Angelique S. Chengelis' Big Ten East breakdown

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
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Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News provides a 2020 season outlook on the Big Ten East Division. Teams are listed in predicted order of finish.

Ohio State

Last season: 13-1, 9-0.

Coach: Ryan Day, 16-1 overall and at Ohio State (3-0 as interim coach in 2018).

Justin Fields

Outlook: The Buckeyes are the favorite to win the East largely because of quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Justin Fields, starting for the second straight season. He gives the Buckeyes’ offense the edge as they make a push toward the national playoffs. J.K. Dobbins is gone, a big hit to the run game, and the Buckeyes will rely on Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon and Master Teague. On defense, Chase Young is gone but the OSU defensive line just reloads. Linebacker should be solid despite losing Malik Harrison and OSU has options with Baron Browning, Tuf Borland and Pete Warner. The secondary lost a lot of talent but Shaun Wade is expected to keep the unit solid.

Penn State

Last season: 11-2, 7-2.

Coach: James Franklin, 80-38 in nine years overall, 56-23 in six years at Penn State.

Outlook: The Nittany Lions have won 11 games in three of the last four seasons and have eight returning starters on offense this season. Dual-threat quarterback Sean Clifford was the biggest reason for their success last season, and he’s back but will be without top receiver K.J. Hamler. Four starters are back on the offensive line and tight end Pat Freiermuth should have a big role in this offense. The defense took a hit when linebacker Micah Parsons decided to opt out, so the Nittany Lions will have a new starting crew at the position. There are four starters back on defense.

Michigan

Last season: 9-4, 6-3.

Coach: Jim Harbaugh, 105-45 in nine years overall, 47-18 in five years at Michigan.

Outlook: The defense looks to be the strength of this team with a veteran front seven featuring ends Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson. There are question marks at cornerback, but safety should be solid with Brad Hawkins and Dax Hill. On offense, there are plenty of unknowns. Line coach Ed Warinner has to replace four of five starters from last season and they’ll protect a first-year starting quarterback in Joe Milton.  Receiver Nico Collins is gone, but Milton will work with a group of speedy receivers led by Ronnie Bell and Giles Jackson. The running backs have experience and depth and likely will be relied upon, especially early.

Indiana

Last season: 8-5, 5-4. 

Coach: Tom Allen, 18-20 in three years overall and at Indiana.

Stevie Scott

Outlook: Allen has things on the upswing in Bloomington with a team that last year had the Hoosiers' first winning record in the Big Ten since 1993. The Hoosiers are not a walk-over team in the East Division. Former Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan is in his first season as offensive coordinator and he has some talent. Quarterback Michael Penix is exciting to watch and running back Stevie Scott is the real deal. Indiana also has nine starters back on defense and a legit front seven.

Michigan State

Last season: 7-6, 7-5.

Coach: Mel Tucker, 5-7 in one year overall; this is his first season at Michigan State.

Outlook: Tucker replaces Mark Dantonio, who reestablished the Spartans as a dominant program in the Big Ten. This will be a tough task for Tucker in large part because he didn’t have spring practice with his new team and didn’t get to hit the road recruiting. The Spartans, who endured an injury-riddled season last year, have seven starters back on offense but only two on defense. Who gets the call at quarterback will be the biggest decision early in the season with fourth-year junior Rocky Lombardi likely to get his shot first, though sophomore Theo Day and redshirt freshman Payton Thorne could also get some snaps. Expect the offense to lean heavily in RB Elijah Collins and the running game while the defense will need to get the most out of veterans like senior DE Jacub Panasiuk, senior LB Antjuan Simmons and junior S Xavier Henderson.

Maryland

Last season: 3-9, 1-8.

Coach: Mike Locksley, 6-40 in four-plus years overall, 4-14 at Maryland (1-5 as interim coach in 2015).

Outlook: File the Terps as another program that really needed spring practice to help Locksley figure things out heading into his second season. They’re breaking in a new starter at quarterback, either Lance LeGendre or Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa (brother of Tua Tagovailoa). The offensive line, which had injury issues last season and didn’t provide great protection, could be an issue. On defense, the Terps are in the second year of a new scheme and despite no spring practice, having that knowledge from last season should give this unit a boost.

Rutgers

Last season: 2-10, 0-9.

Coach: Greg Schiano, 68-67 in 11 years overall and at Rutgers (previously coached at Rutgers from 2001-11).

Outlook: Chris Ash couldn’t get things done at Rutgers and Schiano is back. But he’s still a first-year coach and has been dealing with first-year issues and then some, considering the absence of spring practice and the challenge of not being able to get in front of recruits the old-fashioned way. Lots of experience returns on offense, but the unit was second-to-last in the nation in total yards and scoring and the line really needs to improve. Rutgers has eight starters back on defense, so that should be a plus.

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