SQ Big Ten Championship Preview

The Big Ten Championship is finally here! But, who had it being against No. 3 Iowa vs. No. 5 Michigan State? Well, the 46th meeting between these two teams will practically be a quarterfinal playoff game, with the winner being in prime position for a spot in either the Cotton or Orange Bowl semifinal.

Unlike last year, the reigning Big Ten Champions Ohio State are out, as their loss to Michigan State on Nov. 21 was the tiebreaker, giving the Buckeyes the unwanted bye during championship week.

Iowa’s path was decidedly less nerve racking, as they cruised to an undefeated conference regular season (8-0) for the second time under Kirk Ferentz — and the first time since the Orange Bowl campaign of 2002.

Storylines (and some fun facts)

This is as close as you will get to a playoff game without it actually being a playoff game. Michigan State has been playing with a playoff mentality after their heartbreaking loss at Nebraska in early November. Last-second heroics by Michael Geiger — a 41-yard field goal against a swirling wind — lifted the Spartans against the then-No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio, and ultimately put the Spartans in the driver seat of the Big Ten East.

For MSU, this is their second appearance in three years in the Big Ten Championship; for Iowa, this is their first appearance in Indianapolis with the conference title on the line. 

Sparty has been attracting a lot of attention this season. ESPN’s College Gameday will visit an MSU game for the fourth time in 13 games this year. That’s tied for the most in one season with Alabama (2008), Ohio State (2006), and Oklahoma (2000). Both the 2006 Buckeyes and 2000 Sooners reached the National Championship game. 

The last time Gameday visited a top five Big Ten showdown: 2006, when No. 1 Ohio State played No. 2 Michigan in the “Game of the Century”

The Hawkeyes, however, are 12-0 for the first time in school history. Also keeping up with the theme of being undefeated, quarterback C.J. Beathard is 13-0 as a starter, and is 9-0 in Big Ten play. 

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

For Ferentz, he’s got the Hawkeyes on the brink of their first outright Big Ten crown since 1985. 

Iowa holds a slim all-time series lead (23-20-2) against Michigan State. However, the series is tied at 2-2 over the last four meetings. 

Key Stats

  • The Iowa Hawkeyes have the NCAA leader in interceptions, Desmond King, anchoring the defense. King has snagged eight passes this season, so look for Spartans quarterback Connor Cook to avoid passing in the same vicinity as King. Also, King is the primary kick returner for the Hawkeyes, coming in as the No. 2 returner in the Big Ten (25.6 yards).

  • Michigan State brings the key statistic of being the No. 1 team in the Big Ten on third down conversions. At .506, the Spartans also rank in the top-10 nationally when the down marker hits ‘3’. 

  • If you were looking for some breakout rushing attacks in this game, you have come to the wrong place. Both teams rank in the top-20 nationally on rush defense. Sparty gives up 118.2 (16th nationally) yards per game, while the Hawkeyes surrender 110.0 (sixth nationally)

Key Players

For Michigan State:

Offense: LJ Scott (RB) – While running will be tough, it’s the short yardage situations that will matter. The Spartans have the quartet of Gerald Holmes, Trevon Pendleton, Madre London, and Scott to help move the chains. Scott was the difference maker on MSU’s final drive against Ohio State. Expect him to be the fresh legs Sparty needs late.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Defense:  Shilique Calhoun (DE) – Putting pressure on Beathard will be instrumental in stopping the Hawkeyes’ conference champion aspirations. Calhoun has 8.5 sacks on the season, but forcing Beathard out of the pocket and hurrying his decisions may prove to be more valuable.

For Iowa:

Offense: C.J. Beathard (QB) – He is the obvious choice for Iowa as their key player in this game. If the Spartan defense brings the same intensity as they did against Ohio State’s rush attack, then LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri could have problems moving the ball on the ground for the Ferentz-coached squad. Passing is what Iowa needs to do if they want to win. A lights-out performance by Beathard is the remedy to defeating the Spartans (and booking a trip to either Arlington, Texas or Miami, Fla. for at least one more game).

Defense: Desmond King (DB/Return) – Surprise, surprise! Starting drives will be a big factor in helping Beathard and the offense. King will need to field good returns on special teams, as well as prevent the Spartan passing attack from taking flight. Cook will try and hit Aaron Burbridge or Macgarret Kings Jr.; it will be King’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen. If King can collect an interception (or have a few pass breakups) to end Spartan drives, the Hawkeyes should have no problem controlling the tempo of the game.


Mark Dantonio and his Spartans have played in dramatic games since he arrived in East Lansing. Expect more dramatics on Saturday.

This game has the makings to be a last-one-with-the-ball-wins kind of contest. Sparty’s depth at the running game will be a huge advantage the longer this game drags out. Iowa will give the Spartans everything they have, and will probably open up with a lead behind the quarterbacking of Beathard.

Michigan State has been known to lose the one or two games that take the team out of the national championship hunt. This year, that won’t happen. 

Final Score: Michigan State 34 —  Iowa 26

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

It’ll be Michigan State representing the Big Ten in the playoffs

The Resurgence Of 'The Game'

There was once a time when the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry was the de facto Big Ten Championship Game. The ‘Ten Year War’ (1969-1978) between the Buckeyes’ Woody Hayes and Wolverines’ Bo Schembechler engraved itself into the college football books as arguably the fiercest rivalry in all of sports. Big Ten Championships, as well as national championship ambitions, were put on the line.

Since then, runs between Ohio State and Michigan have made the rivalry one-sided. From 1985-2000, the Wolverines waxed the Buckeyes winning 12 times. In that span, the scarlet and gray faithful watched Desmond Howard pull the Heisman pose, Charles Woodson sprint down the sideline and Tim Biakabutuka blaze 313 yards past a vaunted OSU defense in 1995. 

From 2001-2014, the tides turned. Ohio State has won 12 of 14, including the ‘Game of the Century’ in 2006, when Ohio State entered ‘The Game’ No. 1 and Michigan entered No. 2. The victory cemented quarterback Troy Smith’s Heisman Trophy destiny. 

With the Jim Harbaugh-Urban Meyer rivalry beginning, expect it to be like the way it was when Bo and Woody roamed the sidelines. 

November 28 will mark the first time since 2006 that both teams face off as Top 10 combatants. No. 8 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan are still in the hunt for the Big Ten Championship and a playoff spot, and this game could have major conference implications.

It’s the way the football Gods intended. Finally, the rivalry is back.

Since 1985, only on four occasions (1986, 1997, 2003 and 2006) have the Buckeyes and Wolverines faced in Top 10 matchups – during the Ten Year War, they had seven.

