Thursday, September 3, 2015

2015 College Football Preview: Big Ten Conference

The 2015 College Football Season begins this week and this will be the second year of the College Football Four-Team Playoff format.  This week I will be giving my preview of the major teams and players to watch for in 2015.  One of the elements that makes the College game so exciting is the unpredictability. There’s no preseason, always new players coming in as freshman, and past players leaving via graduation or early exit for the NFL.  Also, I enjoy watching College Football for the many different styles of offenses and defenses run on the field each week.  Unlike the NFL in which only a few different schemes are utilized each week, the College ranks over the last few decades have seen so many variants of styles and we the viewers have seen some of the greatest players succeed with these unique game plans.

Today I will highlight teams to watch from the Big Ten Football Conference:

University of Michigan
2015 Projected Record: 7-6
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +3/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/3 @ Utah; 9/26 vs BYU; 10/17 vs Michigan State; 10/31 @ Minnesota; 11/21 @ Penn State; 11/28 @ Ohio State

Synopsis: In his first year as Head Coach at his Alma mater, Jim Harbaugh has to navigate one of the toughest schedules in all of college football in 2015.  They are scheduled to play two teams in the top ten in the country (Michigan State and Ohio State), play away against three of the most underrated teams in the country (Utah, Penn State and Minnesota) and play a team with a potential Heisman trophy finalist (BYU with Taysom Hill).  Despite all of these obstacles, Harbaugh is great at bringing out the best in his players and maximizing their talents.  That projected record above is a low ball guesstimate; don’t be surprised if Michigan wins a couple games this season that they are “expected to lose”.  Michigan has a lot of depth on defense and that could prove a folly for many inter-conference opponents, allowing Michigan to walk away with a few upset victories in 2015.

Michigan State University
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-2
Make or Break Games:  9/12 vs Oregon; 10/17 @ Michigan; 11/7 @ Nebraska; 11/21 @ Ohio State; 11/28 vs Penn State

Synopsis: The good news for Michigan State is their starting Quarterback Connor Cook is really good; bad news is their defense last season was underwhelming to say the least.  For years Michigan State has been known to play good defense but last season they got ran over by high powered offenses like Oregon and Baylor.  The potential of Michigan State Spartans season hinges on if that defense is improved enough from last season because they cannot expect their QB Cook to win every game for them.  Football is a team sport and the defense needs to step up this season.  If they don’t, then those gamblers in Las Vegas are going to lose money when placing bets and Spartans’ fans will be disappointed with a season in which they lost to rivals.

Penn State University
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-2
Make or Break Games: 10/17 @ Ohio State; 10/24 vs Maryland; 11/21 vs Michigan; 11/28 @ Michigan State

Synopsis: Penn State comes into the 2015 season with two major positives: upperclassmen depth at many positons and Christian Hackenberg at Quarterback.  Both of those positives could also become sticking points as the season progresses.  Before October 17th’s game at Ohio State, Penn State plays four non-conference opponents with less talent on their rosters than they do.  This may lead to overconfidence.  Confidence is a powerful emotion, able to lift their level of play above and beyond what is expected or it can set one up for disappointment and failure.  From October 17th through November 28th Penn State has a gauntlet to survive of four games away from their home field against inter-conference opponents, two of them top ranked teams (Michigan State and Ohio State).  Hackenberg will be tested and so will the confidence of this team during the second half of the 2015 season.  Passing this difficult test will determine more than just what bowl they will end up playing in, it can also determine the potential NFL draft futures of many of the players on the roster.

University of Wisconsin
 2015 Projected Record: 11-1
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +0/-3
Make or Break Games: 9/5 vs Alabama; 10/10 @ Nebraska; 11/28 @ Minnesota

Synopsis: Wisconsin comes into the 2015 season with their third head coach in the last four seasons.  Despite the lack of stability, the team continues to be a consistent contender in the Big Ten Conference.  The Wisconsin Badgers start of the season against one of the top football teams in the nation (Alabama) then proceed to have one of the easiest schedules, in terms of strength of opponent, in the conference.  This may be a blessing in disguise because they will be starting a young offensive line, a new Running Back, and starting Quarterback Joel Stave is coming off a rough 2014 season.  It make take this team some time to come into their own and that schedule may allow them to grow through the season before facing equally talented competition again.

Ohio State University
2015 Projected Record: 11-1
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/7 @ Virginia Tech; 10/17 vs Penn State; 11/21 vs Michigan State; 11/28 @ Michigan

Synopsis: Ohio State enters the 2015 College Football season as the number one ranked team in the nation.  Last season’s national champions return 18 starters from last year’s team and they are arguably one of the most talent deep teams in college football.  The biggest pitfall for Ohio State this season will be underestimating their competition.  Starting the season on the road playing Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia will not be an easy task.  They also have at the end of their schedule a talented Michigan State team and then face their rivals, Michigan, in a game that never seems to play out as anticipated by experts.  Head Coach Urban Meyer has been down this road before and the burden will be on him to keep his team hungry while not being overconfident.  Starting the season without a couple players due to suspensions (One being the top Defense End in all of College Football, Joey Bosa) will make the first game the biggest obstacle from going undefeated in 2015.

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