Big Ten Futures Preview
Can anyone dethrone Ohio State?
Odds to win the Big Ten Conference
Ohio State +100
Penn State +1400
Michigan State +2300
Ohio State Buckeyes (+100)
Ohio State enters a new era as Head Coach Urban Meyer is replaced by the unproven Ryan Day. Day has lofty shoes to fill as Meyer compiled an 83-9 record in seven seasons, including a National Championship. First and foremost on Day’s agenda will be replacing starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins, whom last season completed 70% of his passes for 4,831 yards and a 50-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Enter Georgia transfer Justin Fields, a dual-threat quarterback who was the No. 1 recruit in the country for the class of 2018. Fields has exceptional talent but how will he handle the sky-high expectations in Columbus? Starting running back J.K. Dobbins returns after rushing for 1,053 yards (4.6 YPC) and 10 touchdowns.
Ohio State’s receiving corps is loaded with Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, and the highly touted freshman Garrett Wilson. Despite losing a top-5 NFL draft pick in Nick Bosa, the defensive line is the strength of the team led by Chase Young and Robert Landers. The Buckeyes were weak at linebacker and in the defensive backfield last season, and that is their biggest question mark heading into this year. New defensive coordinator Greg Madison will be tasked with retooling an uncharacteristically bad Buckeyes defense that ranked 55th in the nation in points allowed (25.7 PPG).
Michigan Wolverines (+200)
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan never recovered from their 62-39 beatdown in Columbus last season. Michigan will have to conquer its Ohio State demons as they’ve now lost 14 of their last 15 games against the Buckeyes. New Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis comes over from Alabama and will try to spark an offense that was second in the league in scoring (35.2 PPG). Starting quarterback Shea Patterson returns after throwing for 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. The strength of Michigan is certainly their offensive line, which is undoubtedly the best in the conference. Michigan will have to replace their top two rushers in Karan Higdon and Chris Evans and the electric Donovan Peoples-Jones can be a dynamic receiver and is already one of the best return specialists in the country.
The Wolverines were ranked the No. 1 defense in the country for much of last season, but they face question marks as high draft picks Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, and Chase Winovich all left for the NFL. Michigan has plenty of depth on the defensive line to overcome their losses and Lavert Hill is one of the best corners in college football.
Wisconsin Badgers (+1100)
After four straight seasons of double-digit wins, the Badgers finished just 8-5 in 2018. Starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook guided Wisconsin to a 26-6 record in his 32 starts, but decided to play for Florida State as a graduate transfer. Jack Coan, who guided the Badgers to a victory over Miami in last year’s Pinstripe Bowl, is the favorite to take over for the departed Hornibrook. The outstanding Jonathan Taylor led the nation in rushing with 2,194 yards (7.1 YPC) and had 16 touchdowns on the ground. As great as Taylor is, there are questions along the offensive line where four starters are to be replaced.
Wisconsin’s defense ranked 43rd in points allowed last season at 24.3 PPG. Wisconsin’s defense should be solid as a whole but replacing T.J. Edwards, who was the heart and soul of the team won’t be easy. Wisconsin has a brutal schedule with tough road games to go along with the East gauntlet of Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State.
Penn State Nittany Lions (+1400)
Penn State will have to replace three-year starter Trace McSorely who compiled an excellent 31-9 record for the Nittany Lions. Projected starter Tommy Stevens made the surprising move to enter the transfer portal, leaving sophomore Sean Clifford as the beneficiary. The undersized K.J. Hamler is as explosive as any player in the country and a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
Penn State’s skill position players are extremely young and certainly have a lot to prove. Starting running back Miles Sanders is off to the NFL after rushing for 1,274 yards and 9 touchdowns. Luckily for the Nittany Lions, they have three starters returning to an offensive line group that should be a strength.
Penn State led the nation in sacks per game (3.6) with stud rushers Yetur Gross-Matos and Robert Windsor among their imposing front. Linebacker Micah Parsons led the team in tackles and will stabilize a rock-solid defense. Too much uncertainty at quarterback and the skill positions will leave Penn State on the outside looking in.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (+1800)
Nebraska was better in 2018 than their lowly 4-8 record may have indicated and expectations for 2019 are much higher. New Head Coach Scott Frost arrives for his first season following a perfect 13-0 campaign at UCF. Starting quarterback Adrian Martinez is coming off a great freshman campaign both throwing (2,617 yards, 17 touchdowns) and running (629 yards, 8 touchdowns) the football. The Cornhuskers will have to replace starting running back Devine Ozigbo who is coming off a 1,000-yard season. The void left by receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. is large, but I believe J.D. Spielman is in line for a monster season in Frost’s offense.
The offensive line struggled to protect Martinez early in the year but improved drastically down the stretch. If Nebraska wants to make any sort of leap this year they must improve on defense where they ranked 89th in points allowed (31.3 PPG). The front seven has a lot of experience and leading tackler Mohammed Barry can provide the necessary leadership to get the most out of this group.
Iowa Hawkeyes (+2300)
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz has guided his team to at least 8 wins in five of the last six seasons. Quarterback Nate Stanley returns for his senior season after throwing for 2,852 yards and 26 touchdowns. Stanley’s two favorite targets, stud tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, were high draft picks in April’s NFL Draft. Iowa does have an experienced receiving corps led by Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith. The Hawkeyes employ a stable of running backs and their top three rushers from last season are all coming back.
The staple of Iowa is their defense, which last season ranked 11th in the nation in points allowed (17.4 PPG). Iowa may have the best pair of bookends in the conference in A.J. Espenesa and Chauncey Golston. Experience at linebacker and defensive back will play a key role for the underdog Hawkeyes in 2019. With a senior quarterback and plenty of returning starters, Iowa is certainly a team that can surprise in 2019.
Michigan State Spartans (+2300)
Michigan State was quite the unique team in 2018, pairing an abysmal offense that averaged 18.7 PPG (126th) with an excellent defense that allowed 18.0 PPG (13th). After throwing for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns in his junior season, quarterback Brian Lewerke was awful last year -- throwing for 2,040 yards with 8 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Lewerke got little to no help as his offensive line failed to protect him and nagging injuries contributed to the dip in performance.
Michigan State only averaged 124.8 YPG rushing which ranked 115th. Cody White and Darnell Stewart Jr. are back from injury and will provide a huge boost to a receiver group that provided little last season. An injury to running back L.J. Scott hurt the running game and none of the backups really emerged.
One positive from last year is the depletion of the offensive line allowed many new faces to step in and gain pivotal experience heading into this season. Michigan State led the nation in rushing yards allowed (81.3 YPG) a year ago. Defensive tackles Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams are as strong of a duo inside as you’ll find in college football. Joe Bachie was first team All-Big Ten at linebacker and cornerback Josiah Scott could be a frontrunner for the Jim Thorpe Award. Michigan State has all the makings to once again have a dominant defense but their offensive deficiencies may be too much to overcome.