I'm always going to look long and hard at the oddsmakers' choices. And Bovada has released its odds for national, Big Ten and league division championships, so let's examine.
The bookmaker sees Ohio State as the Big Ten's top College Football Playoff threat, giving the Buckeyes 10-to-1 odds to win the national championship. That's No. 5 among all teams, behind defending champion Florida State (11-to-2), Alabama (6-to-1), Oregon (8-to-1) and Auburn (9-to-1).
Michigan State checks in as the league's second choice at 25-to-1, tied for 10th among all teams. Wisconsin is next for the Big Ten at 33-to-1, followed by Michigan and Nebraska at 50-to-1 and Iowa at 100-to-1. Rutgers is 1,000-to-1, if any Scarlet Knights fans are feeling lucky.
Ohio State is officially the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten title at 1-to-1. It's interesting that the Buckeyes are such favorites despite so many question marks, including offensive line, running back, receiver and defensive back seven. But the faith in Urban Meyer is strong.
Michigan State and Wisconsin are tied as the second choice at 9-to-2, followed by Nebraska at 5-to-1. Other teams' odds to win the Big Ten championship (Penn State, obviously, is ineligible):
If you're just looking for value here, Iowa is an intriguing bet at 12-to-1. The Hawkeyes own a highly advantageous schedule, with Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Iowa City. They could easily find themselves in Indianapolis for a one-game shot at the title.
Speaking of division winners, Ohio State is a 2-to-5 favorite to win the Big Ten East, ahead of Michigan State at 13-to-5. Wisconsin is 6-to-5 to win the West, edging out Nebraska at 3-to-2 (Iowa is 5-to-1).
Name value plays a role here, as Vegas wants to entice fans to bet on recognizable teams (hence, I believe, the odds for Michigan). But the wiseguys are saying Ohio State deserves to be the clear favorite heading into 2014.
Now we're down to our final 14. These are the best of the best, the games we simply can't wait to see. Let's count 'em down:
No. 14: Illinois at Washington, Sept. 13: Can the Illini take advantage of the Huskies' coaching switch to Chris Petersen? Going to the West Coast doesn't often work out well for Big Ten teams.
No. 13: Minnesota at TCU, Sept. 13: The Gophers' lone chance to score an impressive nonconference win in the regular season. TCU had a very disappointing and out-of-character 4-8 season a year ago.
No. 12: Iowa vs. Iowa State, Sept. 13: A great year for the Hawkeyes almost necessarily has to include a win over the rival Cyclones.
No. 11: Iowa at Pitt, Sept. 20: This nonconference game for Iowa intrigues me just a bit more than the Iowa State rivalry, as former Wisconsin assistant Paul Chryst is starting to build something in the Steel City.
No. 10: Indiana at Missouri, Sept. 20: The Hoosiers go to Columbia to take on the reigning SEC East champs and hope to put up a more competitive showing than they did last year in Bloomington.
No. 9: Ohio State vs. Navy (at Baltimore), Aug. 30: The Buckeyes open against the always difficult Midshipmen attack. Some coaches would rather do that to give themselves an entire offseason to prepare for the option.
No. 8: Northwestern at Notre Dame, Nov. 15: The first game between these two since 1995 is one Wildcats fans have been anticipating for a while. An interesting mid-November date for it, too.
No. 7: Penn State vs. UCF (at Dublin, Ireland), Aug. 30: The exotic locale raises the interest level here. Even without the Irish charm, it's James Franklin's debut, and UCF is coming off a Fiesta Bowl victory.
No. 6: Ohio State vs. Cincinnati, Sept. 27: The Bearcats last beat their in-state big brother in 1897, but you know they will be pouring everything they have into trying to pull this upset -- both for themselves and for the American Athletic Conference.
No. 5: Nebraska vs. Miami (Fla.), Sept. 20: Two great names trying to regain their past swagger. How many clips from the 1983 Orange Bowl will we see in the leadup?
No. 4: Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, Sept. 6: No one is giving the Hokies much of a shot in this game, but they're always dangerous. It's a game the Buckeyes and the Big Ten have to win.
