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News and Notes from Around the Big Ten

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A quick round-up of news and views from our Big Ten brethren

NCAA Football: Illinois at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Actual college football involving actual Big Ten teams kicks off this week. For approximately half of the teams in the B1G East, the game cannot come soon enough. Off-field issues have dominated the news cycle for Maryland, Ohio State, Rutgers, and Michigan State, and a return to just X’s and O’s would be a welcome change.

Indiana

At Indiana, depth at quarterback could be a real problem, especially now that Brandon Dawkins—who had only just transferred from Arizona—has decamped Bloomington. It looks like he realized he wasn’t going to get the nod over Peyton Ramsey. Behind Ramsey, however, there is almost nobody with experience. Dawkins’ departure may have led to Reese Taylor, Mr. Indiana in football last year, to make the move from defensive back to quarterback.

Fans would be wary, but for the fact that Indiana fans don’t actually care about football.

Maryland

Terps’ football can only be described as a tire fire at this point. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that a Maryland football player, Jordan McNair, died of heat stroke two weeks after he collapsed following a workout. An investigation followed, and head coach DJ Durkin was put on administrative leave following reports on Maryland’s “toxic” football culture on ESPN. Since then, at least one player has left the program, and there are far more questions than answers swirling around the Terps right now. One of those questions is whether college athletes might be better off if they had more power over their own athletic careers.

Meanwhile, on the field, Maryland takes on Texas this Saturday, and will have both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill at quarterback.

Michigan

As that rare B1G East program currently not staring down the barrel of a scandal, Michigan is set for what should be—finally—a breakthrough season for the Wolverines. For one thing, Michigan finally has a reliable Big Ten-caliber quarterback in Shea Patterson, but Dylan McCaffrey, and Brandon Peters both bring plenty to the table. Also, you heard it here first, but Michigan is apparently going 2-1 in its rivalry games. I know what you’re thinking, but let Michigan fans have this for now.

After a long hiatus, Michigan is playing Notre Dame again. The Wolverines are picked to win the game, but a recent injury to star wideout Tarik Black casts at least a mild pall over the game.

Michigan State

So sports are still a thing at Michigan State, at least if the total lack of non-sports content at The Only Colors is anything to go by. The Spartans enter the season quietly, but are still expected to do well, with some even picking Michigan State second only to Ohio State in the East. This isn’t just pie-in-the-sky stuff. There’s cause for some optimism for the Spartans. Quarterback Brian Lewerke had a breakout season in 2017, and he might even have an outside chance at the Heisman Trophy this year.

Michigan State hosts Utah State in the season opener on Friday night, which might not be enough game action before they travel to Arizona State next week.

Ohio State

Ah, #BuckeyeNation. I don’t know what to make of you. You seem to think you’re actually suffering, but your team is still picked to win the Big Ten (again), so....

Interim head coach Ryan Day spoke to the media recently, and offered the first real insight into the Buckeyes of 2018. Dwayne Haskins is the expected starter at quarterback, though Tate Martell may also be in the mix. Also, Ohio State has a center named Michael Jordan.

Ohio State takes on Oregon State on Saturday. Look for a million #HOTTAEKS on overcoming adversity, showing character, etc., when the Buckeyes win big.

Penn State

Of all the programs in the Big Ten, Penn State has arguably the most experience with the corrosive nature of scandals involving the football team. So when Penn State fans say Ohio State is unlikely to win the conference, they’re speaking from experience. But also, Penn State is best poised to take advantage of any changes in the Big Ten’s power structure. The Nittany Lions had a fabulously successful season in 2017, but with a new offensive coordinator, with Saquon Barkley now playing on Sundays, and with only two starters returning on defense, it’s best to keep expectations low.

Appalachian State visits Penn State on Saturday, and given Appalachian State’s history in season openers against blueblood programs, James Franklin is taking no chances.

Rutgers

All is not well on the banks of the Old Raritan, and if it feels like this has been said about Rutgers before, well, it has. Still, a scandal involving credit card fraud notwithstanding, the Scarlet Knights are likely to improve on last year’s 4-8 record, and maybe even make a bowl game. On the other hand, this is one of the least experienced rosters in the Big Ten, and the team may wear out down the stretch of a tough conference schedule.

