Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Farewell to 2016: Big 10

The 2016 season was clearly a mixed bag for the Big 10, and was the recipient of a dangerous precedent by the NCAA playoff committee by advancing an Ohio State team that did not even win a division, forget about the conference title, to the national semifinal. Michigan fell short of expectations late in the season, Ohio State managed to somehow wiggle out of not winning the East to get a playoff bid anyway, and Penn State was an amazing surprise. The rest of the East, in my opinion, was basically garbage.
The West had some surprises as well, as Wisconsin was dominant on defense, and won in double figures despite never having a credible QB. Minnesota survived an early sexual assault scandal to win 9 games, only to be brought down by the very same scandal at the end of the season, costing Tracy Claeys his job. Nebraska won 9 games under Mike Riley, but is it not that win total on average that forced them to fire Bo Polini, and has Riley not just averaged 7 wins per season in 2 years? And don't forget the mess that was the Iowa offense, yet somehow they still hung on in the division race until the very end. The rest of the division, again, was pure garbage.

Penn State Nittany Lions
11-3 (8-1)

2016 Schedule
Kent State 33-13
Lost to Pittsburgh 42-39
Beat Temple 34-27
Lost to Michigan 49-10
Beat Minnesota 29-26
Beat Maryland 38-14
Beat Ohio State 24-21
Beat Purdue 62-24
Beat Iowa 41-14
Beat Indiana 45-31
Beat Rutgers 39-0
Beat Michigan State 45-12
Beat Wisconsin 38-31 (Big 10 Title Game)
Lost to USC 52-49 (Rose Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Opponents: 9/2 Akron, 9/9 Pittsburgh, 9/16 Georgia State
2016 MVP Offense: QB Trace McSorley, RB Saquon Barkley
2016 MVP Defense: LB Brandon Bell
Best Win: Ohio State, 24-21
Worst Loss: Michigan 49-10

The Breakdown: After starting just 2-2, and after a whopping 49-10 loss to Michigan, nobody would have called Penn State winning the East, but that is exactly whet they did after rolling off 9 straight wins, including a Big 10 title game shocker when they beat Wisconsin. If not for two straight bone headed pass calls in the closing minute of the Rose Bowl, Penn State likely beats USC in the Rose Bowl, but the second straight pass attempt is picked off, and USC closes the game with a buzzer beater FG to pull out the win.
McSorley and Barkley, who both return in 2017, were a fundamental part of the Nittany Lion turn around. McSorley made everyone finally forget about the much overrated Christian Hackenberg at QB, passing for 3614 yards and 29 TDs, while he rushed for another 365 yards and 7 scores. Barkley was also a beast at RB, rushing for 18 TDs on 1496 yard rushing. Barkley averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and nobody could stack up in any one direction against what turned out to be the most explosive Penn State offense in years.
Brandon Bell was the heart and sole of the defense for Penn State, as was evident after he went down with an injury in the Rose Bowl. USC came back from 14 down to win that game, and his presence in the middle of the field was highly missed as USC rolled off 17 unanswered points to win the game.
Moving Forward: OC Joe Morrhead was retained, and both McSorley and Barkley return in 2017. Penn State should have no trouble with a very weak non conference slate, but they have to go to Ohio State this season, which could be tricky for them. That being said, I really like what I see in this football team coming back next fall.

Ohio State Buckeyes
11-2 (8-1)

2016 Schedule
Beat Bowling Green 77-10
Beat Tulsa 48-3
Beat Oklahoma 45-24
Beat Rutgers 58-0
Beat Indiana 38-17
Beat Wisconsin 30-23
Lost to Penn State 24-21
Beat Northwestern 24-20
Beat Nebraska 62-3
Beat Maryland 62-3
Beat Michigan State 17-16
Beat Michigan 30-27
Lost to Clemson 31-0 (Fiesta Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Opponents: 9/9 Oklahoma, 9/16 Army, 9/23 UNLV
MVP Offense: QB JT Barrett
MVP Defense: CB Malik Hooker
Best Win: Wisconsin 30-23
Worst Loss: Clemson 31-0

