Saturday, July 25, 2015

College Football Preview 2015: Big Ten

2014 proved to the nation that the Big Ten could be relevant in the national title hunt, as Urban Meyer took Ohio State to the national title last season as a four seed in the four team playoff. Meyer has the Buckeyes clicking into 2015 as by far the easiest pick to win it all again this fall. Michigan State can push the Buckeyes, but the Spartans, as good as they can be, may fall just short, and yet still be good enough to be a top ten program.
The problem with the conference is that the rest of the league falls way short of the Buckeyes and Spartans. Nobody is in the league of those two programs on any level. The entire West is really a bit of a mess, with not one team stepping into a realm where they could ever dream of winning the conference title game against a loaded Buckeye team. That is an image problem, and the rest of the conference schools must raise their games.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
3. Penn State
4. Maryland
5. Indiana
6. Michigan
7. Rutgers

1. Minnesota
2. Nebraska
3. Wisconsin
4. Iowa
5. Northwestern
6. Illinois
7. Purdue 

All-Conference Team
QB-Connor Cook, Michigan State
QB-JT Barrett, Ohio State
QB-Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
RB-Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
RB-Justin Jackson, Northwestern
RB-Corey Clement, Wisconsin
WR-Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
WR-Mike Dudek, Illinois
WR-DaeShon Hamilton, Penn State
WR-Danny Anthrop, Purdue
TE-Jake Duzey, Iowa
TE-Josiah Price, Michigan State

DL-Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DL-Anthony Zettel, Penn State
DL-Shalique Calhoun, Michigan State
DL-Drew Ott, Iowa
LB-Darron Lee, Ohio State
LB-Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
LB-Joe Schobert, Wisconsin
LB-Joshua Perry, Ohio State
DB-William Likely, Maryland
DB-Vonn Bell, Ohio State
DB-Nate Gerry, Nebraska
DB-Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota

PK-Brad Craddock, Maryland
P-Peter Mortell, Minnesota
KR-William Likely, Maryland
PR-De"Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska

Team Previews

Ohio State Buckeyes
2014 Record: 13-0
2015 Projected Record 12-0
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (38-3, 4th season)

The Good News: There is an embarrassment of riches in Columbus this fall, and we all know the prevailing stories. The Buckeyes may have three of the best QBs in the nation all under one roof. Braxton Miller is a former Big Ten offensive MVP before injuries derailed him the last two years, JT Barrett stepped in as a freshman and put up all American type numbers before becoming injured at the end of the year. Then there's Cardale Jones, the hero of the Big Ten title game, and the playoffs. It was Jones who put the final exclamation on an amazing run that saw the Buckeyes win it all as a four seed. It gets even better when you consider the run game, which boasts the retur of all world RB Ezekiel Elliott. Elliot is a bruising back who doesn't go down easily. He rushed for 1878 yards on the season, and scored 18 times. When you have a run/pass combo offense like this, you become basically unstoppable. Michael Thomas steps up as the lead receiver after catching 54 passes for 799 yards and nine scores last fall. Four starters return up front in LT Taylor Decker, LG Billy Price, C Jacoby Boren, and RG Pat Elflein. Senior Chase Ferris should step into the open RT job.
Seven starters return on defense, as the Buckeyes ranked 19th in total defense a year ago. If that's the worst news you have on your football team, ranking 19th in anything, then you have few concerns. All league pick Joey Bosa returns at DE after picking up 13.5 sacks last fall. Adolphus Washington will also return at DT. Joshua Perry is a beast at WLB, and returns after picking up 124 tackles. He will be joined by Darren Lee at SLB, and he's due for a huge season as well. Three starters return in the secondary, with FS Vonn Bell leading the way after picking off six passes last season. SS Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple (CB) both return as well.
Cameron Johnson didn't get worked often at Punter last fall, but when he did he averaged over 45 yards per punt.
The Bad News: Offensively, there is very little, however their wealth at QB could also be a huge distraction. If any one QB struggles, you have an automatic QB controversy, as locker rooms tend to divide to go with certain players. Not saying that will happen here, but historically, this has happened. Not there is a lack of talent per se, but the second unit on offense is incredibly young. Ten players on the second team are underclassmen heading into camp. That could be problematic when you are trying to make a second straight title run.
The defense has the same depth/experience issue, as eight second teamers are underclassmen. There are a few areas where the defense as a whole could improve (pass D gave up just over 200 yards per game), but that is really picking at dust particles. Three of four new starters this fall could be sophomores, and that could be a concern.
Sean Nuemberger is back at PK, but he hit on only 13 of 20 FGs last season. The offense should have no trouble scoring, but leaving points on the ground n close games could be a problem.
The Overview: The Buckeyes are short of perfect, but they are the closest thing by far to a standard championship favorite in 2015. They are by far better than anyone else in the conference, save Michigan State, and should mostly cruise to a Big Ten title. Once they get into the playoffs, anything can happen, but this team is absolutely loaded, and they could win this title with any of their three QBs. Urban Meyer has built another empire, and it looks like his reign will continue for the foreseeable future. The Buckeyes are my 2015 pick for national champs.
Editors Note: After writing this article, Braxton Miller decided to switch positions to WR/H-Back. What this does is moves an excellent athlete to make a rich position richer. Not only does this add depth to the WR corps, it makes the QBs better. There is film of online, and is on my Twitter wall (@BiloFootball) that shows what he can do as a receiver. The rich just got richer.
First Game: 9/7 at Virginia Tech

