Michigan State Leads Early Big Ten East Division Rankings
Commissioner Jim Delany has come up with a revamped format, separating the divisions by geography (East and West). This one will (probably) last longer than two years.
That said, how will the newcomers fare in their first year of uncharted territory? Can anyone come out of the jam-packed East Division unscathed? And does Minnesota have a chance for a conference title game appearance?
Find out in my early Big Ten power rankings, starting with the East:
1. Michigan State Spartans
As most of you know by now, Michigan State’s main concern heading into the new season is whether the defense can even be a shell of itself after losing seven incredible players to the next level, including All-Big Ten performers Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, and Isaiah Lewis. Mark Dantonio has done a nice job building depth around those positions, but we just haven’t had the chance to see it on the field yet. Rose Bowl MVP Connor Cook is back under center and looks confident – as he should – and will have 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Langford and a plethora of athletic tight ends at his disposal.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State offense might be as explosive as ever with Braxton Miller back for his senior season and a few extra bazookas in his arsenal. If the new-look offensive line can hold up, there’s a good chance that it could top its season average of 45.5 points per game from last season, especially if all-purpose player Dontre Wilson can fill Urban Meyer’s hybrid role to expectation. But can the Buckeyes stop anybody? That was the issue in 2013, as the linebackers were again timid and the secondary couldn’t slow down molasses. Both units have added some depth and looked to be improved, but this remains the difference between first and second place in the East.
3. Michigan Wolverines
This could be the moment of truth for Brady Hoke and his time in Ann Arbor. It needs to be win or bust for Michigan, which fell far below expectations in every category last season. Defensively, the Wolverines should be much better. Linebacker Jake Ryan is healthy and ready to anchor the middle, holding down what looks to be a stout front seven. The No. 3 overall player for the class of 2014, Jabrill Peppers, has the ability to come in this summer and take ahold of a lacking secondary. On offense, UM is hoping 5-foot-11, 220-pound running back Derrick Green can become the workhorse it needs in the backfield. Devin Funchess is the only receiver that had more than 15 career catches, and although there’s lots of talent at skill positions, it’s mostly on paper and unproven. Probably the most burning question is who will be under center come fall. Devin Gardner digressed as a passer last season and Shane Morris is the young gun, but neither looked sharp in the spring game a few weeks ago.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions
If it weren’t for the NCAA sanctions, Penn State would undoubtedly be in the running for the Big Ten East in 2014. Christian Hackenberg is the real deal, and he looks poised to have a breakout sophomore season with the potential to be one of the country’s best young quarterbacks. Thanks to the emergence of corner Jordan Lucas – and the future arrival of some talented freshmen – the secondary will no longer be a weakness, which has plagued the Nittany Lions as of late. However, there’s a ton of adversity within the offensive line’s walls, the receivers are young and inexperienced, and James Franklin has yet to decide on whether he wants to go with a 4-3 defensive scheme or the nickel. (It’s May.)
5. Indiana Hoosiers
We know that as long as Nate Sudfeld is at quarterback, Indiana has the chance to put points on the board – and in bunches. But can this defense stop anything? The Hoosiers return 10 starters on this side of the ball, but after allowing 38.8 points per game last season, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Any improvement will help, but it’s still going to be awhile before this unit isn’t the Big Ten’s worst; maybe switching to the 3-4 will help it get there faster.
6. Maryland Terrapins
Coach Randy Edsall can rely on experience for his first year in the Big Ten, as he brings back nine starters and 18 players from last season’s two-deep depth chart. The secondary will make plays, the backfield is balanced and Stefon Diggs is a star at wide receiver, but can the rest of the team hang with this conference slate?
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers had consistency issues on offense last season due to a number of things: quarterback Gary Nova’s up and down performances were problematic; the play-calling was equivalent to Reddi-wip; the secondary was thin and incompetent; and there was never a stable running game. Unfortunately for Scarlet Knight fans, things don’t look much better in 2014 – this isn’t the AAC.
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