The Breakdown: The Buckeyes basically cruised through their first 6 games of the season, including their first 2 games where they outscored Bowling Green and Tulsa by a combined 125-13. The Buckeyes only gave up more than 24 points once all season, and that was in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. A late blocked kick against Penn State knocked the Buckeyes out of the division title, and out of the Big 10 title game, but somehow, in a very controversial way, they still found themselves playing in a national semifinal game.
JT Barrett was his usual self for most of the season, passing for 2555 yards and 24 TDs to 7 picks. He added 845 yards rushing and 9 more scores. In short, for the Buckeyes, as Barrett goes, so does the team. In the two losses, he was held to 26 yards rushing (against Penn State), and -2 yards rushing (against Clemson). His QBR was dipping heading into the Fiesta Bowl, so perhaps the final result there should not have been a shock.
Malik Hooker was a huge defensive leader in that he returned 3 of his 7 INTs for scores in 2016. He also finished with 4 PBUs, and finished 3rd on the team with 74 tackles, including 14 in the win over Northwestern, which was a very narrow win for the Buckeyes.
Moving Forward: Barrett is returning, but there is serious turnover on the staff. Kevin Wilson is in as OC, a change that Barrett said was necessary. The Buckeyes will look to be their old selves again in 2017, and they should win their season and conference opener against Indiana with relative ease. The game the following week against Oklahoma will tell the tale as to whether or not the Buckeyes get another shot to compete for a national title.

Michigan Wolverines
10-3 (7-2)

2016 Schedule
Beat Hawaii 63-3
Beat UCF 51-14
Beat Colorado 45-28
Beat Penn State 49-10
Beat Wisconsin 14-7
Beat Rutgers 78-0
Beat Illinois 41-8
Beat Michigan State 32-23
Beat Maryland 59-3
Lost to Iowa 14-13
Beat Indiana 20-10
Lost to Ohio State 30-27
Lost to Florida State 33-32 (Orange Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Florida @ Arlington, TX, 9/9 Cincinnati, 9/16 Air Force
MVP Offense: QB Wilton Speight
MVP Defense: LB Ben Gedeon, DB Channing Stribling
Best Win: Penn State 49-10
Worst Loss: Iowa 14-7

The Breakdown: Michigan lost 3 of their final 4 games, and much of that can be attributed to a late season injury to QB Wilton Speight in the Iowa loss. After Speight went down, the Wolverines offense tanked. He returned for the Ohio State game after missing the ugly win over Indiana, but was clearly bothered by his injury, as he tossed 3 of his 7 INTs in those 2 games, both losses. When Speight was healthy, the offense was fully charges most games.
With all the press that Jabrill Peppers got at Michigan in 2016, Ben Gedeon and Channing Stribling actually played a bit better by the numbers. Gedeon was a beast off the edge, piling up 15.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, and 100 total tackles on the season. He finished with double digits in tackles 5 times, with a season high 12 in both wins over Colorado and Indiana. Stribling led the team with 4 INTs on the season and 13 PBUs.
Michigan was streaking for a semifinal birth, but the Speight injury slowed the roll, and the Wolverines collapsed in the final month of the season, including the bowl loss.
Moving Forward: Plenty of talent returns on offense, but there are serious losses on defense. In fact, the top 8 tacklers from the 2016 unit are now gone, all of them having graduated, or in the case of Jabrill Peppers, declared early. Stribling, and Jourdan Lewis, the 2 top performers in the secondary, are also now gone. That could be a huge hindrance on Michigan making another run in the Big 10 East. Games against Florida in the opener, and Air Force, could both be challenging in non con play.

Indiana Hoosiers 
6-7 (4-5)

2016 Schedule
Beat FIU 34-13
Beat Ball State 30-20
Lost to Wake Forest 33-28
Beat Michigan State 24-21
Lost to Ohio State 38-17
Lost to Nebraska 27-22
Lost to Northwestern 24-14
Beat Maryland 42-36
Beat Rutgers 33-27
Lost to Penn State 45-31
Lost to Michigan 20-10
Beat Purdue 26-24
Lost to Utah 26-24 (Foster Farms Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/9 at Virginia, 9/16 FIU, 9/23 Georgia Southern
MVP Offense: Devine Redding, RB
MVP Defense: Tegray Scales, LB
Best Win: Purdue 26-24
Worst Loss: Wake Forest 33-28