Michigan State Spartans
2014 Record: 11-2
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (75-31, 9th season)

The Good News: Despite the wealth at QB at Ohio State, Michigan State may have some of the most stability at the position. Connor Cook decided to return for his senior season after passing for 3214 yards and 24 TDs to just eight picks. Cook is solid and stable, and plays like a pro at times. He has a presence that exudes confidence, and is a true leader of this football team. The line is in great shape this fall, with four starters returning in LT Jack Conklin, C Jack Allen, RG Donovan Clark, and RT Kodi Kieler. TE Josiah Price is a favorite target of Cook's in the passing game, and is an all league pick as well.
Seven starters are back on defense, an area that usually gives this football program their identity. The line should be a major strength, with all league Shilique Calhoun back at DE. Calhoun recorded eight sacks last fall, and is joined by DT Joel Heath and DE Lawrence Thomas. LB should be in good shape as well, with the return of STAR Darien Harris and SLB Ed Davis. The weak spot on the D a year ago was pass defense, where MSU ranked just 60th nationally after giving up 227.3 yards per game. Darian Hicks is back at CB, and RJ Williamson is back at FS giving the Spartans some much needed leadership in the backfield.
The Bad News: While Cook returns, he has to find someone at WR to step up this fall. Macgarrett Kings is back after catching 29 passes last fall, but he's the most experienced receiver that's not a TE, and that could be a problem. The Spartans also must find a solid RB to step up and continue the Spartan tradition of great backs. There is talent available, but little in the way of experience. Delton Williams will try to be the guy.
Defensively, that secondary is concerning, and the new starters are mainly underclassmen, other than senior Arjen Colquihoon, a senior. Vayante Copeland (CB) is a freshman, and Montae Nicholson is a sophomore. Depth on defense is not great as far as experience is concerned either.
The kicking game is a big question heading into camp. Michael Geiger is back at PK, but hit just 14/22 FGs last fall, hardly a great fallback option. The Spartans are turning to a freshman at Punter in Jake Hartbarger.
The Overview: It's hardly a perfect scenario for Mark Dantonio and staff, but even with some offensive shortfalls and the secondary and kicking game problems, this staff has enough talent to cultivate the issues into positives, and there is more than enough talent on hand to win ten games and get back to a New Year's Six bowl this year. I don't see the Spartans pushing Ohio State in the conference title hunt, but this team is still very good.
First Game: 9/4 at Western Michigan

Penn State Nittany Lions
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: James Franklin (7-6, 2nd season)

