Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
The college football season is nearly here and we thought you, our loyal readers, would enjoy the opportunity to see what we, the writers, think about some of the other teams around the B1G and the country. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will post our picks for the college football playoff, national “sleepers” and “busts” and, as you can see, B1G “sleepers” and “busts”. We’ll keep track of our picks throughout the season and update how well we ended up predicting the future once the season wraps up.
B1G Sleepers and Busts
TJ’s B1G “Bust” – Northwestern
Many are marking Iowa down as a “bust”. I must admit, that was a tempting selection. However, I went with the Wildcats. The Cats have had a rocky period recently under Pat Fitzgerald (once the golden boy of college football coaching) and they now return only 42% of the offensive production from a unit that disappointed in 2014. Northwestern will be breaking in a new QB, replacing three multi-year starters on the O-Line and trying to find a new playmaker at WR after the graduation of Kyle Prater. The defense has to replace their top two linebackers, including the terrific Chi Chi Ariguzo. Justin Jackson is a great talent at running back but this schedule features non-conference games against Duke and Stanford and cross-division games at Michigan and against Penn State. They also have to travel to both Nebraska and Wisconsin. Many expect Northwestern to get back to a bowl game after missing out in 2014. I don’t think they’ll come particularly close to reaching six wins. –TJ Inman-
Sammy’s B1G “Bust” – Minnesota
The Gophers burst on to the national scene last year winning eight games and beating both Michigan and Iowa in the same year in quite some time. They also sported one of the best backs in the nation in David Cobb.
This season could be a step back for Jerry Kill and the Maroon and Gold as they have a very difficult schedule (TCU at home and trips to Colorado State, Ohio State, and Iowa). They also lose two of their main weapons on offense in tight end Maxx Williams and running back David Cobb. This season will be a reality check for those in the land of 10,000 lakes. – Sammy Jacobs
Nick’s B1G Bust – Nebraska
Anytime a team experiences a coaching change, there's a relatively good chance they will take step back. Factor in that said team loses both its leading rusher and receiver, that transition becomes infinitely more difficult. Well that's exactly what the Nebraska Cornhuskers face in 2015, as they bring in former Oregon State head man Mike Riley and will have to replace the production of All-American running back Ameer Abdullah (264 cars., 1611 yds., 19 tds) and wide receiver Kenny Bell (47 recs., 788 yds., 6 tds.). The team will also have to fill some holes on the defensive side of the ball, including the team's sack leader, defensive end Randy Gregory. And while the Big Ten West may not boast National Championship contenders that the East do, there are numerous teams looking to leapfrog the Huskers, including Minnesota and Northwestern. The team also has a fairly rigorous out-of-conference schedule that includes BYU and a trip to Miami (Fl.). Early season losses would be a bad way to get started under their new head coach and could have a profound effect on how the rest of the year goes. –Nick Holmes
TJ’s B1G “Sleeper” – Minnesota
I really like Coach Kill’s Golden Gophers. They were 8-4 last season and have improved every season under the current regime. Minnesota has to replace David Cobb, Maxx Williams and Damien Wilson (three stars from last year’s surprising squad) and returns only 12 starters so it is understandable why many are skeptical that they can return to a bowl game. However, I think QB Mitch Leidner (and exciting backup Chris Streveler) is going to continue improving. The running game should be more than adequate with Rodrick Williams Jr., Berkley Edwards and Jeff Jones set to step up and the offensive line is still skilled and massive. Another reason I like the Gophers chances is that the majority of the defense returns and the Minnesota coaching staff has done a terrific job of bringing in a lot of quality depth at LB and in the secondary. The Gophers kick off against TCU and have to play at Ohio State in one cross-division game but they get home games against Kent State, Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin and winnable trips to Colorado State, Northwestern, Purdue and Iowa. I don’t know if Minnesota will get back to 8 wins but I consider it a near lock that they’ll find their way comfortably back to a bowl game (their win total over/under is only 6). –TJ Inman-
Sammy’s B1G Sleeper – Indiana
Yeah, yeah. We are an Indiana publication and we have to put them in here. I can hear all of the groans now. However, the Hoosiers can make some noise in the confence in 2015. They may not be in play for a division title, but they will have a huge impact on who plays for it. If the Hoosiers can survive a Week 3 test again Western Kentucky and a trip to Wake Forrest in Week 4. IU should be able to be a thorn in the side of some of the big boys in the Big Ten East.
With quarterback Nate Sudfeld healthy and playing behind one of the better offensive lines in the conference, the offense should be back to 2013 levels. The big question as always in Bloomington is on the defensive side of the ball. I will tell you right now, one of the blue bloods of the Big Ten will fall at the hands of the Hoosiers. –Sammy Jacobs-
Nick’s B1G Sleeper – Penn State
It's hard to imagine anyone other than the Buckeyes or the Spartans making it out of the Big Ten East this fall, however, the Nittany Lions are one team that possess both the talent and experience to give both teams a run for their money. If third-year starting quarterback can stay upright, he should have a field day against most defenses with the talent the team has at wide receiver, headlined by DaeSean Hamilton, who caught a league best 82 passes last fall. Penn State returns 7 starters on defense, led upfront by a couple of talented junior defensive tackles, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel. The secondary boasts three returning starters, and should also be a strength for team. One major disadvantage this team will have to overcome is scheduling, as they will have to go on the road against both Ohio State and Michigan State. However, this team is primed to make some noise this fall if the offensive line continues to improve and Hackenberg can increase his touchdown-to-interception ratio. –Nick Holmes-