The Breakdown: Indiana is a middling Big 10 program, at best, and that seems to work for the Hoosiers. The team skated into a bowl with a narrow 2 point win over a horrible Purdue team, only to run into Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl to lose their 7th game. That is not a good season by any metrics.
What made matters worse is that IU was forced to fire Kevin Wilson, although "forced" maybe too strong a word, as an investigation was launched into player mistreatment, which is the modern day story of "coach yelled at me too much" in most cases.
The loss to Wake Forest early (week 3) was telling, because Indiana, specifically under Wilson, has had a habit of strong starts followed by very slow finishes, and that loss designated the Hoosiers as a team not to be taken too seriously as Big 10 play got under way, and once that was identified, those of us who noticed that trend were rewarded with being absolutely correct. Indiana finished the season by losing 3 of 4, including the bowl loss, and the Wake Forest loss started a run of the Hoosiers losing 4 of 5 before a mid season 2 game win streak over abysmal Rutgers and Maryland. The win of the year ended up being the one game they won in the final month, the win over rival Purdue, as it made IU mediocre enough to get into a  lower tier bowl.
Devine Redding was the offensive MVP after rushing for 1122 yards on an offense that was mostly lacking any real stars. Redding was important, as when he rushed for 100 yards or more, IU was 4-2 in those six games. In games he went for under 100 yards, the Hoosiers were just 3-5.
Tegray Scales was a beast on defense, as he finished with 23.5 TFLs, led the team in tackles with 126, 93 of which were solo jobs, and collected 7 sacks. He also collected 4 QB hurries, and forced one fumble.
Moving Forward: Defensive Coordinator Tom Allen was given the head coaching job not because IU really thinks that he was the perfect candidate for the job, but because they did not want to lose him as DC to another school. He has done a decent job for the Hoosiers on defense, but there is little to no indication that he will succeed as head coach of the Hoosiers, and this reeked as a desperate and crazy knee jerk hire. The Hoosiers have enough in the tank to win all three non con games in 2017, but I feel that they will do what they always do, and falter in Big 10 play, and there may not be enough talent on hand to make another bowl run next season, as they barely made it into a bowl in 2016 at the last hour.

Maryland Terrapins
6-7 (3-6)

2016 Schedule
Beat Howard 52-13
Beat FIU 41-14
Beat UCF 30-24
Beat Purdue 50-7
Lost to Penn State 38-14
Lost to Minnesota 31-10
Beat Michigan State 28-17
Lost to Indiana 42-36
Lost to Michigan 59-3
Lost to Ohio State 62-3
Lost to Nebraska 28-7
Beat Rutgers 31-13
Lost to Boston College 36-30 (Quicklane Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at Texas, 9/9 Towson, 9/23 UCF
MVP Offense: Ty Johnson, RB
MVP Defense: Jesse Aniebonam, DL
Best Win: Beat Rutgers 31-13

The Breakdown: Even though the Terps returned to a bowl game, this was not a stellar season by any means, as merely getting to a bowl is not nearly as meaningful as it once was. After a 4 game winning streak against mostly bad competition, the wheels really fell off of the wagon for Maryland, as they finished just 2-7 on the season, only beating Michigan State and Rutgers, who combined for 5 total wins and just one win in Big 10 play. That is absolutely terrible. At the end of the season, Maryland had not beaten a single team that finished with a winning record.
RB Ty Johnson ends up being the MVP for offense, even with limited carries (he averaged just 8.46 carries per game). He averaged 9.13 yards per carry and finished with 1004 yards and 6 scores on the year. On a team lacking overall talent on both sides of the football, Johnson seems like a player with a very bright future, but he needs to be used more often.
Jesse Aniebonam was a monster on defense, finishing with 14 TFLs and 9 sacks. He added 46 tackles overall, one PBU, 3 QB hurries, and a forced fumble.
Moving Forward: Just managing to push the Terps over the limit to get into the bowl game (on the back of a win or die win over Rutgers) was huge for DJ Durkin in his first season as head coach at Maryland. This program that he inherited was a mess, and he has a ton of cleaning to do. Finding a QB who can get the ball up field will be a key, and establishing a balanced, solid offense will be another overall. Durkin is a defensive specialist, so lowering the point total allowed once again (the defense showed a 5 point improvement on points allowed in 2016) will also be critical. The needle is moving in the right direction, but this will still be a process.