The Good News: James Franklin has brought his energy and passion to the Nittany Lions program, and he is building quickly on the base the Bill O'Brien established before leaving for the NFL. Franklin has the needle heading upward, and the Lions have a chance to turn another corner in 2015.
Penn State returns eight starters on offense this season, which could be a key to success. Christian Hackenberg is back at QB, which has some good and bad elements to it. Another year under Franklin, and Hackenberg could be a guy to watch. He certainly has a solid target to throw to in WR DaeSean Hamilton, who caught 82 passes for 899 yards last fall, but he only scored twice. TE Kyle Carter could be in line for a big season as well. The line should be in great shape, as four starters return in LG Brendan Mahon, C Angelo Mangiro, RG Brian Gala, and RT Andrew Nelson.
Seven starters return from one of the best defenses in the country last fall. Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel both return after strong performances in 2014. They will anchor the middle of the line, making the job of Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell at LB easier. Wartman is the leading returning tackler with 75. The secondary should be in great shape once again, as CB Trevor Williams will be joined by SS Marcus Allen and FS Jordan Lucas.
The Bad News: Hackenberg has shown flashes that he can be a big time QB, but he shows plenty of flashes that prove that he isn't. This season must be a turning point for the erratic QB as he tossed 17 TDs against 15 picks last fall. He must severely cut down on his bad decisions with the football this fall. The Lions finished 111th in total offense last fall, 110th in scoring, and even worse, 117th in rushing. Penn State has historically been a rushing team, and they need to find a premier back that can carry the load. Maybe it's Akeel Lynch, but he has to prove himself. This offense has to step up big from last season to meet expectations.
The defense is as strong has ever, but there are a few questions up front, as Penn State must find two new starters at DE. Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickels are both in line to start heading into camp, but Curtis Cothran and Terrence Brown could figure in as well. Cothran is a sophomore, and Brown is a freshman. Sickels is just a sophomore as well.
The kicking game was a mess, so both PK and P are wide open heading into camp this fall. With the offense being so bad a year ago, the PK game will need to be top shelf to make sure no points are left off the board.
The Overview: Franklin has his work cut out on offense, but this could be a corner turning season there as experience continues to build. Once the offense catches up with the defense, Penn State could be a threat to contend with in the conference race. That could still be a year away, but I feel that Penn State could be better than advertised, and push for that nine win season this fall. If everything goes well this season, Penn State could be a contender in 2016. Look for major developments this fall, however, as a very good bowl game could very well be in the cards this fall.
First Game: 9/5 at Temple

Maryland Terrapins
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Randy Edsell (20-30, 5th season

The Good News: The Terps return six starters on offense this fall, but not all could be starting when camp closes and the season begins. RB could be a strength for a change, as Brandon Ross and Wes Brown both return this fall. One of the two need to really step up and provide some kind of balance to an offense that has largely lacked any under Randy Edsell. Brown is the leading returning receiver from last fall as well, but caught just 21 passes. Marcus Leak returns at WR, as does Amba Etta-Tawo, but he may be coming off the bench rather than starting ahead of Juwann Winfree. Both OGs return on the line in Ryan Doyle on the left, and Andrew Zeller on the right.
The secondary was the best part of the defense last fall, and returns largely intact, led by all league CB William Likely, who picked off six passes last fall. CB Sean Davis and S Anthony Nixon both return as well. Yannick Ngakoue is back at DE, and could have a big season.
Brad Craddock is an automatic at PK after hitting 18/19 FGs last fall. He may be the most important player on this football team.
The Bad News: The run game, which could be the strength this fall, was a major disaster last fall, as Maryland ranked 108th nationally in rushing at 121.8 yards per game. The offense as a unit finished just 109th in total offense, which was largely driven by a lack of run game. QB Caleb Rowe, who is slated to start is largely an unknown with an injury history. Both tackles and center wwill be new this fall, and all three could be freshmen, however Michael Dunn does return at RT, but could still be beaten out for his job.
Six of the front seven positions need new starters this fall, and that could be disastrous. All three starting LBs will be new this fall, but there is some depth as far as experience from within the program, if not on game day. Three sophomores could equate at DT, and one DE must be replaced as well.
The Terrapins start anew at Punter, as freshman Lee Shrader steps into the job. Coaches love him, but he needs game experience.
The Overview: I've never been a huge Randy Edsell guy, and he enters 2015 ten games under .500 for his stay in College Park. This is now year five, and Maryland doesn't seem to be any better than they were when he arrived. With a few breaks (the schedule certainly provides a few in September), Maryland can get back to six wins, and attend a lower tier bowl, but that's as good as it will likely get. Is that good enough to keep Edsell off the hot seat? He certainly hasn't provided as much energy as Ralph Friedgen did during his tenure, and he got run out on a rail.
First Game: 9/5 Richmond

Indiana Hoosiers
2014 Record: 5-6
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Kevin Wilson (14-34, 5th season)

