Before football kicks off tonight, BTN.com’s Tom Dienhart, Sean Merriman and Brent Yarina have some last-minute Big Ten predictions. Who will win the Big Ten? What about Defensive Player of the Year? And what about a sleeper team and sleeper player? Our trio offers all of their predictions in this post.
[ RELATED Who wins Week 1 games? Make your picks! ]
LEGENDS DIVISION CHAMP
Dienhart: Nebraska. Yes, the offense will be great; but improved defense will be the key.
Merriman: Nebraska. The Huskers get Michigan State and Northwestern at home and skip both Ohio State and Wisconsin this year. Taylor Martinez wants to close out his senior season with a bang and make up for that embarrassing showing in last year’s B1G title game.
Yarina: Nebraska. There are serious issues on defense, but the Huskers have a loaded offense and a very manageable schedule.
LEADERS DIVISION CHAMP
Dienhart: Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ biggest foe? Themselves. OSU can’t play games “not to lose.”
Merriman: Ohio State. It’s tough to pick against the Buckeyes, especially when you have Braxton Miller behind center. The defense is young and inexperienced, but a favorable schedule could lead to another unbeaten season for Urban Meyer.
Yarina: Ohio State. Between the schedule, the division, the talent, and the coaching staff, it’s hard not to pick the Buckeyes.
BIG TEN CHAMP
Dienhart: Ohio State. A fourth trip to the BCS title game also may be in the cards. Will Alabama be there? I hope.
Merriman: Ohio State. I know it’s the popular pick, but it’s hard to pick against a team that went 12-0 last year and got even better on the offensive side of the ball. Urban Meyer was 12-0 in his second season at Utah, and won a National Championship at his second year at Florida. See my point?
Yarina: Ohio State. I like the Buckeyes over whoever they face in Indy, because they should be fresher and healthier than the Legends Division champ.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Dienhart: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. Sure, he’s not a great passer. So what? He can’t be tackled.
Merriman: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. He’s the most dynamic playmaker in the Big Ten and can beat you with both his arm and his legs. If the Big Ten has any chance of producing its first Heisman Trophy winner since Troy Smith back in 2006, Miller is the guy.
Yarina: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska. I’m in the minority, for sure, but he did finish last year with 581 more total yards and five more touchdowns than Braxton Miller.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Dienhart: Ra’Shede Hageman, T, Minnesota. A living, breathing Coke machine who can’t be blocked. You try.
Merriman: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State. He’s the best player on the best defensive unit in the Big Ten. Bullough could close out his career at MSU with more than 350 tackles. I would say that’s worthy of Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Yarina: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State. What’s not to like about a tackling machine who also can rush the passer and defend the pass?
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Dienhart: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State. Ninety days from now, locales will be writing songs about the kid.
Merriman: Dontre Wilson, RB, Ohio State. Wilson is an electric running back who should also make an immediate impact in the Buckeyes’ return game. Coaches raved about his skills throughout camp this summer.
Yarina: Dontre Wilson, RB, Ohio State. Speed kills. Every national title contender needs it, and Wilson brings it to the Buckeyes.
BIG TEN SLEEPER (TEAM)
Dienhart: Indiana. Kevin Wilson’s plan finally works, as he rides a killer offense to the program’s first bowl since 2007.
Merriman: Indiana. The Hoosiers have a challenging schedule, but if Tre Roberson can play at full strength, this could be one of the most explosive offenses throughout college football. Kevin Wilson has this team poised for its first bowl game since 2007.
Yarina: Iowa. I don’t like the offense. And I don’t like the schedule. But Kirk Ferentz is one who surprises when nothing is expected.
BIG TEN SLEEPER (PLAYER)
Dienhart: Frank Clark, DE, Michigan. It’s all gonna come together for Clark, who will answer Michigan’s pass-rushing wishes.
Merriman: Devin Funchess. We saw glimpses of how good Funchess can be last season. He is now bigger, faster and has a full year of playing experience under his belt. Don’t be surprised to see Michigan’s talented tight end lead the Big Ten in touchdown receptions this fall.
Yarina: Akeem Hunt, RB, Purdue. Like big-play ability? You’ll love Hunt, who exploded for scores of 51, 56, 63, 81 and 100 yards in a reserve role last season.