The traditional top dogs of the Big 10 remain at the top for this 2018 season. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin all have a good chance to go to Indy and win the conference championship. Here’s what they need to do to accomplish that feat.
The Buckeyes are once again stacked and are once again the preseason favorite to win the Big 10. However, if they are to live up to that billing they must improve their defense. The defensive line is fine with studs like Nick Bosa and Chase Young lining up on the ends, but the linebackers and secondary were disappointing last season. Ohio State’s linebacker unit was exposed and embarrassed in the team’s only two losses to Oklahoma and Iowa. They were constantly caught out of position and were abused by tight ends, especially Iowa’s Noah Fant. To make matters worse, the Buckeyes lost starting linebackers Chris Worley and Jerome Baker, and returning linebacker Tuf Borland suffered an achilles injury that will cause him to miss a lot of practice. Speaking of disappointing units and unfortunate departures, Ohio State’s secondary were not exactly the “best in America” as they like to refer to themselves as. After all, losing your entire secondary to the NFL is a big loss. Perhaps the only bright spot in Ohio State’s secondary was cornerback Denzel Ward, who had a spectacular season. In fact, Ward’s season was so spectacular that he was the fourth overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Once again replacing another stud in the secondary will be a tough challenge for the Buckeyes, but if they can do that and also clean up the linebacker unit, then the Buckeyes are in good shape in the Big 10.
Mediocrity at quarterback has plagued Jim Harbaugh ever since he arrived at Michigan. Whether its been Jake Rudock, Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, or Brandon Peters, no one has performed exceptionally and no one has shown up in the big games, specifically against Ohio State and Michigan State. That could all change this year though. Harbaugh may have finally gotten his quarterback in the form of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson. Patterson proved that he is an elite quarterback at Ole Miss, and he did that against some very good SEC defenses. The only thing that Michigan has to do is not screw up their good fortune. Patterson is the guy and is the only guy. Peters has potential, but he is nowhere near as talented as Patterson. If the Wolverines allow Patterson to play his style and the skill players make plays, then they could very well capture Harbaugh’s first conference championship at Michigan, even with their brutal schedule.
In order to be successful and possibly win James Franklin his second conference title, the Nittany Lions have to do two things: reload and revolve. Penn State got rinsed by the NFL on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Lions lost their three best play makers in tight end Mike Gesicki, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, and, of course, running back Saquon Barkley. On defense, they lost safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, cornerbacks Grant Haley and Christian Campbell, linebacker Jason Cabinda, and defensive lineman Curtis Cothran. If they are not able to fill those voids, then the Nittany Lions are in big trouble. But with the way James Franklin has been recruiting at Penn State, reloading should not be a problem. Players like Miles Sanders and KJ Hamler should step up on offense, while freshman phenom Micah Parsons anchors the defensive line. Secondly, despite all the departures, there is one big player that is returning to Happy Valley: quarterback Trace McSorley. McSorley has proven that he is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks and he is definitely the best quarterback returning in the Big 10. Now with Saquon Barkley gone, McSorley finally has the chance to be the star of the team and the focal point of the offense. New offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne needs to make sure that he revolves his game plan around his quarterback in order to be successful. If he does and McSorley plays the way that he has played the past two years, then the Lions might just win their second conference championship in three years.
The Spartans may have found themselves a gem in quarterback Brian Lewerke. He lit up the scoreboard this past season and proved that he is a very dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Now Michigan State just has to worry about its other dangerous offensive weapon in running back L.J. Scott. Scott had a very mediocre junior season compared to his freshman and sophomore seasons. He was plagued by turnovers, and he did not even play a single snap in the rivalry game against Michigan. Michigan State is going to be very good considering that they are returning the majority of their team from last season, including Lewerke, and wide receivers Felton Davis, Cody White, and Darrell Stewart. But Michigan State has the chance to be scary good if L.J. Scott returns to his former self. They will be so good that they might win their first conference championship since 2015.
What Wisconsin has to do to stay atop of the Big 10 West and possibly win the entire league is very simple. The Badgers just have to be themselves. Wisconsin has always been known as a team that runs the football and plays great defense. That is exactly what they did last year, and they ended up winning 12 games, so they definitely stray from that gameplan. Yes, Wisconsin did lose the majority of their defense. But they do return linebacker T.J. Edwards who is a great leader of the team, and also fellow linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, a player that really turned it on at the end of the season, especially against Ohio State and Miami. If those two are able to keep the defense elite, the Badgers are one step closer from winning the conference. Next, the Badgers need to stay true to their identity by feeding their star running back Jonathan Taylor. Although quarterback Alex Hornibrook seems to get better each season, Taylor is by far the best player that Wisconsin has. Besides, Hornibrook does not always make the best decisions, which can often times lead to turnovers. If Wisconsin feeds Taylor, and he keeps up the same pace from his freshman season, then the Badgers might finally win the Big 10 title, after coming in second place for two straight years.