There were certainly plenty of surprises in the Big Ten last season with Penn State seemingly coming out of nowhere to win a conference title while Ohio State actually earned a berth in the college football playoff despite losing to the Nittany Lions. Penn State football fans were extremely disappointed that they didn’t get their opportunity and with the Buckeyes, Michigan and Wisconsin all improved on paper it could be a case where the opportunity at the CFP has passed them by. Here is a look at the biggest strengths of the top Big Ten teams.
Ohio State – Defensive Line
Ohio State’s offensive line is absolutely loaded with Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes all set to return alongside Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones and Tracy Sprinkle. Lewis, Hubbard and Holmes all decided to skip the NFL Draft for a shot at redemption in the Big Ten and on the national stage while Bosa and Jones in particular have immense potential among the young players on the roster. The Buckeyes pretty well could have the most talented and deepest defensive line in the entire country and there is no doubt that it is their biggest overall strength.
Penn State – Running Game
The Nittany Lions will have a tough time repeating as Big Ten champions but they still have a ton of talent with the potential to at least make some noise in conference play again. Their offense looked really crisp by the end of the year. Their biggest strength is their running game, with dynamic running back Saquon Barkley already generating Heisman trophy buzz as one of the top rushers in the country. Penn State has some decent depth with Andre Robinson and Mark Allen in the mix as well but with Barkley and a solid offensive line their rushing attack has the potential to be absolutely dominant in 2017.
Michigan – Quarterback
Michigan’s passing attack still needs work but there is no doubt about their talent at the quarterback position any longer. Wilson Speight had a strong first season as a starter as he completed 61.6-percent of his passes with an 18-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and there is definitely reason to believe he will continue to improve. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have talented youngsters Brandon Peters and incoming freshman Dylan McCaffrey to push Speight for the starting job with veteran John O’Korn also back in the mix. Michigan is set at the quarterback position and if Speight can stay healthy then they should definitely contend for a Big 12 title.
The Wolverines will need better play out of their quarterbacks – and their offense – this year. They’ve been so close to winning the Big Ten two years in a row under Jim Harbaugh but their offense has fallen just short both times. Last year, they lost by one at Iowa before losing on the road in double overtime to Ohio State. All successful teams win on the road and the Wolverines will need more out of Speight to push them over the top in 2017.
Wisconsin – Linebacker
The Badgers will need to replace outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel but they are absolutely loaded at inside linebacker with Chris Orr and Jack Cichy back from injury along with last year’s leading tackler T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelley at the position. Wisconson’s depth at the position is absolutely unrivalled in the Big Ten and maybe even across the country. The Badgers should have a solid defense once again with their inside linebackers the biggest strength. Wisconsin has the talent to challenge for another Big Ten West title but they will be in tough to take down whichever team they meet from the Big Ten East in the conference championship game.
The Badgers linebacking corps will get tested early an often this year starting with a Utah State team that has had success on the ground in recent years. The Badgers also have to go to BYU in Week 3 and while they miss Ohio State on the schedule, they still have to host Michigan and a talent running back from Maryland.
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