Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, December 3, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS — With the ink drying on the 2017 Big Ten season, why not look toward 2018? Which teams could be here next December? Don?t be shocked if we have a rematch of the 2016 Big Ten title tilt.
Penn State came close to making a return engagement to Indianapolis this season after beating Wisconsin in the 2016 Big Ten championship game. PSU is 10-2 with its lone losses coming by a combined four points at Ohio State and at Michigan State.
Yes, Penn State likely will be without star running back Saquon Barkley, who figures to turn pro, but the Nittany Lions? offense still will return a lot of talent led by quarterback Trace McSorley. The offense also will have back skill players like wideouts Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins and Irvin Charles. Miles Sanders and Andre Robinson are poised to run the ball, and the line will be better with four experienced blockers back.
A wild card will be the new coordinator Ricky Rahne, who takes over after Joe Moorhead left to coach Mississippi State. Rahne has been pass game coordinator, tight ends coach and QBs coach for James Franklin in State College and is viewed as a star on the rise.
On defense, more work will be needed-especially in the secondary with guys like Marcus Allen gone–but players like ends Shareef Miller, Shaka Toney and Kevin Givens will be back up front, and Koa Farmer will be an anchor at linebacker. Any hiccups the defense may experience while coming together should be covered by the aforementioned offense, which should be boffo again.
In the West, you have to like the chances for Wisconsin to be back in Indy for a third consecutive season and a sixth time in eight years. All five starters will be back on the offensive line, which will make life good for sensational back Jonathan Taylor and quarterback Alex Hornibrook. And a bevy of good wideouts will return, including Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor, Quintez Cephus and Kendric Pryor. Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston will fill the tight end void.
The defense of coordinator Jim Leonhard will have work to do but can build around nose man Olive Sagapolu, linebackers Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards, and safeties D?Cota Dixon and Nick Nelson.
So, expect a rematch of the 2016 Big Ten title game, which Penn State won 38-31 in thrilling fashion.