Written by Garin Turner
The 2018 College Football season starts this Saturday. For the BIG 10 however, the first game of the season isn’t until August 30th when the Minnesota Golden Gophers hosts the New Mexico State Aggies on The Big Ten Network at 6pm CST. A lot has gone on before the start of the season and I’ll break down the top five teams likely to win the BIG 10 Championship this year.
- Ohio State Buckeyes
Despite everything that’s going on with Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension, I don’t think it’ll hurt the team that much. No. 5 Ohio State will be ready to play against Oregon State, Rutgers, and their toughest challenge without their head coach, No. 16 TCU in Arlington, Texas. The Buckeyes have to replace JT Barrett who graduated but Ohio State is one of those teams that never seem to rebuild, they simply reload. Dwayne Haskins has the most game experience as he completed 40 of 57 passes last year for 565 yards and four touchdowns to just one interception and will be the starter this season. The Buckeyes are dangerous in the running game with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber provide a dynamic one-two punch.
The defense wants to continue the success from last year when they led the nation in tackles for a loss with 114. The Buckeyes will have to replace Denzel Ward in the secondary but with Nick Bosa and Chase Young chasing down the opposing quarterback, it should give the young secondary time to adjust.
No. 16 TCU, No. 10 at Penn State, No. 11 at Michigan State, and No. 14 Michigan will all provide huge tests to the Buckeyes.
- Penn State Nittany Lions
No. 10 Penn State has to be careful in its second game of the season against Pitt on the road. If they can get past that game, they face No. 5 Ohio State at home before getting a bye week and then welcoming No. 11 Michigan State to town. They’ll also have to deal with No. 14 Michigan in Ann Arbor and then turn around a week later to take on last year’s BIG 10 runner-up and currently ranked No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers. They do get the Badgers at home this year. The big question is who’s going to replace the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, Saquon Barkley?
Barkley did it all for the Nittany Lions from carrying the ball 217 times for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns to being second on the team with 54 receptions, and he even threw a couple of passes in addition to punt and kickoff return duties. The good news is Penn State returns their quarterback from last year Trace McSorley. He may have to even do more this year which is saying a lot when he threw for 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns. He was also second in rushing, but the Nittany Lions want to keep him upright as much as they can. Penn State will need to figure out its defense as they have to replace nine starters.
- Michigan Wolverines
I don’t think Jim Harbaugh is in the hot seat and unless the team has a disastrous season, he won’t be on the hot seat at the end of it. No. 14 Michigan does have to show they can win some big games especially against their rivals. Lately, Michigan beats the teams they’re “supposed” to but struggles against the upper echelon teams. That’s not going to cut it long term for the Wolverines. The key this year is at the quarterback position. Something that’s been lacking for years. Ole Miss Transfer Shea Patterson was recently named the starter for their first game on the road against No. 12 Notre Dame. Michigan will need to get off to a good start in order to have any hopes of competing in the playoffs. The offensive line also needs to do a better job to open up the running game. Much like the team in general, Michigan has success running the ball against lesser competition. The defense should be on par if not better than previous seasons. Rashan Gray leads an aggressive defense that will get after you all game long. Michigan has a brutal schedule in the middle of the year as they face No. 4 Wisconsin at home Oct. 13th, travel to East Lansing, Oct. 20th to face rival No. 11 Michigan State before getting a week off and then facing No. 10 Penn State at home Nov. 3. Oh, and “The Game” Nov. 24 against No. 5 Ohio State. Michigan needs to find a way to finish games this year.
- Michigan State Spartans
No. 11 Michigan State just goes about their business game in and game out. While Ohio State and Michigan get the majority of the headlines and with Penn State back in the mix after a down period and Wisconsin is solid year in and year out, Michigan State just shows up and wins. They don’t have to deal with Wisconsin this year but do face No. 10 Penn State and No. 11 Michigan in back to back weeks in Oct. They get past those two games and it may very well come down to a Nov. 10 matchup with the Buckeyes to determine who will represent the BIG 10 East. The Spartans return a total of 19 starters including nearly everybody from defense and quarterback Brian Lewerke.
- Nebraska Cornhuskers
The hometown hero returns, and Scott Frost is the new head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. If anybody can come in and win right away, I believe its Frost. Nebraska does have to travel to Ann Arbor Sept. 22 to face Michigan, to Madison Oct. 6 to take on the Badgers, Nov. 3 to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes, and their lone home game against a ranked opponent comes Nov. 17 against the Spartans. The last game of the season against Iowa on the road could be a tough one as well.
Receiver Stanley Morgan and running back Tre Bryant are big playmakers but whoever lines up at quarterback will have to step up right away. Frost wants to run a fast offense similar to what he did at UCF. Most likely it will come down to redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia or true freshman Adrian Martinez who will be the starter. Both are capable of shouldering the load its just a matter of who Frost trusts the most. The defense is under its third defensive coordinator so it could be some adjustments that need to be made before BIG 10 play begins.