The Good News: The Hoosiers looked very strong when Nate Sudfield, despite his flaws, was tossing the football. When Sudfield went down last fall, the Hoosiers were done. Sudfield is back for another go in 2015 as a senior, and as he goes, so shall IU. Jordan Howard was a lucky grab after UAB shut down their program after last fall. Howard rushed for just under 1600 yards and scored 13 times for the Blazers, and he lands right when IU looses Tevin Coleman. He should benefit running behind three returning starters on the line in LT Jason Spriggs, RG Dan Freeney, and RT Ralston Evans.
The defense returns six starters this fall, including every starter on the line. Nick Mangieri is back at DE, and three players who started last season return to take up a rotation at DT in Darius Latham, Nate Hoff, and Adarius Rayner. TJ Simmons returns at LB, and the star of the secondary returns in FS Antonio Allen, who recorded 74 tackles last fall.
The Bad News: The Hoosiers were a mess on defense, and must find ways to improve off of giving up 32.8 points per game (100th nationally). IU ranked in the bottom quarter of every defensive stat last fall, and has a major issue in the middle of the field, as they must replace three of four LBs. Tegray Scales got some experience as a freshman last fall, and should step in to start at one of those spots as a sophomore.
Offensively, it all rides on Sudfield, however he has his own issues, such as staying on the field. There is zero depth behind him, so if he falls or fails, the ship sinks with him. There is another concern about the passing game, and that's the WR corps. J-Shun Harris is back at the slot, and he is the most experienced receiver with just 18 receptions last fall. That may be a problem. Indiana must find some quality receivers to step up, and they are hoping for good things from another UAB transfer in Marqui Hawkins, or Dominique Booth.
The kicking game was not consistent enough on either side, as Griffin Oakes, despite having a big leg, hit only 13/18 FGs. Erich Toth was all over the place and still managed to average 40.7 yards per punt, but it's not enough with such a struggling defense.
The Overview: It's a make or break year for Kevin Wilson. He is heading into year five, and has failed as of yet to get to a bowl game, and so this is it. If Wilson fails to get the Hoosiers out of the regular season, he will be gone. There is little doubt of that. If Sudfield stays healthy, some WRs step up, and Howard repeats his success from UAB, IU will have a shot. The defense must find a way to keep teams under 30 points per game, and move up two to four spots in every defensive stat to really have a shot at being very good. In short, IU has the ability to get to a bowl, but some magic has to happen to ensure it.
First Game: 9/5 Southern Illinois

Michigan Wolverines
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (1st season)

The Good News: Harbaugh's hiring may be the best thing that could have happened in Ann Arbor, but one thing to remember...he's an NFL guy. NFL guys always go back, and Harbaugh may not stay there forever like some believe. I'm not saying that Harbaugh isn't loving being back at Michigan, but the lure of NFL competition is certainly going to be there in a year or two, and it may be hard to resist. That being said, Harbaugh has already brought an amazing amount of injury back to the Wolverines.
Every good offense must be built upon a foundation of a great line. The Wolverines have that foundation going with four returning starters in LT Mason Cole, LG Ben Braden, C Graham Glasgow, and RG Kyle Kalis.
The defense was finally starting to show signs of life last fall, and ranked 7th nationally in total defense. Ryan Glasgow is back at ST, but could be supplanted by sophomore Bryan Mone. In either case, this could be a decent rotation. DE Chris Wormley returns as well. James Ross III is back at OLB, while Joe Bolden is back at MLB after recording 102 tackles last fall. Desmond Morgan, a senior, should step into the OLB spot that is open, while Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton could provide some depth at DE. Two starters return in the secondary in CB Blake Countess and FS Jarrod Wilson. Countess may get pushed in camp by senior Wayne Lyons.
The Bad News: The offense ranked 112th last season in total offense, and there is where the problems reside that Harbaugh has to get fixed. The bad news is that the tools to fix those problems are not necessarily in the program yet. He has to find a QB amongst Jake Rudock (Iowa transfer) and returnee Shane Morris. Rudock got pushed out at Iowa, and Shane Morris completed just 14 of 40 passes last fall in limited duty. The Wolverines did a decent job running the football last fall, but must find a new step up back, which could be De"veon Smith, Ty Isaac, or Derrick Green. They must also find someone who has to step up at WR. Amara Darboh returns after catching 36 passes, but he's the best of the bunch.
The news is actually mostly good on defense, and Harbaugh has more than enough talent to keep things running as they did last season. They do need to find five new starters, but there is some talent to rely on there.
The kicking game is on reboot, as Michigan turns to freshman Andrew David at PK, and senior Blake O'Neill at Punter.
The Overview: Having Harbaugh on board is a huge get for Michigan. The problem is that the Wolverines need a talent infusion on offense, and that talent is likely still playing high school football in 2015. Michigan is fine on defense for now, and that needs to continue, as the defense will keep Michigan in games. Until the offense is fixed, however, the bumpy road will continue for a time. Michigan may likely not see a bowl this season.
First Game: 9/3 at Utah

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Kyle Flood (23-16, 4th season)

