My how public perception has changed. The Big Ten Conference has gone from “overrated, and over-hyped” to “they’re actually pretty good”, all because of one season. Entering the 2014-2015 bowl season, the Big Ten wasn’t a respected conference nationally. A few SEC butt whippings and a national title later, and now the Big Ten is considered legit. But can the conference keep the momentum going into 2015? Can Ohio State cruise through the conference again and repeat as national champs? Are Kirk Ferentz’ days at Iowa numbered? Will Jim Harbaugh turn Michigan around quickly? We have all these answers, and more, for you.
The list of contenders for the Big Ten title is likely to begin and end with Ohio State. That doesn’t mean the rest of the conference has no shot at contention. But, let’s be honest, Ohio State appears to be head and shoulders above the rest of the league. The Buckeyes return 7 starters on both sides of the ball from a team that won a national title a year ago. They bring back 3 quarterbacks that could contend for a Heisman Trophy anywhere, although Braxton Miller has been moved to wide receiver.
Cardale Jones, fresh off impressive performances against Oregon and Alabama in the College Football Playoff, is likely to start at QB. J.T. Barrett will serve as the greatest backup in college football history. Other teams that will give the Buckeyes a run for their money include Penn State and Michigan State. Both teams have talented, experienced quarterbacks and talent on defense.
Watch out for Iowa. They probably won’t win the Big Ten, but they have the potential to surprise. The Hawkeyes are coming off a disappointing 2014 campaign, but they return a solid foundation despite the negativity surrounding the program. Iowa was merely a couple of fluke losses (Iowa State and Nebraska) away from a 9-3 season last year. A couple of lucky bounces and they’ll be back near the top of the conference this year. However, if Iowa doesn’t get it turn around this year, Kirk Ferentz’ 17th season as the Hawkeye head coach may be his last. We think he’ll take care of business.
Michigan is an interesting team. They fired Brady Hoke and replaced him with a proven winner in Jim Harbaugh. Michigan fans are thinking big, but 2015 may be a bit early to get so excited. Michigan still has weaknesses on the offensive lines and secondary. They also have a big question mark at quarterback. Jake Rudock, a transfer from Iowa, looks to be the front-runner for the QB job. Rudock is efficient, but he’s nothing more than a game manager. He doesn’t possess a strong arm and is afraid to throw into coverage. If Michigan can shore up the offensive line and Rudock provides consistent play at QB, Michigan could be an 8-9 win team.
Indiana is a basketball school and always will be. Football is merely a time-passer in Bloomington until the hoops team hits the hardwood in November. The Hoosiers simply don’t have enough talent to compete. If they win one conference game this year, they should consider that a success. Rutgers and Illinois are two other teams that really have no hope for the upcoming season. These teams are simply out-manned and will be lucky to win more than 1 or 2 conference games.
Purdue is a team you should look out for. They’re not going to contend for much more than a minor bowl game, but they do return 16 starters, including quarterback Austin Appleby. Darrell Hazell is just 4-20 in 2 years at Purdue, but the schedule sets up nicely for a 6-win season. Senior wide receiver Danny Anthrop is a player to watch.
Wisconsin and Nebraska won’t surprise anyone because they are big name schools that are almost always competitive. 2015 should be no different. Wisconsin’s biggest problem isn’t going to be replacing all-world RB Melvin Gordon. They have a solid replacement in Corey Clement. Their biggest concern is getting some consistency out of QB Joel Stave. If, somehow, Stave can become consistent, Wisconsin is clearly the favorite in the Big Ten West division. Nebraska also has a great schedule and can win 9-10 games, but they’re going to need some improvement from QB Tommy Armgstrong or they could disappoint. Northwestern, Maryland, and Minnesota all have teams poised to get to a bowl game.
- B1G West Champ: Wisconsin
- B1G East Champ: Ohio State
- B1G Champ: Ohio State
- B1G Offensive POY: Cardale Jones, QB Ohio State
- B1G Defensive POY: Joey Bosa, DE Ohio State
- CFB Playoff Teams: Ohio State