OSU tops Big Ten in projected standings for 2015
Expect the Buckeyes to claim the Big Ten crown once again this year.
OSU tops Big Ten in projected standings for 2015
Who will win the Big Ten in 2015? We dug into our PFF college football data — which includes grades for every player on every play of every game involving at least one FBS opponent last season — to help produce projected standings for this season.
Here’s how we expect things to turn out, based on the strength of each team’s rosters, and the quality of talent they saw leave after the 2014 season.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (projected champions)
Offensive snaps lost: 3,169 (25.1 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,461 (28.9 percent)
A national champion losing less than 30 percent of its snaps on both sides of the ball is a terrifying for teams throughout the nation, let alone in the Big Ten. Regardless of the outcome of the quarterback battle, the Buckeyes’ offense is in safe hands with a ground game led by arguably the best running back in the nation, Ezekiel Elliot (88.9), and quality offensive linemen like Pat Elflein (81.4) and Taylor Decker (80.7) clearing a path for him. On the opposite side of the ball Joey Bosa (90.5) will miss the opening game of the season, but he is far from an isolated talent with the likes of Joshua Perry (88.7) and Adolphus Washington (81.4) merely the tip of a very talented defensive iceberg. Few teams can match the sheer depth and breadth of talent at Urban Meyer’s disposal and the Buckeyes begin the season as favorites to retain their Big Ten crown.
2. Michigan State Spartans
Offensive snaps lost: 3,535 (31.0 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,127 (32.9 percent)
The Spartans came up one game short of a trip to the Big Ten title game last season and their fans will hope that the returnees can put them over the top a year later. The likes of defensive end Shilique Calhoun (88.1), offensive tackle Jack Conklin (87.9) and center Jack Allen (86.5) give the Spartans some of the strongest lines in the nation, providing a strong foundation for new starters around them. However, question marks on both sides of the ball will determine how far the Spartans go. Whether Connor Cook (73.9) can perform more consistently and the linebacker corps overcome the loss of Ed Davis (85.4) and Taiwan Jones (80.4) will have a lot to do with how far Michigan State goes this season.
3. Michigan Wolverines
Offensive snaps lost: 2,396 (27.8 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,894 (31.7 percent)
The biggest question mark over the Wolverines fortunes this season might be how you quantify the Jim Harbaugh effect. The pairing of Graham Glasgow (82.6) and Jack Miller (81.5) brings quality to an offensive line that will look to drive an offense that lacks proven quality at the quarterback position. Incoming quarterback Jake Rudock (75.9) was inconsistent for Iowa last season but came up with five strong showings, most notably against Wisconsin with a strong showing both as a passer (20/31, 311 yards and two TDs) and a runner (39 yards on four scrambles). Cornerback Jourdan Lewis (78.1) leads the defensive backfield having surrendered more than 50 yards in a game only once last season.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions
Offensive snaps lost: 2,466 (22.1 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,834 (38.8 percent)
Much of the discussion around the Nittany Lions centers around the draft prospects of Christian Hackenberg (48.8), but without a big step forward from their signal caller in 2015 both the team and the individuals will struggle to prosper. Talent on the defensive side of the ball will be key to a strong second season for head coach James Franklin, with defensive tackle Anthony Zettel (86.8) leading the line up front while cornerback Trevor Williams (84.5) adds genuine quality on the back end. If Hackenberg is to make the big strides many hope for in his third season then he will need help and similar strides from wide receivers like DaeSean Hamilton (72.7), who dropped 10 passes last season.
5. Maryland Terrapins
Offensive snaps lost: 5,047 (51.8 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 6,187 (51.4 percent)
Arguably the surprise package in the Big Ten last season, the Terrapins face an uphill task to repeat their third-place finish in the east having lost more than half of their playing time on both sides of the ball. A full and healthy return for Quinton Jefferson (78.9) will be crucial, as their top three defensive linemen were among the offseason departures. Jefferson impressed in Maryland’s first three games last season racking up 15 pressures before succumbing to a torn ACL, cornerback William Likely (75.4) will seek to feed off the pressure generated to add to his six interceptions from a year ago. A decision at quarterback still looms but based on their performances last season neither Daxx Garman (65.6) nor Caleb Rowe (55.6) seems likely to elevate the Terrapins from their impressive debut season.
6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Offensive snaps lost: 5,754 (59.9 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 5,623 (53.5 percent)
A comeback victory over Maryland capped off a solid first season for the Scarlet Knights but they face the task of replacing even more playing time than the Terrapins on both sides of the ball. The question for how far Rutgers can go is how far a few returning stars can take them. On offense Leonte Carroo (84.8) is among the best receivers in the nation, but whether he can repeat his performances of last season — let alone build on them with a new quarterback — is open to question. On defense Darius Hamilton (85.9) and Kemoko Turay (77.2) provide quality up front and off the edge. However, there are only 13 returning players team-wide that topped 300 snaps last season, and that lack of experience may just be too much for the Scarlet Knights to overcome.
7. Indiana Hoosiers
Offensive snaps lost: 3,352 (34.1 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,903 (38.1 percent)
The Hoosiers weren’t all about Tevin Coleman last season, but unfortunately most of their better players departed along with the running back. Indiana will hope that some solid performers on defense can help them limit the scoring of their opponents, easing the pressure on a defense seeking to replace their leading rushing (Coleman) and their leading receiver (Shane Wynn). That quest will start up front where Darius Latham (80.4) and Nate Hoff (72.7) showed strongly alongside current Saint Bobby Richardson. On the back end freshman safety Chase Dutra performed well in limited snaps, collecting three interceptions and will seek to claim further playing time this season as the Hoosiers look to build on their solitary conference win from 2014.
