Shibley’s 2017 Big Ten Preview

You take one look at the top 25 rankings and you might think the Big Ten has it all. Four teams in the top 10/11 in both polls and three of them believed to be playoff contenders. It does look very pretty at the top, however things turn very quickly as there are no other  Big Ten teams ranks in the preseason polls. At least to start the season it seems those may be the only teams to care about in the Big Ten.

East Division

Champion: Ohio State

I am pretty sure Urban Mayer is not going to take that 31-0 drubbing at the hands of Clemson in last year’s playoff lying down. J.T. Barrett is back under center and his experience is valuable. The Buckeyes do have to try and get some sort of results in the vertical passing game to keep defenses from stacking the box. No offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will try and solve that problem.

Meanwhile, the Ohio State defensive line may be one of the best ever. All four starters return, plus there is not much drop-off in going about eight deep on the line. Meanwhile the linebackers are no slouches either. All that dominance in the front seven will give the secondary time to jell.

Best of the Rest: Penn State

This is close but because the Nittany Lions have to travel to the Horseshoe in Columbus I give the edge to Ohio State in the division. Be that as it may, I loved watching the Penn state offense and their flair for the dramatic last season. QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley are fun to watch. All that drama that played out last season gave the Nittany Lions confidence and it should carry over to this season.

Anyone else?

Oh yeah, Michigan is still out there. While the Wolverines only return four starters on offense and one on defense, Jim Harbaugh is building a sustainable powerhouse in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines might be a tad down this season but they will be in the hunt. Plus they get Ohio State in the Big House to close out the season so anything can happen.

If you ignore Rutgers, maybe you won’t smell the stench coming from Piscataway.

West Division

Champion: Wisconsin 

The Badgers have never been flashy, but they never really have been to be successful. Wisconsin allowed Penn State to come back and beat them and that is the only reason the Badgers are not the defending Big Ten champions. This year’s team is another blue-collar take care of business team. They are experienced at all levels with 17 retuning starters including the heart of a defense that was 7th overall in the nation last season. Plus when you do not have to play Penn State or Ohio State in the regular season, you can breathe a little easier.

Best of the Rest: Northwestern

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has built the Wildcats into a steady winner. They have talent and experience with 16 starters returning, plus they have become used to winning. However, the Wildcats have to travel to Madison to play at Wisconsin to end September and that will probably keep Northwestern out of championship contention.

Anything else?

Not really. Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota are all kind of just there. None of them are bad, but not really that good either. Maybe one of them can pull an upset of one of the top teams, but do not expect much more. Meanwhile, just do not look at Purdue and Illinois. They are not good.

BIG TEN CHAMPION: OHIO STATE

Usually when I have doubted Urban Mayer it comes back to bite me. I did so in 2006 when he was at Florida against Ohio State and I did so in 2014 against Alabama. I am not making that mistake this season. The Buckeyes want revenge and will not stop until they try and claim the National Championship.

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Shibley’s NCAA Group of Five Conference Winners

While yes we had college football games this past Saturday, the fund really begins this week. College football is back and I love this time of year. It is time to make those picks that seem perfect right now, but will probably blow up by season’s end. Here are my picks for who will win all the group of five conferences and which one has the best chance to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.

American Athletic Conference

Champion: South Florida

Head Coach Charlie Strong comes from a situation at Texas where I do not believe he never got full support from everyone involved to Tampa where he inherits a team that went 11-2 last season and has a dark horse Heisman candidate in QB Quinton Flowers. With 17 other starters returning and a pretty light schedule (no Florida State) they have a great chance to go undefeated.

Best of the Rest: Navy

Navy still has the triple-option, and Ken Niumatalolo is still the head coach. Navy will always a challenge to opponents and have the experience and discipline to win the west division and challenge South Florida in the AAC Championship game.

Conference USA

Champion: Western Kentucky

The Hilltoppers have been the class of Conference USA the past two seasons under former head coach Jeff Brohm. Now with Brohm off to Purdue the Hilltoppers are breaking in a new head coach. Though that is nothing new to them with previous head coaches Willie Taggart and Bobby Petrino only staying for short tenures. Under new head coach Mike Sanford and experienced senior Quarterback Mike White, Western Kentucky will go for a three-peat on top of C-USA.

Best of the Rest: MTSU

The Blue Raiders have a great passing attack with Brent Stockstill throwing it to Richie James. That offensive firepower will get MTSU back to a bowl game, but unless the Blue Raiders can rebuild their front seven and win at Western Kentucky in November, they will just be section fiddle.

Mid-American Conference

Champion: Toledo

The Rockets return four all-conference players at the skill positions from a team that ranked seventh nationally in total offense. Led by first-team All-MAC Quarterback Logan Woodside, who threw 45 touchdown passes last season and has broken nearly every passing record at Toledo, the Rockets are ready to win their first conference championship since 2004.

Best of the Rest: Ohio

Head Coach Frank Solich is entering his 12th season at the helm with the Bobcats and they have been consistently good over that stretch. When you have an experienced offensive line and a solid defense you can win plenty.

Mountain West Conference

Champion: Wyoming

The Cowboys have a bonafide first round Quarterback prospect in Josh Allen which will make any team a contender to win their conference. Wyoming can get national attention quickly with a trip to Iowa to open the season, and the Oregon Ducks make a trip up to Laramie. If the Cowboys can replace their starting running back and tight end from last season, Allen will not have to carry the team by himself.

Best of the Rest: Boise State

As long as the winning attitude remains in Boise, the Broncos will always be in the mix. Head Coach Bryan Harsin has gone 31-9 in the three seasons since Chris Petersen left for Washington, though five of those losses have come from within their division, a place where the Broncos used to be untouchable.

Sun Belt Conference

Champion: Appalachian State

The Mountaineers were winners in the FCS, and they have remained winners since moving up to the FBS. They pushed Tennessee to overtime in the season opener last season and still won 10 games. They can definitely give Georgia fits in the season opener this season. They have the best depth in the conference and get advantage of great scheduling since they do not have to play top conference foes Troy or Arkansas State.

Best of the Rest: Arkansas State

So much of Arkansas State’s season rides on how they handle the beginning. Last season the Red Wolves started 0-4 with a tough schedule but then won eight out of their last seven. They start at Nebraska and somehow got Miami to come to Jonesboro, Arkansas the next week. If the Red Wolves survive again and rebuild the offensive line, they can contend.

Best Chance to Represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six Bowl: South Florida

The Bulls have the talent, coach, and schedule to go undefeated. Like Western Michigan last season, the strength of schedule will keep South Florida out of playoff consideration. However, Bulls will still be playing on New Year’s Day against someone big.

Be sure to catch the rest of my conference preview posts coming up this week!