The Good News: The best news heading into the 2015 season is the return of WR Leonte Carroo, who decided to come back for his senior season after catching 55 passes for 1086 yards and 10 scores last season. He is by far the best weapon returning to this football team this fall. Two spots on the line are full heading into camp, filled by LT Keith Lumpkin and RG Chris Muller.
Half of the D line should be ok with the return of DT Darius Hamilton and DE Djwany Mera. LB, however, should be the strength of the defense, with the return of WLB Steve Longa (102 tackles) and SLB Quentin Gause. Delon Stephenson is the lone returnee in the secondary at FS.
Kyle Federico returns at PK after hitting 16/21 FGs last fall, and may be a huge piece of the Knights scoring ability.
The Bad News: Rutgers is going to have to find some offense somewhere, as eight starters are gone, including the erratic Gary Nova at QB. Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig will fight it out in camp. Rutgers also needs someone to step up at RB amongst a group consisting of Desmon Peoples, Paul James, and Josh Hicks. Finding another receiver to compliment Carroo will be imperative as well. The line also needs three new starters.
The news is slightly better on defense, but not by much. Rutgers could simply not stop the run last fall, as they ranked 106th against the run (212.3 yards per game allowed). They gave up 30.2 points per game, and 442.8 yards per game. Those issues are all concerning, especially when you try to figure out where the talent is coming from. Rutgers has some talent, but not Big 10 talent just yet.
The Punting game needs to find one punter, not two like a year ago. Tim Gleeson has the edge over Joe Roth heading into camp.
The Overview: Kyle Flood may not be the answer at Rutgers long term. The endgame has increased in importance with joining the Big Ten, and Rutgers needs to find a plan for the future that ensures success in this conference. This will not be easy, but the program needs to find a pulse, as they were slaughtered by the class teams in the conference a year ago. If Rutgers falls, as I believe they will this season, look for a change to be made in a hurry. Greg Schiano is still out there...
First Game: 9/5 Norfolk State

Minnesota Golden Gophers
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Jerry Kill (25-26, 5th season)

The Good News: Minnesota is finally starting to rise as a program in the Big Ten under Jerry Kill. A culture change has taken hold, and now the Gophers feel like they can win on any give day. It all starts there, and Minnesota could push forward and win the Big Ten West Division this season.
Mitch Leidner is back at QB, and he is a true dual threat, and is also the leading returning rusher with 452 yards and 10 scores last fall. He could show some improvement as a passer, but he is definitely a stronger runner. David Cobb is gone, but the Gophers have some decent talent coming back at RB in Rodrick Williams and Rodney Smith. Three starters return on what should be a very good line in LG Joe Bjorklund, RG Josh Campion, and RT Jonah Pirsig.
Minnesota made some major strides on defense last fall, and that trend should continue with seven starters returning. Theiran Cockran is back at DE, while Steven Richardson should be improved as a sophomore at DT. The real strength on defense should be in the secondary, where the Gophers ranked 18th nationally against the pass after giving up just 193.5 yards passing per game. Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun (all league pick) both return at CB, and Damarius Travis is back at Safety.
Peter Mortell is one of the best Punters in the nation, and averaged 45.2 yards per punt last fall.
The Bad News: The Gophers aren't an offensive juggernaut. That being said they need improvement from Leidner in the passing game. The question is about where he will find targets. Minnesota must replace all three starting receivers, and the group coming into camp has basically no experience as a whole. Maxx Williams is gone at TE as well, and that is a huge blow, as is the loss of David Cobb at RB.
The defense has the biggest holes to fill up front, as they need two new linemen, and a middle LB. Depth is minimal as well, which is concerning in that the Gophers ranked just 74th in rushing defense a year ago.
Ryan Santoso hung in as a freshman, but hit just 12/18 FGs. He will need to turn a corner as a sophomore.
The Overview: Minnesota is on the verge of good things. Are the conditions perfect for a run this season? No. However, the West is wide open this fall, and everyone has serious vulnerabilities. If the Gophers can branch out on offense, and take advantage of opportunities in the schedule (Gophers could start 5-1, then get Nebraska and Michigan at home), they could very well come out on top in the West and play for their first conference title in the modern era.
First Game: 9/3 TCU

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Mike Riley (1st season)

