Going into the 2014 season, the Big Ten was getting little to no respect. What was once considered to be the runner-up to the SEC in FBS conference heirarchy, was believed to be surpassed by the Pac-12 and on par with the Big 12 and ACC. That perception lasted for most of the season, until the Big 10 powers came through on New Year’s Day.
Wisconsin knocked off Auburn 34-31 (OT) in the Outback Bowl, Michigan State rallied from 20 down to stun Baylor 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl and Ohio State upset Alabama 42-35 in the Playoff Semifinals with a 3rd string quarterback. From their Ohio State went on to dominant Oregon 42-20 in the National Championship Game. At the end of the day, the Big 10 had two teams finish in the Top 5, something no other conference could claim.
While there are a lot of mediocre/bad teams in the conference, the top 5 is loaded with elite teams. At the same time, several of the highly regarded programs like Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska, all look to be on the rise. It appears the Big 10 has regained it’s title as the next best to the SEC, but the question now is whether or not they can back it up.
Here’s a quick look at how I see both division shaping up in 2015, plus my prediction on who will claim the Big Ten title.
Big Ten East Predictions
|Pos.||Team||Conf||Overall||East Odds||SEC Odds|
It should come as a surprise to anyone that I have Ohio State pegged to defend their East title in 2015. The Buckeyes are the consensus No. 1 team in the country and are absolutely loaded with talent across the board. There is some concern with them struggling to bring that same fire after winning it all in 2014, but were also talking about a team that has a perfect 24-0 record in conference play during the regular season since Urban Meyer took over at head coach.
Their biggest competition figures to come from Michigan State, who like Ohio State, returns 14 starters and has one of the elite quarterbacks in the country in Connor Cook. Not to mention the Spartans only two losses last year came against the two teams who played for the national championship. Unfortunately for Michigan State, they have to travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes.
While almost everyone is going to have either Michigan State or Ohio State at the top, you can’t discount what’s going on in Ann Arbor and State College. Michigan made a huge hire when they signed Jim Harbaugh to replace Brady Hoke, while Penn State figures to be greatly improved in the second year under James Franklin. The Nittany Lions also have a big time talent at quarterback in Christian Hackenberg, who many feel will be the No.1 overall pick in next year’s draft.
That leaves Indiana, Rutgers and Maryland to battle it out for the bottom 3 spots in the East. Last year Indiana was a huge disappointment, while Rutgers and Maryland both surprised in their first year as members of the Big 10. I believe the roles will be reversed in 2015, as the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights are the two least experienced teams in the entire conference with just 10 returning starters.
Big Ten West Predictions
|Pos.||Team||Conf||Overall||West Odds||Big 10 Odds|
There’s not near the level of talent in the West as the East. Last year the division wasn’t decided until the final week of the season, when Wisconsin defeated Minnesota in a winner-take-all showdown in Madison. While the Badgers went on to beat Auburn in their bowl game, they also lost 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game to Ohio State.
This year the Badgers will be transitioning to their third head coach in the last 4 years, as Gary Anderson surprisingly jumped ship to take over at Oregon State. Not to mention they lose one of the conferences all-time great running backs in Melvin Gordon. Luckily, they were able to land Paul Chryst, who spent 7 years here from 2005 to 2011 as the offensive coordinator. It should be enough to allow Wisconsin to defend their title.
Nebraska is another team that will be enduring a change at the top, as Oregon State’s Mike Riley comes in to replace Bo Pelini. While I don’t think Riley will have as smooth as a transition as Chryst, they appear to be in better shape than the rest of the division.
I have Iowa and Northwestern finishing tied for 3rd at 4-4, while Minnesota comes in a disappointing 5th at 3-5. I do want to mention that a lot of that has to do with scheduling. The Golden Gophers draw both Ohio State and Michigan out of the East, while having to travel to face both the Hawkeyes and Wildcats.
The bottom of the West figures to once again belong to Illinois and Purdue, though it is worth mentioning that both of these teams should be greatly improved from last year. Like Minnesota, Illinois’ last place finish has to do with their schedule, as they have just 3 true conference home games and they come against Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State.