SQ Big Ten Football Preview
The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the Big 12, and today we will take a look at the Big Ten.
What Happened in 2014
Conference Champion: Ohio State
Coach of the Year: Jerry Kill, Minnesota
While Kill got the Golden Gophers to an 8-4 regular season, many believed that Ohio State's Urban Meyer should have been named coach of the year in the Big Ten. Meyer's Buckeyes beat Kill's squad in Minneapolis last year, and Meyer guided Ohio State to the College Football Playoff. However, no matter how furious people may be that Urban got snubbed the honors, one thing will still remain in the history books: Jerry Kill was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2014.
Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Without question, Gordon was the best player on offense for the regular season. He set the NCAA rushing record against Nebraska, and powered Wisconsin to a division title. You could make the case that Ohio State's J.T. Barrett could have won the award, but the freshman didn't have the same kind of authority as Gordon.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
When you rack up 13.5 sacks in a season, you have a good case at being the defensive player of the year for your conference. Bosa was a machine for the Buckeye defense, and helped make big plays against Penn State and Minnesota and in the Big Ten Championship. Bosa was a big reason for Ohio State's national championship run, and was well deserving of the honor being the best defensive player in the Big Ten.
Three Memorable Games:
1. Penn State 24 vs. Ohio State 31 (2OT), Oct. 25
In a game that saw a controversial interception, a Penn State comeback and a monstrous game-ending sack to preserve title hopes, the Ohio State-Penn State game was easily the game of the year for the Big Ten.
A whiteout crowd in primetime tried to derail the Buckeyes from making the playoffs, but freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett somehow led the Buckeyes to victory. A loss here would have ended Ohio State's title ambition, and given Penn State much needed momentum for the final half of the season.
2. Ohio State 59 vs. Wisconsin 0, Dec. 6 [2015 Big Ten Championship]
This game put Ohio State in the playoffs. An absolute domination of the Badgers left the playoff committee with one option: to put Ohio State in as the No. 4 team. Melvin Gordon was shut down; Badger quarterback Joel Stave was shut down; and Badger head coach Gary Anderson left for Oregon State not long after the loss. The ripple effect made by the Buckeyes was too big to not be included as one of most memorable games last season for the Big Ten.
3. Wisconsin 59 vs. Nebraska 24, Nov. 15
Another Big Ten blowout, but this one also carries significance. This is the game where Melvin Gordon set the NCAA rushing record. Granted, Gordon only had the record for a short time, but watching him shred the Husker defense was a sight to be seen.
With snow falling at Camp Randall stadium, Gordon found himself in a football wonderland. The win helped the Badgers on their quest for a Big Ten division crowd, and Gordon was the main reason for it.
Looking Ahead to 2015:
Conference Favorite: Ohio State
No surprise here. Ohio State is the favorite for a multitude of reasons. First, Ohio State has J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones at its disposal at quarterback, and former quarterback Braxton Miller in an H-Back or wideout position.
Nobody knows what Urban Meyer will do, but one thing is for certain: the Buckeyes will be competing for a title in November, and there is little opposing teams can do to stop them.
Conference Dark Horse: Michigan State
The only conceivable team to knock Ohio State off its pedestal are the Spartans. They aren't really a dark horse, per se, but they pose a threat to win the Big Ten. Mark Dantonio has coached the Spartans to two-straight BCS or New Year Six games, but he's still looking for a shot at a national championship.
With Oregon on the non-conference slate, Michigan State is poised to make this year the year of revenge, and to be in the playoff hunt when it faces the Buckeyes. With Connor Cook back at the quarterback position and an experienced defensive line, the Spartans' could definitely regain the Big Ten title.
Most Improved Team: Michigan
New coach + New AD = New Michigan. Or, well, the old Michigan. If Jim Harbaugh delivers anything remotely close to what he did at Stanford or even the San Francisco 49ers, then Michigan will become the most improved team in the Big Ten.
