Dienhart: 10 bold predictions coming out of Big Ten media days

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: 10 bold predictions coming out of Big Ten media days

Big Ten media days are in our rearview mirror. The last cliché has been uttered. The last photo taken. The last pitcher of water drank. So, what’s left?

[ MORE: Best of Day 1 | Best of Day 2 | Big Ten player survey ]

How about some bold predictions for the 2016 season? Sure. Let’s go!

1. Michigan will solve its quarterbacking—and then some. Just like last year, the Wolverines have a yawning hole at QB. Last season, Jim Harbaugh and Co., transformed Iowa cast-off Jake Rudock into a Cinderella by making him one of the most effective signal-callers in the Big Ten en route to a 10-win season. Look for John O’Korn, a Houston transfer who sat out last year, to be the fairy-tale man this fall. He has a lot of upside. The key: limit mistakes.

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2. Nebraska’s defensive line will be its undoing. The offense will be A-OK. But the defense figures to struggle because of a d-line with myriad questions after tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine left early. And is there a pass rusher in the house? If the Huskers can’t stop the run, the defense will struggle. That means Nebraska may have to outscore teams to win. Can a Tommy Armstrong-led offense do that consistently?

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3. Penn State will beat an East Division heavyweight. James Franklin is 0-6 vs. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State as he enters his third season. Franklin knows this is a pivotal season. He said as much at media days. Progress must be made after consecutive 7-6 seasons. The Nittany Lions have their full allotment of 85 scholarships. The staff has been radically altered. The offense is new. Time to make a move. PSU plays at Michigan and plays host to Ohio State and Michigan State. One of those three is going down. Let’s say it’s the Spartans.

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4. Michigan State will thrive with an even bigger chip on its shoulder. The Spartans have gone 39-9 in the Big Ten over the last six years with three Big Ten titles, Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl berths and a playoff appearance. And the program is coming off one of its biggest seasons of glory, going 12-2 with its first playoff berth. Still, Michigan State is being glossed over by most pundits, who fawn over Ohio State and Michigan. Yes, the Spartans have some big holes to fill in the trenches. And a new QB must be broken in. But Mark Dantonio has the league’s bellwether program. Don’t be shocked if MSU wins the East—again. Home games vs. Michigan and Ohio State will be big boosts to the Spartans’ cause.

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5. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett will get to New York as a Heisman finalist. He played like a Heisman contender in 2014, when he helped lead the program to the national championship. After a mostly non-descript 2015, Barrett is primed for a big season as the Big Ten’s best player. The offense will revolve around his array of skills and leadership, which will be key as the attack breaks in new playmakers at wideout and running back.

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6. Wisconsin will turn to Alex Hornibrook to be the QB. The lefty redshirt freshman is the type of “student of the game” that Paul Chryst likes. He’s smart, knows how to read defenses and has a nice skill-set. Bart Houston’s arm is better, but he isn’t as savvy as Hornibrook. A vintage Badger line and the return of RB Corey Clement will mean Hornibrook won’t have to carry a big load as a passer as he adapts to starting. This will all work out just fine.

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7. Iowa will deal well with being the hunted in the West Division. In fact, look for the Hawkeyes to carry a 7-0 mark into a home game vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 22, the first of three season-defining games as a trip to Penn State follows before Michigan visits. This is a veteran Hawkeye club that is primed to return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.

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8. Purdue will change quarterbacks for a fourth season in a row under Darrell Hazell. In Year 1, Rob Henry was replaced by true freshman Danny Etling, who is now at LSU. In Year 2, Etling got benched in favor of Austin Appleby, who is now at Florida. In Year 3, Appleby was removed for David Blough. Sophomore Blough is the likely starter in 2015, but look for redshirt Elijah Sindelar to take over at some point.

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9. Indiana will go to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 1990-91. Kevin Wilson has the Hoosiers on solid footing. Yes, a new QB is needed. But IU will figure it out (likely will be Richard Lagow) and the offense will continue to tick along behind another strong line. But the big surprise will be an improved defense under new coordinator Tom Allen. And expect new d-line coach Mark Hagen to get a line with myriad questions up to speed quickly.

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10. The Big Ten will have two of the most dynamic freshmen in the nation in Ohio State running back Mike Weber (redshirt) and Michigan State wideout Donnie Corley (true). Some others to watch will be Michigan LB Devin Bush Jr.; Nebraska DB Lamar Jackson; Penn State OL Michal Menet.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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