Michigan State Spartans 
3-9 (1-8)

2016 Schedule
Beat Furman 28-13
Beat Notre Dame 36-28
Lost to Wisconsin 30-6
Lost to Indiana 24-21
Lost to BYU 31-14
Lost to Northwestern 54-40
Lost to Maryland 28-17
Lost to Michigan 32-23
Lost to Illinois 31-27
Beat Rutgers 49-0
Lost to Ohio State 17-16
Lost to Penn State 45-12

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Bowling Green, 9/9 Western Michigan, 9/23 Notre Dame
MVP Offense: LJ Scott, RB
MVP Defense: Chris Frey, LB
Best Win: Rutgers 49-0
Worst Loss: Illinois 31-27

The Breakdown: 2016 was a blood letting at Michigan State, and the Spartans were doing all of the bleeding. This was by far the worst season in years in East Lansing, and one has to wonder if the window has completely slammed shut on this program and the Spartans are returning to the dark ages of their recent history, or one has to wonder if this was merely a blip.
After a 2-0 start, the Spartans finished 1-9, beating only Rutgers in Big 10 play, and Rutgers went winless in conference action. Trouble was certainly on the horizon when Michigan State seemed lifeless in their opener against Furman, and did not even put the FCS Paladins away until the 4th quarter. Furman is not even a rock solid FCS team, so it was evident that trouble was brewing, specifically on offense. As it played out, the Spartans averaged just 24.1 points per game on the season offensively, and the defense did not fair much better, as a once dominant side of this program flopped to allow 27.8 points per game, or a full 6.1 point per game increase over 2015, or a full 14 point increase from 2013.
LJ Scott, almost by default, had to be the offensive MVP, as he managed to rush for 994 yards and 6 TDs. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry on just over 15 carries per game. His best effort was a 19 carry, 160 yard game in a one point loss to Ohio State.
Chris Frey had to be the MVP on defense, as he led the team with with 96 tackles (8 per game), and added 4 TFLs, and 7 QB hurries.
Moving Forward: Mark Dantonio needs to find some answers, because Michigan, Ohio State, and now Penn State are all blowing by them in the East. There was an obvious lack of talent at receiver, and Tyler O'Connor largely struggled as a senior in his only year of being a starter. Brian Lewerke will get a long look in spring ball, but managed to complete only 54% of his pass attempts in limited duty. LJ Scott returns as a junior, and is due for a serious breakout in 2017.
The once dominant defense was a doormat in 2016, and that problem has got to get fixed. With 7 of the top 10 tacklers returning, the unit can only go up. The non conference schedule is not entirely daunting, so a quick start will tell the tale as to how far the Spartans could go towards returning to the top of the heap.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 
2-10 (0-9)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Washington 48-13
Beat Howard 52-14
Beat New Mexico 37-28
Lost to Iowa 14-7
Lost to Ohio State 58-0
Lost to Michigan 78-0
Lost to Illinois 24-7
Lost to Minnesota 34-32
Lost to Indiana 33-27
Lost to Michigan State 49-0
Lost to Penn State 39-0
Lost to Maryland 31-13

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/1 Washington, 9/9 Eastern Michigan, 9/16 Morgan State
MVP Offense: None
MVP Defense: Blessuan Austin, DB
Best Win: New Mexico 37-28
Worst Loss: Michigan State 49-0

The Breakdown: The days of Rutgers being ranked in the top 25 and being a threat in the old Big East seem to be from a day long ago. Let me be frank here, the Scarlet Knights simply do not belong in the Big 10 for any reason whatsoever. The Big 10 wanted this school for the New York metro market share, but that market couldn't care less about college football. Rutgers provides nothing but a toxic waste dump on the conference dossier.
A toxic waste dump is a perfect way to describe the 2016 season that was for Rutgers. They were shut out 4 times this season by a combined margin of 226-0. They gave up 78 points to Michigan, breaking a Big 10 margin of victory record that went back to 1912. The margin of defeat stayed under 10 points just 3 times in conference play. The win over New Mexico was squarely a fluke, and was before the Lobos eventually found themselves later in the season. Had that game been played in Novemeber, Rutgers does not win.
I could not name an offensive MVP on this football team, because nobody deserved to be named to that spot. The offense was putrid. Rutgers averaged just 15.7 points per game, and nobody played up to ability on this side of the football team. Not one player.
Defensively, I had to name Blessuan Austin, as he finished the season with 14 PBUs. At least someone got off the bus every week.
Moving Forward: I can generally find something to concentrate on moving forward for almost any team, but not this one. There is literally no talent on this current roster that can carry the day forward for this mess to improve. Chris Ash was a brave man to take this job, or he was the biggest fool on Earth. I am not very much sure which. All I know is that Kyle Flood should never coach anywhere, ever again after the mess he made here.

