The Big 10 conference has it’s first national champion in over a decade, and this season is shaping up to be every bit as compelling as the last. Here’s a preview of what to expect from the nation’s oldest conference in 2015.
FIRST: Urban Meyer seems to have recaptured the winning culture of Ohio State football in his first three seasons as head coach, winning the Big 10 conference championship and the inaugural BCS playoff championship last season. Jim Harbough will look recapture a similar culture at Michigan, and Michigan State has 15 of 22 starters back, but assuming the team remains healthy, the preseason No. 1 Buckeyes are the clear favorites to win the East (and the conference) in 2015. Meyer has nearly every weapon back, including the QB tri-fecta of J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, and Braxton Miller (listed as WR for this season) as well as RB Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 1,878 yards last season. The Buckeye offense averaged a conference-best 44.8 points per game last season.
LAST: Indiana was 1-7 in Big 10 play in 2014, tied with Purdue for worst in the conference, and finished last in the East. There is very little reason to think the Hoosiers will fair any better in 2015. Last season, IU averaged just under 19 points per game and allowed 36 points per game against Big 10 opponents, the conference’s second-worst and worst totals respectively. To make matters worse defensively, starting FS Antonio Allen was dismissed from the team earlier this summer, after being arrested on multiple felony drug charges. QB Nate Sudfeld returns from a season-ending injury, but has lost nearly every weapon from a year ago. RB Tevin Coleman had 2,036 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2014, but was drafted in the third round of this year’s NFL draft. WR Shane Wynn led the Hoosiers in catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns a year ago, but exhausted his final year of eligibility, as did second-leading receiver Nick Stoner. Third-leading wideout J-Shun Harris II will miss the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL.
FIRST: After losing star RB Melvin Gordon to the NFL, reigning division champ Wisconsin will almost certainly not score as many points this season as they did in 2014, averaging a division-best 36.8 points per game in conference play. In spite of this, Wisconsin will still be poised for a second-consecutive conference championship game, where it lost by a score of 59-0 to eventual national champion Ohio State last year. The reason is the defense. In 2014, the Badgers led the entire conference in points allowed against Big 10 opponents at 17.9 per game. Eight starters are back on defense, including all-conference LB Vince Biegel, and all-conference SS Micahel Caputo. However, if first-year head coach Mike Riley can whip Nebraska into the shape that Bo Pelini apparently could not, the Cornhuskers could make a run at the West. Nebraska was 6-1 at home last season, and will face Wisconsin at home on Oct. 10, a game that could very well determine who will play in the Big 10 championship.
LAST: Recent bottom dwellers Illinois, Northwestern, and Purdue will likely face a similar battle for last in the upcoming season. The three schools had a combined 7-17 record in Big 10 play last year. Illinois gave up a division-worst 34.6 points per game a year ago, and has had multiple players injured this preseason, including DE Jihad Ward, who will miss three to four weeks after undergoing knee surgery. Northwestern has little experience under center. The only QB to have logged a snap as a Wildcat is senior Zack Oliver, who has 32 completions and three total touchdowns to his name. Purdue finished 1-7 in the conference in 2014, and lost it’s RB duo of Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, which accounted for nearly one-third of the team’s scoring. However, Purdue’s lone conference win came on the road against Illinois. The Boilermakers will face the Fighting Illinis at home late in the season. The loser of this game will finish last in the West.