By: Brian Chapman
September is finally here and that means that B1G football is here. There's been a lot of hype for the conference heading into this year with coaching changes (including one last week), a national championship (for the Deep South Buckeyes, ugh!), exciting young players, Heisman trophy candidates and potential 1st rd draft picks. It should be a fun season and I can't wait.
One of the big stories in the East is the strength of the head coaches. Ohio State's Urban Meyer speaks for himself and when he doesn't want to speak, he lets his championship rings do the talking. Mark Dantonio has coached Michigan State to consecutive top five finishes. That is especially challenging considering MSU is not a "traditional national power" like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Florida State, Texas, USC, etc. Penn State is in its second year with James Franklin. He was highly questionable in his first year in Happy Valley, but coached Vanderbilt to consecutive 9-win seasons in the SEC (Vanderbilt!) and was coaching a team last year that was still crippled by major scholarship reductions. And then there's Jim Harbaugh. He's been all over TV, radio and magazine covers (even though he says a whole lot of nothing) for a reason. He's the real deal.
These four coaches are the biggest reason why some are saying the B1G East is the second best division in college football, trailing only the SEC West. I don't think the B1G East is close to the SEC West right now considering Penn State and Michigan combined for 11 regular season wins last year and the only teams ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll are Ohio State and Michigan State. (Five SEC West teams are in the AP Top 25.) That said, if Penn State and Michigan improve as expected, we could be making the comparison in 2016 and it won't seem so outlandish.
To get you ready for the start of the season, I have presented a nice gift for you. A B1G Question (asked by me), a B1G Answer (answered by me), a B1G Game and a prediction for each team in the division.
Ohio State Buckeyes
B1G Question: Can Ohio State avoid complacency after winning the national title?
B1G Answer: Yes and no. When it comes to complacency on the football field, they should avoid it. Urban Meyer will get this team ready to play every week of the season and he will not overlook anyone or any team. Off the field could be another issue. When you play football for Ohio State and win the national championship in Columbus you truly are a big man on campus. Buckeye players need to avoid the temptation to act like rock stars who are too special to obey the law, obey the NCAA, obey the rules of Urban Meyer's program and take school seriously. Before the season started Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshal, Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson were all suspended for the first game against Virginia Tech for smoking marijuana and/or poor academics, according to ESPN. If this is the last such controversy, they'll be fine. If this is the first of many instances of Buckeyes acting like typical Buckeyes, their national title hopes could be in jeopardy. As much as it's easy to say Urban Meyer only cares about winning, he did suspend illiterate offensive lineman Marcus Hall from the B1G Championship Game and the bowl game in the 2013 season for this "Notable Moment." (And yes, notable is spelled incorrectly on purpose.)
B1G Game: Home against Michigan State. This is the obvious pick because it's the only ranked team on Ohio State's schedule. Last year the Buckeyes won by 12 points in East Lansing and rolled up 49 points on that great Spartans defense. This year they should be even better and the game is in Columbus. I expect them to by double digits again. They're just to (bleeping) good.
Record: 15-0 (8-0)… National Champions
Michigan State Spartans
B1G Question: Can Michigan State get to the College Football Playoff if they don't go undefeated?
B1G Answer: Yes. If they lose any one non-conference game (even if it's not Oregon) and run the table the rest of the way, they'd probably get into the Playoff. It would be hard to keep a 12-1 B1G team out that had been in the top 5 in the previous two seasons, had won at the Horseshoe and won the B1G Championship Game.
B1G Game: At Ohio State. The Oregon game is big too, but the Spartans can lose that one and still get to the B1G Championship Game. If the Spartans win this game, they have a clear path to the College Football Playoff.
Record: 11-1 (7-1)… Loss: Ohio State
Penn State Nittany Lions
B1G Question: Will Penn State rack up a lot of wins because they're actually a great team or because their schedule leaves them no choice but to win a lot of games?
B1G Answer: It's the schedule. Penn State will be better in 2015 and will be good, but far from great. If I'm right, their double digit win season will be 75% due to a schedule full of cupcakes and 25% due to improvements by the team (offensive line, quarterback, older receivers, more scholarship players, more depth.) The Nittany Lions are almost guaranteed to head to Ohio Stadium with a 6-0 record as their first six opponents are Temple, Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana. (Who put that non-conference schedule together?) In crossover games they avoid Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska and just face the two schools from Illinois. Other than the two games against top five teams the only other possible loss appears to be to Michigan, but that's a home game.
