Written by: Aidan Champion
College Football is here, and the Big Ten will once again be contributing some of the best competition in Division 1.
Perhaps the most up-in-the-air division to be on the watch for this fall will be the Big Ten East. Let’s take a look at what to expect from each team.
Both rivals from the state of Michigan are in a rebuild state, and a lot of pressure surrounds the two programs after each underperformed last season. The most blazing hot seat, though, is that of Coach Jim Harbaugh, who has yet to appear in a Big Ten championship game as he enters his seventh season at the helm.
What is likely to be the Wolverines’ biggest area of improvement in 2021 is the team’s defense. Michigan is anticipated to implement a new 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Macdonald brings with him over 30 years of NFL coaching experience.
The offense will have new looks as well, as the Wolverines will once again have a new starting quarterback in redshirt sophomore Cade McNamara. The young QB is expected to limit the turnovers for Michigan, which was one of the main issues restricting the Wolverines last season.
A lot of questions surround the Spartans, as their true potential was not fully shown in last year’s COVID-19-limited season. Second-year head coach Mel Tucker did still earn great respect of Spartan fans, though, after beating rival Michigan in just his second game as the leader of the program.
Michigan State has heavily depended on the transfer portal this past offseason, and many of those additions will be holding starting spots come Week 1.
The biggest question surrounding the transfers, of course, is whether QB Anthony Russo will be taking the QB1 spot over redshirt sophomore Payton Thorne. The position battle has been present since Russo first came aboard, and fans likely will not know who will be under center until game time on Friday.
Penn State is once again ranked in the AP Top-25 ahead of Week 1, but has one of the toughest schedules in the Big Ten.
As stated previously, Penn State’s identity will really be more clear after the results of the Wisconsin game. The most challenging point in the Nittany Lions’ season will come in October when the team faces No. 17 Indiana and No. 18 Iowa back-to-back.
Two games following that, Penn State will be tasked with taking on No. 4 Ohio State.
Few would argue that Ohio State will not end the season as Big Ten champs for the fifth season in a row. The bigger question is whether or not the program will return to the CFB Playoff.
With the loss of QB Justin Fields, the most apparent issue hovering over the Buckeyes is the consistency of the starting QB position.
Redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud has been named QB1 ahead of Week 1, but when there’s a lack of experience, nothing is guaranteed. Not having a constant starting QB is not the ideal formula for an elite team, but it hasn’t stopped other juggernauts in years past.
The Scarlet Knights finished last season with a 3-6 record, but were in a number of close contests.
The defense will be Rutgers most dependable group this fall. They will have several key contributors at the linebacker and secondary positions and even a strong addition on the D-line in transfer Ifeanyi Maijeh.
Indiana was the surprise of the Big Ten last season, notching a conference record of 6-1. What fans will most excitedly be watching for is the return of QB Michael Penix Jr., who tore his ACL back in November.
The No. 17 Hoosiers will also have two threats in the backfield with reps being shared between transfer Stephen Carr and Tim Baldwin Jr.
Indiana returns a number of key assets to its defense, but still has much to improve on.
The Terrapins also have one of the more difficult schedules this season.
The greatest story that surrounds the program this season will be QB Taulia Tagovailoa, who is expected to have a breakout junior campaign. Tagovailoa threw for an impressive 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns in last year’s shortened season. He also averaged 252.8 passing yards per game.
In a conference with a number of teams that have questions and concerns around their starting QB spots right now, Maryland has a significant advantage with the assurance of its talented QB.
Written by: Aidan Champion
Aidan is an MSU Journalism Student and Spartan Football writer for: impact89fm.org
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