stomped by eventual national champion Clemson, 31-0.
Motivation for this season? Check.
But Meyer did not want his players to dwell on it this preseason. That past is past. Remember it but move on.
“We kind of let that one go,” Meyer said. “We’ve been known in the past to use different forms of motivation, a loss here or there or whatever have you. That ship has sailed. It’s gone. And we’ve not addressed it. We’ve not talked about it.
“It’s in the back of everyone’s mind. I like where we’re at. We’re just pushing forward.”
A year ago, Meyer spoke of the inexperience on his team with 44 players who had yet to take a collegiate down, and yet, he felt good about the talent. He was right.
He pointed out that six juniors left for the NFL Draft last year and nine the previous year, leaving some holes. Still, the Buckeyes have seven fifth-year seniors who are starters. For a program under Meyer that has had few redshirts stick around five years and seen so many of its juniors head to the draft, having fifth-year players is a bit of a rarity.
“You can’t put a price tag on that,” Meyer told reporters during camp.
“I saw that developing throughout the offseason and in the spring practice. It’s unusual. I don’t know if we’ve ever had that. You’d have to go back some years, because we just don’t. Usually don’t redshirt guys with the intent that they’ll be here in five years nowadays.
“Sometimes the guys are here (as fifth-year seniors) because they don’t play. These guys are our best players. So it’s very unusual.”
That group also is providing what Meyer calls “top-tier” leadership.
“That usually indicates a good, solid team,” Meyer said.
Big Ten’s best
Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News picks the top returning players and top newcomers in the Big Ten.
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State, RB: The dynamic runner has 2,572 career yards and 25 touchdowns. Last year he rushed for 1,496 yards, setting a sophomore rushing record for the program.
2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State, QB: Barrett is the first three-time captain. He has thrown for 6,381 yards and 69 touchdowns and rushed for 2,456 yards and 31 touchdowns.
3. Justin Jackson, Northwestern, RB: The first-team All-Big Ten selection led the conference last season with 1,524 rushing yards and an average of 117.2 yards a game. He has 4,129 career yards.
4. Tegray Scales, Indiana, LB: His 23.5 tackles for loss last season led the nation, and he also led the Big Ten with 126 tackles. He became the first Hoosier All-American since 1987.
5. Josey Jewell, Iowa, LB: Jewell was second in the Big Ten last season with 124 tackles. He was one of five Butkus finalists.
1. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan, WR: Quarterback Wilton Speight spoke of the young receiver’s “freaky” abilities back in the spring. Peoples-Jones was a five-star recruit and the nation’s top-ranked receiver.
2. A.J. Epenesa, Iowa, DE: The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder was a five-star prospect and is expected to play this fall, with increased reps as he gets more comfortable in the defense.
3. Lamont Wade, Penn State, CB: The Nittany Lions’ top recruit was a five-star who enrolled early. He released a rap video in June and now wants to show his on-field talents.
4. Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State CB: Okudah was ranked No. 1 nationally at his position. He was an early enrollee who is determined to play this fall.
5. Tyjon Lindsey, Nebraska, WR: Lindsey is a four-star receiver who had committed to Ohio State before signing with the Cornhuskers. He has impressed in camp with his speed and could see the field at receiver and in the return game.