Wisconsin Badgers
11-3 (7-2)

2016 Schedule
Beat LSU 16-14
Beat Akron 54-10
Beat Georgia State 23-17
Beat Michigan State 30-6
Lost to Michigan 14-7
Lost to Ohio State 30-23
Beat Iowa 17-9
Beat Nebraska 23-17
Beat Northwestern 21-7
Beat Illinois 48-3
Beat Purdue 49-20
Beat Minnesota 31-17
Lost to Penn State 38-31 (Big 10 Title Game)
Beat Western Michigan 24-16 (Cotton Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/1 Utah State, 9/9 Florida Atlantic, 9/16 at BYU
MVP Offense: Corey Clement, RB
MVP Defense: TJ Watt, LB
Best Win: Minnesota 31-17
Worst Loss: Ohio State 30-23

The Breakdown: Wisconsin's regular season over Minnesota broke the Badgers free from a crowded group on top of the West Division, and the Badgers plowed their way to the Big 10 title game, where the defense could not contain Penn State in a 38-31 loss. The Badgers found themselves in the Cotton Bowl against America's sweetheart team in Western Michigan, and the Badgers found enough in the tank to take down the previously unbeaten Broncos 24-16 n a game that really was not that close.
For the Badgers, if they could get one game back, it had to have been the loss to Ohio State in OT, 30-23. Wisconsin gave up the final 10 points in that game after leading in the 4th quarter to lose, and that made the rest of the season more difficult than it had to be, as that loss made every game a must win for Wisconsin. As it was, the Badgers certainly did not look like an eventual division winner when they struggled mightily to rally to beat Georgia State in September.
Corey Clement carried the day at RB, as the Badgers have a history of RBs that have had to do the same due to not so great QB play. Clement busted his way for 1375 yards rushing and 15 scores on the season. He rushed for 100 yards or more in 5 of the last 6 games of the season.
TJ Watt was a force in the family tradition after recording 15.5 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, 63 total tackles, 4 PBUs, 13 QB hurries, and 2 forced fumbles. He even picked off a pass, which he promptly returned for a TD.
In short, it had to be considered a wildly successful season for the Badgers, even if they fell just shy of winning the Big 10 title.
Moving Forward: Clement is gone, as is Dare Ogunbowale, so the RB job will likely go to Bradrick Shaw, unless someone else steps up. For the new backs to be successful, the Badgers need better play from Alex Hornibrook, who will likely be the full time starter at QB, unless he fails early or in camp. Only 2 of the top 5 receivers return, so that could be a tall order.
On defense, TJ Watt declared early for the draft, leaving a huge hole at LB. That being said, 7 of the top 10 tacklers do return to a unit that allowed just 15.6 points per game, so what you saw in 2016 overall, should be much of what you see in 2017, with a run game and the defense carrying the team as a whole.

Iowa Hawkeyes
8-5 (6-3)

2016 Schedule
Beat Miami (Ohio) 45-21
Beat Iowa State 42-3
Lost to North Dakota State 23-21
Beat Rutgers 14-7
Lost to Northwestern 38-31
Beat Minnesota 14-7
Beat Purdue 49-35
Lost to Wisconsin 17-9
Lost to Penn State 41-14
Beat Michigan 14-13
Beat Illinois 28-0
Beat Nebraska 40-10
Lost to Florida 30-3 (Outback Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Wyoming, 9/9 at Iowa State, 9/16 North Texas
MVP Offense: Akrum Wadley, LeShun Daniels, both RBs
MVP Defense: Josey Jewell, LB
Best Win: Michigan 14-13
Worst Loss: North Dakota State 23-21

