The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 181 EAST DIVISION 1. Ohio State (7-1 Big Ten record): The Buckeyes should breeze through most of their first five conference games (though at Penn State Oct. 25 could provide a test) before traveling to East Lansing to play Michigan State in the showdown that could decide the Big Ten East Division champion. The Buckeyes have to replace four starters on the offensive line, but have one of the nation's best players in quarterback Braxton Miller. They also have eight starters returning on defense, includ- ing most of an outstanding defensive line. 2. Michigan State (6-2): The Spartans return seven starters on offense and five on what was one of the nation's best defenses last season. Several of the returnees should vie for postseason honors, but there are holes to fill on the offensive line and in the front seven defensively. MSU opens Big Ten play with Nebraska and also gets Michigan and Ohio State at home. The Spartans also have one of the easier road slates, with trips to Purdue, Indiana, Maryland and Penn State. 3. Michigan (6-2): Champions of the … East? Weird, right? To get there, the Wolverines would likely have to knock off either Michigan State or Ohio State on the road. They also play at Northwestern, which figures to be improved this year, and get middle of the pack teams Penn State, Minnesota and Indiana at home. They'll likely be favored in every game but two, but it's all about the offensive line. They replace three starters from a group that struggled last year. 4. Penn State (5-3): The Nittany Lions have a very good quarterback returning in sophomore Christian Hackenberg, a solid running game and 14 returning starters overall. The road slate isn't overwhelming, either, with trips to Rutgers, Indiana and Illinois on the docket, as well as a trip to Ann Arbor. If they could split home games with Ohio State and Michigan State, they could be one of the division's surprise contenders. 5. Maryland (3-5): The Terrapins open at Indiana — then the schedule goes Ohio State, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Michigan State and at Michigan before closing with Rutgers at home. Welcome to the Big Ten, indeed. This is a team with 19 returning starters and some talent, but see if you can find more than three wins on that schedule. 6. Indiana (2-6): The Hoosiers are prolific on offense and return 11 starters from a team that finished second in the league in both scoring offense (38.4 yards per game) and total offense (508.5 yards per game). They also ranked last in defense, allowing more points than they scored. They'll score, but a schedule that includes games at Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State and home matchups with Maryland, Michigan State and Penn State is going to be tough to navigate. 7. Rutgers (1-7): The Scarlet Knights aren't awful, but they aren't very good, either. They return 16 starters from a team that finished 6-6 in the underwhelming American Athletic Conference before losing to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl. The schedule doesn't offer any breaks, either, with road games at Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska, and home contests with Michigan and Wisconsin. WEST DIVISION 1. Iowa (7-1): There are a lot of winnable games on the Hawkeyes' schedule before they close with West foes Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. In fact, Iowa could well be undefeated in Big Ten play before fac- ing the Badgers Nov. 22. The Hawkeyes return starting quarterback Jake Rudock, starting running back Mark Weisman and six other first-stringers on offense, but must replace all of their starting linebackers on defense. 2. Wisconsin (7-1): The Badgers also return their starting quarterback in Joel Stave and one of the nation's best running backs in Melvin Gor- don, but they have to replace their entire front seven on defense. They open with a tricky one at Northwestern, but November games with Nebraska and at Iowa will decide their fate. 3. Nebraska (5-3): The Cornhuskers have to replace four of five start- ing linemen, but they're strong at the skill positions led by running back Ameer Abdullah. However, they're road slate is a killer — Michigan State in a crossover game, at Northwestern, at Wisconsin and at Iowa. They should win home games with Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota. 4. Minnesota (4-4): The Gophers continue to improve under head coach Jerry Kill, and they return 15 starters from a team that went 8-5 overall and 4-4 in Big Ten play. The schedule, though, will likely keep them from improving upon that conference mark. Crossover games at Michigan and home to Ohio State will be tough, and they finish at Ne- braska and at Wisconsin. 5: Northwestern (4-4): The Wildcats return 18 starters from a team that lost seven conference games, five in heartbreaking fashion. They get dy- namic running back Venric Mark back and will be better than many think, but they also have a tough crossover slate with games at Penn State and versus Michigan. They do get Wisconsin and Nebraska at home, though the stadium will be at least half red for both of those games. 6. Illinois (1-7): The Fighting Illini has won one Big Ten game in two years, and now they move on without starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. They also have to replace their entire receiving corps. An Oct. 4 home game with Purdue will likely determine which of the two teams doesn't go winless through the conference slate in 2014. 7. Purdue (0-8): Head coach Darrell Hazell is a good football coach, but he's staring a second straight winless Big Ten season in the face. The Boilermakers return 18 starters, but there's simply not much talent on the roster. Their best chance for a victory comes Oct. 4 at Illinois, but they won't be favored in any of their Big Ten contests. Predicted Order Of Finish Big Ten Championship Game Prediction Ohio State over Iowa: The Buckeyes are equipped to stop the run with a solid defensive line and feature the league's best player in Braxton Miller. They'll capture head coach Urban Meyer's first Big Ten title with a win over a surprising Iowa team that always seems to play Ohio State tough. Running back Ameer Abdullah, the leading rusher in the Big Ten last year with 1,609 yards, and Nebraska are expected to contend for the West Division crown, but face a schedule that includes difficult road games against Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 178-181.Big Ten Preview.indd 181 6/19/14 3:13 PM

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