This Saturday’s match would make it the fifth time since the ’85 season in which both squads cracked the Top 10. Expect the trend to continue.

Meyer had one of the best 50-game starts at any school, going 47-3. In the process, Ohio State went three years undefeated in conference play, including a national championship in 2014.

Harbaugh has surpassed many pundit’s expectations of what the Wolverines were going to be this year. If not for a last second botch punt, Michigan is a one-loss team right now, and conceivably would’ve been in the driver seat of the Big Ten East.

In a weird way, this year’s game does have Big Ten Championship aspirations tied to it. If Penn State pulls off the upset at Michigan State, then the winner of OSU-Mich will be going to Indianapolis next week to face Iowa for the conference crown. 

College (as well as coaching) careers are made from this game. For Buckeye running back Ezekiel Elliott, this will be his last game against ‘The Team Up North’. Elliott has a chance this week to solidify himself as one of the all-time great running backs in Buckeye history. A big game against Michigan would do that.

John Cooper’s inability to beat the arch rival ultimately cost him his job. Yes, Cooper is in the College Football Hall of Fame, but he will be remembered by this set of numbers: 2-10-1, his record against Michigan.

On the other end of the spectrum, Jim Tressel has entered ‘hero’ level status in Buckeye fans’ hearts. Under Tressel, the maize and blue suffered seven straight defeats against the men of Columbus. In a way, the sweater vest was kryptonite to the Wolverines.

Now, could khakis be what haunts the Buckeyes? Time will only tell. 

Meyer said that this rivalry is “the greatest in all of sport. Not college football, all of sport.” On Saturday, we will finally witness a Harbaugh-Meyer showdown in ‘The Game’. 

Finally, the rivalry is back.

The Case For Mark Richt To Stay At Georgia

It really is simple: Mark Richt should not be fired at Georgia. 

For every article that brings up the 17 years it took Vince Dooley to win a title, there’s an article that talks about the internal friction within the Bulldogs’ coaching staff and why that’s the last nail in the coffin for Richt’s days in Athens, Ga.

Just so everyone knows, Jeremy Pruitt is our defensive coordinator and is in the office working diligently getting ready for Kentucky!

— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) November 5, 2015

While Richt has seen success, it’s not the success Georgia wants to see; they want a national championship—the one that Dooley was able to deliver them. However, winning a title is a lot easier said than done.

Even before Richt, Jim Donnan was fired for not being able to bring a title to Athens. Donnan only had five seasons to work his magic for building a championship powerhouse, compared to the 14 full years Richt has had.

But what if Georgia did let Richt go?

Well, would Georgia be okay with risking 14 years of at least going to a bowl game? Whether it was a Sugar Bowl or a Belk Bowl, it’s at least a bowl game. There is the chance that you pick the wrong coach, and complaints about not being a national title contender turn into complaints about not even playing an extra game in December. 

Richt is an extremely capable coach. If he leaves, he would be the target for programs like Miami (FL), South Carolina, Southern California and possibly even Virginia Tech.

The amount of star power that Richt has brought to Athens is astounding. From Matthew Stafford to Todd Gurley, NFL success has gone through the Georgia program. Winning is part of that success.

According to SBNation, Georgia entered the season as one of the top 15 winningest programs over the past decade. While the Bulldogs haven’t run the table, they have been consistent enough to make it to a late December or Jan. 1 bowl game.  

More importantly for Georgia: Who can they get that’s better than Richt? 

Unless you can lure Nick Saban out of Alabama, persuade Urban Meyer to flee in the middle of the night from Columbus, Ohio and live out his coaching days in Athens, or throw enough money at a high-profile NFL coach like Chip Kelly to get him to coach the Bulldogs, I’m not entirely sure who would be better than Richt.

And it’s not like Georgia is struggling. They play in arguably the toughest conference in college football. They have to play the revolving door of Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, and rival Georgia Tech. No matter which way you cut that schedule, it’s not easy.

What stings so much for Georgia fans is the frustration of watching everybody around them win. Before Richt got to Athens, Tennessee and Florida won national championships; once Richt got to Georgia, Bulldog nation saw LSU, Florida, Alabama and Auburn trade national championships. Georgia came within four yards of getting to a national championship appearance in 2012—which is probably the most painful of all the moments.

They were that close.

Not even four years removed from that moment, the pitchforks to get Richt out at Georgia have become increasingly sharper. They shouldn’t be, though. 

The year before Dooley won the title in 1980 with Georgia, they didn’t even go to a bowl game. In fact, his squad was barely .500, going 6-5. 

However, the arrival of Herschel Walker put the Bulldogs into the championship conversation. The 1980 title season involved Walker saving Georgia in Week 1 against Tennessee, a game with ended with a 16-15 victory. Without Walker’s second half performance, the Bulldogs would’ve started the season 0-1. 

After the Tennessee win, Georgia survived upset bids from Clemson, South Carolina and Florida en route to their showdown with Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl – the national championship game. 

Walker scored two touchdowns and was named MVP of the Sugar Bowl

But give credit where credit is due: Dooley won a title. 

Georgia wants to relive that moment of winning the title. Richt has brought them to the doorstep, but they haven’t been able to find a way to the other side. It’s unfortunate, really. Dan Marino is the greatest NFL player to not win a Super Bowl. Mark Richt, at the moment, is the best coach to not win a national championship as a head coach. Even though he won two titles with Florida State as an assistant, it just isn’t the same. 

We’ve only talked about the coaching of Richt—not the character. He’s the type of guy you want running a program. He doesn’t believe in oversigning, but believes in a four-year scholarship. The reason why this is so important is because oversigning involves ending the free ride of school for a student athlete. Here is an example of oversigning: If I’m allotted 20 scholarships, I may sign 23. To make way for those extra three, I may cut players who are either third or fourth at a position on the depth chart, or remove people who can’t compete (i.e. athletes who haven’t recovered from injury). The SEC is a place where oversigning has been criticized and coaches still go along with it, yet Richt doesn’t. If I’m a parent of a recruit in the heartland of the SEC, I would encourage my child to go to Georgia if that option was presented. 

If Georgia fails to see that, then Richt could become another causality of the 2015 coaching machine. That, I think, would be a bigger loss to Georgia than falling four yards short of a title game.

Jerry Kill: A Coaching Rarity

Earlier this week, Jerry Kill announced he was stepping down as the Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach due to health concerns. His exit isn’t like Steve Spurrier’s at South Carolina, or Steve Sarkisian’s at Southern California, and no where close to Al Golden and Randy Edsall being sent their walking papers – all of those guys suffered from self-inflicted problems within their programs, whether it be not winning enough or personal struggles with the rigors of coaching.

