Big Ten East & West Previews


The Ohio State Buckeyes peaked at the right time last season...surging to a National Championship in dominating fashion despite having to play backup quarterbacks! In the Fall of 2015, they arguably have THREE star quarterbacks who would all be Heisman Trophy candidates if they weren't on the same squad.

Does that mean they'll run up the score every game just because they can't avoid it?! It will be tough for oddsmakers to pin down what the "right" number will be for the Buckeyes in garbage games. Against quality? Well, the early numbers suggest Ohio State will be clear favorites over everyone they play.

Let's see if there are any legitimately scary threats in the Big 10 East division...

Ohio State
2014 Record: 14-1
2014 Rankings: 9 on offense, 19 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Notebook: The offense sure ended their championship campaign looking better than #9 given the 42-35 and 42-20 victories over Alabama and Oregon respectively. You have to assume the defending champs are still the true #1 until somebody "beats the man" to "be the man." A Monday Night season opener at Virginia Tech may be the most dangerous threat on the first two months of the schedule. Michigan State should be second best in the East...but Sparty has to visit Columbus in late November. It's up to OSU to stay focused amidst a friendly schedule.

Michigan State
2014 Record: 11-2
2014 Rankings: 11 on offense, 8 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
Notebook: Michigan State returns a lot of meaningful talent from a high-quality team that rallied to stun Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. The two losses in that 11-2 mark were to Final Four entries Ohio State and Oregon. Sparty has to play both of those teams again this season. They host Oregon on September 12 in what will be one of the most highly hyped early season showdowns. Win that, and this division should have two teams very high up in the national polls for most of the season. We're looking forward to the mid-October game at Ann Arbor vs. the Wolverines since Jim Harbaugh is now at the helm for Michigan.

Penn State
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 111 on offense, 2 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: James Franklin
Notebook: Interesting program. That 7-6 record was marred by a 2-6 mark in the Big 10. A bowl win over unimpressive Boston College was an overtime affair. The offense was pathetic as a general rule. We're not seeing what respected publication Athlon is seeing (our annual source for data in these conference previews) in terms of a top 35 finish nationally. The Nittany Lions may trick voters into a high ranking thanks to an extremely easy early schedule. They will be big dogs at Ohio State in mid-October. Both Michigan schools show up on the November slate. Don't expect anything from this team until they find an offense. There is a chance to take a step forward with experience on both sides of the ball.

2014 Record: 5-7
2014 Rankings: 112 on offense, 7 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (first year)
Notebook: The arrival of Harbaugh makes things very interesting. He's a proven quantity at both the college (Stanford) and pro (San Francisco) levels. He will get immediate results. How far up the ladder will that push them? Early tests at Utah and vs. Oregon State and BYU will tell us a lot. And, this is a group that could close strong once they get the hang of what Harbaugh is teaching. Unless the players just can't handle the pressure, this will be one of the most interesting stories to follow in all of college football this season.

2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 109 on offense, 95 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Randy Edsall
Notebook: The Terps were clearly outclassed by the good teams they faced last season (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and then Stanford in a bowl...combined loss 186-67!). They'll try to limp to another bowl bid amongst the divisional also-rans. You can see that the defense was hurt by graduation...and it wasn't a good defense to begin with. Kind of a crime that a team ranking #109 on offense and #95 on defense got to play in a bowl. The conference opener vs. Michigan on October 3 may tell us a lot about both of those programs.

2014 Record: 4-8
2014 Rankings: 61 on offense, 93 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Kevin Wilson
Notebook: Some feisty moments in league play (hanging tough with Ohio State for awhile, only losing by six to Penn State) were the only highlights in a 1-7 Big 10 campaign (outside of a win over hapless rival Purdue). Not a lot of high impact talent returning for this overmatched program. This is a team you can pick some spots with if the opponent has reasons to be flat. Otherwise avoid.

2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 73 on offense, 98 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Kyle Flood
Notebook: Rutgers didn't have a good offense during the years Gary Nova was quarterback. He's gone things could get really ugly. You can see that graduation ravaged the roster. Last year's surprisingly easy bowl win over North Carolina may be the last program highlight for awhile. September home games vs. the likes of Washington State and Kansas will let us know where the Scarlet Knights rank nationally amongst that non-bowl caliber of program.

Not a lot to scare Ohio State! But, you never know for sure how a college football season is going to play out. Michigan State is likely to be prominent from start to finish. Maybe Michigan will add some meaningful depth thanks to Harbaugh's magic.

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You saw yesterday that Ohio State and Michigan State are likely to be serious national players over in the Big 10 East. And, Michigan has a chance to become a developing story thanks to new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Today we look at the West...where Wisconsin is at the head of a much weaker pack.