Rutgers hosts Texas State on Saturday, and should start the season 1-0. Of interest to Minnesota fans, true freshman Artur Sitkowski—who lost his starting role at IMG midseason to one Zack Annexstad—is expected to start the opener.

In the West, it’s been mostly just football, a refreshing change from the other half of the conference. A B1G West team is ranked in the top 5 (and is the top-ranked Big Ten school), and a head coach coming off a “national championship” will make his Big Ten debut this season. If that’s not enough to get you excited about college football...

Illinois

The Illini finished the 2017 season with just two wins, and went 0-fer in the Big Ten. Whatever else happens this season, there will probably be more wins for Lovie Smith’s team. How many exactly remains an open question. In the off-season, Smith grew a beard, but that might not be the only Illini wrinkle this season, as transfer AJ Bush was named the starting quarterback.

Illinois opens the season against Kent State on Saturday.

Iowa

For the Hawkeyes, anything less than a spot in the B1G title game will be a disappointment. Whether this is realistic for a team that hasn’t managed to sustain the momentum of a magical 2015 season remains to be seen. Still, the excitement around Iowa football is palpable, and things could well fall into place for the Hawkeyes if they start the season 3-0.

Why the optimism? Well, on one hand, Iowa football. On the other hand, also Iowa football.

The Hawkeyes open the season against Northern Illinois on Saturday. Note: the last time the Huskies traveled to a Big Ten stadium, they won.

Nebraska

Scott Frost is the new head coach in Lincoln. Scott Frost won half of a national championship as a player, and now everyone in Lincoln thinks glory days are here again. LOL Big Red. That is all.

At any rate, after much waffling and speculation, true freshman Adrian Martinez—in keeping with this brand new Big Ten tradition pioneered (like most Big Ten traditions) by Minnesota—was named the starter at quarterback, and his competition for the spot with Tristan Gebbia drew comparisons to Tommie Frazier and Brooke Beringer. Gebbia, a 4-star recruit, reacted to this by leaving the program. He’s one of several players to leave the program recently. The term “rats from a sinking ship” comes to mind, but only if you’re not a “real” Husker fan.

The Scott Frost era officially kicks off on Saturday night when Nebraska takes on Akron at home.

Northwestern

The Wildcats won 10 games last year. It was only the fifth time in school history that Northwestern hit double digits, but three of those seasons have come with Pat Fitzgerald at the helm, so fans are to be forgiven for being just a bit too optimistic. Then again, the schedule is tough, and might prove too big a hill for the Wildcats to climb in 2018.

Fitzgerald hasn’t named a starter at quarterback yet, but Clayton Thorson—who is already the most successful quarterback in school history—is likely to get the nod. For his part, Thorson believes it’s all on the table for Northwestern, though Wildcats fans are less optimistic.

In an unusual Big Ten scenario, Northwestern visits Purdue in the Big Ten West’s earliest conference game.

Purdue

The Boilermarks outperformed expectations last year, finishing the season 7-6 with a bowl win over Arizona. But that didn’t win them many brownie points, because Purdue received exactly zero votes in the AP Poll. That’s not particularly relevant to the season, but it does suggest nobody is really buying the Boilers just yet.

That Jeff Brohm hasn’t named a quarterback yet doesn’t inspire particular confidence either, although that may just be gamesmanship. The candidates are Elijah Sindelar and David Blough, but Sindelar may get the nod, if Brohm’s recent slip on his radio show is anything to go by.

Purdue will take on Northwestern in the aforementioned too-early-for-the-B1G conference game on Thursday night.

Wisconsin

And we come to it at last, the excessively large Badger in the room. Wisconsin is ranked #4 in the AP Poll, is a legitimate playoff contender, and in Jonathan Taylor, may even have a Heisman Trophy candidate.

But everything is not exactly perfect in Madison. Paul Chryst has had some off-field issues to contend with, with wide receivers Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis suspended after being charged with felony sexual assault. Still, Chryst is mostly upbeat about the team’s prospects going into the season opener against Western Kentucky.

What does Wisconsin’s sudden prominence mean for us? Well, I don’t think 2018 will be the year we finally get The Axe back. Sigh.