We presented our official Big Ten predictions last week. Now, how about some fearless predictions?
Dan Murphy: No Big Ten team will make the College Football Playoff
The East Division is loaded with three playoff contenders, but that could easily end up working against the league's chances at landing a playoff spot for the third consecutive season.
Here's the hypothetical situation in which the Big Ten comes up empty in the postseason hunt this year. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all finish the year 10-2. Michigan's two losses are in league play (not much to trip them up on the nonconference schedule), which means one of the other two teams wins the division despite a loss to Notre Dame or Oklahoma, respectively. If Notre Dame and Oklahoma are both playoff contenders in December as well, it would make sense for the committee to choose them over the team they beat even if that was all the way back in September.
There is, of course, also the chance that the West Division champ knocks off one of the Big Three in Indianapolis. Either way, don't be surprised if the Big Ten is the odd man out in the Power 5 conference game of musical chairs this year.
Jesse Temple: Michigan will go 13-0
Michigan leapt from a five-win team in 2014 to a 10-win team in Jim Harbaugh's first season a year ago. So, why can't the Wolverines keep that momentum rolling and reach the College Football Playoff as a 13-0 team? Sure, that might sound crazy. Michigan must play at Michigan State, at Iowa and at Ohio State. But if the Wolverines' defense is as good as it seems, it should keep them in every game. ESPN's Football Power Index gives Michigan a 6.3 percent chance to produce an undefeated regular season -- the fifth-best mark in the country. The next-closest Big Ten team is Ohio State at 0.4 percent. All aboard the Harbaugh train.
Josh Moyer: Penn State has the most improved offense in the country
Statistically, the Nittany Lions had the second-worst offense in the Big Ten last season and ranked No. 105 nationally in total offense. That was rock bottom. Now, get ready for one of the biggest turnarounds in the nation. Between talent, scheme and the new coaches, this offense is almost set up to surprise. Penn State boasts one of the deepest receiving corps in the conference and one of the nation’s top running backs in Saquon Barkley. But it’d be improved even without its all-conference cast. The offense of new coordinator Joe Moorhead should help negate the struggles of the offensive line by operating out of the shotgun, and first-year starting QB Trace McSorley should be a better fit for the scheme as a dual threat. Nine offensive starters return and it’s not going to be easy for defenses to focus on one playmaker -- especially considering the penchant of Moorhead’s offenses to spread the ball around. It should surprise no one if Penn State rises 50 spots from last year’s offensive rankings.
Austin Ward: Sam Hubbard will lead the nation in sacks
Officially he didn’t even become a starter until last week, and even then Ohio State hedged by suggesting that the redshirt sophomore might have to share that role with another talented pass rusher. And, of course, the Buckeyes still have another returning defensive end who finished with more sacks than Hubbard a year ago. But forget both of those things, because the first isn't going to slow him down and the second should only help him. Now that Ohio State has given his other-worldly combination of athleticism and strength a permanent position after previously using his versatility to float around the depth chart, Hubbard is poised to become the most productive sack artist in the nation. He learned under the wing of Joey Bosa a year ago, he has the benefit of working opposite a proven performer in Tyquan Lewis and Hubbard has the kind of ability to potentially outshine both of them statistically this season -- along with every other defender in the country.
I'm bullish on the Golden Gophers, who should get a lot more luck on the health front this year. And maybe more importantly, the schedule -- which included TCU, Ohio State and Michigan in 2015 -- lightens up considerably this season. With a fifth-year senior quarterback in Mitch Leidner, an improved offensive line and a solid defense, Tracy Claeys' team will contend in the West Division all year. And at the end of the season, Minnesota will finally snap its 12-year losing streak against Wisconsin, as the Badgers will be beat up from their rigorous schedule.