- Ohio State Buckeyes– They lost a large chunk of talent to the NFL but despite that, Urban Meyer and company are poised to make another run at a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. These Buckeyes only return six starters from the 2015 team, but a ton of recruitment has them poised to make a nice rebuild and compete. J.T. Barrett is back under center as the unquestioned starter at quarterback and when Urban started him as the season was close to ending, the offense was a lot better and more consistent. The supporting cast will look a lot different with Ezekiel Elliott, Braxton Miller, wide out Michael Thomas, tight end Nick Vannett and offensive tackle Taylor Decker are all gone. Look out for receivers Noah Brown and Corey Smith to be factors within the offense. On defense, three starters return and they lost stars such as Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington and cornerback Eli Apple. The defensive line may not be as dynamic without Bosa, but guys such as Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis can have immediate impacts. It should be an interesting year in Columbus.
- Michigan Wolverines– I’m high on them. Extremely high to be more accurate and Jim Harbaugh has returned back to where he was once a starter and now is a head coach entering his second season after winning 10 games in his first season as Michigan head coach. A bulk of the starters will return on offense for the first time since 2013 and they will play in the same system for the second straight year. Jim Harbaugh will also be breaking in a new quarterback to replace Jake Rudock and as of now, Houston transfer John O’Korn is the frontrunner to be the starting quarterback. The positive for O’Korn is that he will be throwing to an experienced receiving core that includes tight end Jake Butt, All-Big Ten receiver Jehu Chesson and fifth-year receiver Amara Darboh all return and last season, these three combined for over 2,000 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns. The defense will have a new look as Harbaugh has hired Don Brown to run a defense that held opponents to 16 points per game last season and Brown will get to work with a defense returning a lot of talent that was top five last season. Rashan Gary will be expected to have a huge impact up front on the defensive line and the star of this defense is Jabril Peppers who is poised to have a solid year. Don Brown’s defensive schemes rely heavily on blitzes and heavy amounts of pressures.
- Michigan State Spartans– As many teams do in college football, Sparty lost a lot of quality talent to the NFL from last season’s team but they still have enough to compete and with good head coaching, they should still be able to win games. The rebuilding process will begin on the offensive side of the football as they look to replace Connor Cook, receiver Aaron Burbridge and two quality offensive linemen in Jack Conklin and Jack Allen. Michigan State is looking to finish another season in the top ten for the fourth straight year but for that to happen, the offense has to click early. Tyler O’Connor will be the successor to Connor Cook at quarterback and then there’s LJ Scott, a running back you don’t hear too much about and he’s made a lot of comparisons to another Spartan and that Le’Veon Bell. Sparty’s defense has always been to stop the run and this year, the defense returns five starters. It will all start up front with versatile junior Malik McDowell. He’s a 6’6, 280 pound guy that can play both tackle and end. The line backing core is as deep as it’s ever been under Mark Dantonio and they are anchored by fifth-year senior Riley Bullough who led the team in tackles last season. Looking at the schedules, home games against Ohio State and Michigan will help or hurt their chances at the division title, the Big Ten title and a potential spot in the playoffs.
- Penn State Nittany Lions– They haven’t necessarily lived up to the hype in the first two years of the James Franklin era as they’ve gone 14-12 in his first two seasons as head coach. They still have a lot of talent and overall, the depth of this team has really improved. If they played in the West, they would be a bit more consistent but playing in one of the toughest divisions in all of college football is definitely not an easy task. These Lions will be looking for a new identity on offense. Franklin has hired former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead as the new offensive coordinator and he is installing a new no-huddle spread offense. The star will be running back Saquan Barkley who finished third in the Big Ten with 1,076 yards on the ground but he can’t do it all. For Penn State to have that breakout season, they need better play from the quarterback and the offensive line. There’s also plenty of rebuilding to do on defense especially up front on the line. One major priority will be to create more turnovers as they only recorded six interceptions in 2015.
- Indiana Hoosiers– They got to a bowl game last year and they’ll look to do just that once again under Kevin Wilson but this year will definitely be a challenge without Nate Sudfeld at quarterback and he’s a guy that set many school records. Kevin Wilson is more than capable of showing that he can build prolific offenses. This time, he’ll have to create that without Sudfeld, a prolific back in Jordan Howard and an offensive tackle in Jordan Spriggs that was the anchor of everything up front on that offensive line for these Hoosiers. The biggest issue for Indiana has been on defense and Wilson continues to prove that he can’t build a winning defense. The secondary has struggled over the years and there will be yet another defensive coordinator trying to fix this mess.
- Maryland Terrapins– D.J. Durkin is now calling the shots for Maryland as the new head coach and he wants to build this program around good special teams and defense which is a good thing but to compete in this division, you have to be able to score points and move the ball down the field on offense. What helped give their offensive a spark was a bigger and more bulky offensive line and because of that, Maryland was able to average 200 yards rushing per game and that type of performance can give anyone a momentum boost. Quite a few starters return including quarterback Perry Hills and running back Wes Brown. Andy Buh is now the new defensive coordinator and will implement a 3-4 scheme. Roman Bragilo returns at defensive end and he brings a very motor back with him. The secondary is a big concern with Will Likely only returning. We could see a youth movement occur in the secondary this season.
- Rutgers Scarlet Knights– Just a decade ago, Rutgers was on top of the mountain in the world of college football. Now ten years later in 2016, they are in the cellar of the Big Ten and have a lot of rebuilding to do. The Scarlet Knights have hired former Ohio State assistant Chris Ash as their new head coach. The offense has been handed over to Drew Mehringer who will bring a new-look and up-tempo spread offense. Four starters return to the offensive line but will face a challenge with the new up-tempo offense so conditioning will have to a priority as the season approaches. The front four will be the strength of the defense once again and Darius Hamilton will return from injury and he’s by far their leader and best player on defense. Rutgers was a mess last year and they will be lucky to win four games again this season.
2016 Prediction: I’m picking the Michigan Wolverines to win this division. If Jim Harbaugh can work his magic on another quarterback like he did last season, they will be in good shape. The pieces are there for them to take that next step and compete for a playoff spot. Let’s look at it like this; they were a fumbled punt away from being in the discussion last year so why can’t they get to that point this year? They have the team to compete with Ohio State and Michigan State. I feel this is their year.