Big Ten coaches and players assembling in the Windy City in late July can mean only one thing: Football season is back!
While teams prepare in earnest for their season-openers, here are five things to know about the Big Ten:
1. The favorites are familiar.
Ohio State and Wisconsin are expected to win their respective divisions — just like they did last year.
The Buckeyes will be pushed by Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State in the East while the Badgers probably won’t be pushed by anyone in the West but have a tougher road than a season ago (see below).
2. Ohio State and Michigan are expecting to have exciting new quarterbacks.
The front-runner to replace J.T. Barrett is Dwayne Haskins Jr., the sophomore who led a comeback win at Michigan last season. He has more arm talent than Barrett, but it remains to be seen if he can bring similar intangibles as the tough Texan.
Many believe the starter for the Wolverines will be Shea Patterson, a former five-star recruit who transferred from Mississippi during the winter. Also in the mix will be Brandon Peters, who started three wins as a game manager last season before being injured the week before Ohio State’s visit to Ann Arbor, highly regarded redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey and true freshman Joe Milton.
3. Nebraska has a new coach.
After the decision to hire another pro-style coach turned out to be just as much of a disaster as expected, the Cornhuskers turned to one of their own to try to resurrect their program.
Scott Frost returns to Lincoln after leading UCF to an undefeated 2017 season, bringing with him an innovative spread-option offense and plenty of optimism.
He should have a veteran defense but must find a quarterback and faces a tough schedule that includes trips to Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
4. Get ready to find out exactly how good James Franklin and Trace McSorley are at what they do.
McSorley has done some great things over the past two seasons at quarterback, but they were with the defense geared up to stop superstar running back Saquon Barkley. How will he do as the focal point?
With offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead having left to become head coach at Mississippi State, it will be interesting to see if Penn State more resembles the high-scoring unit of the last two seasons or the one that disappointed in Franklin’s first two years in Happy Valley.
Meanwhile, eight starters graduating from the defense will let us know if Franklin’s recent recruiting has been as good as advertised.
5. Get ready for some major fall battles.
Of course the Eastern powers all face each other, but Wisconsin is a little deeper in the mix this fall as the Badgers have to play at Michigan and at Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have a three-week stretch in which they play Iowa, at Michigan and host Wisconsin.
Michigan State plays Penn State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks.
Michigan has consecutive games against Wisconsin, Michigan State (on the road) and Penn State, though there is a week off between the latter two.
The conference could finally be the best in the country after years of premature hype, but there’s also the potential for it to eat its own this fall.
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