Just one month from today, Big Ten football will officially kick off the 2016 season when Indiana takes on Florida international on a Thursday night match-up in Miami. Without much to do besides twiddle our thumbs and wait for the glorious first weekend of college football, let's ask ourselves a simple question- who exactly is destined to win the Big Ten in 2016?
Barring any type of 2005-level magic, we can probably rule out Penn State. Facing the task of breaking in a new quarterback and offensive system, as well as rebuilding both lines, it's rather unlikely Penn State can topple so many established programs who haven't been dealing with limited scholarships, new coaching staffs, etc. during the past several years.
As much as it pains me to admit this, I think Ohio State will ultimately come out on top in December. It's probably a terrible pick on paper- the Buckeyes only return six starters after all. But over the years I've been conditioned to assume things will work out for Ohio State in the end- and it seems Ohio State's best seasons since the end of the John Cooper era occurred when they weren't in the forefront of people's minds as a serious contender, and instead, would likely be having a "rebuilding year."
If Ohio State can get past a huge week three test at Oklahoma, they should have no trouble reaching 5-0 as they break in all the inexperienced, albeit extremely talented, new starters before getting into the meat of their schedule. Regardless of how you feel about him, Urban Meyer is the best coach you'll find not named Nick Saban. And when you can stockpile blue-chip players in each class, a lack of experience is a minor blip in the radar in Meyer's very capable hands. This is without mentioning the Buckeyes will have a healthy J.T. Barrett leading the offense to start the season, one of the most explosive players in the nation who should be on everyone's Heisman shortlist.
Who else may compete?
Michigan- Should be the preseason favorite, but I'm skeptical because while they return many key players, they are losing plenty of experience from last year's roster. Jim Harbaugh certainly isn't one of the most likable guys in college football, but he's a winner, and will have the Wolverines reaching a level they haven't experienced in quite some time. However, the blowout loss to Ohio State at home to end the 2015 regular season also suggests they may have at least another year before they can overtake Ohio State for Big Ten East supremacy.
Michigan State- This could be considered a "down year" for Sparty as they replace many key players from 2015, but at this point a down year in East Lansing would probably be no worse than 9-3. The Spartans will still have a stout defense and a powerful running game (L.J. Scott is an absolute beast) and will not be an easy team to take down.
Iowa- With eight starters returning from a formidable defense (as well as a solid five on offense), it's hard to leave them off the list after going undefeated in the 2015 regular season. Of course, this is Iowa we're talking about so they could just as easily go 5-7 as 12-0.
Northwestern- Ok, probably not but they return 13 starters (seven on offense, six on defense) from a 10-3 team. They also have two of the Big Ten's best in linebacker Anthony Walker (don't be surprised if this guy takes home the Bednarik in December- he's that good) and running back Justin Jackson. However, Pat Fitzgerald's teams seem to disappoint whenever they have expectations heading into the season, and this won't be a year they can sneak up on anyone.
Purdue- Just checking if you're still reading. No, it won't be Purdue.
So what say you, BSD reader? If you were to head to Vegas tonight and put all your chips down on one contender, who would it be?