A year ago Michigan State and Ohio State finished the B1G Ten regular season undefeated at 8-0 a piece. The Spartans ended up beating the Buckeyes 34-24 in the B1G Title game and eventually won the Rose Bowl over Stanford. A year later the Spartans and Buckeyes will be in the same division, the East Division, as Rutgers and Maryland join the Big Ten (The Big Fourteen?).
With the division mix-ups, who are the favorites to win the East and West in 2014?
A look at the East:
Ohio State: The Buckeyes return Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, and Urban Meyer will be looking to win his first B1G Championship Game. Last season Miller threw for 2,094 yards while completing 63.5% of his throws for 24 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Oh, he also was able to run for 1,068 yards and score 12 touchdowns on the ground. Not only will Ohio State have the dynamic Miller back, they also return defensive end Noah Spence who finished 2013/14 with eight sacks as well as true Sophomore defense end Joey Bosa who had 7.5 sacks in 2013. The Ohio State defensive line will be tough, but will the team be good enough to take the East?
Michigan State: The Spartans surely lose a lot on defense, but almost return their entire offense from a year ago. One thing I can assure you is that the defense in 2014 has a lot of talent, but will that talent produce similarly to previous years? Mark Dantonio and co. have really worked to add depth to this roster and that depth has continued to show itself over the last few years. Offensive stars Connor Cook (quarterback) and Jeremy Langford (running back) return for 2014 after each solidifying their starting role a year ago. Cook finished 2013/14 throwing for 2,755 yards while completing 58% of his passes for 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Cook also took home the MVP award for the B1G Title game and the Rose Bowl as he really shined at the end of the year. Langford finished the year strong as well, rushing for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. And we can’t forget about defensive end Shilique Calhoun who finished last year with 7.5 sacks and scored a ridiculous three defensive touchdowns. Will the Spartans defense be able to step up in 2014 and fill the holes left by the Rose Bowl Champion team?
Michigan: The Wolverines had a disappointing 2013/14 season, finishing the year at 7-6 (3-5) after starting the season 5-0. Quarterback Devin Gardner returns after completing 208 of 345 passes, while throwing 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Gardner also ran for 483 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground. If the Wolverines are to win the East they will certainly get some production from Wide receiver/ Tight end Devin Funchess. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Funchess has all of the physical tools of an NFL playmaker and showed that ability a year ago. In 2013 Funchess caught 49 balls for 748 yards and six touchdowns. With Jeremy Gallon gone will this be the year that Funchess takes over? If so the Wolverines may be taking home the East title.
A look at the West:
Wisconsin: Well what do you know? The Badgers seem to find themselves as the class of a seemingly weaker West division. Its like Leaders division while Ohio State was on suspension all over again. Wisconsin finished at 9-4(6-2) a year ago, losing only 2 B1G games. The Badger offense returns their leading rusher and passer from a season ago. Joel Stave completed 208 of 336 passes for 2,494 yards, with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a sophomore. Also returning will be Melvin Gordon who rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns as he split carries with James White in 2013/14. White is gone and Gordon looks to take the majority of the carries, though Corey Clement will see the ball as well on the ground. Wisconsin will look to run the ball a ton and dominate the possession game, but will it be enough to take the West?
Iowa: I guess the Hawkeyes are relevant again due to the division shakeup… thanks Jim. All joking aside, Iowa returns beastly running back Mark Weisman who bulldozed for 975 yards and 8 scores on the ground in 2013/14. Weisman will be looking to surpass the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the first time in his career as a senior and I wouldn’t bet against it. Left tackle Brandon Scherff will surely try to help Weisman after a breakout season in 2013/14. Scherff made the move from guard to left tackle and has become one of the premier tackles in the college game. The two seniors will be hoping to return Iowa to the glory days and take home the West title in 2014/15.
Nebraska: Gone is Taylor Martinez, but in steps Tommy Armstrong Jr. who played a significant amount a year ago. Armstrong threw for 966 yards and 9 touchdowns as well as 8 interceptions. Tommy can also run a bit as well; he may not be as quick as Martinez, but he can be effective. Another man who can run the ball a bit is Ameer Abdullah. The senior had a huge junior season, rushing for 1,690 yards and scoring 9 touchdowns. If Adbullah can find the endzone a few more times in 2014/15 and Armstrong can limit the turnovers, Nebraska may shock the West.
Now, I certainly cannot predict the future but these teams will certainly make the B1G an exciting league to watch in 2014/15.