Will Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines live up to their preseason billing as the top team in the Big 10 in 2016 or will the Michigan State Spartans challenge for a berth in the four-team playoff.
Can the Ohio State Buckeyes overcome the losses of Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa to challenge for the Big 10 title? Are the ‘Under the Radar’ Iowa Hawkeyes primed to surprise again this coming season? Will the Wisconsin Badgers and northwestern Wildcats reach double digits in wins like they both did a year ago?
Let’s find out the answers to these questions and more as I offer up my five bold college football predictions for the Big 10 as we get set for the start of the 2016 college football season.
College Football 5 Bold Expert Predictions For BIG 10
Michigan Won’t Win Big Ten!
The Michigan Wolverines have a lockdown defense and arguably the best motivational coach in the business, but I just don’t see the Wolverines winning the Big Ten in 2016. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has to find a replacement for graduated starting quarterback Jake Rudock and three quarterbacks that are battling it out right now haven’t looked overly impressive.
Michigan returns four of its five starting offensive linemen but needs to improve a rushing attack that ranked a modest 85th last season. Defensively, the Wolverines and their fourth-ranked defense are mostly intact, starting with All-America cornerback Jourdan Lewis and All-America hybrid safety/linebacker Jabrill Peppers while the defensive line is solid and deep despite losing tackle Willie Henry to the NFL Draft.
In the end, I see another double-digit winning campaign, but no conference title for the Wolverines, unless one of their quarterbacks starts playing like one of Michigan’s past quarterback greats!
Ohio State to Surprise!
It’s kind of hard saying the Buckeyes will ‘surprise’ in 2016 when they’re already an elite title contender, but since they’re not favored to win the Big 10 in 2016, I guess it will be a surprise when they do. The Big Ten runner-ups lost No. 2 all-time rusher in Ezekiel Elliott and elite defensive end Joey Bosa, not to mention All-American tackle Taylor Decker, wide receivers Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas, all of whom are plying their craft in the NFL.
Did I forget to mention the Buckeyes also all-time yardage leader Braxton Miller, tight end Nick Vannett, their other starting tackle, backup quarterback Cardale Jones and gifted cornerback Eli Applewhite and safety Vonn Bell?
Still, Ohio State appears as well prepared to replace their departed stars as any team in the country. While the offensive line needs to be rebuilt, Ohio State has a true superstar in dual-threat quarterback J.T. Barrett and tons of talent at the running back position. On defense, head coach Urban Meyer has his work cut out in replacing eight starters, but they do have an All-Big Ten performer in middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan (119 tackles and a boatload of elite recruits that will need to step up and shore up their front seven and the secondary. The Buckeyes surprise and win the Big ten in 2016!
Michigan State to Surprise – and Beat Michigan – Again!
The Spartans suffered some key losses on both sides of the ball, but head coach Mark Dantonio will almost assuredly have his team primed to win 10 games in 2016. The Spartans have seven returning starters but will be going with a new starting quarterback with all-time passing leader Connor Cook off to the NFL. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor is the likely starter in 2016, but right now, that’s not etched in stone.
The Spartans have inexperienced offensive line and wide receiving units, although blossoming dual-threat sophomore running back LJ Scott will help ease the transition to their new starting signal-caller. The good news for the Spartans is that they could be even better defensively than they were in finishing 26th overall last season. Michigan State could have an All-American at every level in junior defensive lineman Malik McDowell, fifth-year senior middle linebacker Riley Bullough and safety Montae Nicholson.
While everyone is enamored with the satellite camp loving Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan Wolverines heading into 2016, I don’t see them beating a Michigan State team in Week 8 that matches up very well with them in all three phases of the game.
Iowa Stuns – Again in 2016 to Reach 10 wins!
The Hawkeyes lost star running back Jordan Canzeri and two starters on the offensive line, but return seven starters on the offensive side of the ball, including still-blossoming quarterback C.J. Beathard (17 TDs, 5 Ints). Iowa will likely go with a running back by committee approach in 2016 that features senior LeShun Daniels and junior Akrum Wadley.
Senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg is back after leading the Hawkeyes in catches (65) and receiving yards (703) and Beathard will throw early and often to talented senior tight end George Kittle after he caught six TD passes a year ago. Defensively, Iowa has an outstanding defense that returns three starters including 2015 Jim Thorpe award winning cornerback Desmond King. The Hawkeyes ranked 19th nationally in points allowed (20.3 ppg) and they look like they’ll be at least as good in 2016. I see at least 10 wins for the Hawkeyes in 2016.
Wisconsin to Fall Short of 10 Wins
Wisconsin won 10 games in Paul Chryst’s first season a year ago, but I think the Badgers fall just short of reaching 10 wins in 2016. Wisconsin was solid on offense last season, but certainly not overwhelming in any sense of the word as they finished the 2015 season ranked 79th in total offense (378.6 ypg) and 81st in scoring (26.7 ppg).
The bad news for the Badgers is that they need to find a new starting quarterback to replace Joel Stave. Right now, senior signal-caller Bart Houston is the frontrunner but freshman Alex Hornibrook could challenge for the starting job. While Wisconsin’s rushing attack ranked 95th last season, I believe the return of gifted tailback Corey Clement, the heir apparent to record-breaking tailback Melvin Gordon, will solve Chryst’s desire to improve what has been a perennially powerful rushing attack at the Big Ten powerhouse.
Wisconsin was flat-out dominant on defense in 2015, ranking second overall (268.5 ypg) and a first in points allowed by limiting the opposition to just 13.6 points per game. Wisconsin has seven returning starters on defense and a new coordinator in the form of Justin Wilcox, formerly of USC. Unfortunately, the Badgers also have an extremely tough regular season, starting with their home opener against LSU. Road dates at Michigan and Michigan State look like losses, not to mention their home date against Ohio State. In the end, I can see the Badgers suffering at least three losses this coming season!