Big Ten Football: Ranking the East Division
2015 Record: 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten)
Points Per Game: 27.1
Opponents Points Per Game: 34.9
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights had a season to forget in 2015. Kyle Flood saw his lowest win total since arriving at Rutgers and didn’t qualify for a bowl game for the first time since becoming head coach and was ultimately let go. The 2016 season is one that attempts to get back on bowl season track with former Ohio State assistant Chris Ash taking over. The Scarlet Knights return most of their starters on offense and defense but with adjustments abound in the East division, time may not be on their side this season. It could be another tough season for the Scarlet Knights.
Key Game: @Washington, September 3
The Scarlet Knights open the 2016 season on the road against a tough Washington Huskies defense. If the Scarlet Knights want to make some noise in the Big Ten and show off their new look with a bang, it’s in Week 1 against a tough Pac 12 opponent. The likelihood of an upset is low but it’s a key game nonetheless, if the Scarlet Knights can keep it competitive.
2015 Record: 3-9 (1-7 Big Ten)
Points Per Game: 24.7
Opponents Points Per Game: 34.4
The Maryland Terrapins welcome D.J. Durkin as their new head coach after a season filled with 29 interceptions on offense and the offense was 126th in the nation in passing efficiency. The Terrapins did not go a game last season without a penalty, including three games with 10 penalties. Durkin brings defensive discipline and special teams prowess to a team in search of a new identity. This season may have some bumps in the road but by the end, the Terrapins may be bowl eligible and on the rise. Durkin will need some time to build though, as his style of play doesn’t fit the current roster.
Key Game: Michigan State, October 22
The Terrapins could be 5-1 entering their meeting on October 22 with the Spartans. After this, it’s on the road to Indiana and then Michigan before facing Ohio State back at home. If the Terrapins can steal a victory with so much momentum going in, they could be higher in these rankings by the end of 2016.
2015 Record: 6-7 (2-6 Big Ten)
Points Per Game: 36.5
Opponents Points Per Game: 37.6
The Hoosiers made their first bowl in eight years last season but lost to Duke 44-41 in the Pinstripe Bowl. Repeating that effort this season with better results in the bowl game are on the horizon for the Hoosiers in 2016. The loss of quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard may be noticeable but the return of 1,000 yard rusher Devine Redding may offset things a bit. The defense is still a work in progress but they kept things competitive outside of Michigan State last season. The secondary welcomes two transfers in cornerback Wesley Green and safety Jayme Thompson as some much needed experience.
Key Game: Purdue, November 26
The Hoosiers own the Old Oaken Bucket and have won the last three meetings against Purdue. If they can defeat the Boilermakers and take their annual trophy in the process, 2016 would make the first back-to-back bowl season for the Hoosiers since 1990-91.
4 Penn State
2015 Record: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten)
Points Per Game: 23.2
Opponents Points Per Game: 21.8
Returning the most starters on offense in the Big Ten in 2016 isn’t a bad thing for the Nittany Lions and head coach James Franklin. The defense still isn’t quite up to par but two bowls in a row will do for now. The offense returns the Big Ten’s third best rusher in running back Saquon Barkley who had 1,076 yards and the Big Ten’s second leading receiver Chris Godwin who had 1,101 receiving yards. Depth is key this season as the Nittany Lions continue to recover from NCAA sanctions. Look for Penn State to hatch an upset or two.
Key Game: @Pittsburgh, September 10
The Nittany Lions visit hostile territory in Week 2 when they visit ACC Coastal favorites the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Nittany Lions defense has a real big test on their hands facing an experienced offensive line and two good running backs in James Conner and Qadree Ollison. If Penn State wants some national attention, Pittsburgh is the team they need to beat for it.
3 Michigan State
2015 Record: 12-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
Points Per Game: 29.8
Opponents Points Per Game: 21.7
The Spartans have some recovering to do after claiming the Big Ten title from Ohio State last season. They lose starting quarterback Connor Cook, receiver Aaron Burbridge and offensive lineman Jack Allen and Jack Conklin but all’s not lost for Coach Mark Dantonio in a rebuilding effort. The Spartans return some key pieces on both sides of the ball to remain competitive in the Big Ten’s East division. Passing over the Buckeyes and Wolverines may be a tougher task this season, however.
Key Game: @Notre Dame, September 17
The Spartans have renewed their rivalry with the Fighting Irish for the first time since 2013. The Fighting Irish have won the last three meetings between the two teams as well. The Spartans visit South Bend hoping to leave with an upset victory. Their 2016 meeting with the Fighting Irish will tell the story of where the season will go for the Spartans.
2 Ohio State
2015 Record: 12-1 (7-1 Big Ten)
Points Per Game: 35.7
Opponents Points Per Game: 15.1
J.T. Barrett looks ready to return to his 2014 form for the Buckeyes this season as he is full time starter in 2016. The Buckeyes don’t return a ton of starters but with a lot of youth in the stable, the expectations for a Big Ten title run as well as a College Football Playoff bid are still there. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan and defensive end Tyquan Lewis return to lead the way for the Buckeye defense. Lewis recorded eight sacks last season, first on the team, and McMillan led the team in tackles with 119.
Key Game: @Oklahoma, September 17
The Buckeyes visit hostile territory in Week 3 when they visit Big 12 foe Oklahoma. The two teams have met only twice in school history and are 1-1; their last meeting was in 1983. This may be unfamiliar territory for a young Buckeyes team and the Sooners will certainly play up to their opponent. Week 3 acts a starting point to see where the Buckeyes rank on a national level.
2015 Record: 10-3 (6-2 Big Ten)
Points Per Game: 31.4
Opponents Points Per Game: 16.4
The Michigan Wolverines enter Jim Harbaugh’s second season looking to make a lot more noise than they did last season. They return 8 starters on offense and preferably one of the best college players on defense in Jabrill Peppers who coaches have said will play both sides of the ball this season and up to 100 plays a game. All American tight end Jake Butt and receiver Jehu Chesson return as well. All they need now is a quarterback that can get them the ball much like Jake Rudock did last season.
Key Game: @Ohio State, November 26
The Wolverines have gone 1-4 in their last five annual meetings with the Ohio State Buckeyes; they have lost four in a row. This season’s final game could have Big Ten title implications come November. It’s been awhile since the Wolverines have defeated their bitter rival in their annual matchup, with so much on the line in Jim Harbaugh’s second season, this year’s matchup certainly takes on a greater meaning in November.