College Football Fans Beware: The Big Ten Is Back

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

From Capitol One Bowl losses to embarrassing defeats in national title matchups over the course of the last decade, the Big Ten Conference lost a ton of respect nationally. Being one of the most storied conferences in college football history, the Big Ten has some of the most storied programs. But things haven’t looked that way in quite some time. Things will change, starting as early as this coming season, though.

Ohio State has already garnered a bit of respect for the conference by winning the first ever College Football Playoff, and by becoming the first school in college football history to win three bowl games in just two seasons. With Urban Meyer‘s recruiting ability, Ohio State will continue to be a national title contender. But other teams will be stepping up as well.

In Jim Harbaugh‘s first season as the head coach of the Michigan football team, the Wolverines went 10-3 while crushing the Florida Gators in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, 41-to-7. Michigan also has the fifth ranked recruiting class in the country according to 2016 composite college football recruiting class rankings, and from the look of things, their 2017 class will be just as good. It’s been a long time since Michigan football has looked like, well, Michigan football. With nine returning starters on offense and six on defense, however, look for Michigan to make some noise in 2016.

The Big Ten is at its very best when Ohio State and Michigan are its two best teams on the conference. Alabama head coach Nick Saban fears this, and it appears as if he feels threatened by Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. However, there are Big Ten teams besides Ohio State and Michigan that have been stepping up their game as well.

Like with Michigan, we saw somewhat of a resurgence of the Iowa football program. Although the 2015 season ended on a bit of a sour note for the Hawkeyes, they should be even better next season. Iowa was a top ten product of scheduling in 2015. That formula will be somewhat more difficult in 2016, but not to a large degree. Nevertheless, Iowa fans should be optimistic about this coming season as they will return seven starters on offense and eight on defense.

Also returning for the Hawkeyes is quarterback C.J. Beathard, a young man who seemed to get better and better as the 2015 season rolled along. With a stout defense and now an experienced quarterback, the pieces of the puzzle are still here for Coach Ferentz to get his team back into the Big Ten Championship Game and make a run for the college football playoff. But a team that will compete heavily with Iowa in the West Division is the Wisconsin Badgers.

While juggling head coaches over the last few years, Wisconsin has somehow maintained a respectable football program. Look for things to remain the same this year. Although the Badgers will have a question mark at the quarterback position, all but one offensive lineman will be a returning starter and running back Corey Clement will provide for the team a proven and experienced running back. Not only that, seven starters will return on defense as well.

The only negative for the Badgers is the way their schedule looks. They play LSU right of the bat and three games later they jump into the thick of conference play. First they have to travel to Michigan State, then Michigan, and then they’ll have an uneasy homecoming against Ohio State. It will be an uphill battle and they’ll have to buckle in and step up their game in order to come away with another ten-win season.

Another Big Ten team that should be good is Michigan State. Although they lose seven starters on offense including all Big Ten quarterback Conner Cook, senior-to-be quarterback Tyler O’Connor proved to be reliable while coming away with a signature win at Ohio State in Cook’s absence last year. He’ll just have to find new targets to throw the ball to, as the only returning starter at the receiver or the tight end position is R.J. Shelton. However, Spartans’ head coach Mark Dantonio always seems to have a pretty good defense and he should have another good one with nose tackle Malik McDowell and linebacker Riley Bullough anchoring the middle of it. Michigan State will still be a top contender in the Big Ten East, along with Ohio State and Michigan.

I guess the only sleepers in the Big Ten conference are Northwestern and Nebraska. Both will have returning starters at quarterback and both should be pretty good. Although Nebraska only came away with a 6-7 season last year, their fifteen returning starters should be enough for them to come away with nine or ten wins this year.

Look out folks, the Big Ten is back!