1. Wisconsin Badgers
Offensive snaps lost: 4,864 (43.7 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,942 (30.0 percent)
A spectacular loss to Ohio State in the title game took the gloss off a strong season for the Badgers, but new head coach Paul Chryst has plenty of talent returning to the team for a run at redemption in 2015. On defense Joe Schobert (81.2) should be a key contributor off the edge having got the better of Brandon Scherff in their meeting last season. The defense is led though by safety Michael Caputo (84.4) who led returning players with 48 stops last season, including five in the 34-24 victory over rival Minnesota that clinched the West division. On offense the loss of Rob Havenstein (82.5) and Kyle Costigan (82.5) may have a bigger effect on the offense with Corey Clement (78.3) a capable replacement waiting in the wings.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Offensive snaps lost: 3,555 (32.0 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,961 (37.3 percent)
New head coach Mike Riley inherits arguably the best returning talent in the West division, but question marks at key positions on the offense may hold the Cornhuskers back from dethroning Wisconsin. Running back Ameer Abdullah powered this offense last season with little help from his offensive line, and unless Terrell Newby (67.3) can improve with increased playing time, heavy pressure will fall on Tommy Armstrong (54.0) to be much better as a passer if the offense isn’t to take a step backwards. The Cornhuskers defense is also led by a safety with Nate Gerry (86.6) recently named among our top 50 players in college football. Key to the defense’s success may be improved consistency from the defensive tackle pairing of Maliek Collins (79.3) and Vincent Valentine (78.6). A late season lull in run defense from Collins in particular played its part in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa shredding the Cornhusker defense for 1,039 rushing yards in their final three regular season games.
3. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Offensive snaps lost: 4,400 (45.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,539 (34.7 percent)
The Golden Gophers return some strong defensive contributors from a season ago but key losses on the offensive side of the ball may prove too difficult to overcome and challenge for the division title once again. Not only are star tight end Maxx Williams (90.5) and running back David Cobb (76.1) gone but also their best two run blocking linemen (Tommy Olson and Zac Epping). The defensive strength starts up front with Steven Richardson (78.7) and defensive end Theiren Cockran (81.4 pass rush) but the real strength is in the secondary. The Golden Gophers return three quality defensive backs with Briean Boddy-Calhoun (74.0) leading all Big Ten defensive backs last season with 14 combined interceptions (five) and pass defenses (nine). If quarterback Mitch Leidner (54.0) does not improve as a passer the pressure to replace so many key contributors on offense may see the Golden Gophers take a step back this season.
4. Northwestern Wildcats
Offensive snaps lost: 4,452 (41.8 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,586 (25.3 percent)
The Wildcats found a potential star in freshman running back Justin Jackson (82.7) last season who excelled despite an offensive line that did little to open running lanes for him. Jackson gained 65 percent of his rushing yards after contact last season, breaking 64 tackles en route to a ten-touchdown season. The departure of top quarterback Trevor Siemian and top receiver Kyle Prater leaves the fortunes of the offense squarely on Jackson’s sophomore shoulders. On defense the Wildcats boast the combination of perhaps the Big Ten’s most unheralded pass rusher/cornerback combination. Nick VanHoose (83.6) missed the end of the season but played well up until that point and he will look to feed off the pressure from edge rusher Ifeadi Odenigbo (84.7 pass rush), who racked up eight pressures (4 Ht, 4 Hu) in the Wildcats’ final victory of the season against Purdue.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes
Offensive snaps lost: 5,407 (49.5 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,331 (34.1 percent)
The quarterback merry-go-round has been settled after the transfer of Jake Rudock with CJ Beathard (65.8) taking the helm of the offense. The likes of Tevaun Smith (76.8) and Jordan Canzeri (75.8) will be relied upon to ease Beathard into a full-time role but losses in the trenches may prove tough to overcome. Both tackles on the offensive and defensive side of the ball must be replaced with the loss of Carl Davis (85.8) and Louis Trinca-Pasat (83.1) on the defensive side of the ball leaving a yawning chasm of experience. Only Jaleel Johnson (69.1) played more than 200 snaps among returning defensive tackles placing the pressure on defensive end Drew Ott to build on an impressive 2014 season and lead the defensive line in his senior season after his production tailed off late last season.
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Offensive snaps lost: 2,610 (27.4 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,960 (38.9 percent)
The Boilermakers boasted an unenviable quarterback situation last season — the departure of Danny Etling clarifies the situation but Austin Appleby (55.6) must up his game if this is to be a real positive for Purdue. The strength of both units comes at the heart of both lines with center Robert Kugler (83.7) helping pave the way for an offense that gained 6.9 yards per carry on A-gap carries last season, continued strong play from Kugler will be crucial as the Boilermakers seek to replace both Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert. The defense is anchored by Jake Replogle (78.4 pass rush) and Ra’Zahn Howard (77.9 run defense) who will seek to play off of each other’s strengths to help the Purdue defense make strides this season.
7. Illinois Fighting Illini
Offensive snaps lost: 4,033 (37.8 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,340 (30.3 percent)
Late-season victories over Penn State and Northwestern elevated the Fighting Illini to fifth in the West last season but an offseason to injury to star freshman receiver Mike Dudek (84.1) may prevent that momentum following into 2015. Offensive lineman Ted Karras (86.6) fought a lonely battle for much of last season and the linemen around him will need to make strides in 2015 if the Illini are to cover for any time Dudek misses. The Illini defensive line boasts quality run defenders, led by the likes of Jihad Ward (81.3 run defense), but a lack of production as pass rushers combined with a lack of quality in the secondary is a less than ideal combination attempting to slow down opposing passing attacks. Better tackling is a must as well, only Purdue racked up more than Illinois’ 124 missed tackles among Big Ten West defenses last season.
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.