Big Ten East football preview: Burning questions, favorite players, projections

It's one thing to knock Ohio State from its perch atop the conference. It's another thing entirely to keep the Buckeyes pinned down.

That has become doubly true in the 2000s. They slipped at the end of the John Cooper era but went straight from 7-5 to 14-0 under Jim Tressel in 2002 and finished in the top 10 for eight of nine years. After Tressel was forced to resign in 2011 and Ohio State went 6-7 under interim coach Luke Fickell that year, the Buckeyes responded by going 12-0 under Urban Meyer the following season. Michigan State and Penn State eked out conference titles in 2015 and 2016, but Ohio State then won four straight.

It's easy to overreact to the 2021 Big Ten East season. Jim Harbaugh and Michigan got the proverbial monkey off their backs, beating Ohio State for the first time in 10 years, winning their first conference title in 18 and scoring their first College Football Playoff bid. They did so with panache, physically dominating the Buckeyes defense to the tune of 42 points and 297 rushing yards. It was a statement win that reminded everyone of the Wolverines' ceiling. They are projected fourth in SP+ in 2022 and will have a shot at CFP bid No. 2.

Ohio State, however, is projected first. The Buckeyes have the scariest offense in college football, and a new coordinator and more experience should prompt enough of a defensive rebound to make them the conference favorites once more.

Michigan knocked Ohio State down last year; now comes the even harder part.

Let's preview the Big Ten East!

Every week through the offseason, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 131 FBS teams. The previews will include 2021 breakdowns, 2022 previews and burning questions for each team.

Earlier previews: MWC West | MWC Mountain | AAC (Nos. 6-11) | AAC (Nos. 1-5) | MAC East | MAC West | Sun Belt West | Sun Belt East | Conference USA (Nos. 6-11) | Conference USA (Nos. 1-5) | Independents | Pac-12 South | Pac-12 North | ACC Atlantic | ACC Coastal | Big 12 (Nos. 6-10) | Big 12 (Nos. 5-1) | Big Ten West