The 2016 Big Ten football season should be filled with plenty of outstanding storylines.
How good will Michigan be? Is Ohio State the favorite? Can Michigan State repeat as Big Ten champions? The list goes on and on.
But what is truly the most intriguing storyline heading into the 2016 Big Ten football season?
I asked that very question to two of the best in the business: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart and USA Today national college football reporter Nicole Auerbach.
The three of us shared our answers below.
Who do you agree with? Tweet me your answers, @BTNSean.
What is the most intriguing storyline heading into the 2016 Big Ten football season?
TOM DIENHART, @BTNTomDienhart
There are some intriguing storylines in the Big Ten in 2016, but I think the top topic is Ohio State and its quest to return to the summit of the conference. The Buckeyes entered 2015 with a big target on their back. Adding to the pressure was a preseason No. 1 ranking. The Buckeyes were the hunted. How would they respond in Urban Meyer’s fourth season in Columbus? OSU ripped off win after win en route to starting 10-0 vs. a schedule that was less than impressive before finishing with the 1-2 punch of Michigan State and Michigan. A tough home loss to the Spartans derailed title plans, as MSU went on to win the league championship. The offense battled inconsistency as the staff insisted on juggling quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. As a result, the attack struggled to gain a rhythm—which proved costly for an uber-talented squad that had 12 NFL draft choices. Now, Ohio State is back and hungrier than ever after coming up short in 2015. Yes, there are some big holes to fill. But talent looms. Can the Buckeyes win the Big Ten again—and get back to the playoffs? That’s the storyline I’ll be watching.
SEAN MERRIMAN, @BTNSean
There are plenty of great storylines heading into this season, but since I have to pick just one, here’s what I’m going with: Is this the year Michigan and Ohio State get back to being the cream of the crop in the Big Ten? When college football fans think about the Big Ten, they probably think about the Wolverines and Buckeyes, one of, if not the, best rivalry in all of college sports. But truth be told, it’s been a full decade since this rivalry has lived up to the hype. Do you know how many combined Big Ten championships Ohio State and Michigan have since the conference title game was implemented back in 2011? One… Ohio State won it in 2014 on its way to that magical national championship run. Just about every major publication has Ohio State and Michigan as the top two ranked teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2016 college football season, and why not? The Buckeyes return one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in J.T. Barrett, along with what should be a suffocating defense led by Preseason All-American linebacker Raekwon McMillan. The Wolverines have one of the most talented rosters in the nation, highlighted by Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis on defense, and Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt on offense. Remember back in 2006 when we were treated to that No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, which was titled the “Game of the Century?” Wouldn’t that be a treat if we saw that again this year on Nov. 26 at the Shoe?
NICOLE AUERBACH, @NicoleAuerbach
I’m curious to see what a College Football Playoff-caliber Michigan team looks like — and how it handles the highest expectations it has had in quite some time. I would argue that expectations haven’t been this high since my freshman year at Michigan, the year that we all remember began with Appalachian State pulling off the biggest upset in college football history. I’m looking forward to see where and how much Jabrill Peppers plays; I think he could be the most dynamic player in the sport. I’m looking forward to seeing Jim Harbaaugh work his magic with whoever ends up winning the starting quarterback job. This is also a full offseason and full recruiting class in under Harbaugh. I’m thinking this could be a special season — and some incredible exciting games against Michigan State and Ohio State.