No. 3: Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6: The last scheduled game in this series, sadly. Crazy stuff almost always happens when these two teams meet, so what's in store for the (for now) finale?
No. 2. Wisconsin vs. LSU (at Houston), Aug. 30: The tonesetter not only for the Badgers but the entire Big Ten. Win it, and Wisconsin is a legitimate player in the College Football Playoff discussion. Lose it, and people might forget about Gary Andersen's team for several weeks because of the schedule.
No. 1: Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6: Well, sure. Two teams that should be in the preseason top 10. The Spartans' fierce defense vs. Oregon's pyrotechnic offense. The chance for Michigan State to show it truly belongs in the national elite. Can this one hurry up and get here, please?
Athlon recently dipped its toe into the stadium rankings pool by asking 15 media members, including ESPN colleague Travis Haney, to rank the nation's top 10 stadiums. Two Big Ten stadiums made the cut: Ohio Stadium at No. 2 and Beaver Stadium at No. 10. Michigan Stadium, Camp Randall Stadium and Nebraska's Memorial Stadium also received votes.
Some might be surprised the Big House didn't make the top 10. I'm not. Although the recent renovations are terrific and enhance the atmosphere at Stadium and Main, especially for night games, Michigan Stadium always has been a bit overrated because of its size. I've always been partial to Camp Randall but think Nebraska's Memorial Stadium easily could make the top 10.
Today's exercise isn't about stumping for your team's stadium. Your task is to identify your favorite Big Ten road venue and tell us why you like it so much. Perhaps it's a place you've visited many times. Maybe you went just once or simply admired the atmosphere from afar.
Send us your responses here (Adam) and here (Brian) and we'll print some of the best ones in the coming days. Remember to list your team affiliation, your favorite Big Ten road stadium, and why you like it so much (100 words or less).
It's Insider's second go-round projecting college football's next three years in our Future Power Rankings.
What did we learn from our first edition? For one, teams can make a substantive move in just a year's time. Just look at Auburn, which jumped from 23rd to fifth after a run to the championship game. USC, now with coaching stability, made the biggest leap (25th to sixth). Oklahoma, UCLA, FSU and Baylor were among other risers, and you'll soon read why.
On the other side, we were high a year ago on Florida and Michigan. Oops. The Gators' injury-plagued 4-8 season dropped them from No. 4 to No. 14, while the Wolverines, who lost five of their last six games, fell from fifth to 20th. We know Will Muschamp's job is in danger, but is that an omen for Brady Hoke's future in Ann Arbor?
Alabama is again our No. 1 team, but with two losses to end the season, its lead shrank. Is that a subtle signal that the Tide might have peaked under Nick Saban?
We'll examine those topics and more in the Future Power Rankings.
Here's how we compiled it: Our panel -- myself, Brad Edwards, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill and Mark Schlabach -- provided 1-10 ratings in five different categories that we found to be comprehensive in determining current positioning, as well as a projection for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Here are the top 25 college football teams over the next three years:
SEC FPR RANK: 1
The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category. Category averages are weighted by importance to generate overall score.
Coaching: Saban did not receive a perfect 10, as he did a year ago. Maybe the one panelist who gave him a nine dinged him for how he managed the final second of the Iron Bowl.
But seriously, Saban is still well ahead of No. 2 Urban Meyer (9.2) and No. 3 Bill Snyder (9.0). (Have to appreciate that Snyder gets that kind of love, even if K-State didn't break the Top 25.)
Edwards thinks 2014 is a big year for Saban because it will show whether he can adapt his defense to better handle tempo offenses. Look at how Saban's defenses mightily struggled last year against not only Texas A&M, but also Auburn and Oklahoma.
"You put them all together and you realize, 'You know what, Alabama might have an issue with this,'" Edwards said. "I happen to believe Saban and [defensive coordinator] Kirby Smart have done enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Let's see what they can come up with this year before I decide the dynasty is over. Saban is now recruiting to find those types of players [to defend tempo offenses]."
As for the best coach in the state?
