Coach: Mark Dantonio (eighth year)
2013: 13-1 (8-0 Big Ten)
Top returnees: RB Jeremy Langford (19 touchdowns last year), DE Shilique Calhoun (14 tackles for a loss)
Early test: Sept. 6 at Oregon
Outlook: The Spartans must replace seven starters from their vaunted defense, including Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen. But several big-play guys return, including Calhoun and defensive backs Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond. Quarterback Connor Cook was a second-team All-Big Ten selection, their offensive line is solid, their receiving corps is deep and Langford reeled off eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games as a junior.
Coach: Urban Meyer (third year)
2013: 12-2 (8-0)
Top returnees: DT Michael Bennett (11.5 tackles for a loss), DE Joey Bosa (13.5 tackles for a loss)
Early test: Sept. 6 vs. Virginia Tech
Outlook: Losing QB Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury was the worst possible news, and the Buckeyes already needed to replace RB Carlos Hyde, LB Ryan Shazier, S Bradley Roby and four starters on the offensive line. Meyer’s recruiting classes have ranked among the best, so the Buckeyes will reload. But nobody can be sure redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett is ready for this.
Coach: James Franklin (first year)
2013: 7-5 (4-4)
Top returnees: QB Christian Hackenberg (134.0 efficiency rating), C.J. Olaniyan (11 tackles for a loss)
Early test: Aug. 30 vs. Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland
Outlook: Franklin has electrified Penn State’s fan base since leaving Vanderbilt, where he turned around the program and produced back-to-back nine-win seasons. Penn State is in year three of its four-year penalty period from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, so the Nittany Lions still are ineligible for postseason play and have 10 fewer scholarships than other teams. Hackenberg is terrific, but he’ll miss WR Allen Robinson, who followed former coach Bill O’Brien to the NFL.
Coach: Brady Hoke (fourth year)
2013: 7-6 (3-5)
Top returnees: QB Devin Gardner (21 TD passes), WR Devin Funchess (748 receiving yards)
Early test: Sept. 6 at Notre Dame
Outlook: The defense was nothing special last year, and Doug Nussmeier, hired from Alabama as the new offensive coordinator, has his hands full. Gardner is dynamic, but he threw 11 interceptions last year. The Wolverines rushed for minus-48 yards against Michigan State last year and minus-21 against Nebraska. Sophomore RB Derrick Green was a five-star recruit, but there are big holes on the offensive line, with Taylor Lewan now in the NFL.
Coach: Kevin Wilson (fourth year)
2013: 5-7 (3-5)
Top returnees: RB Tevin Coleman (958 rushing yards), WR Shane Wynn (11 TD)
Early test: Sept. 20 at Missouri
Outlook: Tre Roberson transferred to Illinois State, ending the quarterback shuffle with Nate Sudfeld. Coleman averaged 7.3 yards per carry last year before getting injured. With Indiana, the question isn’t offense, it’s defense. The Hoosiers took their lumps again last year, but nine defensive starters return. Hired from Wake Forest, new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr has switched the team to a 3-4 alignment. The Hoosiers are hoping for their first bowl bid since 2007.
Coach: Randy Edsall (fourth year)
2013: 7-6 (3-5 in the ACC)
Top returnees: QB C.J. Brown (13 TD passes), WR Stefon Diggs (587 receiving yards)
Early test: Sept. 13 vs. West Virginia
Outlook: Maryland has enough talent to make this an interesting transition from the ACC to the Big Ten. Brown is an experienced, dual-threat QB, and his receiving corps is excellent with Diggs and Deon Long each coming back from a broken leg. The team was decimated from injuries last year, so there’s some upside here. But the Terrapins could struggle in the trenches, handling some of the Big Ten’s most physical teams.
Coach: Kyle Flood (third year)
2013: 6-7 (3-5 AAC)
Top returnees: RB Paul James (881 rushing yards), LB Steve Longa (123 tackles)
Early test: Aug. 28 vs. Washington State
Outlook: Flood named senior Gary Nova the starting quarterback despite last year’s 18-14 TD-interception ratio. Former Gopher Philip Nelson was in prime position to be next year’s QB before getting dismissed from the team. Coming over from the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East), Rutgers drew a brutal schedule. Beginning Oct. 4, the Scarlet Knights play Michigan, at Ohio State, at Nebraska and Wisconsin. Good luck with that.