There are some position battles — notably at quarterback — that will show the growing pains of going through new coaches and strategies. Wins against Ohio State and Michigan State is one way to signify the return of the Maize and Blue.
Freshman to Watch:
While Gibson came into Ohio State as a quarterback, there's a good chance he'll play at wideout or H-Back. Basically, he could play anywhere. That's why he's on my Freshman to Watch list. Don't be surprised to see Gibson playing midway through the season, and don't be surprised if he does extremely well.
Running backs are always impact players. Scott has the potential to see the field some time this season, and could be the wildcard the Spartans need to beat opponents down the stretch. Touted as a four-star recruit out of Ohio, Scott might beat out the projected starter Madre London at some point during the season.
Michigan has been known as a receiver's school. From Braylon Edwards to Mario Manningham, the Wolverines have had recent success at finding the best people to catch the football. Cole is the next great receiver at Michigan. With Devin Funchess gone, Michigan will need someone to be the go-to receiver. It may not happen in Week 1, but Cole will get his time on the field this season.
Offensive Player of the Year Prediction: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Not only is he my offensive player of the year prediction, but Elliott is my favorite to take the Heisman Trophy. What he was able to do against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon was unfathomable — all while playing with a bad hand.
Fun fact: Ohio State has had a Heisman-winning running back every 20 years, starting with Howard Cassady in 1955. Do the math, and the 2015 Heisman Trophy should belong to a Buckeye running back.
If Elliott shines against Virginia Tech, Michigan State, and Michigan, you might as well give him all of the awards he is eligible for, because he will be the key to Ohio State's ground attack.&n bsp;
Defensive Player of the Year Prediction: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
As Joey Bosa sits out of the Virginia Tech game due to a suspension, other Buckeyes will need to show up and play.
Lee will be that Buckeye. While offenses work to contain Bosa, Lee will step up and make the big plays. It happened last season for the Buckeyes: offenses doubled up and took Michael Bennett, but allowed Bosa to bully his way through. This year, Bosa will be the one offenses will try to contain, enabling Lee to have a breakout season worthy of Big Ten defensive honors.
Three Games to Watch:
1. Ohio State vs. Michigan State, Nov.21
This game will be for the Big Ten title. No ifs, ands, or buts. The winner of this game is in the driver seat for a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, if both teams roll into this game undefeated, things can get weird. Michigan State could conceivably lose this game, and still be in striking distance for a playoff spot — sort of like how Alabama backed into the title game in 2011.
All eyes will be on Columbus Nov. 21. Especially since the Spartans have ruined the Buckeyes' title hopes before in Columbus (and in late November).
A Nick Saban-coached Spartan squad beat No. 1 Ohio State in 1998.
2. Michigan vs. Ohio State, Nov.28
Right after Ohio State faces Michigan State, the Buckeyes will be in another premier game for the Big Ten. And it's simply this: The Game. New head coach Jim Harbaugh can bring the rivalry back to life, and set off this century's Woody Hayes—Bo Schembechler battles. The rivalry needs it. Ohio State has rocked Michigan of late, winning 10 of the last 11 meetings.
Also, Michigan has ruined Ohio State's title hopes before. In 1969, the Buckeyes were defending champions, and were undefeated heading into Ann Arbor. It was Schembechler's first year as head coach for the Wolverines, and he managed to beat the Buckeyes. Ohio State's title hopes died that afternoon in the Big House, and the rivalry was never the same.
3. Michigan vs. Michigan State, Oct. 17
Another marquee rivalry in the Big Ten. While these two compete for a trophy of Paul Bunyan (yes, really), this will jump start the era of Harbaugh vs. Mark Dantonio. Michigan State has won four of the last five meetings, with the last two games being runaway wins for the Spartans.
Michigan has struggled with both Michigan State and Ohio State, and needs to win again. Harbaugh has tall orders, but this game will be a litmus test to see if the Wolverines are improving, or if they are sputtering with their third coach since the departure of Lloyd Carr in 2007.