By Shane Bidwell
With spring ball coming to a close and the summer dead period rapidly approaching let’s take a closer look at the top two teams from each division in the Big Ten.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Despite losing the most decorated quarterback in conference history in JT Barrett the Buckeyes are once again poised for a playoff run. Although little has been seen of him the small glimmer we have gotten of Dwayne Haskins has been positive. Look for him to thrive behind an experienced offensive line, and three very talented backs to take the heat off of the passing game. Ohio State may have the best running back duo in the country in Mike Webber and JK Dobbins. Dobbins is coming off a monster year which saw him rush for 1400 yards. Defensively the Buckeyes lose star corner Denzel Ward, but this defense should be stout as ever. A deep D-Line anchored by Nick Bosa should be downright terrifying. If the Buckeyes can navigate a stretch that has them playing TCU in Arlington and going on the road at Penn State two weeks later, then they should be right there in the College Football Playoff race
Projected 2018 Record: 11-1
After a disappointing 2017 campaign Jim Harbaugh’s squad is poised to take a step forward in 2018. If Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is eligible to play this season we could very well see the Wolverines in the mix for the playoff. Michigan has had an elite defense the past few years but what has killed them has been subpar quarterback play. Patterson could be the fix for an offense desperately in need of new life. Talented young receivers Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones should improve in 2018 making it easier for whoever lines up under center for the Wolverines. Michigan posses a strong duo at running back as well in Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. Evans has been a rotational back for the past couple of years and 2017 saw Higdon rush for 200 yards in three different games. This backfield should be one of the best in the Big Ten with Kareem Walker seeing some reps in that third back spot. Not much needs to be said defensively as Michigan returns nine of eleven starters and will easily be a top three defense this season. If Patterson is granted eligibility expect the Wolverines to make some noise and potentially win their first Big Ten Title of the Harbaugh era.
Projected 2018 Record: With Patterson 11-1, Without Patterson 8-4
Coming off an incredible season that saw the Badgers post a 13-1 record only losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten title, Wisconsin is poised for another run at the conference title. Stud running back Jonathan Taylor is coming off a freshman campaign that saw him rush for nearly 2000 yards. Look for Taylor and a confidence filled Alex Hornibrook lead one of Wisconsin’s most dangerous offenses in recent memory. Hornibrook was shaky at times during the 2017 season, but look for him to be poised in the pocket and confident in his decision making after posting 258 yards and 4 touchdowns against a stout Miami defense in last year’s Orange Bowl. The Badgers have plenty of spots to fill on the defensive side of the ball with almost the entire secondary departing. Linebacker T.J. Edwards announced his return so look for him to be the veteran leader of this young squad. Year in and year out Wisconsin posts one of the best defenses in the country and this year should be no different, expect hard nosed blitz heavy football on defense and for the young Badgers to learn quickly on the fly.
Projected 2018 Record: 11-1
The Hawkeyes return starting quarterback Nathan Stanley and do-it-all back Akrum Wadley. Stanley threw for 26 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions, including a lights out performance (5 TDs 0 INT) against Ohio State. Stanley has quite the luxury in Noah Fant this year. want is too big to be guarded my defensive backs and too fast to be covered by linebackers making him a matchup nightmare for opposing coordinators. Wadley has made a name for himself in the Big Ten as one of the most elusive backs in the conference, who will battle for tough yards. All American corner Josh Jackson departs for the NFL but that is the only major blow on the defensive side of the ball for Iowa. This should be the most talented team seen in Iowa season since their Big Ten runner up season back in 2015.