"I want to see Gus Malzahn beat Nick Saban one more time before I say he's a better coach," Edwards said, "which is a conclusion a lot of people are already making."
Current talent: There are more positional questions than in the past few years, especially the offensive line and cornerback spots. Rival coaches are even rumbling about it. "I don't know about them," one SEC coordinator said. But do not be fooled for an instant into thinking the Tide have suddenly become as barren as a bachelor's refrigerator in terms of talent.
Bama still has the top running back group in the country with T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, who was a bright spot in the otherwise drab Sugar Bowl performance. The time could be now for LB Reuben Foster and FS Landon Collins to shine on defense. MLB Trey DePriest will be the defense's rock.
And what about QB Jake Coker? His old coach at FSU, Jimbo Fisher, believes Coker is capable, which is why Coker nearly beat out last year's Heisman Trophy winner to start at FSU.
Recruiting: This is why Alabama earned association with the word "dynasty" -- it started winning almost every major recruiting battle, and the program became the closest thing there is on the planet to the NFL's minor league system. It has not dipped, and there's no reason to believe it will as long as Saban is around; he will not let it slide.
Title path: It's going to happen, and it could happen this year: The SEC is going to knock itself out of the playoff. The strength of the top half of the league could turn out to be a bad thing in some seasons.
The Tide are regularly part of a kickoff game of some kind, playing the likes of Clemson, Virginia Tech or West Virginia, but the nonconference slate is typically manageable. The conference schedule always works for and against the SEC. For the Tide, Auburn is the new-slash-old menace.
The rating suggests that it isn't the ideal road to the playoff, but it should not be preventive for a power program such as Alabama.
Program power: Like the coaching category, Bama still received four 10s and a nine. The takeaway: It's hard to remain perfect.
"We all know that every dynasty comes to an end, but when you look back on every dynasty, you know where the turning point was," Edwards said. Will we say it was the Iron Bowl and Sugar Bowl, perhaps? "I think what you have is a lot of people trying to be the first one to predict the end of the dynasty," Edwards said. "They want to be the ones to say they didn't miss it. I think they're jumping the gun a little bit."
Which is why Alabama is still No. 1. But one program is making up ground in a hurry ...
Another sign of the impending season arrived today with the start of the preseason award watch lists. These largely meaningless lists began with two of the biggies, the Maxwell (nation's top player) and Bednarik (nation's top defender), both of which included groups of Big Ten players. With 76 names on the Bednarik list and 74 on the Maxwell list, some are wondering if anyone didn't make the rundowns. But believe it or not, there are some possible snubs.
Today's Take Two topic: Which Big Ten players could have been included on the Maxwell and Bednarik watch lists?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
Let's begin with the Maxwell. Most of the reasonable Big Ten options are covered here (and some less than reasonable ones), but Indiana running back Tevin Coleman deserves some love. Coleman might have to lap the field to actually win the Maxwell, but you can't tell me there are 70 better offensive players than the Hoosiers junior. He's not Melvin Gordon, but his statistics in only nine games -- 7.3 yards-per-carry average, three rushes of 60 yards or more, five rushes of 50 yards or more, 141.7 all-purpose yards per game -- are reminiscent of the Badgers star. Coleman will get more touches this season as Stephen Houston departs, and he plays behind one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines.
Indiana ultimately needs to upgrade its defense to gain national hype for its team and its individual stars. But if Coleman builds on 2013, he'll be noticed. He scored at least once in every game he played last season and contributes in a variety of ways.
Penn State linebackers seldom struggle to gain the spotlight, but Hull, a fifth-year senior, has gone under the radar a bit, in part because of injury. He's one of the league's most experienced defenders and has been labeled the quarterback of the defense by new coordinator Bob Shoop. New coach James Franklin came away impressed with Hull this spring. A breakout season could be on tap, and if so, Hull will be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors and potentially more.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
First off, let's put the word "snub" in quotes. We must acknowledge that these preseason watch lists are outdated and silly, and they really mean nothing when it comes to the final awards. And it has been the case in the past that the reason a notable player didn't "make" the list was because his school simply forgot to nominate him.
