NCAA Football 2017 Season
Big Ten East Preview
The Big Ten East had a top-heavy 2016 season, as three teams finished inside of the top 10. Ohio State earned a CFB Playoff spot. Penn State fell just short of reaching the top four after defeating Wisconsin in the conference title game. Michigan rounds out the top three in the East. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.
Jim Harbaugh is demanding enough as a coach to push a team to more wins than its talent and/or experience level typically produce. He’s proven this on numerous occasions. But he’ll be kicking himself for not getting more out of a supremely talented 2016 group.
Now, he’ll have to circle the wagons and live with growing pains — especially on offense — throughout 2017 as he’ll have one of the youngest squads Michigan’s had in some time. This team does get Ohio State at home, but a road trip to an improved Penn State squad won’t be easy. Neither will a season-opening game against Florida in Texas.
If Michigan can speed up its development process this offseason, it has the talent to grab double-digit wins. If not, it’s young enough to be staring an 8–4 year in the face.
Penn St. Nittany Lions
Penn State appears to have the potential, particularly on offense, to approach or maybe even surpass last year’s stunning 11–3 finish. RB Saquon Barkley and QB Trace McSorley are the headliners, but the supporting cast, especially the offensive line, has made major strides, and those players are now versed in the intricacies of coordinator Joe Moorhead’s offensive system.
On defense, the losses are more significant, but there. Luckily, the Lions have an abundance of young talent. So while they may not have re-established themselves as perennial powers, they’re trending up.
Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last year’s Buckeyes deserve credit for growing up quickly, finding playmakers on each side of the ball and advancing all the way to the College Football Playoff. However, a bad taste remains from the goose egg Clemson fed the Buckeyes and the fact that Urban Meyer’s men didn’t get to play for the Big Ten championship. Therefore, there is emotional fuel for 2017. What remains to be seen is if the line can hold up, the receiving corps can develop and new defensive heroes can emerge.
Michigan St. Spartans
It’s doubtful that Michigan State will be able to rise up from last year’s disastrous 3–9 season to replicate something similar to the Spartans’ 2015 trek to the College Football Playoff or their top-five finishes of 2013 and ’14. A landing somewhere between those two extremes is more likely, as head coach Mark Dantonio tries to work past off-field problems and rekindle the discipline and toughness that helped him put Michigan State in the national picture.
The beginning of a new bowl streak is likely in 2017, as the rebuilding process takes shape with a number of intriguing young playmakers on the roster. However, Michigan State doesn’t have the proven depth or senior leadership of the championship-level teams Dantonio fielded earlier this decade.
The offense made Indiana competitive in nearly every game the last two seasons. With a new scheme, unproven running backs and several holes on the offensive line, the Hoosiers need quarterback Richard Lagow to stop throwing interceptions while developing a solid running back. But the defense is formidable, faster and confident. Indiana should be able to hold its spot ahead of Maryland and Rutgers in the rugged Big Ten East.
If the Terps could ever match head coach DJ Durkin’s enthusiasm level with experience and talent on the field, Maryland might contend in the Big Ten’s scary East Division. Despite a largely uplifting debut (double the wins from 2015 and a bowl appearance) for Durkin in College Park, the still young and inexperienced Terrapins aren’t quite there yet. They still have depth issues, they’re unproven at key spots, and they’re just not as talented as division rivals like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Durkin won’t let them want for want-to, though, and with more of his players around, Maryland should be worth watching.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Improvement is the goal after a historically bad season — maybe doubling the win total from two to four. Having Washington on the schedule along with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Nebraska is daunting, but getting Purdue and Illinois as crossover conference games helps. The addition of defensive coordinator Jerry Kill should have a significant impact as well. No bowl is in the offing, but neither is being shut out a combined 224–0 by Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State, as was the case last season.