Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, August 31, 2017
Do you smell that? It?s the start of the college football season. There has been so much information to digest in anticipation of kickoff. And there seems to be so many things I don?t know.
Here are 10 things I know as we begin the 2017 tonight.
1. Ohio State has the best defensive line in the Big Ten. Heck, it may be the best front in the nation. With players like Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Dre?Mont Jones, Nick Bosa, Robert Landers, Michael Hill and Jalyn Holmes, the Buckeyes have an embarrassment of riches. Check this out: OSU defensive coordinator Greg Schiano told BTN this summer that he thinks it?s better than what he had back when he was head coach of the Buccaneers.
?It is, and that?s not a joke,? said Schiano. ?We had a great player in Tampa in Gerald McCoy. Tremendous player, but that was one guy. I go back to my days in Miami in ?99 and 2000 and this is clearly a better group.?
2. Penn State?s offense will be the best in the conference. The unit was dominating last year, averaging 37.6 points and 432.6 yards per game. The Nittany Lions averaged a league-high 6.5 yards per play. Yes, Penn State lost wideout Chris Godwin a year early to the NFL, but there still is an abundance of top pass catchers, including Saeed Blacknall, DaeSean Hamilton, Juwan Johnson and Mike Gesicki. Saquon Barkley is one of America?s top running backs. And I think Trace McSorley is the best quarterback in the Big Ten. Want more? The offensive line will be even better.
3. This is the "Year of the Running Back" in the Big Ten. Look at the array of backs: There are Penn State?s Saquon Barkley, Ohio State?s Mike Weber, Northwestern?s Justin Jackson, Michigan State?s L.J. Scott, Maryland?s Ty Johnson, Iowa?s Akrum Wadley and Minnesota?s Rodney Smith. And keep an eye on Michigan?s Chris Evans, Rutgers? Gus Edwards and Wisconsin?s Bradrick Shaw.
4. Wisconsin and Iowa will have the best offensive lines in the Big Ten. The Badgers? front has not been up to program standards in recent years, but it looks vintage in 2017 with anchors like Jon Dietzen and Michael Deiter. The Hawkeye line has stalwarts in James Daniels and Sean Welsh. Anytime a team is good up front, the offense has a chance to be good. It will be fun to watch these lines operate.
5. Look for Rutgers' Kyle Bolin to be the most impactful of the new quarterbacks. The Louisville grad transfer made six starts for the Cardinals, including one in a bowl game. Bolin will work with new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill, giving the Scarlet Knights hope to improve what was the worst offense in the Big Ten in 2016.
6. Josey Jewell is the top defensive player in the Big Ten. The Iowa senior is the epitome of a leader, cut from a classic mold of linebacker who leaves it all on the field. Jewell ranked second in the Big Ten in tackles in 2016 with 124 and has started 30 consecutive games over the last three seasons. He is tied for 18th in career tackles with 301.
7. Nebraska is the biggest unknown. I?m not sure what to expect from the Cornhuskers. There is so much new. The offense will have more of a West Coast look with Tulane transfer Tanner Lee at quarterback. And the defense has a new coordinator in Bob Diaco, who has installed a 3-4 scheme. How will all of this work in Mike Riley?s third season?
8. Wisconsin is the favorite in the West. With apologizes to Northwestern, a lot of my colleagues' pick, the Badgers look like the best team. Yes, Wisconsin is on its third defensive coordinator in three years (Jim Leonhard), but the defense should be very good. I really like the line and secondary. And the offense has playmakers at wideout and receiver, along with a strong line. The big key: Keeping QB Alex Hornibrook healthy. He needs to take the next step in his development this season as a sophomore. The backup is a true freshman.
9. The Big Ten will have nine bowl teams. Who do I see in the postseason? Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland in the East. Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa in the West.
10. Ohio State will play for the national championship. The Buckeyes will win the Big Ten and make the College Football Playoff for a second season in a row and advance to the title game. Ohio State got embarrassed by Clemson in the playoffs last year, falling 31-0. This is a motivated Buckeye squad that has added former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator. He will impact QB J.T. Barrett, who looks poised for a big senior season. There was no bigger offseason hire, as OSU aims to win it all like it did in 2014. Ohio State is scary good.