2019 Big Ten College Football Preview

MIKEDROPSPORTS college football coverage

I went through all 838 games of the 2019 college football season, picking winners to project the record of all 130 FBS teams.

Projected Standings

Ohio State11-18-1
Penn State9-36-3
Michigan State7-54-5

Big Ten Championship – Ohio State over Iowa

This would be the third straight Big Ten Championship Game appearance and victory for the Buckeyes and the first appearance for Iowa since losing to Michigan State in 2015. That 2015 game is the only time neither Ohio State nor Wisconsin appeared in this game.

Illinois Fighting Illini

1. Player to watch: In 2018, Reggie Corbin ran for 1,085 yards and 9 TD and I expect him to improve on those numbers in 2019.

2. Recent Recap: Illinois hasn’t made a bowl game since 2014 and hasn’t had a winning record since 2011 when they won 7 games. Illinois have won just 4 Big Ten games under Lovie Smith the last three years (4-23 overall) and are 9-28 overall

3. Preview: Six wins for Illinois?! Give Athletic Director Josh Whitman credit for sticking with Lovie Smith for a third year and credit to Lovie Smith for staying the course and rebuilding the Illini. I have Illinois at four “locked” wins – Akron, Eastern Michigan, UConn, Rutgers. I have them beating Nebraska and Northwestern, both at home in upsets. At Minnesota, Purdue Michigan State are potential upset spots.

Indiana Hoosiers

1. Players to Watch: Indiana will be as successful as their running game. They have produced some exciting RBs the last few years (Jordan Howard, Tevin Coleman) and Stevie Scott might be next. Scott averaged 5 ypc, scoring 10 TDs and totaling 1,134 yards. QB Peyton Ramsey ran for 354 yards and 5 TD. Ramsey also passed for 19 TDs.

2. Recent Recap: Indiana has produced back-to-back 5-7 seasons under coach Tom Allen. Indiana has appeared in just three bowl games since 1991, losing all three. The 1991 Copper Bowl was their last postseason victory

3. Preview: I think a third straight 5-7 season is in the books for Indiana. Their best chance for 6 wins is winning at Maryland, and pulling off some kind of upset against Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue or Nebraska. Northwestern at home is likely their best shot at a 6th win, assuming of course they win the other 5.

Iowa Hawkeyes

1. Player to Watch: DE AJ Epensa had 11 sacks in 2018, which is the second most of any returning DL (Ohio State’s Chase Young is first). He also had 16.5 tackles for a loss.

RBs Mekhi Sargent (745 yards, 9 TDs) and Toren Young (637 yards, 5 TD) return in the backfield.

2. Recent Recap: Since representing the West in the Big Ten title game in 2015, Iowa has won 8, 8, 9 games each season.

3. Preview: Hawkeyes lose their two tight ends (TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant) and DE Anthony Nelson, but retain QB Nate Stanley, a strong Offensive Line, AJ Epensa, and a pair of quality RBs. All of that, combined, makes Iowa my pick to win the West.

Maryland Terrapins

1. Player to Watch: RB Anthony McFarland Jr is the son of the former defensive player and current Monday Night Football announcer. He is also a really good running back, running for 1,034 yards and 4 TD. Terps have had a revolving door of QBs the last few years so consistency and stability at RB will be a big boost for the offense.

2. Recent Recap: 2014 is the last time Maryland had a winning record and 2010 is the last time the Terps won a bowl game. They have never finished with a Big Ten record over .500 (4-4 in 2014) and 2010 was the last time they won 5 conference games (5-3).

Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Maryland has struggled against the top of the class – 1-4 vs Michigan, 0-5 vs Ohio State, 1-4 vs Michigan State, 1-4 vs Penn State

3. Preview: Mike Locksley, most recently Alabama’s OC, takes over as Head Coach despite a 3-31 record in 2+ years at New Mexico. Locksley has spent the last few years on Alabama’s staff, and was Offensive Coordinator last season. He is considered one of the best recruiters and Maryland is a sleeping giant when it comes to recruiting – location, conference, opponents. It will happen. But with the current roster in place, fighting for a bowl bid is their best case scenario.

Michigan Wolverines

1. Players to watch: QB Shea Patterson was the #1 QB in the 2016 class. After throwing 25 TDs in two seasons at Ole Miss, was granted immediate eligibility at Michigan in 2018. He helped guide Wolverines to a 10-2 record, completed 65% of his passe and threw 22 TD and 7 INT.

Michigan’s top 2 WRs return in 2019 – Nico Collins (team high 632 yards) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (612 yards). They combined for 14 of Patterson’s 22 TD passes. Tarik Black also returns after an injury-riddled 2018 season.