The Breakdown: If not for a top flight defense and run game, the 2016 season would likely have been a disaster of massive proportions for this Hawkeyes team. CJ Beathard returned as QB, but averaged just 141yards passing per game, and so it was up to RBs Wadley and Woods to carry the day with the run game, and they did their jobs, with both going over 1000 yards on the season. Wadley led the team with 1081 yards and 10 scores, while Daniels was right behind him with 1058 yards and another 10 scores. In all, Iowa averaged 171 yards rushing per game, which kept them afloat, as they only averaged 24.1 points per game.
The defense was the other side of the coin for the Hawkeyes, as Iowa allowed just 15 points per game. Jewell was a star at LB, recording a team leading 124 tackles, and added 6 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 9 PBUs, and 5 QB hurries. He also added 1 forced fumble and a blocked kick.
After a 2 game losing streak to Wisconsin and Penn State, Iowa finished strong, winning 3 straight with wins over Michigan, Illinois, and Nebraska before the bowl loss to Florida ended the season on a sour note.
Moving Forward: Daniels is gone, but Wadley returns. Iowa will need to find someone in the backfield to replicate the output of Daniels, because the Hawkeyes are also breaking in a new starter at QB, with Nathan Stanley being the early favorite to win the job in spring ball. Iowa will need to find someone in the receiving corps, or multiple someones, to help take pressure off the run game. That will be a tough task, as 3 of the top 5 receivers are all gone.
Defense should still be a staple here, as Josey Jewell chose to return for his senior season at LB to lead the way. 7 of the top 10 tacklers all return, and promising DB Brandon Snyder also returns to anchor the secondary.
Iowa may not have enough to crack the top 3 in the West, but the West is not good at all outside of Wisconsin and Minnesota heading into 2017, so there is a chance to finish as high as 3rd.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
9-4 (6-3)

2016 Schedule
Beat Fresno State 43-10
Beat Wyoming 52-17
Beat Oregon 35-32
Beat Northwestern 24-13
Beat Illinois 30-10
Beat Indiana 27-22
Beat Purdue 27-14
Lost to Wisconsin 23-17
Lost to Ohio State 62-3
Beat Minnesota 24-17
Beat Maryland 28-7
Lost to Iowa 40-10
Lost to Tennessee 38-24 (Music City Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Arkansas State, 9/9 at Oregon, 9/16 Northern Illinois
MVP Offense: Terrell Newby, RB
MVP Defense: Joshua Kalu, DB
Best Win: Minnesota 24-17
Worst Loss: Iowa 40-10

The Breakdown: If Husker fans were not excited about Bo Pelini and his 9 wins on average per season, I am not sure that they are loving this Mike Riley era all that much more. Nebraska won exactly 9 games again in 2016, which was a 3 game increase over 2015, but that is not why the Huskers brought Riley in. He was supposed to be much better than this.
It was difficult for me to select an MVP on offense, as so many players under performed all season, but I settled on Terrell Newby, as he rushed for 879 yards and 7 TDs despite not being relied on as much as he should have been. The offense, as a whole, was not great, averaging 26.5 points per game. There were no verifiable stars, and Tommy Armstrong was down right terrible at times as the QB. In Nebraska's 4 losses, the Huskers averaged just 13 points per game, and the Huskers scored over 30 points just 4 times all season in a high scoring era. That s not getting it done.
Defensively, the Huskers were somewhat better, allowing just over 23 points per game. Joshua Kalu finished with 11 PBUs, 3 TFLs, and 66 tackles on the year. There were defenders with higher tackle totals, but they did little else.
In short, the Huskers seem to need a complete energy transfusion, as I am certain this was not what people were hoping for when Pelini was fired.
Moving Forward: The uskers are going to get very young at QB all at once, as Armstrong and backup Ryker Fife are both gone. Newby has moved on as well, leaving Devine Ozigbo and Tre Bryant as the next backs in line to win the job in spring and fall camps. 4 of the top 6 receivers are also leaving, which means that the Huskers situation on offense is hardly stable.
Defensively, 5 of the top 10 tacklers are gone, leaving massive holes all over the defensive unit. One of those holes is huge, with DL Ross Dzuris parting after an 11 TFL season. The only spot where all is certain is at PK, where Drew Brown returns. I can see the Huskers dropping all the way to 4th in the West, maybe worse.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
9-4 (5-4)

2016 Schedule
Beat Oregon State 30-23
Beat Indiana State 58-28
Beat Colorado State 31-24
Lost to Penn State 29-26
Lost to Iowa 14-7
Beat Maryland 31-10
Beat Rutgers 34-32
Beat Illinois 40-17
Beat Purdue 44-31
Lost to Nebraska 24-17
Beat Northwestern 29-12
Lost to Wisconsin 31-17
Beat Washington State 17-12 (Holiday Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 8/31 Buffalo, 9/9 at Oregon State, 9/16 Middle Tennessee
MVP Offense: Rodney Smith, RB
MVP Defense: Jonathon Celestin, LB
Best Win: Washington State 17-12
Worst Loss: Nebraska 24-17

