The 2018 Big Ten Preview with the Game of the Year, Players of the Year, top pro prospects, big-time players who deserve a bigger spotlight, and more.
Preview 2018: Big Ten Preview
It’s hard to be too chirpy about being the best conference in college football – which the Big Ten has been over the last few seasons – when the SEC has two teams playing for the national championship.
PLUS: The Big Ten was one late Michigan collapse against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl from going 8-0 last bowl season.
MINUS: But it didn’t get a team into the College Football Playoff.
PLUS: The league is only getting stronger, with Scott Frost likely to revive the Nebraska machine, Jeff Brohm making something out of Purdue, and with hope for even the lowliest of last year’s teams that a big improvement is coming.
MINUS: Depth is great, but that means a team like Iowa can potentially screw it all up by pulling a 55-24 win over Ohio State out of its Ferentz.
PLUS: Yeah, the SEC has a Nick Saban and a Jimbo Fisher with national championships on their respective resumes, but a reasonable case could be made that the Big Ten head coaches are the strongest in the game right now. Yes, we all love college football, but Jim Harbaugh and Lovie Smith have Super Bowl head coaching experience as part of their profiles.
MINUS: Harbaugh and Smith – at vastly different levels with vastly different expectations – haven’t done what they were supposed to. At least, not yet.
But for all the plusses and minuses, the key to this season is to get back into the show. Being great as a conference is one thing, but either you have a team in the College Football Playoff, or you don’t.
This season, Ohio State should be good enough to potentially make amends and make it three CFP appearances in five years. As always, the talent is in place to shoot for a national title, but Michigan State might just have the most complete team yet under Mark Dantonio.
Michigan is way overdue to breakthrough. Harbaugh has a team now – helped by getting Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson – that can finally beat the Buckeyes. Really.
Penn State isn’t rebuilding all that much, with the defensive talent amazing and the offensive skill guys still fantastic, even if Saquon Barkley is off posing naked in magazine spreads.
Maryland is going to be a factor if it can keep a quarterback healthy, and yes, Rutgers really will be okay now that its offense is about to open it up a bit.
The West is still Badgers or bust, but they won’t have Nebraska to kick around anymore – at least, they’ll have more of a battle now – and Minnesota, Purdue, and Illinois are all improving fast. Throw in the always reliable – in good ways and bad – Northwestern and Iowa, and the division isn’t going to be a speed bump for the Madison machine.
And now it’s up to the College Football Playoff committee to give the league some credit for being as nasty as it is.
This year, winning the Big Ten title really will be more impressive than not winning the SEC West.
Big Ten Team That Will Surprise
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Out with the slow-and-go from last year, in with the downfield passing game to open it up a bit. Head coach Chris Ash might not be bringing in the five-star guys, but he’s putting together a nice team with a good enough defense to get by. Add in Boston College transfer RB Jon Hilliman working behind a good line, and all of a sudden, this might just be a bowl team that messes up someone’s season along the way.
Big Ten Team That Will Disappoint
There’s a lot to like on defense, and the offense, as always, will be effective, but if future pro quarterback Clayton Thorson’s knee is going to be 100% by the start of the season – he injured it in the bowl win over Kentucky – it sure doesn’t quite seem like it.
He’ll play and be fine, but with a road game at Purdue to start, a game against a dangerous – really – Duke team to follow, and with Michigan, at Michigan State and Nebraska to open up the Big Ten season and the first half of the campaign – not to mention dates against Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and at Iowa in the second half – it might take wins against Minnesota and Illinois in the final two games just to go bowling.