The Big Ten boasts four teams in the preseason Coaches Poll top 10. These are traditional top tier programs and these schools will once again most likely be involved in the Big Ten conference championship game.
Wisconsin (#10) are in a good position to win the Big Ten West Division. They are coming off an 11-3 season in 2016 and the three losses were in very close games played against Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. The Badgers have made the conference championship game in 4 of the last 6 seasons and have a favorable schedule in 2017. They do not play Ohio State or Penn State and face off against Michigan at home. While they are strong favorites to win the West and play in the conference championship, they are clearly behind the best teams in the East and will have a huge challenge to claim the conference title.
Penn State (#6) in the East Division is the reigning Big Ten Champ and was the surprise team of 2016 after a 7-6 record the previous year. They return some key players from the 2016 team including running back Saquon Barkley who was dominant in the rushing attack racking up 1496 yards and 18 touchdowns. Senior Quarterback Trace McSorley was very efficient in the passing game, but has lost his best receiver from 2016, Chris Godwin, who was drafted to the NFL in the third round. Iowa and Ohio State will take on the Nittany Lions on their home turf as they both look to avenge devastating losses they suffered in Happy Valley last year.
Ohio State (#2) is heavily favored to win the East Division and Conference Championship. The Buckeyes finished last season with an embarrassing shutout loss to eventual National Champion, Clemson, in the semifinals of the College Football playoff. However, their only regular season loss of 2016 was at Penn State 24-21. The Ohio State defense was ranked in the top 5 in the country last season and should be dominant again in spite of the loss of three 1st round draft picks from the defensive backfield. This year’s defense will be highlighted by the nation’s best defensive line. Senior and four year starter J.T. Barrett will lead the offense and running back Mike Weber should see an increased role in the play calling. Ohio State made a key acquisition of former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson to act as offensive coordinator on Urban Meyer’s staff. Wilson’s Indiana offensive units were consistently ranked in the top 5 of the Big Ten and he also achieved success as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.
Michigan (#9) has a tough task of replacing 17 key contributors from last year’s team including nickel back and Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers. However, Jim Harbaugh seems to always find a way to put together a successful season and championship caliber team. Michigan has finished 10-3 in each of Harbaugh’s first 2 seasons and is poised for another good season if they have quick development of young talent from top ranked recruiting classes of the last two years. They play Ohio State at home in their last game of the season, which is sure to have implications for the Big Ten East crown.
Prediction: Ohio State defeats Wisconsin in Big Ten Championship game.
2017 Big Ten Teams To Watch:
Northwestern has never been regarded as a top program in the Big Ten. However, Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald has them heading in the right direction. The Wildcats have made bowl games in 7 of the last 9 seasons. They have a number of returning starters this season including star running back Justin Jackson. Ohio State and Michigan are not part of their regular season schedule. So, an early upset win over Wisconsin could put them in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West.
Minnesota finished last season amid controversy between the University and its football players that led to the firing of their head coach. Typically, this kind of change spells disaster for an upcoming season. But, the hiring of head coach P.J. Fleck might have actually been an upgrade. Fleck is young and energetic and is coming from Western Michigan where he led the small MAC school into the national spotlight with a 13-1 record in 2016. The Gophers posted a 9-4 record last year, so Fleck has some talent to work with and a very manageable schedule to start the season. Don’t be surprised to see Minnesota at 7-0 going into week 8.
2017 Big Ten Pivotal Matchups:
10/21 – Michigan @ Penn State
10/28 – Penn State @ Ohio State
11/18 – Michigan @ Wisconsin
11/25 – Ohio State @ Michigan
2017 Big Ten Players To Watch:
J.T. Barrett, QB – Ohio State*
Saquon Barkley, RB – Penn State*
Trace McSorley, QB – Penn State*
Wilton Speight, QB – Michigan*
David Blough, QB – Purdue
Rodney Smith, RB – Minnesota
Justin Jackson, RB – Northwestern
Akrum Wadley, RB – Iowa
Mike Weber, RB – Ohio State
Jesse Aniebonam, DE – Maryland
Tyquan Lewis, DE – Ohio State
Tegray Scales, LB – Indiana
Godwin Igwebuike, S – Northwestern
*Heisman Watch List