We're counting down the days to the return of college football! The Big Ten hosts the defending national champions in Ohio State, as well as top teams Michigan State and Wisconsin. There are some teams that will not receive national recognition until an upset occurs, and there are teams that will receive recognition and flop in the end. In this article, we'll break down the top games (conference and non-conference) to watch, name three contenders, and name three pretenders. (Keep in mind rankings are preseason AP Rankings, and are subject to change by the time the season begins)
#1 Ohio State vs #5 Michigan State: Both teams are coming off successful bowl victories. The Spartans defeated the Big 12 powerhouse Baylor Bears in an incredible comeback 42-41. The Buckeyes won it all, upsetting the Oregon Ducks with their 3rd string-turned-starter quarterback Cardele Jones. These teams will meet on November 21st in Columbus, the second to last game of the regular season for both teams. The big story for the Buckeyes will be who is the starting quarterback, as JT Barrett, Cardele Jones, and Braxton Miller will vie for that starting role. Michigan State won't have that issue, as senior Connor Cook will return to take snaps. The big issue for Sparty will be who is behind Cook, as running back Jeremy Langford graduated last year and is in the NFL. This game will decide who goes to not only the Big Ten Championship game, but who will go to the College Football Playoffs in the end.
#13 Wisconsin vs #4 Alabama (AT&T Stadium): The Badgers had a great season until they went to Indy, where they were crushed by Ohio State 59-0! The Crimson Tide are an interesting team for the right and wrong reasons. Coach Nick Saban has recruited well, which has helped turn Bama to the powerhouse it is. But, they will be without offensive combo Amari Cooper (drafted to Raiders) and Blake Sims to power this offense. Wisconsin's concern is the run game, as Melvin Gordon (drafted to Chargers) is gone. Neutral ground is important also, as Alabama won the last time they were at AT&T Stadium against Michigan 41-14, and are 3-0 when playing their first game on neutral turf. If the Badgers do win, then the SEC West, as well as the SEC period, will be wide open for the taking.
Michigan vs Minnesota: This game last year gained national attention for all the wrong reasons, as starting quarterback Shane Morris was put back in the game after receiving a concussion from a big blow to the head. Morris will the starting quarterback for new coach Jim Harbaugh by the time of this game, provided he is healthy. Minnesota is coming off an 8-5 season with a 33-17 loss to Missouri at the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Mitch Leidner will be leading this offense as the Golden Gophers look to break out in the Big Ten this season.
3 Teams to Contend for a Title
1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have the team to potentially repeat as national champions. Their schedule is easy, the only real concern is week 1 vs Virginia Tech, who upset them last season in the second game. The quarterback battle will be interesting to watch, because all three have played at least one down for the Buckeyes within their college career. However, if they falter at least once before their game against MSU, then the committee might take a second look at the Buckeyes in the end.
2. Michigan State: The Spartans are the only team that can potentially derail the Buckeyes late in the year in their game at Columbus early on. The Spartans have a great defense with DE Shilique Calhoun leading the line, after having 16.5 total sacks last season. Connor Cook can have flashes of brilliance, as seen in the Cotton Bowl. The only game I would be concerned about non conference wise will be Oregon, as the Ducks defeated the Spartans the last time they played at Autzen. If they can handle these teams with ease by the time Ohio State comes around, don't be surprised if the Spartans pull off a miracle.
3. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have been impressive since they entered the Big Ten. I believe that if Ohio State AND Michigan State falter, then Nebraska could make a move for the conference title. They will be without Ameer Abdullah, who the Lions drafted, but Tommy Armstrong Jr. will help this offense be dangerous. Their schedule isn't too easy, but it's not hard either, with BYU in week 1 and Miami (FL) week 3. Watch for the Cornhuskers to turn some heads this season.
3 Teams That Have No Chance To Win the Conference
1. Michigan: After the disaster season, and calls from the student body to fire Brady Hoke, Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh as their new head coach. Instead of hearing positive recruiting news, all I've seen is pictures of Harbaugh with his shirt off. Shane Morris will be the starter this season, and I expect big plays from him. However, Michigan fans who think that Harbaugh will take them to the promise land in his first year are delusional, as it will take a few years to do that. They have a tough non-conference schedule, with Utah, Oregon State, and BYU, and the Big Ten itself is tougher than it's been. Expect a sub-par .500 to .500 season in Harbaugh's first campaign, but don't be surprised if they make a bowl game. And Jim? Please put a shirt on.
2. Illinois: The Fighting Illini were nowhere close to contending last season, and this season will be no different. They have an interesting non-conference schedule, but that's it. By the time the conference schedule rolls around, it'll be hard to watch a team that was 109th in the nation in points against, averaging 34.0 PPG. The team is doomed to the basement of the Big Ten (again).
3. Indiana: The Hoosiers were dismal last year. They averaged 25.1 PPG, which won't help you when your opponent scores 26.1 PPG against you. Their only conference win was against Purdue, who went 1-7 as well. Might as well get ready for basketball season Hoosier fans, as the football team will have their fans doing their homework at the stadium. Expect 2 wins conference wise for this team at the most.