But it's early July, and we need something to talk about, right? I thought the Maxwell list did a pretty good job including the biggest offensive stars in the Big Ten. I agree with Adam that Coleman has a chance to put up some major numbers, along with quarterback Nate Sudfeld and receiver Shane Wynn. But Indiana has to get itself on the national radar before its players reap the rewards.
What about Iowa's Brandon Scherff? We already know he's "a freak," and he's a likely first-round pick and a possible All-American next year. Offensive linemen never win and rarely even get mentioned for these awards, and that's a shame.
The Bednarik list is exhaustive. As much as I like players such as Michigan State's Kurtis Drummond and Penn State's Jordan Lucas, I can't envision any scenario in which they actually win this award. But if there were players missing from this list for the Big Ten, I think it's a pair of defensive ends: Maryland's Andre Monroe and Minnesota's Theiren Cockran. Monroe had 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in the ACC last year, and it wouldn't require much improvement for him to be among the national leaders in those categories this season. Similarly, Cockran is a gifted athlete who had 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2013.
Both are dark horse candidates for Big Ten defensive player of the year, which should qualify them for the Bednarik watch list. Not that anyone should lose much sleep over it.
- The latest on suspended Ohio State DE Tracy Sprinkle, charged with cocaine possession after a bar fight.
- Jaden Gault, a decorated incoming recruit at Wisconsin, has taken a leave of absence from the team because of depression.
- The Big Ten gives Maryland football a fresh start.
- Notre Dame signee Nile Sykes lands with Indiana.
- A good look at the Big Ten athletic director ranks as Penn State looks for its next AD. Lions recruits prepare for The Opening/Elite 11.
- The McCourty twins are the faces of Rutgers football. Former Scarlet Knights star Shaun O'Hara says Rutgers is ready for the Big Ten.
- Nebraska fans are rated the nation's most loyal base by businessinsider.com. A look at Nebraska's indispensable players in 2014.
- Ohio State and Michigan State top BTN.com's defensive line rankings.
- Brady Hoke likes Michigan's leadership on defense entering 2014. The bond between former Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis and Brock Mealer remains strong.
- Illinois' recruiting surge continues with wideout A.D. Miller.
- It's not quite panic time for the fundraising efforts for Minnesota's practice facilities.
- ICYMI, Northwestern filed a brief late last week appealing the initial NLRB union ruling.
Yep, college football's individual awards -- I believe we're up to around 257 of them now -- have begun the annual summer tradition of releasing their preseason watch lists. It's an exercise born from a different era, when fans weren't plugged into the game year round and players and teams needed preseason publicity. The lists also signify almost nothing, because Florida State's Jameis Winston wasn't on any watch lists last year, nor was Johnny Manziel in 2012. Being excluded from the preseason watch list doesn't prevent a player from winning the award, and being included means very little except that you had a good season last year or that your school's sports information department did a strong job lobbying for you.
That's a lengthy intro to explain why we won't be posting on every single watch list this summer. They'll mostly be relegated to links and mentions on our Twitter account. We will occasionally write about some that happen to be interesting or have notable snubs, etc.
Watch lists for two of the bigger awards came out on Monday, and since they are notable prizes, we thought they were worth passing along. They are the Maxwell Award, which is presented to the top player in the country, and the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation's best defensive player. If nothing else, this gives you an idea of where players stand in public perception heading into the season.
Here are the Big Ten players on the Maxwell list:
- Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
- Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
- Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
- Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
- Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
- Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
- Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State
- Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
- Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
And for the Bednarik:
Of course, that means nonconference action for the Big Ten. And we've been ranking the 2014 Big Ten nonconference games from worst to first, taking into account quality of opponent, interest level and expected competitiveness of the game.
We presented our first (read: worst) batch of 14 games on Wednesday and the second, slightly better group on Thursday. Things really start to perk up with this third and penultimate crop of 2014 nonconference games. Which rank a little something like this:
No. 28: Maryland at South Florida, Sept. 6: The Bulls host Maryland three weeks before going to Madison. If they're not vastly improved from a year ago, it could be a rough September.
