The Powerhouses and the Challengers
Right now, hundreds of thousands of Big Ten students are packing up and heading to their respective campuses for another year of diligent study. They will spend long nights in libraries poring over ancient wisdom and teasing out the answers to complex equations. They will take long, important exams. Then, on Saturdays, they will watch their schools’ football teams and let their school spirit totally take them over.
Who can blame them? College football is the reason Americans look forward to the weekends in the fall. Students, alumni, and the public at large breathe, love, and live Big Ten college football. It’s inescapable. From Indiana to Minnesota, from Nebraska to New Jersey, the country’s largest schools are bracing for another epic year on the gridiron.
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It should go without saying that Ohio State is the team to beat this year, as they are just about every year. They’re back after getting buried 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl by Clemson last year. The Buckeyes have learned from that experience, they’re focused on the new season, and they’re not talking about it, ok? In any case, it is widely agreed they’re the team to beat.
Who has a shot? There’s always Michigan. Consensus is that coach Harbaugh is making his mark and beginning to have a positive influence. Harbaugh showed up to Big 10 media days in Chicago in his signature khakis and gym shirt. No one was surprised by this, except every other head coach in attendance wore a suit and tie. “I packed light,” Harbaugh said. “I packed my toothbrush and a good attitude.” We can respect that.
There is also Penn State and Wisconsin. Wisconsin is known to be consistent and punishing year in and year out. Their offensive line looks especially strong this year, and some of their talent looks to surpass the level you’d usually see in the Big 10.
Your middle tier teams look strong as ever. Most agree that Iowa is one recruiting coup away from being a true contender. And teams like Illinois, Indiana, and even Michigan State are expected to chug along and put together seasons they can be proud of. Michigan State had a rocky 2016, but they could bounce back.
Then there are expansion teams Rutgers and Maryland. Maryland looks like it could field a serious team within a few years. As for Rutgers? They’re working it out. They have brand new facilities, a well respected coach in Chris Ash, and they’re looking ahead. Far ahead. To maybe like 2030.
In all of college football, there are four independent teams who nevertheless are vying for College Football Playoff consideration: Notre Dame and three other ones. They are… uh… *thinking face emoji* … oh right. Army, UMass, and BYU.
Notre Dame’s 2016 season turned out poorly; they went 4-8. But there is no doubt they were a better team than their record indicated, and this year could and should see a drastic turnaround. They lost by a point here and three points there. But coach Brian Kelly knows what he’s doing, ND’s defense and 2016 defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder’s hiring and firing notwithstanding. A couple of breaks in a better direction, and Notre Dame would be one to bet on.
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