Last week we kicked off our college football conference previews off with the SEC. This week is the Big Ten and what team can take a playoff spot? The East Division is loaded with Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. The West Division is not so loaded, but the early favorites have to be Iowa, last year’s winner.
We will start off with the East because it’s a lot better of a conversation than the West. It really comes down to 3 teams in the East; OSU, UM, and MSU. OSU and MSU lost a lot of starting players from last year so they must reload quickly. The Buckeyes shouldn’t have too much of a problem with that since they recruit so well. Plus, having your starting QB back in JT Barrett always helps, something the Spartans don’t have. The Wolverines also lost their starting QB, so they will have the same problem their cross town rivals have. If he wins the battle, their QB John O’Korn does have some experience playing at Houston, which will make it an easier transition. Other than the QB loss, UM returns a lot of its team that finished #12 in the AP polls last year. This division really should come down to OSU and UM. Michigan State has to reload a bit and I could see them taking a step backwards a bit this year. The rivalry game between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines doesn’t happen until November 26th, so Jim Harbaugh will have plenty of time to get his new QB up to speed. It also will allow Urban Meyer to get his new team ready to roll, especially his defense that only returns 3 starters. In the end, only one team can come out of the East and it should be the Ohio State Buckeyes. Having star QB JT Barrett is just so huge. He is now a junior and has a lot of football under his belt and will be competing for a Heisman trophy. Also the way Urban Meyer recruits it shouldn’t be that hard to find big time players in this program.
I really don’t want to talk about the West Division because I just don’t think this group is all that good. Wisconsin has really taken a step down since losing Brett Bielema, and I just don’t know if they can get back to that caliber so soon. Nebraska is only under its second year with Mike Riley, and I just don’t know if they have the firepower. They do have an exciting duel threat QB in Tommy Armstrong Jr. and a wealth of receivers led by Jordan Westerkamp. The problem is up-front and protecting Tommy, which is a major concern, especially in the Big 10. Then you have last year’s champs in Iowa. They have the 2nd best QB in the Big 10 in CJ Beathard, an All-American CB in Desmond King, and a great coach in Kirk Ferentz. This team will always have a stingy defense, and with better QB play they should be able to repeat as West champions.
Big Ten Championship Game- Ohio State over Iowa- Ohio State just has more talent than the rest of these teams, and when you pair that with great coaching it’s hard to beat.
Offensive POY- JT Barrett, QB, Ohio State-
JT Barrett is a stud and it blew my mind last year when Cardale Jones got the nod over him. He broke out on the scene his freshman year after Braxton Miller went down. He did not disappoint as he was a Heisman Trophy candidate until he went down and the Cardale Jones show happened. When Jones didn’t play well last year, JT took over and so did the OSU offense. Barrett is a lethal duel threat QB and will be the true go to guy this year with no Elliot demanding the ball 50 times. It should be a huge year for JT and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is raising that Heisman trophy at the end of the year.
Defensive POY- Jabrill Peppers, Freak, Michigan-
He came into college as a corner, then last year he was rotated to safety, and now he will be some hybrid linebacker. This guy is a freak of an athlete and it will be interesting to see how he takes this new role. The guy can flat out cover, so TE and slot receivers will be seeing a lot of Peppers. He has shown he isn’t scared of coming up in the running game so this hybrid role could turn him into the best defensive player in the country. He will have a lot of chances to male plays and plays he will make.
Breakout Player- LJ Scott, RB, MSU- Connor Cook is no more, so this Spartan running game should be the primary focus. Scott was a freshman last year and in his second year should be his coming out party. He was a big time recruit that snuffed OSU for MSU, so the kid should get a lot of time. As a true freshman he led the team in rushing (699 yards; 4.8 avg.), carries (146) and rushing touchdowns (11) He also became the first freshman to lead MSU in rushing since Larry Caper in 2009. Scott was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team by ESPN.com, so this should be his year. No Connor Cook, so bet your ass you will see a lot of LJ Scott.
Freshman of the Year- Austin Mack, WR, OSU- The Buckeyes have lost a lot of playmakers especially on the receiving core. They lost Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller to the NFL draft, so you will see a lot of new big time players on the outside for OSU. This early enrollee should see the field early, especially with the praises from his head coach, “Austin Mack is going to play next year…”. He was a 4 star recruit, number 76 overall nationally and really shined at the All-American game early this year. He is listed at 6-2 and weighs 205, so he has perfect height- weight combo. Look out for the name Austin Mack early and often this year.
Coach of the Year-Urban Meyer, OSU- Another Big Ten title means another playoff spot for the Buckeyes, so yes Urban should win coach of the year.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : George