Last time I wrote, I did over/under projected victories for the Big Ten West this upcoming season based on what we know as of now and as promised, I have the Big Ten East this time around.
Indiana 6-7, 4-5 = Over 7-5, 4-5
Defensive coordinator Tom Allen takes over at head coach and the Hoosiers are eager to continue to build upon their success from 2016 when they made back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 1990. In Allen’s first year, the Hoosiers defense made vast improvements, improving from 121st in yards allowed per game (509.5) in 2015 to 45th (380) in 2016. Linebacker Tegray Scales led the FBS with 23.5 tackles for loss and Rashard Fant led the conference with 17 pass breakups. Yet, despite the defensive success, Indiana struggled mightily on offense with 29 turnovers (123rd) and a 71.4 red zone score percentage (127th). If the Hoosiers can improve in these areas, getting several more wins shouldn’t be hard.
Maryland 6-7, 3-6 = Under 4-8, 1-8
In head coach DJ Durkin’s first season, Maryland improved from a 3-9 record to finish 6-7 and nabbed a bowl bid after drastically reducing their interceptions from an FBS-leading 29 to nine and also brought in the 17th-ranked recruiting class for 2017 in the off-season. There’s a lot of optimism and the future looks bright for the Terrapins but there are some huge obstacles including inexperience at quarterback with Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe moving on, suspect pass protection (49 sacks, 127th) a bad turnover margin (minus seven, 107th), not to mention a tough Big Ten East division. Remember Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan outscored Maryland 159-20. I see the Terrapins taking a step back before they go forward.
Michigan 10-3, 7-2 = Over 11-1, 8-1
With the departure of 17 starters and finishing 1-3, it is going to be a fascinating season for Michigan as they look to improve upon a 10-3 record in Jim Harbaugh’s third season. For most teams, losing that many starters would certainly be a devastating blow but with three loaded recruiting classes and continuity at quarterback with Wilton Speight returning, the Wolverines should remain a top contender for a conference championship. Plus, defensive coordinator Don Brown, who helped Michigan finish No. 2 in total defense and produced similar results at Boston College in 2015 with much less talent, returns. Yet, even if these underclassmen can deliver, I still think that the more experienced Buckeyes have the edge.
Michigan State 3-9, 1-8 = Over 5-7, 3-6
Coming off a disappointing 3-9 season and with a sexual assault investigation against several Spartans underway, things are not exactly sunny in East Lansing. Plus, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this team such as if projected starting quarterback Brian Lewerke, who had shown some flashes of potential in his limited experience before breaking his leg against Michigan, can be a reliable playmaker. He will need to deliver for an offense that was minus 58 in fourth quarter point differential. Also, can the Spartans improve upon a weak pass rush that yielded a measly 11 sacks? A lot of improvement will be needed to contend again but getting to a bowl is still within reach.
Ohio State 11-2, 8-1 = Over 13-0 (Big Ten champion), 9-0
In 2016, Ohio State appeared poised for another title run but J.T. Barrett had problems getting the ball downfield as the Buckeyes averaged 6.8 yards per pass attempt (88th in FBS) so new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day were hired to fix that. I and my fellow writer, Mark Silverman feel this could be a deadly offense with Wilson calling shots. On defense, only one team was more effective in the red zone, with the Buckeyes giving up touchdowns just 37.5 percent last season (15-40). With the exception of Raekwon McMillan, starters return at every spot in the front seven. If Barrett returns to 2014 form and the defense delivers, this is a legitimate national title contender.
Penn State 11-3, 8-1 = Under 10-2, 7-2
Despite starting 1-2, the Nittany Lions won nine straight to take the Big Ten due in large part to an explosive offense led by Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. Averaging a conference-best 9.3 yards per pass attempt, McSorley made tremendous strides in his second season, totaling 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 3,614 yards (No. 1 in Big Ten), while Barkley led the conference with 18 rushing touchdowns. On defense, there are holes up front with both starting defensive ends gone but an experienced secondary with Marcus Allen and Grant Haley. There’s a lot to like here and while I don’t see them beating Ohio State in magical fashion again, I see them securing another 10-win season.
Rutgers 2-10, 0-9 = Neutral 2-10, 0-9
The gap between Rutgers and the league’s elite is already massive as the Scarlet Knights were outscored an insane 224-0 against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Unfortunately, at the rate the elite teams are growing and recruiting, I see the gap becoming larger before it gets smaller. Even with the hiring of Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator and the return of Janarion Grant, who is tied for the most kick and punt return touchdowns in history with eight, there’s only so much a few men can do here. Plus, it’s still a mystery if presumed starter Giovanni Rescigno is the answer at quarterback. It’s going to be another long year as Rutgers remains the conference’s doormat.