2014 Record: 11-3
2014 Rankings: 21 on offense, 4 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (first year)
Notebook: Chryst takes over for Gary Anderson (who fled for Oregon State after a limited tenure in Madison). He certainly knows what Wisconsin football is all about. But, the offense may have too many new faces in new places to be a top 10 caliber program this season. We'll learn a lot in the season opener against Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX on September 5. Joel Stave returns at quarterback. He's not a dynamic passer though. Just enough here to continue running over a weak division before facing a juggernaut in the conference championship game. As always...invest in Wisconsin against teams who can't stop the run...fade them against opponents who can!

2014 Record: 9-4
2014 Rankings: 31 on offense, 52 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Mike Riley (new coach)
Notebook: Riley's the guy that Gary Anderson is replacing at Oregon State! The turbulent Bo Pelini era has come to an end for better or worse. Nebraska expects to be a college football power. The stat rankings above show that it just wasn't happening any more. Riley will at least modernize the offensive approach. It remains to be seen if he has what it takes to contend for the conference crown. He could never do much more than play spoiler in the Pac 12. Early tests vs. BYU and at Miami will be worth monitoring closely.

2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 103 on offense, 39 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Jerry Kill
Notebook: Minnesota has a chance to throw a monkey wrench into the national picture right off the bat with a home opener against TCU. The offense is going to be in big trouble this season though, as limited experience returns from a unit that was bad to begin with. It's a telling sign for the West that Athlon is picking the Gophers third in the Division when they don't have an offense!

2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 63 on offense, 22 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Kirk Frerentz
Notebook: We've been asking "why is Kirk Frerentz still the head coach at Iowa" for about a decade. He does just enough every season vs. a soft schedule to stay employed. This year's team was hurt by graduation. And, we're talking about a unit that was waxed by Tennessee in a bowl game last year anyway. We'll know quickly if the team is going to matter. Their conference opener is the first Saturday of October at Wisconsin. Generally speaking, avoid these guys as favorites. They have a chance to compete as underdogs because of their defense and tendency to shorten games by running the clock.

2014 Record: 5-7
2014 Rankings: 104 on offense, 53 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 10 on defense
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald
Notebook: Last year's team beat Wisconsin...and beat Notre Dame...but couldn't qualify for a bowl! Injuries are usually an issue at undersized programs. It's a good sign that so many starters return on defense. You can't assume any good news though until it's clear that the team has a quarterback who can get something done. Last year's offense was pathetic. Tough opener at home against Stanford. Week Three at Duke may provide a more relevant test. Capable of at least one upset.

2014 Record: 6-7
2014 Rankings: 94 on offense, 109 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Tim Beckman
Notebook: The Illini did qualify for a bowl last year. But, getting waxed by Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl made it clear that they weren't really a "bowl caliber" team. Those stat rankings were atrocious for a team that played such a soft schedule. Very hard to be optimistic this year about real quality. Playing in a weak division might make them bowl eligible again. Toughest September test will be at North Carolina in Week Three. When all these bad teams play each other, somebody has to win.

2014 Record: 3-9
2014 Rankings: 108 on offense, 80 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Darrell Hazell
Notebook: Purdue had better stat rankings than Illinois, and their only conference win was over the Illini. So, maybe there's a chance that the Boilermakers can crawl out of the cellar. You get the sense that the players care. There's just not enough raw talent here for the program to compete week-in and week-out. Returning experience a plus.

Goodness...what an ugly division! The Big 10 is going to be on TV a lot this year. Pick your spots with the handful of truly important matchups. Ohio State was a legit champion last year...and Michigan State is certainly for real. The league as a whole is still a long way from being a truly compelling conference.

That ends our Big 10 coverage. College football resumes next weekend with the SEC. Between now and then, let's build some bankroll with BASEBALL! You can purchase BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 Sunday ...or during normal business hours Monday through Friday. The summer is flying by, so get locked in for football packages NOW!

Back to baseball tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK. Here's what's on the immediate agenda...

Monday: MLB Series Preview...Pittsburgh at Kansas City
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview...Baltimore at NY Yankees
Wednesday: MLB Big Game be determined
Thursday: MLB Series Preview...Washington at Pittsburgh
Friday: MLB Series Preview...Houston at Kansas City
Saturday: College Football Preview...SEC "East"
Sunday: College Football Preview...SEC "West"

Huge weeks for both the Pirates and the Royals. Then we'll see if the SEC has a chance to grab the national trophy back from the Buckeyes. Nobody's going to grab any trophies from JIM HURLEY...he's a perennial handicapping WORLD CHAMPION!


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