Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, July 7, 2015

It?s July, and hopes run high across the fruited plain of the Big Ten. The possibilities seem endless from Lincoln to Piscataway. Now is the time to dream big.

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What?s the best-case scenario for your school? Playoffs? Major bowl? Bowl? What?s the worst-case scenario? Minor bowl? No bowl?

Here is one man?s view, beginning with the Big Ten East.


Best case: The offensive line is as good as advertised, setting the stage for a balanced and dynamic go-go Hoosier offense that ranks among the best in the league. Even more vital: The defense takes the proverbial next step in Year Two under coordinator Brian Knorr and his 3-4 scheme. Add it all up, and Indiana goes bowling for the first time since the ?Play 13? 2007 season inspired by the late Terry Hoeppner, so the destination doesn?t really matter, right? OK. Let?s say the Zaxby?s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Worst case: The defense is a sieve, offering little resistance vs. the run-which leads to the secondary getting torched often by the pass. Sound familiar? The offense is rendered inept once again after QB Nate Sudfeld goes down with injury. Sound familiar? Even worse–no reasonable facsimile for departed stud RB Tevin Coleman emerges. All together now: ?no bowl.?



Best case: The offensive line finally comes together, providing the foundation for a strong running attack. And QB Caleb Rowe is healthy and slinging the ball down field to a surprisingly solid and revamped wideout corps. The 4-3 defense of new coordinator Keith Dudzinski proves to be a good fit for a unit led by a strong secondary. Pack your bags, Terrapins-you are headed for the Pinstripe Bowl-or maybe the TaxSlayer.

Worst case: The offense sputters with no consistent push up front for a line that for too long has disappointed. And the lack of playmakers on the edge makes this a predictable offense with little explosiveness. The questions up front on defense never are answered, as opponents run with aplomb on a Terps? defense that couldn?t stop anyone late last year. Good thing the hoops team is supposed to be dominant.



Best case: Jim Harbaugh?s 100cc injection of swagger pays off in a boffo debut behind the spirited play of the defense. And that troublesome quarterback spot? It?s smooth sailing under center for a once-dysfunctional offense that?s purring behind one of the Big Ten?s top lines as the Wolverines play in the TaxSlayer or Holiday Bowl. If you thought the Harbaugh hype was overblown this offseason, wait until you experience 2016. We all will be wearing khakis, ball caps, acting kooky and loving it.

Worst case: The tornado of attention generated by Harbaugh?s arrival won?t match the results. Why? Talent. It?s getting better in Ann Arbor-but it?s not championship-caliber, especially on offense. An anemic ground game will continue to cough and wheeze. And the quarterback spot will be a roulette wheel from week to week. Who are the playmakers on this attack? Michigan squeezes out a 6-6 mark and is ushered to nearby Detroit for the Quick Lane Bowl. Hey, it?s a start.



Best case: The ever present chip on Mark Dantonio?s shoulder is bigger than ever with Jim Harbaugh becoming a national darling and Urban Meyer?s legend growing. You can see the steam coming from Dantonio?s ears as he unleashes his arsenal of freaky defenders. Who is gonna block these guys? The offense? It is among the Big Ten?s best, thanks to QB Connor Cook and a Fort Knox line, helping Michigan State win the Big Ten and earn a playoff bid. Bravo!

Worst case: Can it get any better than it has been? Probably not. Has MSU peaked? Maybe. The Spartans have won at least 11 games four times in the last five years. The loss of star defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi takes the edge off this perennial stout defense, which has been among the nation?s best, and the offense never finds a consistent running attack. The fall won?t be far for Michigan State. Say ?hello? to the Citrus or Outback Bowl.



Best case: The Buckeyes pick up where they left off last season, continuing the mojo from a national title run by ripping off an unbeaten march to another national championship. The quarterback spot isn?t an issue, and the attack has no issues replacing WRs Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. And DE Joey Bosa leads the best defense yet under Urban Meyer, as speed and athletic ability come in super-sized quantities for what is now the nation?s best program. Ezekiel Elliott or whoever wins the quarterback job wins the Heisman Trophy. Take a bow, Brutus. And head to Glendale, Arizona, for the title tilt.

Worst case: That stay-hungry desire isn?t burning in the belly of the fat-and-happy Buckeyes. Been there, done that. And the worm finally turns in close games for Urban Meyer, who has lived a charmed life in Columbus en route to going 38-3 overall and 24-0 in the Big Ten in three absolutely fabulous seasons. Oh, the bowl destination is still delightful ? but it?s not the playoffs. So, the season isn?t a success for this high-standard program.



Best case: Wanna dream big? How does 10-2 sound? Yep, it could happen. The line comes together-finally-helping establish a physical rushing attack that sets up QB Christian Hackenberg?s play-action passes. This offense is rocking. And the defense solidifies areas of concern in the front seven to reprise its excellent results from 2014. A trip to the Holiday, Outback or Citrus Bowl is the perfect landing spot for this fast-rising program under James Franklin.

Worst case: Just like 2014, Hackenberg is running for his life during another 40-something sack season. The defensive line struggles to get a consistent push, unhinging the offense and putting too much pressure on a strong defense that struggles to get production from the end spot. And the new kicker fails in clutch situations. How does the Foster Farm?s Bowl sound?



Best case: New offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels proves to be a quick study, giving the Scarlet Knights a varied attack with run-pass balance, something they'll need with a daunting schedule. Chris Laviano wins the QB job and makes fans quickly forget Gary Nova. And the defense is led by an underrated line and strong secondary that is up for the challenge. Enjoy your trip to the Foster Farms or Pinstripe Bowl.

Worst case: Neither Chris Laviano nor Hayden Rettig is the panacea at quarterback for an offense with its sixth different coordinator in six seasons. And an offensive line that lacks depth spring leaks, which proves ruinous to a strong stable of running backs. An undersized defensive line is run over and over and over. By Thanksgiving, RU will be wishing it still was in the AAC. No bowl.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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