The most surprising development in the Big Ten’s East division from the first half of the season is the Big Three became the Big Two. And much of it can be tied to the offensive side of the ball.
Michigan State’s regression was plausible given the losses it sustained after 36 victories in the past three seasons, and sure the Spartans can’t stop anybody right now, but perhaps the most stunning development in a Spartans ground game that has produced 85 yards or less in three of the past four games.
As for those other two heavies, Ohio State and Michigan have set the pace in the East and appear to be tracking toward an epic showdown on the final week of the regular season. One or both could make the College Football Playoff if the results break the Big Ten’s way elsewhere around the country.
Indiana is clearly improved. Penn State might be, too. Maryland looked like it was, but the past two weeks have shown there is still plenty of work to be done.
All in all, the Big Ten East features two of the top four scoring offenses in the country (Michigan is No. 2, Ohio State is No. 4), but the Terps (46th) are the only Big Ten East team in the top 60.
With the season at about the midpoint, here is Land of 10’s all-East Division offensive team:
K — Tyler Davis, Penn State, Jr.
Tyler Davis has kicked the ball towards the uprights 48 times in his two-year career at Penn State. The football has gone between the uprights 48 times. He’s 10-for-10 on field goals this season, including a 40-yarder to force overtime in a win against Minnesota.
T — Michael Dunn, Maryland, Sr.
Dunn is a four-year starter and the anchor for a Terps offensive line that includes three former walk-ons and a true sophomore. Maryland is averaging 250 yards per game on the ground and is third in the division in points.
G — Kyle Kalis, Michigan, Sr.
Kalis started at least seven games each of the past three seasons at guard, and this season has helped the Wolverines maul their way to a perfect record and at least 45 points in five of their six games.
C — Pat Elflein, Ohio State, Sr.
Elflein moved from guard to center this season and has helped a young Buckeyes offense average 45 yards more on the ground than any other team in the league. He earned Ohio State’s top individual grade from Pro Football Focus in the win at Wisconsin this past week.
G — Billy Price, Ohio State, Jr.
Price is the other returning starter on Ohio State’s offensive line, which features one senior (Elflein) in the two-deep and a true freshman starting opposite Price at the other guard spot (Michael Jordan). Pass blocking has been as stout as the run blocking for the Buckeyes, who have allowed just five sacks in six games.
T — Erik Magnuson, Michigan, Sr.
The Wolverines have had injury issues at the other tackle spot (Grant Newsome is out for the season with a knee injury), but Magnuson has been a standout. Michigan might lack the star power that Ohio State has in the backfield, but the Wolverines have four tailbacks averaging at least 5.5 yards per carry, a fullback with 7 touchdowns on 13 carries and probably the best Wildcat quarterback in the country averaging nearly 20 yards per rushing attempt (Jabrill Peppers).
TE — Mike Gesicki, Penn State, Jr.
This is pretty much a dead heat between Gesicki and Michigan’s Jake Butt. Both have 23 catches. Butt has one more touchdown (3-2) and is probably a better blocker, but Gesicki has one of the best catches in the Big Ten this season.
WR — R.J. Shelton, Michigan State, Sr.
It’s been a wild half-season for Shelton, who has a total of 6 catches against Furman, BYU and Wisconsin but has looked like an All-America candidate against Notre Dame, Indiana and Northwestern. He has 22 catches for 411 yards and 4 scores in those three games.
WR — Ricky Jones, Indiana, Sr.
Jones caught 3 passes in the first two games, but he’s looked more like an all-conference player in the four games since. His 466 receiving yards are second in the conference and he’s averaging 112 per contest since his slow start.
WR/RB — Curtis Samuel, Ohio State, Jr.
While J.T. Barrett has garnered the most recognition for postseason awards, particularly the Heisman Trophy, Samuel might be just as strong a candidate. Samuel is tied for fifth in the Big Ten in receptions, sixth in receiving yards and 10th in rushing yards per game despite only 62 carries.
RB — Saquon Barkley, Penn State, So.
Penn State’s offensive line has been better this season, but opposing teams have loaded up to corral Barkley. Yet he still had 5 touchdowns against Pitt and 136 total yards against Michigan before reeling off 202 yards on the ground against Maryland. He’s averaging a little more than 120 yards from scrimmage per game, has 9 total touchdowns and might be one of Penn State’s two or three best blockers in pass protection.
RB — Mike Weber, Ohio State, Fr.
One of two running backs in the Big Ten averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game, Weber has emerged as the latest star from the Ohio State assembly line of talented running backs. The freshman has three 100-yard games in his first six starts. That’s one more than Ezekiel Elliott or Carlos Hyde had in their first six games as the feature back.
QB — J.T. Barrett, Ohio State, Jr.
Even when Barrett scuffled throwing the ball against Indiana and at times against Wisconsin, he helped keep the Buckeyes rolling with his running ability. He leads the conference in completion percentage (63.2 percent), touchdown passes (16) and rushing yards by a non-running back (434).