Big Ten East preview: UM, MSU look to unseat Ohio State
Teams listed in predicted order of finish.
Last season: 12-2 overall, 8-1 Big Ten; beat USC, 24-7, in Cotton Bowl
Coach: Urban Meyer, 73-8 in six seasons at Ohio State, 177-31 overall
Outlook: Preseason camp controversy aside, the Buckeyes are loaded again with talent at every position. The offense should be outstanding despite the departure of quarterback J.T. Barrett. Dwayne Haskins has moved into the starting role and he’ll have six returning receivers to work with, not to mention a running back tandem of J.K. Dobbins, who had a big season last year as a freshman, rushing for 1,403 yards, and Detroit native Mike Weber. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 nationally in rushing and No. 7 in offense. The defense had to replace three of its top four tacklers, but the defensive line, despite losing three starters, is expected to be one of the top lines in the country anchored by end Nick Bosa. The secondary will be quite good with cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette, who both saw considerable playing time last year.
Last season: 8-5, 5-4 Big Ten; lost to South Carolina, 26-19, in Outback Bowl
Coach: Jim Harbaugh, 28-11 in three seasons at Michigan, 86-38 overall
Outlook: Things have to change, and that’s what coach Jim Harbaugh has attempted to do coming off a dismal bowl game loss to cap an 8-5 season. He made some key staff additions, starting with strength coach Ben Herbert, who has transformed the players physically. But he shuffled his offensive staff and added offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who has simplified the scheme which the linemen have embraced, and former Florida coach Jim McElwain, a designated receivers coach. But perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle was the addition of Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson, who not surprisingly will be the Wolverines’ starter. The defense under coordinator Don Brown was ranked No. 1 nationally his first season in 2016 and No. 3 in 2017. Will it return to that lofty top ranking? The players seems to think so, especially veteran defensive end anchors Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. The Wolverines have a tough schedule opening at night at Notre Dame and road games at rivals Michigan State and Ohio State.
Last season: 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten; beat Washington State, 42-17, in Holiday Bowl
Coach: Mark Dantonio, 100-45 in 11 seasons at MSU, 118-62 overall
Outlook: The schedule sets up well for the Spartans to make another run at the Big Ten East as they get Michigan and Ohio State at home while avoiding Wisconsin from the West. But trips to Penn State and one late in the season against Nebraska loom large for a team that brings back 19 starters from last season. If the defense remains solid up the middle and QB Brian Lewerke makes another jump, it could mean another trip to the conference title game.
Last season: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten; beat Washington, 35-28, in Fiesta Bowl
Coach: James Franklin, 36-17 in four seasons at Penn State, 60-32 overall
Outlook: The Nittany Lions return seven starters on offense, including Trace McSorley, widely regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the country, but gone is talented running back Saquon Barkley. Miles Sanders will be relied on to fill those shoes. But where coach James Franklin thinks Penn State’s offense gets its biggest boost is from the line, which returns so much experience. They return three starters on from a defense that finished in the top 20 last year and allowed the program’s fewest points since 2011. It will be tough to replace their top eight tacklers, though. Linebacker Koa Farmer, a senior who had 48 tackles, is the top returning defensive player in terms of production.
Last season: 5-7, 2-7 Big Ten
Coach: Tom Allen, 5-8 in one season at Indiana
Outlook: The Hoosiers’ offense will be run by sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who last week won a competition that included freshman Michael Penix and graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins. Ramsey played in nine games last season and started four and threw for 1,252 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Indiana returns its starting offensive line and has a solid group of running backs led by sophomore Morgan Ellison (704 yards last season), though his status is uncertain after he was suspended indefinitely from all football-related activities. The defense must replace eight starters, including Tegray Scales. Jonathan Crawford, a senior strong safety, adds experience in the secondary. He has started 38 games and has 24 pass breakups and eight interceptions.
Last season: 4-8, 2-7 Big Ten
Coach: D.J. Durkin, 11-15 in second season at Maryland
Outlook: The focus during preseason hasn’t been on football, but on coach D.J. Durkin and issues swirling around the team since the death of a player during workouts. It has been tough to get a handle on what type of team the Terps will be this fall. Maryland couldn’t keep a quarterback healthy last season and had eight players throwing a pass at some point. The team’s top four tacklers are gone, but the Terps have some decent talent moving into those spots. Where Maryland needs some serious improvement is in special teams. The Terps ranked near the bottom nationally in punt and field-goal efficiency. Maryland’s schedule has a challenging finish with games against Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State in the final month.
Last season: 4-8, 3-6 Big Ten
Coach: Chris Ash, 6-18 in two seasons at Rutgers
Outlook: Rutgers has six starters returning on both sides. There’s considerable youth at key offensive positions for the Scarlet Knights, but there are high hopes for freshman quarterback Art Sitkowski, who won the starter’s job over fifth-year senior Gio Rescigno. The defensive line has to replace two starters, but the line is expected to be solid this fall. The Scarlet Knights no longer have Janarion Grant, a playmaker in the return game, and they also have to replace their punter and kicker. And to top it off, they have a brutal late-season schedule at Wisconsin, then Michigan, Penn State and at Michigan State.