Kill had to make this decision: live out your dream and deal with life-altering health problems, or get healthy and give up your dream. We’ve seen press conferences and statements from coaches that show little to no emotion, and then we get a farewell presser like the one Kill issued.

“Last night, when I walked off the practice field … I feel like a part of me died.” – Jerry Kill https://t.co/IkhBcc3K8X

— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 28, 2015

Right there, is pure, raw emotion in it’s physical form. You get teary-eyed watching his presser because you can feel in his voice the sadness of giving up the only thing he knew: coaching football.

When you dig into the coaching career of Kill, you find out why he was beloved in the college football world: he worked hard to move up the ladder.

There was no stop as a coordinator at a powerhouse program like Ohio State. The ascension to FBS head coach was a process that took over 20 years to complete – and that was just to get to Northern Illinois.

Stops at Pittsburg State paved the way for Kill to go to Saginaw Valley State, which then led to a return to Kansas at Emporia State. Notice how none of these schools are remotely close to being an FBS school; and Kill spent 15 years fighting upriver in the coaching world.

Let’s look at some other coaches and their climb up the ranks:

Nick Saban started out at Kent State, an FBS school, in 1972 as a graduate assistant. Within 18 years, he made stops at Syracuse, Ohio State, the Houston Oilers in the NFL and Toledo as a head coach.

Randy Edsall spent the first 10 years of his coaching career at Syracuse. Edsall had the advantage of formally being the quarterback at ‘Cuse, and was taken under the wing of Tom Coughlin, who was one of the coaches of the Orange. 

Those are just two examples, but they highlight the important example of life: it’s not what you know, but who you know.

Jerry Kill is college football. A heartbreaking day all around.

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 28, 2015

However, Kill took that concept and threw it out the window. From one dusty road in the middle of the country to the next, Kill kept on trucking along, and finally hit paydirt with an FBS coaching gig in 2008 with Northern Illinois – but this was after a stop at Southern Illinois for seven seasons.

If you’re doing the math, that’s about 14 years of head coaching at small colleges before the FBS came calling. Not regular coaching, but head coaching. Tack on the other, roughly, nine years worth of high school and coordinating coach positions, and you finally have the picture of what it took to make it to the top division of football coaching.

Now, let’s look a little closer at the numbers. 

While at Southern Illinois, this was the production Kill had:

Year Record Result in I-AA/Division Playoffs
1 1-10
2 4-8
3 10-2 First Round Loss
4 10-2 First Round Loss
5 9-4 Second Round Loss
6 9-4 Second Round Loss
7 12-2 Semifinal Loss

Steady improvement, that’s what Kill had going for him. Every year, his teams got better – or stayed consistent. The dream scenario for any program is the formula Kill had created over the course of 20 years. A formula of getting better year-in and year-out. It may seem obvious, but that formula is hard to obtain – you have a better chance of finding out the secret formula to the Krabby Patty, or trying to understand what the secret ingredients are for KFC chicken. 

Talk is cheap, what Jerry Kill gave you were solid results that you would be proud of.

Fast forward to Minnesota , the Gophers were on a trajectory that could’ve rivaled what they had in the 1960’s. I’m not kidding, given four more years following the Kill formula the Gophers would’ve been in a situation to be vying for a Big Ten title and possibly a Rose Bowl.

But, like anything, the universe will step in and taketh away. All the sleepless nights spent looking over film, recruiting, driving around, and strategizing are taken away in the snap of a finger. 

And it sucks. The guy who fought to get to where he is has to step down due to something out of his control. Even after cutting out the sugary drinks and doing everything he could to get better, the universe basically said, “yea… we are still collecting dreams, Jerry. Time to pay up.” 

We won’t see another Jerry Kill caliber coach for a long time. He truly is a one-of-a-kind coaching gem that was pulled up from the rural dirt in Kansas. 

Combine Kill’s sudden departure with the even more sudden death of Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, and the state of Minnesota has plenty of reason to grieve. 

Like any sudden event, ordinary people rise up and become extraordinary. Whether it’s a team effort – like Ohio State clicking on all cylinders in both football and wrestling after the death of Kosta Karageorge – or an individual effort, people rally. Yes, the Gophers head coach isn’t there, but the values and beliefs instilled on the players by Kill will still be there. The imprint left by Kill will be there for as long as the players and coaching staff allow it to be there. Looking at Kill’s track record and the subsequent years after leaving a destination, the imprints left shine; there aren’t smudges. 

The way Jerry Kill rose up the college ranks through hard work is lyrical. There was a chorus, hard work; a verse, consistency; and a melody, anchored by being successful. But like any great song, it ends too soon.

Kill’s final press conference ended his career on a minor chord. However, that won’t take away from the major chords he had throughout his career. If there is anything we learned from Jerry, it’s this: hard work will get you to the top. It may take time, but you’ll get there if you truly want it. 

I talked about how the universe takes away, but it can also give you the objects of your desire. You have to ask for it, though. 

Coach Kill used hard work as the language to the universe, and he received. While just for a short amount of time, he got the dream.

At the end of the day, that’s what we all are chasing. Let’s look to Jerry Kill as the example of how to finish the chase.

Is Ohio State Still Deserving Of Being Ranked the Unanimous No. 1?

The Ohio State Buckeyes enter this week in the top spot in college football. They are still unbeaten; still the reigning national champions.

However, with the likes of Baylor, TCU, Utah and Clemson closing in on the Buckeyes, there are clearly threats to Ohio State’s supremacy. Are the Buckeyes still the unanimous choice for No. 1? If you look at the AP Poll Top 25, you see the top five teams taking some of the Buckeyes thunder.

Team Record Rank Number of First Place Votes
Ohio State 6-0 1 27
Baylor 5-0 2 13
TCU 6-0 3 3
Utah 5-0 4 16
Clemson 5-0 5 1

Warranted or unwarranted, the Buckeyes are a far cry from the unanimous No. 1 team they were in the preseason poll. But when you think about it, what preseason No. 1 has maintained a perfect perception throughout the regular season?

No matter what happens through the course of the season, the No.1 will lose some votes. Unless you’re the 2002 Miami Hurricanes or the 2005 USC Trojans, it’s never been an easy ride being the No. 1 team with a national championship to protect. The expectations are daunting, while being warped by the unobtainable concept of perfection stuck in the voters (and fans) minds.

Look at Ohio State from a couple weeks ago: they survive at Indiana, and people got their jimmies rustled because the Buckeyes didn’t win by enough. Some people on Twitter even went after Cardale Jones, the OSU quarterback, for almost losing the game.