The Breakdown: The 2016 season was one of the best seasons the Gophers have had in years, but yet was full of controversy and doubt based on a sexual assault scandal that rocked the program back in September, and the effects of that scandal came back to haunt this program in December, costing Tracy Claeys his job coming off a 9 win season. Claeys sided with his players publicly while siding with the administration privately when several players were suspended by the administration after new information came about from the scandal itself. That is not how you keep your job.
The Gophers were in the West race until the last game of the season, but could not get any help to win the division, and finished with 4 losses before a surprising win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
Rodney Smith was the star on offense after Mitch Leidner played what was probably his worst season as Gophers QB, tossing just 8 TDs to 12 picks. Smith rushed for 1158 yards and 16 scores, showing major flashes of speed from time to time. He led a rushing attack that ran for 183.62 yards per game. He is headed for a major break out season as a junior in 2017.
LB Jonathon Celestin was rock solid as well on defense, finishing with 80 tackles, 53 of which were solo tackles. He finished with 7 TFLs, and 4 PBUs on the season as well.
Moving Forward: Conor Rhoda will get first crack at replacing Mitch Leidner, who has moved on. The Gophers have to hope that he can throw the ball better than Leidner, but nothing has been proven yet. Smith will be back as a junior next season, and hitting for 1000 yards should be well within expectations. Shannon Brooks also returns, giving the Gophers backfield depth. Drew Wolitarsky, the leading receiver is gone, and that is a big blow. The next 9 receivers, not counting backs, all return, however, so the receiving group should have enough talent left to make up for the loss.
The defense should be fine, with 8 of the top 11 tacklers returning in 2017. Both Steven Richardson and Blake Cashman, who combined for 21.5 TFLs, are slated to return up front, and Celestin is back as well. Minnesota could have the best defense this side of Wisconsin in the conference next season.

Northwestern Wildcats
7-6 (5-4)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Western Michigan 22-21
Lost to Illinois State 9-7
Beat Duke 24-13
Lost to Nebraska 24-13
Beat Iowa 38-31
Beat Michigan State 54-40
Beat Indiana 24-14
Lost to Ohio State 24-20
Lost to Wisconsin 21-7
Beat Purdue 45-17
Lost to Minnesota 29-12
Beat Illinois 42-21
Beat Pittsburgh 31-24 (Pinstripe Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Nevada, 9/9 at Duke, 9/16  Bowling Green
MVP Offense: Justin Jackson, RB
MVP Defense: Godwin Igwebuike, DB
Best Win: Iowa 38-31
Worst Loss: Illinois State 9-7

The Breakdown: Things were bleak early on as the Wildcats opened the season by losing 3 of 4, including a heartless shocker to FCS member Illinois State, in week 2. The Cats went on to win their next 3 games after starting 1-3, and got back into being alive again, and beat Iowa during that streak. The Wildcats then finished strong, winning 2 of their final 3 regular season games to get bowl eligible, before beating Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York.
Justin Jackson was a major player all season for the Wildcats, rushing for 1524 yards and 15 TDs, while averaging 22.92 carries per game. He averaged just over 117 yards per game on the season, and kept the heat off of Clayton Thorson at QB, allowing him to be the best game manager that he could be.
Godwin Igwebuike wins the MVP award on defense after recording 108 tackles (78 solo), and he also added 6 TFLs, 2 picks, and 7 PBUs. Northwestern finished by allowing just 22 points per game on defense. The Wildcats allowed just 13 passing TDs all season, and picked off 16 opposing passes.
Moving Forward: Thorson is back at QB after passing for 3182 yards and 22 TDs. He should be even better as a junior if he can break 60% on completions, which he failed to do this season. Jackson will be back as well, giving the Wildcats one of the most defined backfields in the conference coming back. The Cats lose all everything receiver Austin Carr and his 1297 yards receiving, so replacing his production in camps will be crucial.
Defensively, 9 of the top 11 tacklers return, including LB Anthony Walker and his 10 TFLs, but Ifeadi Odeigbo is gone. Igwebuike is in the returnee group, which is a huge gain. Look for Northwestern to try to crack the top 3 in the West in 2017. I am not sure they can win the West, but they can make a solid push.