No. 27: Penn State vs. Temple, Nov. 15: Oddly timed mid-November matchup here. The Owls were just 2-10 a year ago, so it's possible nobody outside of Pennsylvania will be paying much attention.
No. 26: Indiana at Bowling Green, Sept. 13: The Hoosiers' easy dispatching of Bowling Green, which went 10-4 and won the MAC East last year, was one of their best wins of the 2013 season. The Falcons look for revenge at home.
No. 25: Wisconsin vs. Bowling Green, Sept. 20: Two straight weeks of Big Ten teams for Bowling Green. We should know in advance whether the Falcons are feisty enough to mount a challenge in Camp Randall.
No. 24: Maryland at Syracuse, Sept. 20: The Terps are in the Big Ten and Syracuse is in the ACC. Still seems very weird.
No. 23: Rutgers at Navy, Sept. 20: The Scarlet Knights may very well need to win this game to have any chance at getting bowl eligible.
No. 22: Rutgers at Washington State, Aug. 28: Rutgers goes on the road to face Mike Leach's Air Raid attack a few weeks before taking on Navy's option. You can't say Kyle Flood isn't challenging his defense this year.
No. 21: Northwestern vs. Northern Illinois, Sept. 6: Would have been nice to see these two butt heads when both were riding high, like in 2012. Still, it's a fun little matchup between two schools that are practically neighbors.
No. 20: Michigan vs. Appalachian State, Aug. 30: Maybe we're basing this ranking way too much on the 2007 upset. But just try to pretend like you don't want to watch this one.
No. 19: Northwestern vs. Cal, Aug. 30: Could be a lot of points and yards on the board again in this one, but Cal was truly awful last season.
No. 18: Purdue vs. Notre Dame (Indianapolis), Sept. 13: The Boilermakers played far and away their best game of the season last year vs. the Irish. Can they repeat that performance and make things interesting at Lucas Oil Stadium?
No. 17: Maryland vs. West Virginia, Sept. 13: It's also weird that West Virginia is in the Big 12 and Maryland is in the Big Ten. At least someone had the sense to keep this rivalry going through all the realignment.
No. 16: Nebraska at Fresno State, Sept. 13: Derek Carr might be gone, but the Bulldogs can still bite. Nebraska had better be on top of its game with this late kickoff on the road.
No. 15: Michigan vs. Utah, Sept. 20: The move to the Pac-12 hasn't quite worked out too well for the Utes. Winning in the Big House would be a way to get some momentum back for the program.
As we've done in the past around here, we're ranking the 2014 Big Ten nonconference games from worst to first. We're taking into account quality of opponent, interest level and expected competitiveness of the game.
We presented our first (read: worst) batch of 14 games on Wednesday, and you'd really have to love your teams to be excited about some of those contests. Things perk up a little bit in this next round, though it still includes a whole lot of matchups against non-power conference opponents. Still: football!
Away we go:
No. 42: Michigan vs. Miami (Ohio), Sept. 13: The RedHawks went 0-12 last year. 'Nuff said.
No. 41: Minnesota vs. Eastern Illinois, Aug. 28: How did an FCS game escape our worst tier? Because the Panthers won 12 games a year ago and could once again have an explosive offense thanks to some FBS transfers. Gophers had better be wary.
No. 40: Purdue vs. Central Michigan, Sept. 6: It's no sure thing for the Boilermakers, but they need to win this one at home to keep fans interested.
No. 39: Iowa vs. Northern Iowa, Aug. 30: Northern Iowa last beat the Hawkeyes in 1898, but the Panthers did upset Iowa State last year. It's one of the few FCS games you could talk me into saving. Maybe.
No. 38: Minnesota vs. Middle Tennessee, Sept. 6: The Blue Raiders have built a solid program. Again, the Gophers just can't roll out of bed and expect to win this one.
No. 37: Nebraska vs. Florida Atlantic, Aug. 30: Already looking forward to the Carl Pelini jokes from Faux Pelini, but not much else with this game.
No. 36: Rutgers vs. Tulane, Sept. 27: The Scarlet Knights had better take care of business here, because there aren't many more games on the schedule where they'll be favored.
