Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde break down what they expect from the Big Ten this season, and select their picks for Champion, Dark Horse and Most Intriguing team.
DAN WETZEL: All right, Big Ten. Gee, I wonder who. Favorites.
PAT FORDE: Yeah, that's an even bigger favorite than Alabama because I think Ohio State is just further ahead of everyone else in the conference. I know they got squashed last year at Michigan, but they just have so much firepower. I mean, they are going to be an awesome offensive team to watch, and I do think they'll be improved on defense with Jim Knowles as the new defensive coordinator and eight returning starters on that side of the ball.
So I think Ohio State is positioned maybe to win the whole thing. I would not be shocked if, in that November 1st first playoff rankings, they're ahead of Alabama. Because they've got a bunch of home games, but they've also got some marquee-level opponents. They got Notre Dame. They got Wisconsin. They got Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State. You win all and you're undefeated on November 1st, that's probably enough to be number one.
DAN WETZEL: That's a number one deal, yeah. They're going to-- they'll get the jump on Notre Dame right off the bat. That's going to tell us a lot. Really hard to find a loss on this schedule. Now the problem is then your expectations are so great.
PAT FORDE: Right.
DAN WETZEL: And going undefeated is just not easy. It's just not easy to do so.
PAT FORDE: No.
DAN WETZEL: But there is an enormous talent differential between Ohio State and the rest of the league right now. All right, dark horse.
PAT FORDE: I can't put Michigan in the dark horse category because they're starting the season in the top 10 for sure, maybe even the top five. So I'm going to say Michigan State. They lost a lot, but they also-- they brought in another star transfer running back, Jarek Broussard from Colorado. See if he can fill the Kenneth Walker III role. They've got some rebuilding to do on the line. But Jayden Reed is back at receiver. He's really good. Payton Thorne is back at quarterback. He's very good.
And then defensively, they should be a lot better. Remember, they just were horrible in pass defense last year. They're more experienced. I expect them to definitely improve on that side of the ball. Their one non-conference game early, I think, is winnable that's a real game.
They got Western Michigan, Akron, at Washington. I think you can win that. And then your Minnesota, at Maryland. I mean, it's not out of the question to think they could be 5 and 0 when Ohio State comes to East Lansing October 8th and I'm sitting there watching it. And you might be they were counting opposing tubas in the stadium, but--
DAN WETZEL: I might. Real interested in what kind of momentum Mel Tucker's got going in that program. There's a lot of confidence, I'll say that, out of Michigan State--
PAT FORDE: A lot of confidence.
DAN WETZEL: --where everything's headed. So get $9 and 1/2 mil, got to be strong.
PAT FORDE: Yeah.
DAN WETZEL: I'm going to go with-- I can't go with anyone in the East. Maybe someone beats Ohio State up front, but then they'd have to run the table. So I'm going to go with the West and go Wisconsin, which is the boringest dark horse of all time.
Non-conference, they got nothing. Washington State's coming. Other than that-- they're at Ohio State on September 24th. My guess is they get beat soundly there. But after that, Illinois, at Northwestern, at Michigan State, Purdue, which is kind of interesting, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota.
If the offense is better, you can make a big run there. And then you get to Indy, and who knows. There's no Penn State or Michigan. Certainly is a schedule that could produce just one loss. And so if that's the case, then you've got a chance. Anyone intriguing in the Big Ten for you?
PAT FORDE: Michigan's always intriguing.
DAN WETZEL: Yeah.
PAT FORDE: Harbaugh is always intriguing, so going with him. How does he manage the quarterback situation? What's the defense look like? They could absolutely end up right there in a showdown of either unbeatens or very good teams with good records for the Big Ten East championship in the Horseshoe again this year. I don't think that's out of the question. But then again, they may also drop some games early, and we'll see how Coach Khaki handles it.
DAN WETZEL: I'm going to go with Penn State. 11 and 11 the last couple of years, 7 and 6 last year. That's not good enough. James Franklin's recruiting very well. He got a huge contract. But what kind of team is this going to be?
I don't think that they're going to win the Big Ten. I do not think they're going to beat Ohio State. But this is one that's got to at least get back to what we maybe could call the Harbaugh level of where you don't lose to the teams you're not supposed to lose to. Penn State's also got the game at Auburn--
PAT FORDE: Yes.
DAN WETZEL: --which is intriguing because Auburn's a train wreck. But they got to beat Auburn at Auburn, and that's a big, flashy win, in name at least, for the Big Ten. They want to win that game at Auburn.
PAT FORDE: Sure.
DAN WETZEL: You lose that game at Auburn, and Auburn still ends up 4 and 8, this could be bad. So I'm intrigued at where is Penn State at.