Big Ten Media Days begins Thursday morning. Here are some of the biggest storylines surrounding each team broken down into the divisions of the Big Ten:
There’s a lot of storylines with the Buckeyes going into this season: the first of many being the departure of star head coach Urban Meyer. But with the arrival of Georgia transfer Justin Fields and a struggling defense losing starters Dre’mont Jones and Nick Bosa. Many believe that losing quarterback Dwayne Haskins to the draft will be mitigated with the addition of Fields. Fans will see, especially as Ryan Day steps into some relatively larger shoes.
It’s an all-or-nothing type feel for Jim Harbaugh and company. The arrival of Josh Gattis from Alabama places even higher expectations on a Michigan team that also will get Notre Dame, MSU and Ohio State all at home during the regular season. If Harbaugh can pull it off – this is the season to do it.
James Franklin is going to be without incumbent starter Trace McSorley and stud running back Miles Sanders. How Franklin replaces that production will be interesting to see. QB Sean Clifford only appeared in four games last year and threw for 195 yards in those four appearances and sophomore Ricky Slade at running back only appearing in nine games doesn’t provide a lot of hope. In the Big Ten, experience is at a premium so with two of the most important positions will be the key to this season.
Injuries. Can the Spartans stay healthy? Something of note: QB Brian Lewerke was completing 64% of his passes before throwing out his shoulder at Penn State in a win. He also was beginning to look better as he had a 8-7 TD-INT ratio heading into that game. With a storied defense returning for the most part – with All-American candidates at all three levels – the offense will be more scrutinized.
The Terrapins are looking to get a lot better with the addition of go-to starter Joshua Jackson Jr. who followed up a big year at Virginia Tech with the decision to transfer to Maryland, even after a controversial season for the Terrapins. New head coach Mike Locksley will be tasked with getting Maryland back to a bowl game. The team is going to be forced to figure out: “What’s our identity?”
Peyton Ramsey tossed 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions along with 2,855 yards and Michael Penix tore his ACL last year against Penn State after looking like he was finally going to overtake Ramsey. So the Hoosiers are going to have to figure out what to do under center.
1-11 overall at the end of last season. How can this Rutgers team improve from last year?
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The Fighting Illini got quarterback Brandon Peters from Michigan via grad-transfer this offseason. Peters will give head coach Lovie Smith continuity at quarterback that he hasn’t yet had during his time with the team. If Peters can take a big step forward under a new coaching staff, it will leave many wondering if the wide-open west division will allow Illinois to climb the standings.
The health of sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez has to be the most important piece as Scott Frost attempts to prove to a hungry fan base that he is the answer. Martinez is a perfect fit for the spread offense of Nebraska and should keep succeeding and putting up big numbers. But can he stay healthy and can Frost get his team back to a bowl game after going 4-8?
This program is a far cry from the 9-4 they had during the 2016 season and P.J. Fleck is going to need to take things to another level in his third season at Minnesota. Fleck returns 16 total starters on both sides of the ball from last season’s 7-6 squad. How can that experience translate in one or two more wins? This will be a big year for Fleck establishing the culture we saw at Western Michigan.
Can Rondale Moore become a national player of the year candidate and maybe even a Heisman finalist? After finishing with one of the best statistical (and highlight reel ridden) seasons in Big Ten receiver history – especially for a freshman – the team must find ways to get Moore the ball as much as possible as quarterback David Blough skipped town for the NFL.
With so much on emphasis on the offensive stars, we continue the trend here. Nate Stanley could have a Big Ten Player of the Year type season under center for Iowa. It will be important to see if the defense and the rest of the team can make the step towards breaking through the 10-11 win threshold after finishing 9-4 last year.
The disappointment for fans and the team alike after the high expectations entering the year could be blamed on a multitude of things. Now that Graham Mertz has taken over for Alex Hornibrook, the offense will once again rest on the shoulders – and legs – of Jonathan Taylor. Can he handle that load for another year and can this team limit turnovers in big games?
One of the most surprising Big Ten title game appearences in several years. The Wildcats have used their new training facility to their advantage and saw head coach Pat Fitzgerald make a massive jump in the standings. Fitzgerald returns most of the important pieces from the defense that carried the team. This season banks on a strong front-seven to provide the base of the team. Can this squad replicate last years magic?
You can contact Joe Dandron by emailing him @[email protected] or follow him on twitter @JosephDandronMI