It doesn’t matter if the Buckeyes covered the spread, the over/under, or any personal margin of victory you had established in your head, the fact is simple: OSU won. 

As Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in the past, “the best thing about being 6-0 is the chance of being 7-0.”

At this moment in time, should the Buckeyes be No. 1? Yes. 

Does winning the national championship last year play a factor as to why they are still No. 1? Absolutely, the last team to stop the Buckeyes’ winning ways was Virginia Tech … last September. After that loss, Ohio State rolled past the rest of the competition last year to a championship. While that title happened last year, I will give you the benefit of the doubt this year in being No. 1 because you are the defending champions.

Yes, Clemson, Baylor, TCU and Utah make cases for being No. 1. However, would those teams still be No. 1 if they had the pressure of Ohio State? Not likely.

Here’s a theme with the opponents Ohio State has faced: they are coming at Ohio State with everything they have. The mentality for the opposition isn’t, “let’s beat Ohio State,” but rather, “let’s beat the defending champions, Ohio State.”

Let’s use Ohio State’s last opponent, Maryland, as an example.

Terrapin quarterback Perry Hills went off for 206 yards on the ground, and launched a 52-yard touchdown. For those keeping track at home: this is the same Maryland team that lost to Bowling Green, and got blanked by Michigan earlier in the year. 

The Buckeyes didn’t struggle offensively against the Terps. They racked up 499 yards of total offense – which included 291 passing yards by Jones, and over 100 yards on the ground by Ezekiel Elliott. 

Right now, at this juncture in the season, you can make a case for any of the top five teams being No. 1. Conversely, you could make the case that nobody deserves to be No. 1. 

TCU and Baylor keep winning in style, but give up a boatload of points in the process. 

Utah has a case for being No. 1, but does the fact that they are “Utah” hurt them? To a degree, yes. For Utah to be No. 1, they will need to run the table in the Pac-12. Look back to when Meyer coached the Utes to an undefeated, Fiesta Bowl winning season, to cap off the 2004 campaign. Utah didn’t end No. 1, but ended No. 4. Granted, they were in the Mountain West.

Clemson keeps on winning, but aren’t blowing out the competition. Additionally, one has to believe that they might have lost some ranking ground by letting Notre Dame come back a couple weeks ago, and making the game closer than it should’ve been.

While the Buckeyes aren’t blowing out teams on the schedule, they are still No.1. 

Should they be the unanimous No. 1 team? Nope.

But after looking at the rest of the top five, would anybody be unanimous No. 1?

Which Undefeated Team Has The Best Résumé?

Currently, the AP Top 25 poll has nine unbeaten teams in the top 10. That’s pretty impressive. However, as the meat of conference play begins, teams will start to show what they are made of.

There is constant debate about who should be the No.1 team. The Ohio State Buckeyes have been steadily losing first place votes since their victory at Virginia Tech in early September, but one thing is still certain: nobody has been able to topple the Buckeyes.

Yes, the scarlet and gray weathered the storm against Northern Illinois and Indiana —both being one touchdown victories — and looked less than stellar against Hawai‘i, but they are still the best team in college football.

If you look at the Buckeyes’ résumé, you see spectacular things. Here, let’s take a quick glance:

The Star Power 

I don’t know of any recent team that had to endure the hype train that Ohio State went through over the offseason. The whole Cardale Jones/J.T. Barrett QB carousel went round-and-round up until the first snap against Virginia Tech. 

Even after the 42-24 win in Blacksburg, Virg., there have been increasing rumblings from the fanbase for  to start. 

Remember, Cardale hasn’t lost a game at Ohio State. Regression to the mean will happen, but his numbers aren’t horrific by any standards. Especially when the receiving corps has been decimated by injuries, there is only so much he can do. Combine that with a new offensive coordinator in Ed Warinner, and a new QB coach in Tim Beck, and you have just created a formula for growing pains. 

Luckily for Jones, Ezekiel Elliott has been terrific on the ground. Elliott is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, and has 10 straight games with over 100 yards on the ground. And oh yeah, he had a career day against Indiana last week — gouging the Hoosiers for 274 yards on the ground.

While used sparingly in the rushing and receiving side of things, Braxton Miller is still on this, too. He made his grand return against Virginia Tech in style – scoring a touchdown via ankle-breaking spin move, and by incredible reception.

The offense alone is the most fun to watch out of anybody who’s undefeated. While you may not like the way they pull out the wins, they still do. It also helps that Ohio State has been in either the 3:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. time slot for their first five games this season, something that is rarely seen. Everybody has at least been in the zone for an Ohio State game to be on their TV. If they weren’t good, they wouldn’t be commanding the time slots.

The Upcoming Schedule

Wins against the current AP Top 15 are few and far between right now. Clemson beat Notre Dame, and pushed them out of the Top 10, while Alabama’s demolition of Georgia pushed the Bulldogs toward the end of the Top 20. 

Ohio State will have to play Michigan State, who will more than likely be a Top 3 team when that matchup happens on Nov.21. The week after, the Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. to play the Wolverines of Michigan. Right there, you have OSU’s potential ranked matchups for the season. While they aren’t plentiful, they are quality games nonetheless — and that’s not counting on the possible opponent in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

The Buckeyes are close to taking off, and becoming a dangerous team. A big game offensively against Maryland, OSU’s homecoming opponent, will quell any doubt that the team is deserving of the No.1 ranking. Follow a great performance against Maryland with the first home night game of the season against Penn State, and you just created a formula for Ohio State to prove to the country why they are still the favorite. 

We haven’t even hit the midway point of the season, and some people are docking Ohio State for not putting up style points. 

.@finebaum showing some love to the Big 12 with his new top 4. #CFBLIVE pic.twitter.com/3EsknpRlxP

— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 5, 2015

Last season, the Buckeyes showed improvements after the Virginia Tech loss, and basically ran roughshod over the Big Ten, and cruised to a Big Ten Championship — and ultimately got into the playoff.

This year, the Buckeyes have shown improvements since Northern Illinois, and are gradually getting better with each game. If they continue this, then they are a sure lock for the playoffs, and have the strongest résumé out of anybody.

But What About the Rest of the Résumés?

Even right now, the Buckeyes are the best team. TCU beat a mangled Texas Longhorn team, but allowed Texas Tech to hang 50+ against them. Sorry, I can’t give you a nod against OSU, when your highlight is beating up on a struggling team, and allowing your defense to be reduced to swiss cheese.

LSU and Clemson make strong cases against the Buckeyes for best team so far. However, I’m not totally sold on either team. LSU has looked shaky at times, and Clemson let Notre Dame back into the game last week. Besides Leonard Fournette, LSU doesn’t have the same explosiveness as the whole OSU package.

