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2017 Big Ten Conference Football Preview and Rankings

NCAA Football News

The Big Ten could be the most exciting conference in college football this season. With four teams finishing the 2016 season in the top-ten, it’s obvious this conference has taken over the top spot. Ohio State will be at the top like always, while Jim Harbaugh has Michigan back to national prominence. James Franklin has worked his tail off to get Penn State moving on from their issues and Wisconsin should dominate the west division again this season.

The Big Ten east division could also be the toughest division in college football this season. The Buckeyes, Wolverines, and Nittany Lions all play in the east division. All three teams also finished in the top-ten in the 2016 college football rankings. Look for similar results this season as well.

Ohio State will rely on senior quarterback J.T. Barrett to lead the offense, but it will be the defense that takes the Buckeyes to the top. While the secondary is young and inexperienced, the defensive line is one of the best in all of college football. Tyquan Lewis will anchor the defensive line. Lewis racked up 8 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss last season. New offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson should have no issues taking over the offense. Along with Barrett, the Buckeyes will have Mike Weber for the ground game. As a redshirt freshman, Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and 9 touchdowns.

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Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State

The Buckeyes will need a strong defense to go up against Penn State. The Nittany Lions have two of the best offensive weapons returning in all of college football. Running Back Saquon Barkley is touted by many as the best rusher in college football this season. Barkley rushed for 1,496 yards last season and is more than capable of reaching the 2,000 yard threshold. .Trace McSorley is back under center again for Penn State this season. McSorley was strong last year throwing for over 3,600 yards and 29 touchdowns. He needs to be more accurate completing only 57 percent of his passes and expect him to do so. He’ll improve and Barkley will help open up the passing game. Mark October 28th down on your calendars as Penn State heads to Columbus with the east division title on the line.

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Saquon Barkley, Penn State

The Michigan Wolverines will also do their part in making the east division an exciting one this season. Harbaugh has his team geared towards finishing strong this season with the hope of a Big Ten championship in sight. The Wolverines will field a top defense like the Buckeyes with Maurice Hurst battling in the trenches. Linebacker Mike McCray will also be another one to watch. Offensively, Wilton Speight should improve upon his good performance last season. He’s an accurate passer that needs to take advantage of his opportunities. Michigan will be tested in their first game against the Florida Gators.

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Maurice Hurst, Michigan

The Wisconsin Badgers have the luxury of playing in the weaker west division, but they are still a highly competitive team. Alex Hornibrook will develop into a great passer. The Badgers will need to rely on him more this season. Pitt Transfer Chris James and Bradrick Shaw will handle the majority of the carries for the ground game. Linebackers Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards lead a talented defense. Wisconsin relies on grinding out close games, but the offense will have to make an impact for the Badgers to take the championship.

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Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin

The Northwestern Wildcats didn’t get much love from the media in the preseason polls, but they could be the best team to match the Badgers in the west division. Running Back Justin Jackson leads all returning running backs in college football with 1,524 rushing yards last season. Northwestern returns four starters on the offensive line so the sky is the limit for Jackson. The Wildcat defense should be solid with seven starters returning. While not factored as a top team, look for the Wildcats to impress this season. Possibly even as an outside shot to win the west.

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Justin Jackson, Northwestern

Nebraska isn’t far behind Northwestern, but they have a lot of uncertainties for this season. Tulane transfer Tanner Lee will most likely edge out Patrick O’Brien to start at quarterback. The Cornhuskers will transition to a pro-style qb either way. Something that will be new to them this season. The defense appears to be strong, but new coordinator Bob Diaco will be adding new schemes for the defense to learn. That could either be good or bad. The Cornhuskers have both Ohio State and Penn State on the schedule this season so it will be a challenge for this transitioning Nebraska team.

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Tanner Lee, Nebraska

If you like physical toughness, look no further than the Iowa Hawkeyes. They are hands down the toughest team in the Big Ten. Maybe even all of college football. The Hawkeyes usually don’t win pretty, but they find a way to win. Seven starters return for a defense that only gave up 18.8 points a game last season. Akrum Wadley is a dynamic rusher and the offensive line might be the best in the Big Ten. Quarterback controversies and a tough schedule could keep the Hawkeyes from contending in the west division this season.