2. Recent Recap: Jim Harbaugh has won 38 games in 4 years at Michigan. Under normal circumstances, that’s pretty good. But they are 1-3 in bowl games, winless vs Ohio State and 2-2 vs Michigan State.

3. Preview: Last year I was convinced it was Michigan’s year. I was convinced they would end the streak and beat Ohio State and make the playoffs. For 11 games, that looked possible. Than 69-38 happened. I have analyzed Michigan football from top to bottom for months and really wanted to run it back. I love what they return on offense, but they lose to much for my liking on defense. The schedule is tough with Big Ten road games at Wisconsin (who should be much improved from last year) and Penn State (always a tough out at home during a whiteout). Notre Dame at home will be a crucial game. Plus Ohio State comes to the Big House to end the season. If they can beat the Buckeyes, they can content for Playoffs/Rose Bowl. But if they can’t…should they just move on from Harbaugh?

Michigan State Spartans

1. Player to Watch: DE Kenny Willekes recorded an insane 20 tackles for a loss and 8 sacks. He also totaled 78 tackles.

2. Recent Recap: Since making CFB Playoffs in 2015, Michigan State has won 3, 10, 7 games.

3. Preview: I believe this will be Mark Dantonio’s final season in East Lansing. Recruiting is down (guys they are offering are committing to Group of 5 schools). He’s 63 years old and seems to be reaching burn out stage.

Minnesota Gophers

1. Player to Watch: WR Tyler Johnson was 17th in the country in receiving yards with 1,169. He had 100 or more yards in 6 games, doing it in 6 of the final 8 games.

Mohamed Ibraheim, freshman RB, burst onto the scene replacing an injured Rodney Smith, running for 1,160 yards and 9 TDs. Between Ibraheim and Johnson, the Gophers young offense is in position to continue improving along with sophomore QB Zach Annexstad.

2. Recent Recap: Through two seasons of the PJ Fleck era, Gophers are 12-13. Last season they beat Wisconsin, snapping a 14 game losing streak and won the Quick Lane Bowl. Since losing 7 straight bowl games between 2005-2014, Gophers have won 3 straight, making the postseason in 3 of the last 4 years. They haven’t won double digits games since winning 10 in 2003.

3. Preview: Gophers offense is going to score points. The question will be how good the quarterback play is and how well the defense can stop opponents? Every game in the West feels like a toss up. Gophers could range from 6 to 10 wins.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

1. Player to Watch: QB Adrian Martinez has the potential to be a great quarterback. He started 11 games, throwing for 2,617 yards, 17 TD, 8 INT and also ran for 629 yards and 8 TDs. If Nebraska is going to live up to the pre-season hype, this guy is going to need to play like a Heisman hopeful.

2. Recent Recap: Nebraska has not made a bowl game since 2016. They have gone 4-8 in back-to-back seasons, though last year’s 4-8 felt different.

3. Preview: The Nebraska hype train has gotten out of hand. They received 14 first place votes to win the Big Ten at media day. Folks cannot stop raving about the Huskers. After a 4-8 debut for Scott Frost, I think Nebraska will turn a corner and win 8 games. But, they are still a year away from legit Big Ten contention. Especially in a deep West division, I just can’t see that large of a leap. Still, 8 wins would be an impressive 4-win turnaround. They do get Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all at home, so the opportunity is there for a major program-changing win, and I believe that will happen when Ohio State comes to town on 9/28 and I think they’ll win at least one of the Wisconsin or Iowa game. But as a young team, in a really tough division, they’ll lose 1-2 they shouldn’t on the road.

Northwestern Wildcats

1. Player to Watch: Hunter Johnson was the #2 QB from 2017 class. He transferred to Northwestern last year from Clemson and sat out 2018. He immediately becomes the most highly touted QB to start for the Wildcats.

LB Paddy Fisher was second on the team with 63 tackles, and 5 tackles for a loss. He should continue to be a focal point of this defense.

2. Recent Recap: Pat Fitzgerald has been the Northwestern Head Coach for 13 years. A school with virtually no football history, Fitzgerald has led them to 9 bowl games (4-5 record) and three 10 win seasons. Wildcats were only 9-5 last year, but won the Big Ten West despite going 1-3 in non-conference games. The 8 conference wins were their most since 1995.

3. Preview: I see the Wildcats taking a small step back. Hunter Johnson might be the best QB the school has ever had, but the Big Ten West is much better and deeper than it was when they won it in 2018 and even though I don’t think this Northwestern team is worse than they were last year, the division is tougher which will lead to more losses.

Ohio State Buckeyes

1. Player to watch: QB Justin Fields will start at QB, replacing Dwayne Haskins, who threw for a Big Ten record 50 TDs last year. Fields was the #1 QB recruit in 2018 and saw the field sparingly for Georgia last year.

