Following the first week of the college football season, the Big 10 can be split into three tiers. Let us take a look at which teams fall into each level of contention.
Ohio State: It is National Championship or bust for the Buckeyes this year, and I cannot envision a scenario in which they bust. There is too much talent at each position for the Buckeyes to lose this season. They have all the key positions set for another run at the title. Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliot, and Braxton miller are a scary 1-2-3 on offense, as evidenced by the trio’s dominance over Virginia Tech on Monday night. Don’t forget about Joey Bosa too (suspended for VT game), who was the best defensive player in college football last year.
Michigan State: MSU is notorious for underachieving, but they ended last season on a high note with a bowl victory against Baylor. They’re looking to carry that momentum over into this season and capture one of the four prestigious playoff spots. MSU had a pretty unconvincing win (37-24) against Western Michigan this past weekend, but I’m going to chalk it up to week 1 rust for the time being. MSU still has Connor Cook at the helm, arguably the nation’s best QB.
Wisconsin: Coming into this season, Wisconsin fans weren’t sure what to expect from the offense with 2014 centerpiece Melvin Gordon gone to the NFL. The offense for week 1 vs. Alabama probably wasn’t what they wanted to see. The leading rusher, Alex Erickson, plays WR; he had one carry for 25 yards. Joel Stave threw the ball 39 times, something the Badgers probably weren’t intending on doing. However, they had little choice with how bad their running game was going. Wisconsin still has the talent to end this season in the top 25, but they are going to have to get the running game started in order to do that.
Northwestern: Wow. I don’t think anybody expected Northwestern to open the season with a convincing win against a #21 ranked Stanford team. Stanford is as consistent as they come; getting upset isn’t something they are used to. Northwestern showed us in this game that their defense is legit. The offense needs a lot of work, but I could see the Wildcats using this game to propel them to one of their best seasons in a while.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers gave Trevone Boykin and TCU a run for their money on Thursday. They’re team’s skillset is currently in the same boat as Northwestern. Like the Wildcats, Minnesota has a rock solid defense and an offense that leaves a lot to be desired. I’m always a fan of this setup because a good defense is much more consistent than a good offense. If Rodney Smith can keep running like he did against TCU (88 yards, 1 TD) Minnesota can be a very solid squad this year.
Nebraska: Yes, they just lost to BYU. But let’s not forget that this is essentially the same BYU team that started last season 4-0 until Taysom Hill got injured for the season. The game was also won on a hail mary, had BYU not completed that pass Nebraska would have won. The Cornhuskers still have the Tommy Armstrong to Jordan Westerkamp connection on offense, so I like their chances to bounce back from this loss.
Penn State: The Temple Owls ended a very long streak on Saturday. It was the first time since 1941 that the Owls beat Penn State. Does this game indicate a sign of good things to come for Temple, or a very rough year is in store for Penn State? I’m going to choose the latter. Penn State’s offensive line looked like it was assembled by the best Pop Warner players Pennsylvania has to offer. It was embarrassing how many times Christian Hackenberg dropped back and was greeted almost immediately by pressure from Temple’s defense. All hope for PSU should not be lost after just one bad loss, however. Hackenberg is still a very talented QB (when he actually has a pocket), and he has two very talented WR’s in Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton.
Michigan: Jim Harbaugh’s squad put up a good fight against a much underrated Utah team on the road. It might have been a surprise to some that Jake Rudock won the starting job over Shane Morris, but I think it was the right decision. Rudock had a very rocky game, throwing 2 TD’s and 3 INT’s. But he showed on a couple of throws why he was named Michigan’s starting QB. Amara Darboh and Jake Butt will be his two go-to targets all season, and it showed against Utah where the duo combined for 16 catches, 194 yards, and 2 TD’s. Harbaugh has the Wolverines on the rise after a very rough year in 2014, but look for 2016 to be the year that UM starts really contending.
Maryland: The highlight of Maryland’s big win over Richmond was return-man Will Likely, who had 8 punt returns for 233 yards. That’s a 29.1 yard average on 8 punt returns. He also brought one back for a TD. Like the return game, Maryland’s running game was also unstoppable, with three RB’s (Brandon Ross, Ty Johnson, Wes Brown) all combining for 41 carries, 307 yards, and 3 TD’s. Watch out for Maryland if they can keep this running game rolling and Will Likely keeps doing his best Deion Sanders impression.
Whichever college team you favor, be sure to support them on game day with the right apparel. Wear a custom college football jersey each game.