The Big Ten East went 0-for-5 in bowl games this season, but what does that really mean?
People are certainly going to scale back on the “best division in the country” chatter. Basing any argument for something like that on five games is even sillier than the idea of debating the power of individual divisions in the first place.
Also, the East hardly embarrassed itself. The division lost four games by a combined margin of 12 points. Penn State and Michigan played two of the most talented teams in the nation — USC and Florida State, respectively — and lost two incredible games. Both games were actually pretty strong advertisements for the league, given the athletes and talent USC and Florida State always possess.
There was the Ohio State playoff debacle, and there’s no working around that. The Buckeyes got smoked by Clemson 31-0, but still hammered Oklahoma, the Big 12 and Sugar Bowl champs, on its home field back in September and finished 11-2. There’s no question Ohio State will still be one of the most talented teams in the nation in 2017.
So let’s look forward to next year. Will the division be able to “rebound” from five teams losing one football game, four that were close to coin-flips? That will probably be a silly narrative when the 2017 season arrives.
The big three teams — Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan — are still going to be loaded with talent, and could all begin the year highly ranked. Michigan State will almost certainly bounce back, and both Maryland and Rutgers could be improved in their second season with new coaching staffs. Indiana will have mistreatment of players headlines to deal with after Kevin Wilson was pushed out, but Tom Allen is well respected and can certainly coach defense.
Here is Land of 10’s first attempt at ranking the Big Ten East teams for the 2017 season. It might feel like the 2017 season is a long ways away. It will be here sooner than we think.
1. OHIO STATE
2016 record/postseason: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten); lost to Clemson 31-0 in CFP semifinal
Top losses: DB Malik Hooker, C Pat Elflein, DB Gareon Conley
Early entry candidates: RB Curtis Samuel, LB Raekwon McMillan, DB Marshon Lattimore, DL Tyquan Lewis, DL Michael Hill
Top 2017 games: vs. Oklahoma, vs. Penn State, at Michigan, at Nebraska, at Iowa
Outlook: Don’t overreact to the Clemson game. Ohio State needs tweaks, not an overhaul. Kevin Wilson could be a great hire as the new offensive coordinator. Depending on how many of its very talented underclassmen leave for the NFL, the Buckeyes are either going to be very loaded in 2017, or just loaded. J.T. Barrett is already coming back, though the secondary could be a concern if Lattimore joins Hooker and Conley.
Ohio State needs better play from the wide receivers. Well, there should be four guys who were top-100 overall recruits in 2016 and 2017 (Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, Trevon Grimes and Tyjon Lindsey) to choose from for breakout candidates. The Buckeyes also need more depth along the offensive line. This roster was built to withstand losing guys to the NFL. They are going to be really good again.
2. PENN STATE
2016 record/postseason: 11-3 (8-1 Big Ten); lost to USC in Rose Bowl
Top losses: C Brian Gaia, DB Malik Golden,DE Garrett Sickels, DE Evan Schwan, LB Brandon Bell
Early entry candidates: WR Chris Godwin, FS Marcus Allen
Top 2017 games: at Ohio State, vs. Michigan, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Nebraska, at Michigan State
Outlook: After that Rose Bowl performance, the Nittany Lions might be the trendy pick to win the East next season. Penn State could have 17 starters back if no one else besides Sickels jumps to the NFL. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley will be back for sure. Mike Gesicki said he’s coming back, too. The Nittany Lions will need to prove they have staying power, but the offense could get even scarier if Penn State can find ways to play Barkley and Miles Sanders together. Plus, there will be two or three redshirt freshmen offensive linemen pushing for starting jobs/improving the depth. Penn State hasn’t begun a season ranked in the top 10 since 2009, but that will probably change next year.
2016 record/postseason: 10-3 (7-2 Big Ten); lost to Florida State in Orange Bowl
Top losses: DB Jourdan Lewis, TE Jake Butt, DE Taco Charlton, DE Chris Wormley
Early entry candidates: LB/S Jabrill Peppers
Top 2017 games: vs. Ohio State, at Penn State, at Wisconsin, vs. Florida, vs. Michigan State
Outlook: If Peppers doesn’t come back, Michigan will lose 10 starters on defense. The Wolverines will also return some potentially great players like Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and Lavert Hill, and new potential stars on offense like Kareem Walker, Kekoa Crawford and Devin Asiasi. Chris Evans could take a big step forward at running back. There could be a lot of players from the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes on the field next year. Jim Harbaugh will probably throw his hat a few times in frustration. If the offensive line can improve, and Don Brown can plug some holes in the defense, double-digit wins are certainly possible again for Michigan. It will be a very young team, so 10-2 or 9-3 would be a strong year, even if the fan base might start to get a little restless.