DE Chase Young is a projected top 3 top in 2020 NFL Draft. Young had 9.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss and will be the center piece of the Buckeyes defense.

2. Recent Recap: From 2010-2018, Urban Meyer went an absurd 83-9 at Ohio State making the Playoffs twice, winning 2015 National Championship and ending his tenure by winning the 2019 Rose Bowl. Buckeyes went 13-1, winning the Big Ten Championship, but missing out on the Playoffs.

3. Preview: New Head Coach Ryan Day has a LOT to live up to. I can see him following the path of Lincoln Riley – an assistant on the previous (legendary) coach’s staff who inherits the job and continues to build what was previously built. I have the Buckeyes going 11-1, beating Michigan for the 94th straight time. Their lone loss will come early, at Nebraska in September.

Penn State Nittany Lions

1. Player to watch: Penn State has relied heavily on the run game the last two years with Saquon Barkley in 2017 and Miles Sanders in 2018. Ricky Slade is expected to slot in to the RB1 role. He averaged 5.7 ypc after just 45 carries in 2018.

The WRs are going to play a much more prominent role, specifically WR KJ Hamler, who led the team with 754 yards and was second with 5 TDs. Hamler is also the primary kick returner.

LB Micah Parsons is one of the top DL in the Big Ten. He led the team with 82 tackles, forced 2 fumbles, and had 4 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.

2. Recent Recap: So close, yet so far. That seems to be the recurring theme for Penn State in the James Franklin era. After starting off his tenure with back-to-back 7-6 seasons, Penn State won 11 games in 2016 and 2017, making the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, respectively. They fell to 9-3 in 2018, losing to Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State.

3. Preview: The signature win, that never came last year, comes early – Penn State upsets Michigan in the annual whiteout game. But Penn State will follow it up two weeks later by losing to Minnesota and at 9-3 will again play in a New Year’s Day bowl, just not one of the big six.

Purdue Boilermakers

1. Players to watch: WR Rondale Moore led the nation with 114 receptions in 2018. Those receptions turned into 1,258 yards and 12 TDs. He also ran for 213 yards and 2 TD. He also averaged 20 yards per kick return and ran one back for a TD.

LB Markus Bailey was 6th in the country with 82 tackles. He also had 5.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception.

2. Recent Recap: Purdue is 13-13 overall, 9-9 in Big Ten, and 1-1 in bowl games during Jeff Brohm’s two seasons in charge. Very average. But at Purdue, average is exciting and interesting. The back-to-back bowl games was a first since 2011-2012.

3. Preview: A 7-win regular season would represent the most wins for Jeff Brohm in his three years at Purdue. An odd fact given the hype and hoopla around the coach, who led Purdue to back-to-back 6-6 regular seasons and consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2011-2011. I love Moore, but don’t believe that Elijah Sindelar is the guy to elevator Purdue.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

1. Players to Watch: QB Artur Sitkowski currently sits atop the Rutgers depth chart. In 11 games, he threw only 4 TDs and 18 INTs. That obviously has to change for Rutgers to win any games.

It will help him if they can get their running game going. Raheem Blackshear (586 yards) and Isaih Pacheco (551 yards) combined for over 1,000 yards and each ran for 3 touchdowns.

2. Recent Recap: Rutgers went 8-5, winning the Quick Lane Bowl in their inaugural Big Ten season in 2014. Since that year, Rutgers has won 4, 2, 4, 1 game, respectively, each year. This is trending towards another 1-2 win 1eason, which would more than likely cost coach Chris Ash his job.

3. Preview: This season won’t be much better for Rutgers. Depth and experience is a concern. On their projected depth chart, they have 2 seniors starting on offense and 2 on defense.

Wisconsin Badgers

1. Player to Watch: Jonathan Taylor won the Doak Walker Award, given to the top RB, in 2018 and returns after leading the nation in rushing with 2,194 yards (the only back to exceed 2k yards in 2018).

2. Recent Recap: Since the formation of East/West divisions in 2014, Wisconsin has represented the West in the Big Ten Championship Game 3 of 5 years. But not in 2018. They finished 8-5 overall (7-5 in regular season). The 8 wins were their fewest since going 8-6 in 2012 in Bret Bielema’s final season and snapped a 4 year streak of 10 or more wins. They did, however, win the Pinstripe Bowl for their 5th straight bowl game victory.

3. Preview: Wisconsin has the challenging task of facing Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State in cross-over games. That coupled with quarterback questions makes their projections difficult. Their 8-4 record is based on freshman Graham Mertz starting and succeeding most of the season, but if Jack Coan starts more than 6 games, Badgers ceiling could be much lower.

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Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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