Could LSU and Clemson get to the playoffs? Absolutely, but if I’m comparing the Buckeyes to either Tigers, the Buckeyes have the better résumé. 

Granted, the halfway point of the season is on Saturday, and anything can happen. But right now, it’s a Buckeye world we are living in, until proven otherwise. 

It's A B1G World After All

Oh what a circus, oh what a show.  

Ohio State got their revenge against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. 366 days in the making, Cardale Jones’ and J.T. Barrett’s talents were on full display, and Braxton Miller returned after much anticipation.

Why not start your morning off watching Braxton Miller spin his way to a 53 yard TD at Virginia Tech 😳 pic.twitter.com/LvrBKiceYf

— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) September 14, 2015

The week after Ohio State rolled into VT’s Lane Stadium and walked away with a 42-24 victory, it was Michigan State’s turn to seek revenge against Oregon. East Lansing, long in the shadow of Ann Arbor and Columbus, was the site of a colossal victory against the Ducks. 

For once, everything seems to be going the Big Ten’s way. The Buckeyes are the top team in the country, while the Spartans are a playoff contender.

From the look of their two games against Virginia Tech and Hawaii, Ohio State had all the momentum in the world to find a way back into the playoffs. However, after a too-close-for-comfort win against the Northern Illinois Huskies, the offense showed that it might be the weakest link on the reigning national champions. 

Jones went 4-for-9, racked up two interceptions, and completed a grand total of 36 yards. Barrett was slightly better, throwing a touchdown in an 11-for-19 afternoon – he also threw an interception. A win is a win, I will give the Buckeyes that. However, the expectations, warranted or unwarranted, have been set extremely high. If Ohio State keeps playing the way they do, they could reach Florida State territory: run the table during the regular season, and drop in the playoff ranking.

Michigan State controlled Air Force in a 35-21 win. Quarterback Connor Cook went off for a four touchdown affair, and threw for 247 yards. Cook’s passing totals were more than both Buckeye quarterbacks, combined. 

And then came the AP Poll. 

Ohio State stayed at the top at number 1. Michigan State? Number 2. With both these teams on a collision course, the stories write themselves. 

Will Ohio State make it to their Nov.21 meeting undefeated? What if they both end up undefeated heading into the game? Does the loser get eliminated from the playoffs?

If you’re a Big Ten fan, this talk is amazing! For the first time since 2006, the Big Ten has the potential for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game in November. In the BCS Era, the football gods (a.k.a the computers) would frown upon the loser of the potential No. 1 Ohio State-No. 2 Michigan State matchup, eliminating the loser from the title game. If this game would’ve happened in early October, it might be a different story. 

However, we live in the land of a playoff – with a real life playoff committee. We saw last year that 1) they value growth as the season goes on 2) a conference champion and 3) they want the best four teams to play. 

Point number 2 has the ability to change on a case-by-case basis, though. Would a two-loss conference champion supersede a one-loss non-champion? The Pac-12 has Stanford, USC and Oregon sitting on losses. After this week, UCLA or Arizona will have one, too. We aren’t even into October yet. 

Could a two-loss USC team that won the PAC-12 beat out a one-loss Michigan State team for a playoff birth?

If the committee are looking to answer this question, they just need to revisit recent history:

Alabama got their rematch with LSU in the 2012 National Championship Game, but people had their jimmies rustled because 1) Alabama didn’t even win their division, let alone their conference and 2) Oklahoma State got robbed of a shot at a national championship.

It’s the rematch that shouldn’t have happened, but it has set precedent. 

Then go back to 2006, when No. 1 Ohio State held off No. 2 Michigan in The Shoe for a thrilling 42-39 victory in the final week of the regular season. When the new polls came out right after the game, some still had Michigan at No. 2. After the SEC title game, though, Florida jumped Michigan and faced Ohio State in the championship game, where they chomped Brutus and the Buckeyes, 41-14. The Wolverines went to the Rose Bowl, and the program hasn’t been the same since.

Staying on the historical theme: two years ago, Michigan State beat Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship. That loss shut the Buckeyes out of a National Championship game at the Rose Bowl, and, ironically, sent the Spartans to the Rose Bowl game against Stanford. 

Last year, Ohio State put the nail into the ‘Michigan State Playoff Coffin’ with a win in East Lansing. Sparty also collected a permanent spot as the No. 2 within the Big Ten East. When all was said and done, the Buckeyes hoisted the national championship in Dallas, while the Spartans celebrated a Cotton Bowl win in the same stadium.

These teams have woven themselves into each other’s postseason lives. Now, to complete the circle, a playoff rematch will be exactly what a Big Ten fanatic’s dreams are made of – and a nightmare to all the other Power 5 conferences that might get shutout. 

Postseason rematches almost never happen. The Alabama-LSU case might be the only time in the modern era where a rematch happened for a national championship, but it has set a precedent. Would the committee allow it to happen again? If the Buckeyes and Spartans both find themselves in the playoffs, you can bet that the field goes from four to eight within a matter of years.

And that might not be a bad thing. 

SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #1 Ohio State

The college football staff at SQ has created the rankings of the top-25 teams heading into the 2015 season. We have finally reached the No. 1 team in the rankings: the defending National Champions, Ohio State. 

Team: Ohio State Buckeyes

Location: Columbus, Ohio

SQ Ranking: 1st

2014 Record: 14-1

Last Season’s Final AP Ranking: 1st

Head Coach: Urban Meyer (fourth year)

Key Arrivals: ATH Torrance Gibson, RB Mike Weber, LB Justin Hilliard, OL Isaiah Prince

Key Departures: DE Michael Bennett, WR Evan Spencer, CB Doran Grant, LB Curtis Grant, WR Devin Smith

Previewing the Buckeye Offense: Ohio State’s offense is frightening. No, literally, this offense is something you want no part of.

At quarterback, the Buckeyes can either go with sophomore J.T. Barrett, who led the Buckeyes through the gauntlet of a regular season until he got injured against Michigan; or junior Cardale Jones, whose three games as starting quarterback ended with confetti falling from rafters and a trophy being raised. 

Coach Urban Meyer has a great problem on his hands: who should start? So far, it sounds like both will play throughout the season, and the chance of a dual-quarterback system (like the one Meyer had at Florida with Tim Tebow and Chris Leak) almost seems like a lock to happen. And remember, graduate senior Braxton Miller is still on the team, but at halfback.

Speaking of Miller, the Buckeyes’ running game features the former two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, as well as Heisman hopeful Ezekiel Elliott. 