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Akrum Wadley, Iowa

Expect Michigan State to somewhat rebound this season. Going 3-9 last year was unexpected, but the Spartans have a few bright spots for this college football season. Running Back L.J. Scott will be the workhorse and could make a push to be a top rusher. While Scott will get the majority of the carries, Gerald Holmes is talented and will add depth at running back. The Spartans won’t contend for the Big Ten title this year, but seven wins isn’t that far of a reach.

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L.J. Scott, Michigan State

The Indiana Hoosiers aren’t a great team, but they’re not that bad either. Playing teams in the stacked east division hurts a lot. However, the Hoosiers usually plays tough and they could sneak an upset. Richard Lagow returns at quarterback which is good news. The bad news is that he threw 17 interceptions last season. Expect him to be more accurate this year. Linebacker Tegray Scales will make a huge impact on defense. Expect 6-7 wins from Indiana and nothing more.

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Tegray Scales, Indiana

The Minnesota Golden Gophers lost three of their four losses last season by a combined total of 17 points. Running back Rodney Smith returns and should keep Minnesota within striking distance again this season. DT Steven Richardson and LB Jonathan Celestin will anchor a defense that needs some improvement. It’s doubtful that the Golden Gophers can duplicate last season’s performance, but this is a team that’s on their way up in college football.

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Rodney Smith, Minnesota

Maryland was beat up pretty bad last season and not much should change this season. The east division is just too tough for the Terrapins. Another weak non-conference schedule helps though. Running back Ty Johnson is a really good rusher and should break the 1,000 yard mark again this season. Johnson averaged 9.1 yards per carry last season and can break open as good as any running back in the NCAA.

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Ty Johnson, Maryland

Purdue is in the same boat in the west division as Maryland. David Blough returns at quarterback for the Boilermakers. He has a lot of potential, but a lot to learn also. Linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Danny Ezechukwu will provide some much needed experience on the defensive side. The non-conference schedule for Purdue won’t be friendly this season as they open up against Louisville. Former Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm should rejuvenate the Purdue football program if given enough time.

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David Blough, Purdue

Rutgers will be at the bottom of the Big Ten standings this season. Rutgers head coach Chris Ash made some changes in the off-season by bringing in former Minnesota head coach, Jerry Kill, as the new offensive coordinator. Rutgers was dead last in NCAA total offense last season so a change was likely. The Scarlet Knights lacked production on offense, defense, and special teams last season. No word yet if Ash plans on going with Gio Rescigno or Louisville graduate transfer, Kyle Bolin as starting quarterback. Bolin seems like the best fit for Kill’s offense though. A solid passing game will open things up for running back Robert Martin. Changes are coming in a much needed way for Rutgers, but it’s still going to be a long season.

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Robert Martin, Rutgers

Lovie  Smith was a great hire for the Illinois, but he needs more time to sort out the issues. WR Malik Turner is the best player on the team. Last season, he caught 48 passes for 712 yards. Kendrick Foster should aid the offense in the rushing game. Jaylen Dunlap is solid in the secondary, but he needs help. Smith said his team is making progress, but look for Illinois at the bottom of the Big Ten again this season.

NCAA Football News

Malik Turner, Illinois

2017 Big Ten Football Preseason Rankings

East Division

  1. Ohio State Buckeyes
  2. Penn State Nittany Lions
  3. Michigan Wolverines
  4. Michigan State Spartans
  5. Indiana Hoosiers
  6. Maryland Terrapins
  7. Rutgers Scarlett Knights

West Division

  1. Wisconsin Badgers
  2. Northwestern Wildcats
  3. Nebraska Cornhuskers
  4. Iowa Hawkeyes
  5. Minnesota Golden Gophers
  6. Purdue Boilermakers
  7. Illinois Fighting Illini

Check back with the Press Box Sports daily for more college football goodness! Full team-by-team previews coming soon.

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