The Good News: The Huskers have one of the most versatile dual threat QBs in the nation in Tommie Armstrong, who passed for 2695 yards and 22 TDs, and also rushed for 705 yards and another six scores. Armstrong should key this offense, as new coach Mike Riley has to seek out replacements for Ameer Abdullah at RB and Kenny Bell at WR. Jordan Westerkamp will be the leading receiver heading into camp after catching 44 balls for 747 yards and five scores. Alonzo Moore returns as well. Cethan Carter is back at TE, and both tackles return up front in Alex Lewis and Zack Sterup.
Six starters return on defense, where the line ought to be a strength. De Greg McMullen will be joined by DTs Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine. Two starters are back in the secondary as well with CB Daniel Davie joining S Nate Gerry as returnees. Gerry picked off five passes last fall, and recorded 88 tackles.
Sam Foltz returns at Punter after averaging 42.21 yards per punt.
The Bad News: The Huskers lose out on two major stars in Abdullah and Bell. Those losses will not come without bumps when it comes to finding replacements. De'Mornay Pierson-El may be a valued piece in the process, but is probably a more developed punt return man at this point. The run game will see a battle between Terrell Newby and Imani Cross in camp. The entire middle of the line must be replaced, which could effect the run game negatively.
The middle of the field is a big question, with only David Santos returning at LB. Two new LBs and a new DE must be found to give the Huskers a shot. One major issue with Nebraska last season was a defense that largely underperformed last fall. One area of serious concern was the rush defense, which ranked 78th, as they gave up 177.8 yards per game rushing. That's highly unlike Nebraska football.
Drew Brown returns at PK as a sophomore, but hit only 14/21 FGs last fall, leaving 21 points off the board.
The Overview: The firing of Pelini was unfortunate. He's a solid coach, but never seemed to mesh well with the media and the fan base in Lincoln. It's hard to fathom firing a coach who won nine games or more for seven straight seasons. The hiring of Mike Riley from Oregon State was even more questionable, as Riley was likely to be on the hot seat at Oregon State this fall. Riley is also over 60 at this point, so is he the right long term hire for a program looking for direction? This hire could possibly blow up on the Huskers, but this season they have enough talent to win eight games. That's worse than Pelini had been doing.
First Game: 9/5 BYU

Wisconsin Badgers
2014 Record: 11-3
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (1st season)

The Good News: Corey Clement could be the very next back in a series of great backs in Madison this season. He rushed for 949 yards last fall as the backup, and scored nine times. He's ready for the big stage, as Taiwan Deal will set himself up as the backup as a freshman. Alex Erickson is back at WR, bringing another weapon into the fold. Erickson caught 55 passes for 772 yards and three scores. The TE position is very important to this offense, and the Badgers should have two quality guys at that position in Troy Fumagelli and Austin Traylor. Tyler Martz is back at LT, and Dan Voltz is back at Center.
Wisconsin boasted the 4th best pass defense in the nation last fall, and they bring back four starters in the secondary this season. Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton both return at QB, and Michael Caputo joins Luben Figaro at Safety. Figaro could be pushed out by senior Tanner McEvoy in camp.
Rafael Gaglianone is back at PK as a sophomore after hitting 19/22 FGs in a strong debut. Drew Meyer also averaged 41.5 yards as a freshman punter last fall.
The Bad News: Wisconsin is a power run team, but that may be an issue this fall, as the Badgers need to find three new starters at LG, RG, and RT. The Badgers were basically not great when it came to passing the football last season, and Joel Stave is back at QB. Stave is not a classic passing QB, and is most comfortable handing the ball off. Here's the bad news. Because of this fact, teams are going to stack the line and force the Badgers to throw. Stave needs to prove he can do that to win football games. That issue will also call for someone other than Erickson to catch the ball when it is being tossed. To give you an idea as to how bad the Badgers are at passing, they finished 116th nationally last season with just 148.7 yards per game. They had better hope that Clements can carry the load and run through stacks of defenders.
The front seven returns only three starters, and that could be problematic for that secondary. If the DBs are busy trying to shore up a developing front, they may be exposed in the passing game. The Badgers will have to get the new starters to step up in a hurry.
The Overview: Barry Alvarez obviously went for a hire that he could control in bringing back former OC and Pitt coach Paul Chryst to coach the Badgers after Gary Anderson had simply had enough and bolted for Oregon State. Chryst was a super OC for the Badgers, but as a head coach at Pitt, he was basically average at best. We all know by now how much control that Alvarez still exudes over this program, and right or wrong, it's his program to control from the AD office. Chryst was a grab in the dark, however, and it may backfire miserably. The Badgers are vulnerable for the first time in a while.
First Game: 9/5 Alabama at Arlington, Texas

Iowa Hawkeyes
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (115-85, 17th season)