2016 record/postseason: 6-7 (3-6 Big Ten), lost to Boston College in Quick Lane Bowl
Top losses: CB Will Likely, QB Perry Hills, DL Roman Braglio, OL Michael Dunn
Early entry candidates: None
Top 2017 games: at Texas, at Minnesota, vs. Northwestern, at Michigan State, at Wisconsin
Outlook: There are impact players at running back (Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison) and wide receiver (D.J. Moore). There will be a lot of experience returning on defense. A big issue is quarterback, unless a graduate transfer arrives or incoming freshman Kasim Hill is ready to go right away. D.J. Durkin and his staff are rapidly adding talent. Maryland signed 13 players rated in the top-800 of their signing classes from 2014-16. The Terps have 17 top-800 players committed for 2017. It’s probably going to take another year before the Terps can try to make a real move toward the East’s big three.
5. MICHIGAN STATE
2016 record/postseason: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten); none
Top losses: DT Malik McDowell, S Montae Nicholson, LB Riley Bullough, WR R.J. Shelton
Early entry candidates: McDowell, Nicholson have declared
Top 2017 games: at Ohio State, at Michigan, vs. Penn State, vs. Notre Dame, vs. Western Michigan
Outlook: The Spartans have recruited much better of late, with three straight top-25 classes to fill the roster (though McDowell and Nicholson were the top two prospects in the 2014 class). They also have a great coach and a potentially great running back. Brian Lewerke might provide some stability at quarterback next season. This team was better than a typical 3-9 crew, and was probably more like a five-win club with a little better luck. There are still issues: For one, this team wasn’t that young last year, and will be short seven starters on offense. The schedule is also really tough. There is a 10-game run with those five teams above plus Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Northwestern and Maryland. That’s nine bowl teams plus Notre Dame. This team could be a lot better and still only win six or seven games.
2016 record/postseason: 6-7 (4-5 Big Ten); lost to Utah in Foster Farms Bowl
Top losses: RG Dan Feeney, WR Ricky Jones, WR Mitchell Paige, NT Ralph Green
Early entry candidates: LB Tegray Scales, CB Rashard Fant
Top 2017 games: at Virginia, at Maryland, at Michigan State, at Purdue, vs. Michigan (after bye week)
Outlook: Tom Allen’s first year as the head coach could be an intriguing one. He’ll have returning starters at quarterback and running back. Despite losing two solid wideouts, Simmie Cobbs will be back from a season-long injury to team with Nick Westbrook and provide impact. The defense, which was much improved with Allen’s guidance, could have 10 starters back if Scales and Fant return. If they do, Indiana could slot fourth again in the East. Now that the Hoosiers have been to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since the early 1990s, the next step is figuring out how to get into that eight- or even nine-win range. There are probably too many tricky road games to make that happen in 2017.
2016 record/postseason: 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten); none
Top losses: DE Julian Pinnix-Odrick, DT Darius Hamilton, FS Anthony Cioffi, WR Andre Patton
Early entry candidates: None
Top 2017 games: vs. Eastern Michigan, at Illinois, vs. Purdue, vs. Maryland, at Indiana
Outlook: As bad as Rutgers was in conference play last season after do-everything playmaker Janarion Grant was lost to an ankle injury, the Scarlet Knights did beat New Mexico, which won nine games. They also played Iowa to within a touchdown at 14-7. The Scarlet Knights have a backfield to build around with Giovanni Rescigno and Robert Martin. There’s still a chance that Grant could return for another year with a medical hardship waiver. He would be a huge boost for the offense, which will have its eighth coordinator in eight years after Jerry Kill replaced Drew Mehringer. One focus in 2017 will just be trying to be more competitive against the better teams in the Big Ten. Those five games above plus FCS foe Morgan State are Rutgers’ best chance at making a run at bowl eligibility.