In last year’s playoff, Elliott went off for 231 yards against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl Semifinal, and then he gashed the Oregon Ducks for 246 yards and four touchdowns en route to collecting the Offensive MVP honors in the National Championship game. 

Elliott was a huge reason for Ohio State’s postseason success.

Between Miller and Elliott, the Buckeye offensive has a variety of schemes to choose from. A wildcat formation could be utilized by Meyer, as well as an option-based offense. Anything could be pulled by the Buckeyes — and that’s bad news for anybody going against them.

The weakest spot on offense for Ohio State is the receiving core. Devin Smith and Evan Spencer have entered the NFL, leaving Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas as the experienced receiving core. Sophomore Noah Brown was in position to have a breakout season for the Buckeyes, but a season-ending injury during practice last week sent a crushing blow to an already depleted receiving core. Senior tight-end Nick Vannett will have an increased role in the receiving game this season, as his mentor Jeff Heuerman was also drafted. Especially in the Virginia Tech game, a match in which Marshall has been suspended, the receivers will need to find a way to get open quickly.

With explosive quarterbacks and rushing game, the Buckeyes also have a stout front line led by seniors Jacoby Boren and Taylor Decker. If the front line is anything like last year, then the offense will flourish. Expect Ohio State’s offensive to be one of the best (if not the best) offense in the country.

Previewing the Buckeye Defense: With seven returning starters on defense (just like on offense), the Buckeyes are a tour de force again.

Junior All-American Joey Bosa headlines the “Silver Bullets.” Last season, Bosa was responsible for a team leading 13.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Throw in the team leader in tackles, senior Joshua Perry, and you have a defense that is absolutely loaded for another year of sandblasting conference foes in the regular season. 

Safety Tyvis Powell, the defensive player of the game in the national championship, returns for his junior season to shut down more opposing offenses. With fellow junior Vonn Bell at safety, the Buckeyes have a pass defense worthy of being one of the nation’s best.

The defensive line will have to fill the void left by Michael Bennett, which is no easy task. Bosa’s superstardom last year came off the fact that offenses were doubling up on Bennett, leaving Bosa open to make big plays. Sophomore Tyquan Lewis can develop into another player like Bennett, but only time will tell. However, the underclassman on this team have shined.

“Careers are made and Legends are born.” #SilverBullets pic.twitter.com/JpwShpxlLf

— The Silver Bullets (@S1LVERBULLETS) September 1, 2015

Raekwon McMillan and Darron Lee both enter their sophomore season for the Buckeyes as linebackers. Both had standout freshman seasons that gave a small preview of what was to come. Expect McMillan, Lee and Lewis to be the ‘super sophomores’ on this Buckeye defense. 

Comprehensively, the Buckeye defense is one of the best in the country. If I were an offensive coordinator, these are the kind of teams I would fear playing. Between Bosa, Perry, and Powell, this side of the ball has the leadership needed to be unstoppable.

Three Key Games

1. Ohio State vs. Michigan State (Nov. 21)

I’ve already said this in two other articles here: the Ohio State-Michigan State game will be the de-facto championship game for the Big Ten conference. Whoever wins this game will have the inside track to Indianapolis, the site of the 2015 Big Ten championship game on Dec. 5.

Health will be a huge reason for whoever wins this game. Injuries are a part of the game, and happen to every team, every year. So far, the Buckeyes are down Noah Brown, and the Spartans lost one of their own players to injuries during camp,

The Spartans come off a Cotton Bowl-winning season and would love to be back in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl Semifinal this season. However, Ohio State gets the Spartans in Columbus — a place that no Big Ten squad has been able to win at since Meyer took over the program in 2012.

Expect this game to be a site for College Gameday, but more importantly, circle this game on your calendar; this will be the Game of the Year for the Big Ten conference. 

2. Michigan vs. Ohio State  (Nov. 28)

It is simply The Game. Legends get made between Ohio State-Michigan, and careers get ruined if you string too many losses.

Jim Harbaugh will make it a point for his Wolverines squad to win this game, while Meyer will do the same with his squad. The Harbaugh-Meyer rivalry has the making to be the reincarnation of the Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler Ten Year War from 1969-1978. 

With this game being at Michigan and inside of a hostile Big House, the Wolverines would love nothing more than to be the reason Ohio State is shut out of the playoffs.  

3. Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State (Sept. 7)

With a few players suspended or injured, this game has the makings to be a classic for the defending champions. Don’t expect either team to be completely out this contest in Blacksburg, Va. as the fourth quarter winds down.

Virginia Tech ruined Ohio State’s perfect season in 2014.

Ohio State is looking for redemption against Virginia Tech, as the Hokies rolled into Columbus and downed the Buckeyes. Bud Foster, defensive guru for the Hokies, will do everything he and his “Bear” defense can do to stop the Ohio State attack from taking off. 

Either way, this is the kind of game college football fans want to see in Week 1.  

Final Analysis: Having Bosa and Marshall out for Virginia Tech could put Ohio State in a position to be upset: however, after seeing how Ohio State overcame an early season loss to get into the playoffs, the showdown with Hokies won’t have huge implications when the dust settles on Dec. 6. 

Michigan State stands in the way of Ohio State grabbing the Big Ten crown, and their Nov. 21 matchup in The Shoe will have someone’s division championship dreams go up in smoke. Michigan, like always, has been a spoiler to the Buckeyes in their quest for conference and national titles. The final two weeks of the regular season will be brutal for the scarlet and gray, but if they survive it, expect them to steamroll their opponent in the Big Ten championship.

At a minimum, Ohio State will go 11-1. That’s the worst case scenario. The Buckeyes are a playoff team who are hungry to claim a ninth national championship. 

SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #4 Michigan State

The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Baylor came in at #5, but today’s focus is on #4 Michigan State.

Team: Michigan State Spartans

Location: East Lansing, Michigan

SQ Ranking: 4th

2014 Record: 11-2

Finish in AP Poll: 5th

Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (9th Year)

Key Arrivals: RB LJ Scott, WR Darrell Stewart, DB David Dowell, LB Andrew Dowell

Key Departures: DB Kurtis Drummond, LB Taiwan Jones, WR Tony Lippett, RB Jeremy Langford

Previewing the Spartan Offense: Losing a top wide receiver in Tony Lippett and top rusher in Jeremy Langford is tough, but the Spartans are still loaded on offense. 

Senior quarterback Connor Cook looks to avenge the two losses in last year’s schedule –Oregon and Ohio State – by taking the Spartans into playoff territory. Cook managed to pass for over 3,000 yards last season, while firing 24 touchdowns on eight interceptions. For Cook, there is also the added pressure of being on the NFL Draft radar. Ten years ago, this might’ve not been the case, but with the likes of Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins being products out of East Lansing, eyes will be on Cook to succeed – especially in the big games against the Ducks and Buckeyes. 