The Good News: CJ Beathard has taken over at QB, and Jake Rudock left for Michigan. Beathard is the better of the two, and had been green lit as the likely starter for this season, so Rudock decided to make an exit for his final season. Beathard has a bigger arm and is more aggressive, so this is likely a good move. WR Tevaun Smith returns after catching 43 passes last fall. He gives Beathard a solid target to throw to. The middle of the line returns as well in OGs Sean Welsh and Jordan Walsh, and C Austin Blythe.
The secondary was the strongest part of the defense last fall, ranking 7th against the pass. Greg Mabin and Desmond King are back at CB. and FS Jordan Lomax is back as well. Lomax recorded 92 tackles last fall. The Hawkeyes are set on the edge, with DEs Drew Ott and Nate Meier coming back. Ott recorded eight sacks last fall.
Marshall Koehn is back at PK after hitting 12 of 16 FGs last fall, and could be even better this season.
The Bad News: The backfield is largely being rebuilt with Jordan Canzeri likely starting at RB after rushing for 494 yards last fall, yet he never did score. Both tackles need to be replaced on the line, as well as the TE. Other than Smith, Iowa needs to find someone else to step up in the passing game at WR.
The defense has some issues in the middle, as both DTs and the MLB must be replaced. The Hawkeyes also must replace one more OLB, and both starting candidates at MLB and OLB are sophomores in Ben Niemann and Josey Jewell. Nathan Bazata, a candidate to start at DT is also a sophomore, as is starting candidate at SS Miles Taylor. The issues in the middle of the front seven are concerning, because that was a weak spot last fall as well, as Iowa gave up 168.3 yards rushing per game.
The Overview: Nobody can tell me why Kirk Ferentz is one of the top paid coaches in America. He simply is not worth it, and never really was. Ferentz gets paid a boatload of money to coach what is always an average football team. Simply put, Iowa needs new blood to take them to another level, because Ferentz simply isn't getting it done. The talent is average at best, and even better yet, seems to have lost their way against rival Iowa State. Better than that, they are a major upset candidate when Illinois State comes to Iowa City in the opener. Due to lack of overall talent, I believe that Iowa could miss a bowl this season.
First Game: 9/5 Illinois State

Northwestern Wildcats
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (60-53, 10th season)

The Good News: The Wildcats were a mess on offense last season, but they do have some pieces that could fight to bring them back to decency. The line was hit and miss last fall, but three starters return with more experience in LT Geoff Mogus, RG Matt Frazier, and RT Eric Olson. They will block for an underrated back in Justin Jackson, who rushed for 1187 yards and 10 scores last fall. Jackson rushed 245 times last fall, so his season will be all about smart productivity. Dan Vitale will be back at TE after catching 40 passes for 402 yards. He will need to do better this season, but he's a viable weapon, as is WR Christian Jones, who steps into a starting role. Cameron Dickerson is back at WR as well.
The defense could be one of the better units in the conference this season, as ten starters return. Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson are back at DE, while three players with starting experience return at DT in CJ Robbins, Max Chapman, and Greg Kuher. Drew Smith and Anthony Walker are both back at LB as well. Three starters return in the secondary as well in CBs Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris, and S Traveon Henry. Henry recorded 73 tackles last fall. Godwin Igwebuike is back at Safety as well, and steps into a full time starting role.
Jack Mitchell is back at PK after hitting 14/18 FGs, and should be a star this fall.
The Bad News: The offense, while returning some weapons, must find a new QB to run things. One thing is for certain, as whoever wins the job will be young and inexperienced. Matt Alviti (sophomore), Clayton Thorson (freshman), and Zack Oliver will compete in camp. The Wildcats have receivers, but they need someone to be a big play guy, and they really don't have that right now.
The defense gave up 169.9 yards per game rushing last fall, so that's an area that will need shoring up.
The Punting game is a mess, but Hunter Niswander is stepping into the role to try to shore it up.
The Overview: The Wildcats are a team that is hard to trust after coming off back to back seasons ending with no bowl bids. Pat Fitzgerald is obviously a Northwestern guy, and the school has shown loyalty up until now, however that patience is starting to run a little thin. There have been many distracting issues, but that needs to be overcome, as well as the injuries that have plagued this team for years. I still don't think that the Wildcats have enough talent to overcome this fall, and we could be looking at season three with no postseason trip.
First Game: 9/5 Stanford

Illinois Fighting Illini
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Tim Beckman (12-25, 4th season)

