Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News breaks down the teams in the Big Ten West for the 2019 season.
In predicted order of finish.
1. Ohio State
► Last season: 13-1 overall, 8-1 in the Big Ten; beat Washington, 28-23, in the Rose Bowl
► Coach: Ryan Day, 3-0 as interim coach in first season at Ohio State
► Outlook: The key for the Buckeyes is keeping quarterback Justin Fields healthy, because they are not blessed with depth at the position. Ohio State had to replace four starters on the offensive line, but don’t expect much drop-off there. Defensively, the Buckeyes are stout up front and boast end Chase Young, projected a top draft pick next year. It might take a little time to get the linebackers sorted, but the Buckeyes are strong in the secondary with plenty of experience. Will Ohio State take a step back now that Urban Meyer is gone and Ryan Day is in charge? Don’t count on it.
► Last season: 10-3 overall, 8-1 in the Big Ten; lost to Florida, 41-15, in the Peach Bowl
► Coach: Jim Harbaugh, 38-14 in four seasons at Michigan, 67-35 overall
► Outlook: The feeling in these parts is — if this not year, when? That’s the thinking when the three rivalry games, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, are at Michigan Stadium. Shea Patterson returns as the starting quarterback and feels confident running Josh Gattis’ new no-huddle pro-spread. Michigan doesn’t return much experience at running back, but the coaches seem confident with the options there. On defense, how will the Wolverines replace Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, David Long and Devin Bush? They believe they’re faster overall on defense and won’t miss a beat, but replacing Bush will be a challenge.
3. Michigan State
► Last season: 7-6 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten; lost to Oregon, 7-6, in the Redbox Bowl
► Coach: Mark Dantonio, 107-51 in 12 seasons at Michigan State, 125-68 overall
► Outlook: The Spartans could be the most dangerous team in the East Division. The offense sputtered last season in large part because of injuries, starting with quarterback Brian Lewerke. And then there was the offensive line that went through nine different lineups — that’s never a good thing. But Lewerke is healthy and he’s confident and capable of picking up where he left off two years ago when he was a Big Ten honorable mention after his sophomore season. And then there’s the defense. Talk about smothering. The Spartans led the country in rush defense last year, and return some serious talent in Raequan Williams and Kenny Willekes, the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, and linebacker Joe Bachie.
4. Penn State
► Last season: 9-4 overall, 6-3 in the Big Ten; lost to Kentucky, 27-24, in the Citrus Bowl
► Coach: James Franklin, 45-21 in five seasons at Penn State, 69-36 overall
► Outlook: Trace McSorley is gone and so is Miles Sanders. Penn State will look different on offense with new starting quarterback Sean Clifford. Ricky Slade is the most experienced running back — he rushed for 257 yards and six touchdowns in nine games last season as a backup to Sanders. Penn State lost three veteran receivers, but redshirt sophomore K.J. Hamler, a Pontiac native who led the team last season in catches with 42 and receiving yards (754) is back. He also averaged 26.2 yards on kickoff returns and 109 all-purpose yards. The defense, led by end Yetur Gross-Matos will be the strength, at least early on while the offense gets its bearings.
► Last season: 5-7 overall, 2-7 in the Big Ten
► Coach: Tom Allen 10-15 in two seasons at Indiana
► Outlook: IU coach Tom Allen made an interesting move this week, opting to start redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. at quarterback over Peyton Ramsey, who has thrown for 4,127 yards and 29 touchdowns the last two seasons. Allen explained it wasn’t a knock on Ramsey, but a belief that Penix can take the Hoosiers further. The Hoosiers defense gave up way too many yards and big plays last year. Can they improve in that area? The secondary has three returning starters, and the Hoosiers have some talent, but don’t expect a huge improvement.
► Last season: 5-7 overall, 3-6 in the Big Ten
► Coach: Mike Locksley, 1-5 as interim coach in first season at Maryland, 3-31 overall
► Outlook: Josh Jackson, the Saline High product and son of former Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, won the starting job at quarterback, coach Mike Locksley announced this week. Locksley, the offensive coordinator at Alabama last year, has taken over as head coach and he has a lot of work to do. There is some talent on offense, as has been the case the last few seasons, especially running back Anthony McFarland Jr., who rushed for 1,034 yards as a freshman last year. But the defense has issues. Only four starters are back and last year’s group yielded an average 390.4 yards and almost 30 points a game. There are going to be some serious growing pains here.
►Last season: 1-11 overall, 0-9 in the Big Ten
►Coach: Chris Ash, 7-29 in three seasons at Rutgers
►Outlook: You would think that Chris Ash would have been on a terribly hot seat after last season, but he is back to try to pull the Scarlet Knights from the cellar. Things have to get better in every phase, obviously, but starting with quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who struggled mightily with 18 interceptions, worst in the country. The defense ranked 89th nationally and in the first four games last season gave up 52 points to Ohio State, 55 to Kansas and 42 to Buffalo. It didn’t get better from there, and probably won’t improve much this year.