A panelist of Scout.com Big Ten reporters were asked to rank the conference's 14 members coming out of spring football.
Here are the results:
1.) Ohio State Buckeyes:
Should this really be a surprise? The reigning national championships received all seven first-place votes in Scout.com’s poll. With three quarterbacks on the roster, all of which have a chance to win the Heisman, the Buckeyes will be a tough out for anyone in the country. The biggest question might not be the quarterback job. Can the Buckeyes play with the pressures of being the defending champions? Each and every week, they should get everyone’s best shot.
Urban Meyer post-spring game press conference:
2.) Michigan State Spartans:
It’s time to start realizing head coach Mark Dantonio doesn’t rebuild - he reloads. The Spartans have won at least 10 games four of the last five seasons. Senior quarterback Connor Cook returns after two years as the starter. The Spartans lose quite a bit: running back Jeremy Langford, wide receiver Tony Lippett, and cornerback Trae Waynes, but have recruited well in the past recruiting cycles. The return of senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun should anchor a strong front four.
3.) Wisconsin Badgers:
Expectations are high for new head coach Paul Chryst, who inherits a team that finished 11-3 last season, but loses first-round running back talent Melvin Gordon and three starters up front. The good news, the defensive line is going to be more than stout. Corey Clement takes over at the running back spot and has a 6.4 yards per carry average in his first two seasons in Madison.
Ameer Abdullah is gone. Randy Gregory is gone. But, new head coach Mike Riley isn’t exactly walking into the cupboard is bare type of situation. A lighter schedule should allow for Nebraska to contend for the annual 9-win mark if not more. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has 21 starts to his name and is now working with respected offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Danny Langsdorf.
The Gophers lose arguably their two best players off last year’s team, but head coach Jerry Kill is quietly building a winner up North. Will they take another step this year? Quarterback Mitch Leidner will need to play the way he did early in 2014, not the way he ended down the stretch. Senior running back Rodrick Williams has shed 20-pounds in preparation to carry the load.
6.) Penn State:
The Nittany Lions were one team the Scout.com voters had all over the place. Their position in the East Division will greatly be determined on how the offensive line improves this offseason. With five straight home games after opening at Temple, it could give second year head coach James Franklin’s squad major confidence. After a sophomore slump, Christian Hackenberg returns for his third season as Penn State’s starting quarterback.
The Wolverines have talent on the roster to win right away, but implementing a new culture takes time. Don’t expect Michigan to be a top three team this season, but down the road. The defense will be good again, especially with the addition of Jabrill Peppers in the secondary. The Wolverines will likely return to the postseason, but how quickly they can return to the Big Ten elite will likely great depend on the quarterback situation.
Just when everyone starts to doubt him, Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz will pull a double-digit win season out of his hat. After a disappointing 7-6 record last year, Iowa hands the quarterback spot to C.J. Beathard. A big-armed junior completed 57 percent of passes last season, throwing for 645 yards on 92-attempts. With three-fifths of the offensive line needing to be replaced and quite a few starters on defense, it looks like it might be hard for any magic from Ferentz.
Replacing quarterback Gary Nova will be tough and a quarterback competition between Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig has emerged. Which way will new offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels want to go? On defense, newcomer Isaiah Johnson looked good in the spring at the MIKE spot, allowing Steve Longa to stay at the outside backer spot.
With quarterback C.J. Brown now graduated and the Terrapins top two-receivers from last year also gone, 2015 could be a long road. Maryland needs to replace over half of the defense and is transitioning to a 4-3 under new coordinator Keith Dudzinski. Road trips to West Virginia in the non-conference and Ohio State/Michigan State don’t make the schedule an easy one.
With Wes Lunt returning as signal-caller and the Fighting Illini’s top returning rusher/receiver back from 2014 – the offense could be good. The problem, Illinois was one of the worst when it came to points against in 2014 (34.0 ppg. 105th). It might not get any better in 2015. If the Fighting Illini are not 3-1 out of the non-conference portion of the schedule, cries for Tim Beckman’s head will likely start to happen from Illinois fans.
After rushing for over 1,100 yards his freshman year, running back Justin Jackson returns. The question is who will provide offense around him? The quarterback competition is an open one and has three different players heading into the fall with a chance.
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is back from injury, meaning the Hoosiers could be a few spots higher, but lose running back Tevin Coleman and receiver Shane Wynn. Most of the biggest questions come on defense. Head coach Kevin Wilson is 14-34 in four seasons. Some progress will likely need to be shown in 2015.
Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert are gone and the Boilermakers have to figure out the quarterback situation. The good news is the offensive line returns everyone and the receiving corp will be solid – it’s just a matter of who will be throwing them the ball?
Scout.com voters include: Sam Hellman (Rutgers), Ben Worgull (Wisconsin), Jeff Svoboda (Ohio State), Mark Brennan (Penn State), Dave Berk (Michigan State), Josh Harvey (Nebraska), Beth Long (Big Ten area).