The Good News: Wes Lunt is back for his junior season after missing five games to injury at QB last fall. Lunt passed for 1763 yards last fall, and threw 14 TDs to just three picks. The key to Lunt is keeping him on the field. Illinois wins when he is on the field, but they fail when he doesn't. Josh Ferguson rushed for 735 yards and eight scores last fall, and could have a breakout season this fall. It would be appreciated if he did to keep pressure off of Lunt. Mike Dudek would be back at WR, and would be a huge weapon, but he could miss a huge chunk of the year after tearing his ACL during the spring. Geronimo Allison will now have to step up and be the guy. Justin Hardee returns at WR as well. The line is very good from center to RT. Joe Spencer returns at Center, while Ted Karras is back at RG, with Christian DiLauro back at RT.
The secondary could be improved this fall with three starters returning in V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence at CB, and Taylor Barton returning at Safety. The pass defense was by far the best part of the defense, ranking 47th nationally last season against the pass. Mason Monheim and TJ Neal are back at LB. Monheim recorded 111 tackles last fall, and is the star of the defense. Jihad Ward (DE) and Rob Bain (DT) are the returnees on the line.
The Bad News: The loss of Dudek in the passing game is huge. Dudek caught 76 passes last fall for 1038 yards and six scores. That kind of production is hard to replace without a doubt. The left side of the line must be replaced as well.
The defense was a disaster last season, ranking 107th nationally in scoring (34 points per game allowed), 115th in rush defense (239.2 yards per game allowed), and 109th in total defense (456.4 yards allowed per game). Seven starters return, but those seven starters must show that something was learned last fall, and that they can improve and adapt. If not, it's going to be a long year.
The PK game was a mess, and no true answer is evident. The Illini are starting over at Punter as well.
The Overview: Tim Beckman saved his job by winning his final two regular season games, but then lost to Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The heat is on big time once again for Beckman and staff, and a losing season would bring about change. I have a feeling that we will see exactly that, as I project only five wins on this schedule.
First Game: 9/4 Kent State

Purdue Boilermakers
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Darrell Hazell (4-20, 3rd season)

The Good News: Experience won't be a problem as Darrell Hazell probably has his most experienced team returning this season. Nine starters are back on offense, but talent will be more an issue than experience. Where it all starts is on the line, where all five starters return in LT David Hedelin, LG Jason King, C Robert Kugler, RG Jordan Roos, and RT JJ Prince. What's great about this situation, is that every one of these guys is a junior or senior. What's better is that Cameron Cermin is back to back up at both OT spots, and has starting experience. Danny Anthrop is back at WR after catching 38 passes for 616 yards and four scores. If QB play can improve, he may be a star in the making. DeAngelo Yancey returns as well at WR, and needs to step up.
Seven starts returns on defense, and the Boilermakers are loaded at LB especially, where all three starters return in Jimmy Herman, Ja'Whaun Bentey, and Danny Ezechukwu. Bentley and Ezechukwu are just sophomores, so they are still a bit in learning mode. The middle of the line is in decent shape with the return of DT Jake Replogle and NT Ra'Zahn Howard. Both are juniors. Ryan Watson backs up both spots and recorded four sacks last fall. Senior Anthony Brown returns at CB, and Frsankie Williams is back at Safety after picking off three passes last fall.
Paul Griggs paid his own way last fall as he hit 16/20 FGs. His leg will be ever important this fall.
The Bad News: Austin Appleby is back at QB, but he needs to grab hold of the job. He passed for just 1449 yards last fall, and had 11 picks against just 10 TDs. Purdue finished 101st in passing offense last fall, passing for 187.4 yards per game. The run game could be a struggle this season as well, as freshman Markell James will join Keyante Green as likely starters. James is a freshman, and Green is a sophomore. DJ Knox and David Yancey are also both sophomores coming off the bench. There is little experience off the bench at WR as well, as all three second teamers are all sophomores.
The defense had some nice moments last fall, but they need help on the edge, as both DEs must be replaced. Gelen Robinson is just a sophomore, and Evan Panfil is a junior. John Strauser and Antoine Miles are both sophomore, and will be in the mix in camp. Purdue was especially weak against the run last fall, ranking 91st against the run (192.1 yards rushing allowed per game). Purdue also needs to find a way to keep teams from scoring, as they gave up 31.7 points per game.
The Punting game needs a boost as well, as Thomas Meadows returns after averaging just 39.8 yards per punt last season. That number will not help a struggling defense.
The Overview: Hazell has won just four games in two seasons after coming over from a very short stint at Kent State. He needed some time to build the roster, but this is the season where Purdue should start to show some examples of positive change. Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen. So much is weighing on year three, but will the talent translate to wins? The September schedule is highly difficult with game at Marshall, and at home with Virginia Tech and Bowling Green. If the Boilers fall flat against those three, they'll be in for a long haul in 2015. October will be a meat grinder (at Michigan State, Minnesota, at Wisconsin, Nebraska).
First Game: 9/6 at Marshall

Next: Big 12

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