No. 35: Indiana vs. North Texas, Oct. 4: Don't sleep on the Mean Green, who won nine games a year ago. Still, on name value alone, I wouldn't exactly expect the "GameDay" crew in Bloomington for this one.
No. 34: Ohio State vs. Kent State, Sept. 13: Luckily, the Buckeyes' nonconference schedule has no true dog games on it this year. Though this one flirts with that status.
No. 33: Minnesota vs. San Jose State, Sept. 20: Thought the Spartans might pull the upset last year in Minneapolis, but the Gophers handled them just fine. SJSU comes to Minnesota after playing at Auburn this year. Paycheck time.
No. 32: Penn State vs. Akron, Sept. 6: The Zips are getting better, and Penn State will be returning home from its opener in Ireland. Potential trap game for the Lions.
No. 31: Iowa vs. Ball State, Sept. 6: The Cardinals won 10 games a year ago, and Iowa knows full well the dangers a good MAC team can present. Just sayin'.
No. 30: South Florida at Wisconsin, Sept. 27: The Bulls can't possibly be as bad as they were in a 2-10 season last year with all that Florida talent, can they? If so, this could be a serious beatdown.
No 29: Wyoming at Michigan State, Sept. 27: Craig Bohl made maybe the most interesting coaching move of the offseason in taking over the Cowboys. He's going to have his hands full in East Lansing.
- Additional filings are due today in the Northwestern labor dispute.
- Braxton Miller is not yet 100 percent, but Urban Meyer says he's close.
- Wisconsin's Chris Borland is ready to prove NFL naysayers wrong.
- An All-American wrestler at Maryland will try his hand at playing defensive line for the Terrapins this fall.
- Illinois is paying out some big money to future opponents.
- Iowa fans shouldn't fret over recruiting losses, Pat Harty writes. The Hawkeyes top the Big Ten Network's ranking of the league's offensive lines.
- A late addition to the Gophers' 2014 recruiting class won't be coming to Minnesota after all. Jerry Kill made this list of underrated coaches.
- Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann is trying to win over Tim Pernetti loyalists.
- Ranking the five most important Penn State players for 2014.
- Former Michigan running back Thomas Rawls has transferred to Central Michigan.
There's little doubt that the No. 1 unit under the gun is Michigan's offensive line. That group was not good last year, to put it kindly, allowing 36 sacks and paving the way for a paltry 3.3 yards per rush. And that was before the two best players on the line, tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, got drafted into the NFL.
Virtually every offseason discussion about whether the Wolverines can improve in 2014 begins with the offensive line concerns. There is an inordinate amount of pressure for players like Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Jack Miller to improve. Michigan had a true freshman early enrollee, Mason Cole, taking first-team snaps at left tackle this spring. The experience level will increase with the return of Erik Magnuson, who missed the spring with a shoulder injury, and Graham Glasgow, who was suspended for part of the spring and for the opener against Appalachian State after being arrested. But there are hardly any proven graybeards around.
New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has simplified many of the blocking schemes, which the players embraced this offseason. Nussmeier -- who recently talked about the offensive line issues in this podcast -- wants to incorporate a downhill running game and a physical style, and that all starts up front. He's not going to turn the Wolverines' line into a carbon copy of the last team he worked for -- Alabama -- but hopefully he can make it into a respectable group.
If not, it will be a long year for Devin Gardner and probably another disappointing one for Michigan.
Here are some other Big Ten units facing pressure in 2014:
Ohio State's defensive backs: The Buckeyes' offensive line has question marks as well, but the secondary will be under the most scrutiny. The Silver Bullets got shredded in the back end down the stretch last season, and that was with future NFL draft pick Bradley Roby around for most of it. Urban Meyer hired Chris Ash from Arkansas to be his co-defensive coordinator and defensive backfield guru, and Ash will try to mold younger players like Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows into a more aggressive, playmaking conglomerate.
