A look at the Big Ten East
In predicted order of finish by Star Tribune college football writer Joe Christensen:
2014: 14-1 (8-0 Big Ten)
Coach: Urban Meyer (fourth year)
Key returnees: RB Ezekiel Elliott, LT Taylor Decker, DE Joey Bosa
Early test: Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech
Outlook: The opener will be tough next Monday night on the road against a Hokies team that handed Ohio State its only loss last season. The Buckeyes suspended Bosa and three other players for that game because of a violation of team rules. Meyer has yet to say whether Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett will start at QB. Either way, former QB Braxton Miller is an H-back now and will be counted on with Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson both suspended.
2014: 11-2 (7-1)
Coach: Mark Dantonio (ninth year)
Key returnees: QB Connor Cook, LT Jack Conklin, DE Shilique Calhoun
Early test: Sept. 12 vs. No. 7 Oregon
Outlook: The Spartans must replace fourth-round draft pick Jeremy Langford at running back. True freshman L.J. Scott was one of the Big Ten’s highest-ranked recruits, but the Spartans say redshirt freshman Madre London will be the No. 1 tailback. He’ll run behind an outstanding offensive line. If the Spartans find decent substitutes for Langford and WR Tony Lippett, they should flourish offensively. The defense still should be strong, even with coordinator Pat Narduzzi leaving to become the new coach at Pitt.
2014: 7-6 (2-6)
Coach: James Franklin (second year)
Top returnees: QB Christian Hackenberg, WR DaeSean Hamilton, DT Anthony Zettel.
Early test: None of note
Outlook: The Big Ten tried bolstering nonconference schedules, but Penn State must have missed the memo. Temple, Buffalo, San Diego State and Army should be four guaranteed victories. The real measure for Franklin will be the East division slate. This clearly is a team on the rise, with the scholarship limits from the Jerry Sandusky scandal all lifted. Franklin has been reeling in big-time recruits. Next, he needs to fix the offensive line to protect Hackenberg.
2014: 5-7 (3-5)
Coach: Jim Harbaugh (first year)
Key returnees: RB Derrick Green, LB Joe Bolden, DB Jabril Peppers
Early test: Thursday at Utah
Outlook: The Wolverines have the most treacherous nonconference slate in the Big Ten. There are three stiff tests — Utah, Oregon State and Brigham Young — although Oregon State is rebuilding under first-year coach Gary Andersen. Harbaugh has yet to name a starting QB between Iowa transfer Jake Rudock and Shane Morris. Either one will need better protection than Devin Gardner got last year from the porous offensive line. Michigan’s defense should be the strength of anotherwise shaky team.
2014: 8-5 (3-5)
Coach: Kyle Flood (fourth year)
Key returnees: RB Paul James, WR Leonte Carroo, DT Darius Hamilton
Early test: Sept. 12 vs. Washington State
Outlook: James is back from ACL surgery, and Carroo is the Big Ten’s leading returning receiver (1,086 yards). The offense might be one quality quarterback away from being good. Former Gophers QB Philip Nelson could have been the guy, but he was dismissed last year. Now Rutgers has turned to LSU transfer Hayden Retting, a 6-3, strong-armed sophomore from Los Angeles. He’ll have a new offensive coordinator, as Ben McDaniels has replaced Ralph Friedgen.
2014: 7-6 (4-4)
Coach: Randy Edsall (fifth year)
Key returnees: RB Brandon Brown, CB William Likely, K Brad Craddock
Early test: Sept. 26 vs. West Virginia
Outlook: As the New York Times wrote recently, if Oregon is the University of Nike, then Maryland is positioning itself as the University of Under Armour. Huge donations from Under Armour founder and former Terps football player Kevin Plank are helping Maryland aspire big. The Terps must reload after losing wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. But they beat Iowa, Penn State and Michigan last year, proving they can handle themselves in the Big Ten.
2014: 4-8 (1-7)
Coach: Kevin Wilson (fifth year)
Top returnees: QB Nate Sudfeld, LB Tegray Scales, S Antonio Allen
Early test: Sept. 19 vs. Western Kentucky
Outlook: Sudfeld is the best quarterback most people haven’t heard of. He’s 6-5, with a smooth touch, and has 34 touchdown passes in 24 games. He injured his left (nonthrowing) shoulder last year, and there went Indiana’s season. Now, 2,000-yard rusher Tevin Coleman is in the NFL, but 1,600-yard rusher Jordan Howard transferred in from Alabama-Birmingham. The stakes are high for Wilson, who could get fired if the Hoosiers don’t reach their first bowl game since 2007.