2018 Big Ten East Preview

1. Ohio State Buckeyes– They find themselves in a familiar position once again. The reigning Big Ten East Champions, the reigning conference champions and atop the division. The road to the playoffs for the Buckeyes this year will start with finding a new quarterback to replace J.T. Barrett. Right now, sophomore Dwayne Haskins will be penciled in as the starter. Regardless of who will be under center, expect to see much of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber to really carry the offense on their shoulders until this passing game can get situated. The receiving core will be back and the offensive line will have to replace Billy Price who decided to turn pro. Ohio State’s defense will once again be one of the best in the country and will be led on defense by end Nick Bosa, tackle Dre’Mont Jones, linebacker Tuf Borland and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. Ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard will be missed, but the unit’s biggest loss will likely be cornerback Denzel Ward. They have a non-conference showdown with TCU and home games against Michigan along with road games at Penn State and Michigan State.

2. Michigan Wolverines– This is going to be a make or break year for this program. The talent is there, Jim Harbaugh has been a phenomenal recruiter since taking the job in Ann Arbor, but it doesn’t mean anything if wins aren’t the final result. This is the year where Jim will enter on the hot seat. There are no more excuses for this team and there’s no way that they should’ve been 8-5 in 2017. Michigan got off to a strong start and struggled when it mattered the most and failed to win games against Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State all last season and the biggest knock on Jim will be that he can’t win the “big games” over the tougher opponents in the conference. The biggest concern is on offense. Will Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson be the starting quarterback or will it be Brandon Peters? The skill talent should be improved this year. Receivers Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones should bounce back in a strong way and the running game will remain intact with Chris Evans and Karan Higdon. I expect this defense to handle its business and still be considered as one of the best in the nation with Rashan Gary leading the way up front. They have a challenging schedule in 2018 with games against Notre Dame, Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

3. Michigan State Spartans– They were such an improved team from 2016 to last season and improved their win total by eight games. Mark Dantonio’s team has its sites set on contending for the division and a possible trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game and honestly, they have a very good chance of accomplishing that as they won’t lose many players from 2017. Brian Lewerke returns as the team’s starting quarterback, running back L.J. Scott is back for another year, their entire receiving core returns and four of their five offensive linemen will be back. Although they lost their defensive coordinator, the Spartans will still remain one of the best defensive units in the Big Ten. Linebacker Chris Frey and lineman Demetrius Cooper are the biggest losses from this unit, while linebacker Joe Bachie, end Kenny Willekes, safety David Dowell and cornerback Josiah Scott provide a strong foundation.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions– After their successful stint in 2016, they entered the year as a heavy favorite to be a playoff team and they got off to a very strong start in 2017 before dropping a game in Columbus against Ohio State and being shocked in East Lansing against Michigan State and that’s what knocked them out of the playoff picture. With the leadership of James Franklin, they will be in the running for the Big Ten East crown once again. Their offense will look much different in 2018. They will be without playmakers Saquon Barkley, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki. Miles Sanders will have big shoes to fill as the new running back and the offensive line returns but will have to be better at protecting Trace McSorley. Their defense allowed 16 points per game in 2017 and coming into the year, they will be without some key players. Linebacker Jason Cabinda, cornerback Grant Haley, and safety Marcus Allen are the biggest losses for coordinator Brent Pry to replace. Penn State will have three tough games at home this year against Wisconsin (which could be a title game preview), Michigan State and Ohio State.

5. Maryland Terrapins– Injuries wreaked havoc on Maryland’s quarterbacks in 2017, which prevented coach DJ Durkin’s team from building off a 3-1 start to the season. Assuming they are healthy, quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill should battle for the starting job this offseason. Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison return at running back to form an explosive ground game. The news isn’t as good at receiver for coordinator Walt Bell. Top target DJ Moore (80 catches) left College Park early for the NFL, and Taivon Jacobs (47) has finished his eligibility. The offensive line should be a strength with all five starters returning. Improving the defense has to be a priority after this unit gave up 37.1 points a game in 2017. But this unit will be revamped in terms of personnel, as seven of the top 14 tacklers are seniors, and cornerback JC Jackson is headed early to the NFL.

6. Indiana Hoosiers– They are headed in the right direction under head coach Tom Allen. They just missed out on a bowl game appearance and four of their seven losses were by eight points or less. For them to clinch a winning season, they will need to improve considerably on defense. Linebackers Tegray Scales and Chris Covington, safety Chase Dutra, cornerback Rashard Fant and ends Greg Gooch and Robert McCray have expired their eligibility, leaving big shoes to fill in 2018. The question marks for this team continue to the offense. Who will step up at receiver to replace Simmie Cobbs? And can the offense generate more production on the ground behind Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest after managing just 130.1 yards a game in 2017? Only time will tell.

7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights– The Scarlet Knights are heading in the right direction under third-year coach Chris Ash. Last season, Rutgers improved its win total by three games from 2016 and claimed three victories in Big Ten play after recording zero the previous year. The offense is a focal point for Ash once again this offseason after averaging only 18 points a game in 2017. Ash has to find a new play-caller after Jerry Kill retired at the end of the regular season, and the offense needs more out of its quarterbacks after Kyle Bolin, Giovanni Rescigno and Johnathan Lewis combined for seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Bolin has finished his eligibility, leaving Lewis, Rescigno and two incoming freshmen battling for the starting job this offseason. Question marks remain at the skill positions after running backs Gus Edwards and Robert Martin and two of the top statistical receivers have expired their eligibility. Sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear is a name to watch this spring. For the first time since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Rutgers allowed less than 30 points a game. The defense loses two key cogs in the trenches and needs to get stronger up front after giving up 181.8 rushing yards a game in 2017. Standout cornerback Blessuan Austin missed most of last season due to a knee injury but will push for All-Big Ten honors if he returns to full strength in 2018.

Prediction: I like the Ohio State Buckeyes once again to claim the Big Ten East. Whoever is under center will have a consistent ground game to lean on and a defense that will force turnovers and get off the field. As long as Urban Meyer is coaching this team, they will always be a competitive group and in the running for the conference title and the playoffs.