Penn State's receivers: Sure, the Nittany Lions' O-line has major concerns, but as @flaveydavie asked on Twitter yesterday: "Penn State lost one of its biggest offensive weapons (Allen Robinson) last year. Who do you see filling that void?" Good question. Robinson was a special player, but he often didn't have much help. With him gone, Christian Hackenberg needs someone to catch his passes, and that could be sophomore Geno Lewis or a true freshman like DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall or Chris Godwin. Penn State has a wealth of tight end options but will need to push the ball down the field to be effective.
Rutgers' secondary: The Scarlet Knights' defensive backfield was hit hard by injuries and transfers last year and got picked apart while fielding the worst pass defense, statistically speaking, in school history. Several players who got thrown into the fire last year return, along with some recruits who could play right away. A new defensive coordinator should equal a more aggressive scheme. But cornerback Ian Thomas' departure -- again -- this summer was not a good start.
Wisconsin's quarterbacks: We could have easily picked the Badgers' group of largely unknown and mostly unproven receivers. But the attention will be focused on who's under center, whether that is returning starter Joel Stave or competitor Tanner McEvoy. Wisconsin hasn't had great quarterback play since Russell Wilson left Madison, and whoever gets the job will be staring down LSU's defense in the opener.
Illinois' defensive line: No Big Ten team was worse at stopping the run last year than the Illini, who gave up a whopping 238 yards per game on the ground. The problems all started with a lack of strength and push up front. Junior college transfers Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu were brought in to help shore up the unit, while there is hope for improvement from the likes of Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell. The Illini are gunning for a return to a bowl game this year, but they'll go nowhere fast if the D-line doesn't make major strides.
Iowa's linebackers: The Hawkeyes like the talent they have here with projected starters Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry. Still, all three are relatively inexperienced, because James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens were such fixtures at linebacker the past few years. That trio of senior linebackers formed the heart and soul of Iowa's defense last year, and now their former backups have to make sure the level of play doesn't drop too dramatically.
As we've done in the past around here, we're ranking the 2014 Big Ten nonconference games from worst to first. We're taking into account quality of opponent, interest level and expected competitiveness of the game while breaking these down. We'll do this in four batches of 14 games, which equals the total number of 56 nonconference matchups for the league this year. (Math!)
This first installment, as you'd expect, involves a whole lot of FCS and MAC action. We warn you: It won't be pretty. But at least it will be football.
No. 56: Rutgers vs. Howard, Sept. 6: The FCS Bison did go 6-6 last year, but come on. Playing HBCUs should never be on the Big Ten agenda, as this debacle proved a year ago.
No. 55: Indiana vs. Indiana State, Aug. 30: The Hoosiers hung 73 points last year on the home-state Sycamores, who went on to finish 1-11. Bet the over.
No. 54: Wisconsin vs. Western Illinois, Sept. 6: Giving yourself a little breather the week after playing LSU is understandable. The Badgers usually bludgeon overmatched teams at Camp Randall, and this should be no different.
No. 53: Purdue vs. Southern Illinois, Sept. 20: Should be a guaranteed win for the Boilers. Emphasis on should.
No. 52: Northwestern vs. Western Illinois, Sept. 20: If you're itching for more Leathernecks action after the Wisconsin game, you're in luck. And you're weird.
No. 51: Illinois vs. Youngstown State, Aug. 30: Maybe if Jim Tressel came back to coach the Penguins one last time ...
No. 50: Purdue vs. Western Michigan, Aug. 30: Yes, a matchup involving an FBS opponent beats out several FCS games. WMU went 1-11 last year, FYI.
No. 49: Maryland vs. James Madison, Aug. 30: Never forget this, Terps fans.
No. 48: Penn State vs. UMass, Sept. 20: The Minutemen are an FBS team. Not that you could really tell.
No. 47: Michigan State vs. Eastern Michigan, Sept. 20: EMU is an FBS team. Not that you could really tell.
No. 46: Nebraska vs. McNeese State, Sept. 6: Hey, the Cowboys did win 10 games last year and blew out South Florida. So that's something.