Cook will be one of the best quarterbacks in college football this season.

While the quarterback position is extremely solid, the rushing game will need to find a hero. Red-shirt freshman Madre London is projected to lead the Spartans ground game, but that could change if highly touted recruit LJ Scott shines. Throw in sophomore Gerald Holmes, and you have competition. One of these three will become a breakout rusher. Scott has the most upside, and expect him to get some cracks in the early going. If he shines bright with the carries he’s given, don’t be surprised if Scott becomes the starting rusher by the time Big Ten play heats up.

Unlike the rushing game that relies on one standout, the receiving game has multiple weapons. However, nobody returning will match the production of Tony Lippett. Last season, Lippett led the team with 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns. The top returning receiver (in terms of receiving yards) is senior Macgarrett Kings, who brought in 404 yards and one touchdown. If this team was like most programs, I would say that the passing game is a lost hope. However, with someone like Cook at the helm, this receiving core will prove solid enough to put up points. Freshman Darrell Stewart will get some receptions, as coach Dantonio will see if Stewart is the next Lippett. 

The Spartans might have one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten. The front five returns intact, including senior Jack Allen, who picked up third team All-American honors last year. If the frontline gives adequate support, then the rushing game should have no problem being destructive. This helps the inexperience depth at the running back position. On top of that, it gives Cook a wall of protection, which will make him one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

Previewing the Spartan Defense: Like the offense, the Spartan defense returns seven starters. Just like the offense, the Spartans will be without a couple of their best players from last year.

As Drummond and Jones have moved on, the Spartan defense will need to fill the void left by their top two tacklers, respectively.

Senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun will be one of the leaders on defense, and leads a premier defensive line in the process. Senior defensive tackle Joel Heath adds to the experience at the line. If everyone stays healthy, the Spartan defense will continue to be a strong spot, and one of the biggest reasons why the Spartans can be a real playoff contender come late November. 

Moving away from the line, there is still plenty of experience on the field. At free safety, senior RJ Williamson is tasked with shutting down the passing game. Of the returning starters, Williamson is team’s leader in tackles (59), and expect that number to be around the same this year as teams will avoid his side of the field. 

Pat Narduzzi has created a monstrous defensive unit at Michigan State.

Linebacking is still strong for Michigan State. Senior Darien Harris and senior Ed Davis highlight a core that can do damage this year. Behind Williamson, Davis and Harris round out the top three Spartans in returning tackles. 

Overall, it’s a solid defense that might be better than last year’s squad. It’s a close call, as some new members will begin to fill the void left by the stars from last season. Either way, the defense is another strong suit for the Spartans. As noted before: defense wins championships. That will be an important saying, as the Spartans will strong showings from both their offense and defense in their ‘three key games’. 

Three Key Games

1. Ohio State vs. Michigan State (Nov.21)

Whoever walks out of this game with the win might as well be crowned Big Ten Conference champion. For the Spartans, this game has playoff implications written all over it. An interesting scenario to thing about: what if the Spartans are undefeated entering this game, lose by less than a touchdown to the Buckeyes and end the season with just that loss? Are they still in the playoff hunt? I say ‘yes’. Michigan State has the best chance to follow the Alabama track for a championship appearance – by backing into the title game. If the BCS put the Crimson Tide in a title game when they didn’t win the SEC, and shut Michigan out in 2006 for a rematch with Ohio State, you can make a strong case why the Spartans should get another shot at the Buckeyes in the playoffs. That is, only if the Buckeyes are the Spartans only loss. 

On the other side, if the Spartans win in Columbus, they have the inside track for the Big Ten title, and very well will sit in a top two position in the playoff ranking. 

Nick Saban coached a Spartans team that rolled into Columbus and defeated a top ranked Buckeye team.

Michigan State vs. Oregon (Sept. 12)

This is where we find out how good the Spartans are. Oregon has no Mariota, and will travel to East Lansing; it’s a must win for Michigan State. Also, if Cook wanted to jump into the Heisman conversation, having a great game would put him in the early consideration pool. This game has the potential to be close, so expect Dantonio to be typical Dantonio, and take some risks to win. 

If the Spartans win this game, they are well on their way to a collision course with Ohio State on Nov. 21…

3. Michigan vs. Michigan State (Oct. 17)

…but brother Michigan stands in the way. New coach Jim Harbaugh will have his squad ready to take on the Spartans. With this game being in Ann Arbor, all bets are off. Michigan State has pummeled the Wolverines in the past two years, so look for redemption to be on Michigan’s mind.  

Michigan is the only roadblock for the Spartans after Oregon, and before Ohio State. This test will be perfect to gauge what the Spartans are excelling at, and what they are still struggling with.

Final Analysis

The endgame for Michigan State is totally dependent on what happens between Oregon and Ohio State – and what happens to the SEC in late November. If chaos is reining supreme, then Michigan State could sneak into the playoffs. If the season is normal, then the Spartans will need to go a minimum 11-1 in the regular season to even have a playoff shot.

With that being said, the Spartans should go 11-1 this season, at a minimum. Between Oregon, Ohio State and Michigan, the Spartans will at least win two of those. The big question mark is what will come out of the Ohio State game. The picture will become more clear as Nov. 21 approaches, but for now, it’s the game of the year for the Big Ten.

SQ Big Ten Football Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the Big 12, and today we will take a look at the Big Ten.

What Happened in 2014

Conference Champion: Ohio State

Coach of the Year: Jerry Kill, Minnesota

While Kill got the Golden Gophers to an 8-4 regular season, many believed that Ohio State’s Urban Meyer should have been named coach of the year in the Big Ten. Meyer’s Buckeyes beat Kill’s squad in Minneapolis last year, and Meyer guided Ohio State to the College Football Playoff. However, no matter how furious people may be that Urban got snubbed the honors, one thing will still remain in the history books: Jerry Kill was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2014.

Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

Without question, Gordon was the best player on offense for the regular season. He set the NCAA rushing record against Nebraska, and powered Wisconsin to a division title. You could make the case that Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett could have won the award, but the freshman didn’t have the same kind of authority as Gordon.

Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa, Ohio State

When you rack up 13.5 sacks in a season, you have a good case at being the defensive player of the year for your conference. Bosa was a machine for the Buckeye defense, and helped make big plays against Penn State and Minnesota and in the Big Ten Championship. Bosa was a big reason for Ohio State’s national championship run, and was well deserving of the honor being the best defensive player in the Big Ten.