Illinois Fighting Illini
3-9 (2-7)

2016 Schedule
Beat Murray State 52-3
Lost to North Carolina 48-23
Lost to Western Michigan 34-10
Lost to Nebraska 31-16
Lost to Purdue 34-31
Beat Rutgers 24-7
Lost to Michigan 41-8
Lost to Minnesota 40-17
Beat Michigan State 31-27
Lost to Wisconsin 48-3
Lost to Iowa 28-0
Lost to Northwestern 42-21

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Ball State, 9/9 Western Kentucky, 9/16 at USF
MVP Offense: Malik Turner, WR
MVP Defense: Carroll Phillips, DL
Best Win: Michigan State 31-27
Worst Loss: Wisconsin 48-3

The Breakdown: Year one of the Lovie Smith era at Illinois was not great. Illinois is still a mess, and it could take years to get anywhere near fixing the damage from the last few years of controversy and chaos in this program.
The Illini lost 4 of their first 5 games, and then closed out with 5 losses in 6 games. Big 10 wins against Michigan State and Rutgers came against 2 teams that combined to go 5-19, while win number 3 was against FCS member Murray State, and this is hardly a golden era of Racer football.
Junior Malik Turner did manage to step up and provide a decent season at WR, as he caught 48 passes for 712 yards and 6 TDs on the year. Having a healthy Wes Lunt would have been helpful, but he was limited to just 8 games. The run game never did develop a front line work horse back, and was never entirely effective, and Illinois was stunted to scoring just 19.7 points per game because of erratic play across the board.
Illinois got worked over on defense, giving up 31.9 points per game. Carroll Phillips was the best of what they had to offer, as he finished with 20 TFLs. Dawuane Smoot added another 15 on the season, with Gimel President adding another 12.5 to give Illinois one of the best D lines in the conference, shockingly. Phillips added 9 sacks and 56 tackles on the season. Hardy Nickerson finished with 107 tackles as a senior.
Moving Forward: Lunt has moved on at QB, never really having much effect on the Illini offense after transferring from Oklahoma State. The top 4 RBs all return, but the Illini need to find a go to guy or two in that group. Turner returns at WR,  and could have a solid season if a decent QB can be found. The next 2 receivers behind Turner, however, are gone.
The entirety of the D line rotation will be gone. Only Rob Bain will be back, and he will be a junior after recording 3.5 TFLs in limited duty. 7 of the top 11 tacklers all depart, meaning that finding improvements will be difficult on what will be a young defense. It could be a long season in or near the basement for the Illini once again.

Purdue Boilermakers
3-9 (1-8)

2016 Schedule
Beat Eastern Kentucky 45-24
Lost to Cincinnati 38-20
Beat Nevada 24-14
Lost to Maryland 50-7
Beat Illinois 34-31
Lost to Iowa 49-35
Lost to Nebraska 27-14
Lost to Penn State 62-24
Lost to Minnesota 44-31
Lost to Northwestern 45-17
Lost to Wisconsin 49-20
Lost to Indiana 26-24

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Louisville (at Indianapolis), 9/8 Ohio, 9/16 at Missouri
MVP Offense: DeAngelo Yancey, WR
MVP Defense: Markus Bailey, DB
Best Win: Illinois 34-31
Worst Loss: Maryland 50-7

The Breakdown: The Darrell Hazell experiment died before the season ever ended, and quite frankly, it was a mistake to bring him back in 2016, as the deck was stacked against him. After a decent 3-2 start, the wheels came completely off the wagon, starting with a 50-7 loss to a barely average Maryland team, and the writing was on the wall for Hazell from then forward. The Boilermakers proceeded to lose 7 straight games to close out the year, with their only conference win coming in a 3 point win over Illinois in week 5.
David Blough was a turnover machine at QB, tossing 21 picks to 25 TDs. He was asked to do too much, but WR DeAngelo Yancey became a star in the process. Yancey caught 49 passes for 951 yards and 10 scores, averaging over 19 yards per reception. Even with his success, the Boilermakers still averaged just over 24 points per game.
Purdue was awful on defense, allowing 38.3 points per game on the season. There was promise for the future, however, in LB Markus Bailey, who, as a freshman, led the team with 97 tackles, 4 INTs, and added 6 TFLs for the season. He is a serious building block for the new defense in 2017.
Moving Forward: Jeff Brohm was hired away from Western Kentucky to replace Hazell and get the program back on track, as it has not been since the earlier part of the Joe Tiller days. The administration has guaranteed increased funding for staff and facilities, so that is a start. What should worry Purdue fans is that Brohm's teams have never been remotely good defensive units, and that could be worrisome, as high scoring, high octane offenses have never succeeded outside of the Ohio State in the league. To win in the Big 10, you have to play defense. Markus Bailey is the best player on this team moving forward, and building around him on defense would be wise.

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