Top of the Class: Wisconsin
Dontcha’ just love the Badgers? Having built a solid program over a number of years Paul Christ took his top defensive unit to within a badgers whisker of the Play Off’s. Indeed many, including myself had the deepest sympathy for Wisconsin who were ranked 6th in the final week, losing out to the 4th placed Crimson Tide and 5th placed Ohio State. I am sure the irony of an Alabama National Championship win was not lost on the Badgers and even more so following the noise out of Orlando from unbeaten and “self proclaimed” national champions, UCF. I would dearly love to put a rolling eyes emoji here, but professional pride prevents me…..
Declared for Draft: Troy Fumagalli (TE), Michael Deiter (OL), Jack Cichy (ILB), Garrett Dooley (OLB)
Returning: TJ Edwards (ILB), Garrett Rand (DE), Olive Sagapolub(NT)
Best of the rest
Ohio State start any year as favourites for the Big Ten and should always be in the running for the National Championship. And with returning QB JT Barrett, the Buckeyes were good odds to go all the way.
It’s hard to say that the Buckeyes 2017 record of 12-1 (in Conference 6-0) was a disappointment but there is no doubt that the crushing defeat to Iowa (55-24) was more than a black eye for the Columbus Crew. Narrow victories (but victories nonetheless) over Penn State and Wisconsin did little to win over the Selection Committee meaning the Buckeyes were ranked at 5, narrowly missing out on a play off spot. As I said at the beginning of the article, I think Wisconsin were the better team in the Big Ten, but Ohio beat the Badgers to knock Wisconsin out of the Play-off picture, so go figure.
At the start of the year, Graduate, Senior and NFL bound QB JT Barrett looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. However Head Coach Urban Meyer conjured up some much needed self belief at the right time to turn it around and JT Barrett ended his time in Ohio as he should, a winner in the Cotton Bowl against an uninspiring USC. Barrett will be a relatively cheap pick for someone in the draft. Someone not obsessed with Baker Mayfield that is……so probably not the Broncos then.
Declared for Draft: JT Barrett (QB), Denzel Ward, Jerome Baker, Sam Hubbard
Returning: Dre’mont Jones, Nick Bosa, Mike Weber
Ohio State: A
The Hawkeyes have been quietly going about their business for a few years now and were considered dark horses at the start of the season. Their eventual record of 8-5 (4-5 in Conference) goes no way to explain the rollercoaster ride that Head Coach Kirk Ferentz took the team on. The crushing defeat of Ohio undoubtedly being the highlight of 2017. The Hawkeyes didn’t really fulfill their potential this season, but rallied in the Pinstripe Bowl to beat Boston College in a fitting finale to the year.
Declared for draft: Josh Jackson (CB), Akrum Wadley (RB)
Iowa: B- “unfulfilled potential”
Must do better: Michigan, Michigan State
Jeez. What a tough year to be a Michigan fan. The hiring of Jim Harbaugh, a true Michigan Man was treated like the second coming in Ann Arbor. And Harbaugh has made a difference turning around Brady Hokes Miss mash of a team. However the lack of a true starting QB and worse still the flip flopping between two average QB’s made for some terrible times at the Big House. Some of it was due to injuries but some real bad decisions contributed to what was a poor year. Good news/ bad news time for Wolverines fans now. QB’s Wilton Speight and John O’Korn are both Senior Graduates and have left the program. This means that the competition for QB1 will be between only Coach Harbaugh recruits. This also means starting over. No pressure then Jim.
Michigan was a team that really missed Jabril Peppers and a host of other defensive stars who left for the Big league. A year to let the new Defence consolidate has been and gone. Big things expected in Ann Arbor in 2018. Rumours have it that ex Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain will join the Michigan coaching staff to help out. This could well be a make or break year for Michigan Man Harbaugh.
Michigan: D-/ Things can only get better.
Michigan declared for draft: John Kelly (RB)
I was lucky enough to see Michigan State twice last season in the flesh. Mark Dantonio has built a strong defensive mindset at East Lansing and they have been knocking on the door in recent years. Sadly not this year. Despite going to the Big House and knocking the stuffing out of the Wolverines, the Spartans stumbled to a 10-3 record (which by most peoples books is a great season), going on to beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
Michigan State: D/ Positive Outlook
Michigan State declared for draft: Taven Bryan (DT), Antonio Callaway (WR)
Notable Mention – Penn State
Ok, I am going to be honest here and state my soft spot for Penn and the way the football team has recovered from the Sandusky scandal, which rocked the University to its core. I always thought that James Franklin was a bright young thing in Nashville when he coached Vanderbilt, but he has taken things to a different level in Happy Valley. If you had asked me mid or even 2/3rds season who the best team in FBS was, I would have told you Penn State. For me Saquon Barkley is the best player in the College game and will be a sensation in the NFL. You don’t beat Barry Sanders long standing records and not go on to greatness. However, the Nittany Lions lost steam, momentum, whatever you want to call it and capitulated sometime in mid October. They ended up with a 7-2 record in the Big Ten, having started 7-0, with their losses coming at bad times to a resurgent Ohio state and the tough to beat Michigan State. Along with their winning record went Barkley’s Heisman hopes. The Nittany Lions went on to the Fiesta Bowl in which they beat Washington. For what its worth I believe that in returning senior QB, Trace McSorley that Penn have the real deal and it will be interesting to see how his senior year develops and where he drafts next year.
Penn state: B+ What could have been.
Penn State declared for draft: Saquon Barkley (RB), Mike Gesicki (TE), Marcus Allen (S), Ryan Bates (OL), Saeed Blacknall (WR)
Penn State returning: Trace McSorley
So there you have it, the 2017 Big Ten season in a nutshell. Winners, losers, tears, tantrums, hiring and firings. Who would be a Big Ten coach……
Photo copyright: Jason Galloway | Wisconsin State Journal