Are you ready? College football is less than 50 days away! The Big Ten is looking to be impressive again in 2016, after sending Michigan State to the College Football Playoffs only to be whooped by eventual champions Alabama. With many Big Ten teams having their own questions to deal with, let's take a look at five questions that should be asked abut the Big Ten in football in 2016!
1. Will Jim Harbaugh make Michigan CONTENDERS or PRETENDERS in 2016?
This entire summer in the state of Michigan, it has been all Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan. From satellite camps in SEC country, to competing in a celebrity golf tournament, Harbaugh has had an interesting summer indeed. The wolverines are coming off a 10-3 season that culminated with an emphatic 41-7 victory over Florida in the Citrus Bowl, and led by Jabrill Peppers, they look to make their first Big Ten Championship game, and many of the college football experts expect them to contend for it.
My concern for the Wolverines is their quarterback situation. The only returning quarterback who has any starting experience is Shane Morris, and his start was cut short to a disastrous concussion that spurned a lot of hate from students and alumni towards then-head coach Brady Hoke. Right now, it's Morris' spot to lose, but the one game doesn't really give me much faith in him. Whoever is the starting quarterback will have weapons on all sides, and Peppers, the all around player, should be a lock for team captain. I don't believe that Michigan will have a stellar season, but there were teams that have been preseason contenders that haven't won a national title.
2. Can Iowa return to the Big Ten Championship Game?
The Hawkeyes had an incredible season last year, before losing back to back games in the Big Ten Championship (a classic game against Michigan State) and the Rose Bowl (a game they would like to forget against Stanford). Iowa has the pieces to keep the streak going, including returning quarterback C.J. Beathard. The non-conference schedule that they have is what could be the downfall for Iowa if anything. Back to back games against Big 12 powerhouse Iowa State and five time FCS National Champion North Dakota State coming to town could spell trouble for the playoff run that they were denied in Indianapolis last season. If they can win both of those games, then the only conference games they should be concerned about are Northwestern on October 1st, and Michigan under the lights on November 12th. Win those games, and the Hawkeyes should return to Indy with no problems at all.
3. Can Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern Or Wisconsin Continue To Be Prosperous?
Michigan State and Ohio State are the big question marks in the Big Ten this season, while Northwestern and Wisconsin are schools that have the team, but may fall short in the end.
First off with the Buckeyes: the issue with this team is that J.T. Barrett won't have a lot of help with him. Wide receiver Braxton Miller, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and offensive lineman Taylor Decker went to the NFL, Elliott and Decker being first round picks. The defense also took a big hit with defensive end Joey Bosa and cornerback Eli Apple leaving for the NFL also. The team will have to rely on the young recruits coming in, and with that, I think this may be considered a down year for the Buckeyes. I don't expect them to have a losing season, but if they don't win nine games, I will be shocked.
Next, we got Michigan State, who is looking to the future in the quarterback position. Connor Cook, the winningest Spartan in school history, went to the Oakland Raiders, leaving a huge void in Mark Dantonio's offensive schemes. The job looks to go to Tyler O'Connor, who led the Spartans to victory over Ohio State last season as a backup, so he has some experience. The big question with O'Connor: can he create his own legacy and lead the Spartans to victory in his own way?
Now, Wisconsin and Northwestern are teams that always can stir up trouble in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are coming off a 10-3 season, where they only lost two games in conference play to Michigan and Iowa. Don't be surprised if Northwestern are in title game talks. Wisconsin are coming off a great season that culminated in a Holiday Bowl victory against USC. They don't have a set quarterback, however, which could make the Badgers season one that will be for the record books, or one that they want to forget at Camp Randall.
4. Will There Be A Huge Dark Horse In 2016?
Here's a way to eliminate the dark horse field. First off, bye bye to Rutgers and Purdue. A combined conference record of 6-22 the past two years, these teams won't be dark horses anytime soon. Maryland had a great debut in 2014, but faltered in 2015, so I can't include them. Penn State lost their quarterback to the NFL, and with the recurring Sandusky sex scandal that has rocked the campus the past several weeks, their mindset will be elsewhere, so I can't see this team as a dark horse.
That leaves Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, and Nebraska. Three out of the four teams made a bowl game this past season. Nebraska has been on the down slide since joining the Big Ten, although that hasn't hurt them program-wise as a whole. The Huskers made big waves when they upset the Spartans last season. The Hoosiers and Golden Gophers are competitive teams, with Minnesota having the better record between the two in recent years. Illinois is a team that is always bashed as being a "basketball only" program, but the Fighting Illini can make or break an opposing teams season. If any team in the Big Ten are going to be dark horses, it's these four right here.
5. What Will Be the Biggest Game of the Year In The Big Ten?
Michigan @ Michigan State - October 29th, East Lansing, MI: This time last season, the Wolverines had the lead for 59:59 minutes, until the Spartans won it with the botched punt at the final second. If Harbaugh and the Wolverines want to get on the road to Indy, they must go through Spartan Stadium. The Spartans, as earlier in this blog post, are facing a quarterback situation as Dantonio looks to replace Connor Cook. Jabrill Peppers will be the x-factor in this game, and I think Harbaugh will get his first win against Michigan State. But it's too early to tell.