Three Memorable Games: 

1. Penn State 24 vs. Ohio State 31 (2OT), Oct. 25

In a game that saw a controversial interception, a Penn State comeback and a monstrous game-ending sack to preserve title hopes, the Ohio State-Penn State game was easily the game of the year for the Big Ten.

A whiteout crowd in primetime tried to derail the Buckeyes from making the playoffs, but freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett somehow led the Buckeyes to victory. A loss here would have ended Ohio State’s title ambition, and given Penn State much needed momentum for the final half of the season.

2. Ohio State 59 vs. Wisconsin 0, Dec. 6 [2015 Big Ten Championship]

This game put Ohio State in the playoffs. An absolute domination of the Badgers left the playoff committee with one option: to put Ohio State in as the No. 4 team. Melvin Gordon was shut down; Badger quarterback Joel Stave was shut down; and Badger head coach Gary Anderson left for Oregon State not long after the loss. The ripple effect made by the Buckeyes was too big to not be included as one of most memorable games last season for the Big Ten.

3. Wisconsin 59 vs. Nebraska 24, Nov. 15

Another Big Ten blowout, but this one also carries significance. This is the game where Melvin Gordon set the NCAA rushing record. Granted, Gordon only had the record for a short time, but watching him shred the Husker defense was a sight to be seen.

With snow falling at Camp Randall stadium, Gordon found himself in a football wonderland. The win helped the Badgers on their quest for a Big Ten division crowd, and Gordon was the main reason for it.

Looking Ahead to 2015:

Conference Favorite: Ohio State

No surprise here. Ohio State is the favorite for a multitude of reasons. First, Ohio State has J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones at its disposal at quarterback, and former quarterback Braxton Miller in an H-Back or wideout position. 

Nobody knows what Urban Meyer will do, but one thing is for certain: the Buckeyes will be competing for a title in November, and there is little opposing teams can do to stop them.

Conference Dark Horse: Michigan State

The only conceivable team to knock Ohio State off its pedestal are the Spartans. They aren’t really a dark horse, per se, but they pose a threat to win the Big Ten. Mark Dantonio has coached the Spartans to two-straight BCS or New Year Six games, but he’s still looking for a shot at a national championship. 

With Oregon on the non-conference slate, Michigan State is poised to make this year the year of revenge, and to be in the playoff hunt when it faces the Buckeyes. With Connor Cook back at the quarterback position and an experienced defensive line, the Spartans’ could definitely regain the Big Ten title.

Most Improved Team: Michigan

New coach + New AD = New Michigan. Or, well, the old Michigan. If Jim Harbaugh delivers anything remotely close to what he did at Stanford or even the San Francisco 49ers, then Michigan will become the most improved team in the Big Ten. 

There are some position battles — notably at quarterback — that will show the growing pains of going through new coaches and strategies. Wins against Ohio State and Michigan State is one way to signify the return of the Maize and Blue.

Freshman to Watch:

Torrance Gibson, ATH, Ohio State

While Gibson came into Ohio State as a quarterback, there’s a good chance he’ll play at wideout or H-Back. Basically, he could play anywhere. That’s why he’s on my Freshman to Watch list. Don’t be surprised to see Gibson playing midway through the season, and don’t be surprised if he does extremely well.

LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State

Running backs are always impact players. Scott has the potential to see the field some time this season, and could be the wildcard the Spartans need to beat opponents down the stretch. Touted as a four-star recruit out of Ohio, Scott might beat out the projected starter Madre London at some point during the season.

Brian Cole, WR, Michigan

Michigan has been known as a receiver’s school. From Braylon Edwards to Mario Manningham, the Wolverines have had recent success at finding the best people to catch the football. Cole is the next great receiver at Michigan. With Devin Funchess gone, Michigan will need someone to be the go-to receiver. It may not happen in Week 1, but Cole will get his time on the field this season.

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Not only is he my offensive player of the year prediction, but Elliott is my favorite to take the Heisman Trophy. What he was able to do against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon was unfathomable — all while playing with a bad hand. 

Fun fact: Ohio State has had a Heisman-winning running back every 20 years, starting with Howard Cassady in 1955. Do the math, and the 2015 Heisman Trophy should belong to a Buckeye running back. 

If Elliott shines against Virginia Tech, Michigan State, and Michigan, you might as well give him all of the awards he is eligible for, because he will be the key to Ohio State’s ground attack.&n

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

As Joey Bosa sits out of the Virginia Tech game due to a suspension, other Buckeyes will need to show up and play.

Lee will be that Buckeye. While offenses work to contain Bosa, Lee will step up and make the big plays. It happened last season for the Buckeyes: offenses doubled up and took Michael Bennett, but allowed Bosa to bully his way through. This year, Bosa will be the one offenses will try to contain, enabling Lee to have a breakout season worthy of Big Ten defensive honors.

Three Games to Watch:

1. Ohio State vs. Michigan State, Nov.21

This game will be for the Big Ten title. No ifs, ands, or buts. The winner of this game is in the driver seat for a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, if both teams roll into this game undefeated, things can get weird. Michigan State could conceivably lose this game, and still be in striking distance for a playoff spot — sort of like how Alabama backed into the title game in 2011.

All eyes will be on Columbus Nov. 21. Especially since the Spartans have ruined the Buckeyes’ title hopes before in Columbus (and in late November).

A Nick Saban-coached Spartan squad beat No. 1 Ohio State in 1998.

2. Michigan vs. Ohio State, Nov.28

Right after Ohio State faces Michigan State, the Buckeyes will be in another premier game for the Big Ten. And it’s simply this: The Game. New head coach Jim Harbaugh can bring the rivalry back to life, and set off this century’s Woody Hayes—Bo Schembechler battles. The rivalry needs it. Ohio State has rocked Michigan of late, winning 10 of the last 11 meetings. 

Also, Michigan has ruined Ohio State’s title hopes before. In 1969, the Buckeyes were defending champions, and were undefeated heading into Ann Arbor. It was Schembechler’s first year as head coach for the Wolverines, and he managed to beat the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s title hopes died that afternoon in the Big House, and the rivalry was never the same.

3. Michigan vs. Michigan State, Oct. 17

Another marquee rivalry in the Big Ten. While these two compete for a trophy of Paul Bunyan (yes, really), this will jump start the era of Harbaugh vs. Mark Dantonio. Michigan State has won four of the last five meetings, with the last two games being runaway wins for the Spartans.

Michigan has struggled with both Michigan State and Ohio State, and needs to win again. Harbaugh has tall orders, but this game will be a litmus test to see if the Wolverines are improving, or if they are sputtering with their third coach since the departure of Lloyd Carr in 2007.