Dienhart's 2014 Big Ten football predictions

Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart's 2014 Big Ten football predictions

I’ve spent months (seems like years, some days) analyzing the coming 2014 season. I’ve talked to head coaches. assistant coaches and players. I even asked the greeter at my local Walmart who he likes to win the Big Ten. Hey, he’s a big Ohio State fan. I wanted to at least humor the guy, ya know?

I’ve written and read countless stories, while also visiting with my brothers and sisters in the media.

After all of that, I am ready to unveil my Big Ten predictions for 2014.

See our other 2014 B1G Predictions posts:

BIG TEN EAST

1. Michigan State. Look, I liked the Spartans BEFORE Ohio State superstar Braxton Miller was ruled out. Michigan State will have one of the Big Ten’s top offenses. The defense? Well, we know the Spartan brand on that side of the ball. Pay no heed to starters lost. At MSU, it’s plug and play.

2. Ohio State. The loss of Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury doesn’t mean the sky is falling in Columbus. It only means the ceiling on this season isn’t as high. National championship? Nope. Major bowl bid? Still possible. There is talent, but so many questions: quarterback, running back, o-line, pass defense …

3. Michigan. The scrutiny will be intense on a program that has seen its win total decrease each of the last three seasons under Brady Hoke. The defense looks strong. The offense holds the key. Will the line get a push? This remains a young team. Still, it’s time to stand and deliver in Ann Arbor.

4. Maryland. This is Randy Edsall’s fourth Terps’ squad. And I like it. Lots of veteran talent dots the roster, especially on defense. The offense has some of the best skill in the Big Ten. Label this team a “sleeper.”

5. Penn State. James Franklin has hit State College like a tornado of positivity and energy. Everyone is buying anything he’s selling. Yes, even ketchup popsicles to people wearing white gloves. But depth issues finally may prove to be ruinous to the Nittany Lions, smacking Penn State with an ugly reality: A losing season. Hey, it was bound to happen.

6. Indiana. The Hoosiers were <THISCLOSE> to making a bowl last season, finishing 5-7. Home losses to Navy and Minnesota were killer. Indiana could break through to its first postseason since 2007 if a new defensive coordinator (Brian Knorr) and scheme (3-4) can improve and complement another electric offense.

7. Rutgers. The good news: The Scarlet Knights have found a strong, stable home in the Big Ten. The bad news: Depth issues across the board and an iffy secondary could prove fatal during Rutgers’ maiden voyage. Did I mention the Scarlet Knights have found a strong, stable home?

BIG TEN WEST

1. Iowa. I love this team. Yes, there are depth issues on the o-line, the linebackers are new and the offense needs some explosiveness in the passing game. But the Hawkeyes will ride rugged play in the trenches to glory while playing one of the most user-friendly schedules in the Big Ten.

2. Nebraska. This is one of Bo Pelini’s best teams since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. A promising defense is what’s fueling excitement in Lincoln. Check out the line. If the offense finds some balance by developing a passing game, this could be a special season.

3. Wisconsin. I never want to soft-sell the Badgers. This program has done too much over the last generation to be ignored. But I just can’t ignore the questions at quarterback, receiver and the fact the front seven on defense is being overhauled. Yes, the schedule is nice, but the Badgers have a lot to overcome. Many players need to grow up fast.

4. Minnesota. No staff does more with less than this one. And the talent also is improving. Don’t sleep on this defense, which could be in the upper-half of the Big Ten again. The key to success rests with an offense that needs more big-play explosiveness.

5. Northwestern. Meet last year’s disappointment. A vote to unionize drew unwanted offseason attention. Then, top RB Venric Mark bolted in camp. Still, lots of talent is back. The key: Line play. Is this group tough enough in the trenches on both sides of the ball? And what’s the mental state of mind?

6. Illinois. Tim Beckman made progress last year, thanks to a revived offense. Now, a push for a bowl is on. Wes Lunt may be the best quarterback in the division. Good enough. But will a defense that bleed yards and points be improved? That’s the key. If so, this squad could make a bowl push.

7. Purdue. Last year was rock bottom for the Boilermakers—at least that’s the hope in West Lafayette. There’s enough skill on offense to make points easier to come by—if the line does its job. And the defense has potential—really. A four-win season is possible–really.

Big Ten Championship Game: Michigan State over Iowa

Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year: Iowa OT Brandon Scherff

Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun

Big Ten Newcomer of the Year: Michigan DB Jabrill Peppers

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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