Nov 16, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) runs the ball up the during the first quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Fighting Illini Football: Predicting The Big Ten East Division

The big talk about the Big Ten East division this offseason has been about newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. How will they do? Can they compete with their new Big Ten foes? Were their additions just a business move? Regardless of the answers to those questions, the Big Ten East is going to be one tough division. It’s a division that features both teams from last season’s Big Ten Championship (OSU and MSU) along with Michigan, Indiana, and Penn State.

Now, here is a look at my 2014 preseason predictions for the Big Ten East division this season.

1. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) – Playoff Team

It’s hard to pick against Urban Meyer. In his two seasons with the Buckeyes, Meyer has led Ohio State to two 12-win seasons, and he has yet to lose a Big Ten regular season game. Yes, the Buckeyes lost Carlos Hyde to the NFL this past offseason. However, the team is still poised to make a National Championship run in 2014. Looking at the schedule, OSU doesn’t have the toughest non-conference schedule, and there are really only two Big Ten teams that have a chance to knock the Buckeyes off their playoff run. Those teams are Michigan State and Michigan. The Spartans were the only team to beat OSU in 2013 with their Big Ten Championship victory, and the Wolverines were just two points away from beating them in the regular season.

2. Michigan State (10-2, 7-1)

Besides the defensive end position, the Spartans will have quite a few new faces on defense in 2014. The key defensive player could be Taiwan Jones, who is projected to replace former MLB Max Bullough. On the other hand, the team returns four of the offensive weapons from a year ago. Connor Cook returns at quarterback, Jeremy Langford returns at running back, and Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery return as the team’s top wide receivers. The defense will be the most important part for MSU this season, but I expect them to have the “next man up” mentality. Only two games the Spartans will lose are at Oregon and at home against Ohio State.

3. Michigan (8-4, 6-2)

Good news for the folks in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines will bounce back in 2014, but they will start the season 0-2. Just like they did in 2007, I see Michigan getting upset by Appalachian State then losing to a “major conference” level (or should I say “major independent”) Notre Dame. The Wolverines will bounce back from those two losses to finish 6-2 in the Big Ten. The only conference teams that I see beating Michigan are Ohio State and Michigan State.

4. Penn State (9-3, 5-3)

Penn State will be a hard team to judge coming into the 2014 season. Yes, they lost their head coach in Bill O’Brien to the NFL, but they gained former Vandy head coach James Franklin. However, Franklin inherits a quality quarterback in sophomore Christian Hackenberg. The “hardest” non-conference game for the Nittany Lions will be against UCF, but the Knights will be without Blake Bortles (in the NFL now). There’s no reason why PSU shouldn’t go 4-0 in their non-conference games. As for the Big Ten games, OSU, MSU, and Michigan will be their only losses unless Illinois pulls off an upset in Champaign.

5. Maryland (6-6, 2-6) 

Let’s look to the history books to help judge how Maryland will fair in their first season in the Big Ten. The last two teams to join the Big Ten were Nebraska in 2012 and Penn State in 1993. The Cornhuskers finished 9-4 at the end of the inaugural Big Ten season which was one less win than the year before. Penn State went 10-2 in their first Big Ten season and beat Tennessee in the ’94 Citrus Bowl. They improved their record by three wins. So which path will the Terrapins follow? They’ll most likely follow a similar path as Nebraska did in 2012. Not only does Maryland play the tougher East division in conference play, but they also play two of the top three teams from the Big Ten West (Iowa and Wisconsin). The Terps go 4-0 in non-conference play with conference wins over Indiana and fellow newcomer Rutgers.

6. Indiana (5-7, 2-6)

The biggest question for the Hoosiers in 2104 will be the offense. Yes, the team returns quarterbacks Tre Robsinson and Nate Sudfeld. However, they lost two of the starting wide receivers as Shane Wynn will be the only returning starter for the WRs this season. Indiana should be able to go 3-1 in non-conference play with the only loss coming to Mizzou. However, Big Ten play might be rough. I expect Maryland to come out and “shock the world” against the Hoosiers in their conference opener. I see the Hoosiers stumbling to a 2-6 conference record with wins over Rutgers and Purdue.

7. Rutgers (3-9, 0-8)

The Big Ten really didn’t do their new east coast members any favors with the conference schedule in 2014. Just like Maryland, the Scarlet Knights will play the tougher East division while playing two games against two of the top three teams from the Big Ten West (Nebraska and Wisconsin). However, I don’t think Rutgers is as strong as a team as fellow newcomer Maryland. Rutgers will go 3-1 in non-conference play (only loss to Navy), but they will lose all eight of their Big Ten games in 2014.

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