B1G Game: Home against Michigan. The last two games between these two teams have been absolute eye sores to watch in which neither team seemed to want it. In the end home field advantage won out for Penn State in 2013 and for Michigan in 2014. If Penn State can almost beat Ohio State in an electric White Out environment (and actually should have beaten them), they should take care of a lesser Michigan team in their most important home game.
Record: 10-2 (6-2)… Losses: Ohio State, Michigan State
B1G Question: Will Harbaugh's Wolverines spring an upset?
B1G Answer: No. When the average M Go Blue Michigan fan can't name a single player to get excited about how am I supposed to believe that Harbaugh will get his collection of nobodies to slay a giant like Ohio State or Michigan State? How am I supposed to believe that Harbaugh will get his who's who of Who's Whos to win on the road against tough teams like Utah and Minnesota or in one of the scariest environments in college football in Happy Valley? It's possible, but not probable… If they don't upset anyone else, could they become the victims of an upset? Yes, it's quite possible. BYU is a solid team, but everyone else on the schedule should present little to no challenge.
B1G Game: At Utah. I don't think Michigan will win this game (after all they lost to Utah by 16pts at home last year), but what if all of the Harbaugh hype is warranted and the Wolverines walk out of Utah with a 28-17 victory. Suddenly, Harbaugh's touch is the Midas touch and it gives Wolverines fans the opportunity to dream of a 10-win season. The logic would be if they can beat Utah on the road, why can't they also beat Minnesota and/or Penn State on the road?
Record: 7-5 (4-4) … Losses: Utah, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State
B1G Question: Can the Hoosiers stop anyone in the passing game?
B1G Answer: No. The reason to believe it's possible that they can stop someone in the passing game is that none of the four defensive back starters from last year are back in 2015. Last year's secondary was last in the conference in pass defense. The reason not to believe is that all four starting defensive backs this year are sophomores. Not only does that mean they are young, it means they were on the team last year and weren't good enough to start over the worst defensive backs in the conference. If they can shock the world and play respectably, the Hoosiers will make a bowl game, but this football program doesn't exactly have a knack for shocking the world.
B1G Game: At Maryland. This is the game that will likely determine their bowl eligibility and as of right now I have them losing it. I think the Hoosiers are a better team, but I'm skeptical about their ability to win on the road against a team that found a way to win nine games last year.
Record: 5-7 (2-6)… Wins: Southern Illinois, Florida International, Wake Forest, Rutgers, Purdue
B1G Question: How bad will Maryland's defense be?
B1G Answer: Very bad. Last year the Terps gave up at least 31 points in 7 of their 13 games. When that happens in your first year in the conference, it's probably time to make some changes and that's exactly what they did. They changed their defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4. They have a lot of starters on defense to replace as their entire front seven from 2014 is gone. While change makes sense, it takes time for it to work and new starters don't necessarily mean good starters in college football.
B1G Game: Against Penn State at M & T Bank Stadium. When Maryland joined the B1G they wanted Penn State to be their rival. Obviously the Nittany Lions have no interest in stooping down to Maryland's level of prestige for a rival, but they make have garnered some of their attention after winning at Beaver Stadium last year. This is the game that the Terps circle on their calendar. This is why future generations of Terps will come to Maryland. A win could help to keep a few recruits in the DMV from going to Penn State. I just don't see it happening this year.
Record: 4-8 (2-6)… Wins: Richmond, South Florida, Indiana, Rutgers
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
B1G Question: Will the Scarlet Knights go winless in conference play?
B1G Answer: Probably. Their non-conference and conference schedules are polar opposites. In non-conference play, it's Norfolk State, Washington State, Kansas and Army. As bad as this team is, I think they'll win all four of those games. In B1G play, it's the B1G East with crossover games against Nebraska and Wisconsin. Indiana is a possibility, but it's a road game. Even though Bloomington, Indiana doesn't make for a hostile environment, I don't see this team from New Jersey winning any sort of road game this year (considering Illinois and Purdue are not on the schedule.) The other possibility is the final game of the year against Maryland. It's a home game for Rutgers where I expect neither team will be playing for bowl eligibility. With that being the case, I'll take the team that typically has more talent and that's Maryland.
B1G Game: At Indiana. If the Scarlet Knights want to turn some heads and have a chance to make a bowl game, they need to win a road game in conference play. It won't happen against Penn State, Michigan or Wisconsin so that leaves Indiana. It's not impossible for Rutgers to pull off this game when you look at that porous Hoosiers defense. The problem is that Rutgers will probably need to score at least 40 points to have a shot to win it and I like the Hoosiers in a shootout.
Record: 4-8 (0-8)… Wins: Norfolk State, Washington State, Kansas, Army
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