No. 45: Michigan State vs Jacksonville State, Aug. 29: The Gamecocks made the FCS quarterfinals last year and are ranked in the top 10 of some FCS polls. In case the Spartans are looking ahead to that Week 2 trip to Eugene.
No. 44: Illinois vs. Texas State, Sept. 20: The Bobcats are coming off a 6-6 season in the Sun Belt. Tim Beckman desperately needs to go 6-6.
No. 43: Illinois vs. Western Kentucky, Sept. 6: A great way to get halfway to 6-6 is by scheduling Texas State, Youngstown State and WKU.
Back in early May, we heard from some concerned Buckeyes fans who were wringing their hands over Ohio State's slow start in the latest recruiting cycle. Back then, their team had only two commitments.
My reaction was simply to chuckle, because I don't see any reason to worry about the job Urban Meyer and his staff do on the recruiting trail. And just two months later, look at the Buckeyes now.
Ohio State landed two monster commitments this morning when defenders Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard gave their verbal pledges within minutes of each other. Both are five-star players, according to ESPN Recruiting, with Hilliard ranking as the No. 1 outside linebacker and No. 13 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and Cornell checking in as the No. 5 defensive end and No. 16 overall prospect. Craig Haubert has a breakdown of how much impact the pair of five-star prospects can make on the Buckeyes' defense.
Cornell, who hails from St. Paul, Minn., eliminated Minnesota from his final list earlier this year. Michigan State and Iowa were also among his finalists. Hilliard, who's from Cincinnati, also considered Michigan and Iowa in his final five.
That gives the Buckeyes 12 total commitments and four in the ESPN 300. Our latest 2015 class rankings now have Meyer's team at No. 6 nationally, up 17 spots from their previous showing. The only other Big Ten schools in the top 25 are Penn State (No. 4 nationally with 17 total commitments) and Michigan (No. 23, eight commits).
The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Meyer and his staff have been known as great closers in the final weeks leading up to signing day, beating out marquee programs for top undecided prospects late. They're already built a great foundation in July. Hilliard said at his press conference that he and Cornell would try and recruit other elite players to join them in Columbus, including four-star Kentucky running back Damien Harris. He took note of today's news.
- As the Big Ten welcomes its two members, celebrations take place on campus at Maryland and Rutgers.
- Rutgers has come a long way to reach this point. But there's work to be done, says an alum who took out a full-page newspaper ad to blast athletic director Julie Hermann.
- A look at the top 10 all-time Maryland players. And just who is the Terps' rival?
- Amid all this hoopla in the Big Ten East, Nebraska is relegated to yesterday’s news out west.
- Wondering if 2014 is a make-or-break season for Bo Pelini in Lincoln. Meanwhile, former Nebraska QB Ron Kellogg III is cited for providing alcohol to a minor.
- A variety of summer Penn State topics.
- Assessing the significance of a number change for Michigan cornerback Blake Countess.
- Michigan and Ohio State rank among the top college programs at producing NFL wide receivers.
- Ohio State loses the recruiting battle to Oregon for a California quarterback, but the Buckeyes score big on Wednesday morning with a pair of highly touted defensive commitments.
- Student tickets in Columbus are a hot commodity.
- Indiana lands a linebacker recruit. Not to be outdone, so does Purdue.
- Ex-Purdue running back Mike Alstott and Leroy Keyes continue to share a connection.
- Projecting the depth chart for the Illinois wide receivers.
- A future Wisconsin linebacker is thriving at Florida’s IMG Academy after moving from Kansas.
Moving Day For Maryland And Rutgers
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
7:00 PM ET Eastern Illinois Minnesota 10:00 PM ET Rutgers Washington State
8:30 AM ET Penn State UCF 12:00 PM ET Youngstown State Illinois 12:00 PM ET Indiana State Indiana 12:00 PM ET Northern Iowa Iowa 12:00 PM ET Appalachian State Michigan 12:00 PM ET Ohio State Navy 12:00 PM ET Western Michigan Purdue 3:30 PM ET James Madison Maryland 3:30 PM ET Florida Atlantic Nebraska 3:30 PM ET California Northwestern 9:00 PM ET Wisconsin LSU