Two Big Ten teams start their 2016 seasons Thursday night. That means the preseason predictions are nearing an end.
Until then, here’s what eight SI.com experts think about the coming season.
Of the eight, only one picked a Big Ten team to win the College Football Playoff: Gabriel Baumgaertner went with Ohio State.
J.T. Barrett enters the season as probably the nation’s most underrated player, and despite the overhaul needed on defense, Ohio State’s recruiting acumen is too strong to be questioned. Even after losing an army of NFL first-round picks, the Buckeyes’ secondary depth and new wave of talent—running back Mike Weber is a potential breakout player—could mirror the success of the 2014 team that won the national title. Perhaps I just worship at the altar of Urban Meyer, but the system he’s cultivated in Columbus is admirable. If it all clicks, this team will be impossible to beat on both sides of the ball.
But the Big Ten mentions didn’t end there. Not in the slightest.
Chris Johnson chose Michigan State as his surprise team. The Spartans, coming off a College Football Playoff appearance, may not fit the normal mold of a surprise team, but Michigan State has become the No. 3 team after Ohio State and Michigan in its own division. However, Michigan State gets both of them at home and surely likes playing the underdog/no-one-respects-us card. He has Michigan returning to the CFP.
On the flip side, Pete Thamel picked Michigan as his flop team. He calls the playoff talk “premature” due to a rough road schedule, but he starts by saying the Wolverines will still be very good.
Ohio State “won” a few mentions when it came to naming the first player to fall out of the Heisman race. QB J.T. Barrett is a popular award candidate, but Joan Niesen and Chris Johnson are wary with all the departed talent to the NFL and with the early road game at Oklahoma. On the upside, Colin Becht said Buckeyes WR Noah Brown is his breakout star by being Barrett’s go-to receiver.
Iowa cornerback Desmond King won a mention from Niesen as a breakout player. Though King won the Jim Thorpe Award, with Iowa starting the season well into the Top 25, King has a strong head start when it comes to hype.
We’ll know for sure if any of these predictions get off to a good start when all 14 Big Ten teams begin the season starting Thursday and continuing through the weekend.