The B1G’s top five offenses for 2016

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With only three teams averaging more than 400 yards per game for the 2015 season, the B1G experienced a decline in offensive efficiency last year.

No team reached the 40 points per game mark for the first time since 2012. All around, offenses in the conference struggled to produce the same numbers as its Power Five counterparts.

Some of that can be attributed to the growing strength of the defense in the conference, but the talent level dropped off from where it had been the previous two seasons.

That won’t be the case in 2016.

Several teams return their best play-makers from last season, meaning scoreboards should be lighting up frequently when the season kicks off.

What teams have the best chance to lead an offensive resurgence in the B1G this fall? Here are the top five candidates:

5. Indiana

Kevin Wilson’s offense has been nearly impossible to slow down. The Hoosiers have finished the season averaging over 400 yards per game of total offense every year since 2012. Last year, Indiana led the B1G in yards per game with 504.3 and points per game, posting a 36.5 average.

Those numbers will be hard to replicate this year, as the offense lost record-setting quarterback Nate Sudfeld and 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Howard.

But the Hoosiers still have some ammunition in the arsenal.

Richard Lagow is the top-rated junior college quarterback for 2016 and expectations are that he will pick up where Sudfeld left off. During his time at Cisco College, Lagow threw for more than 4,500 yards and 38 TDs in two seasons.

He’ll have one of the conference’s top receivers in Simmie Cobbs, who caught 60 passes for 1,035 yards as a sophomore.

Indiana also returns Devine Redding, last year’s backup running back who also carried for more than 1,000 yards and nine scores on 226 carries.

The Hoosiers lost some key contributors to last year’s B1G-leading offense. But Wilson has been an offensive mastermind since arriving in Bloomington.

Indiana will find a way to remain as one of the top units in the conference.

4. Ohio State

A good chunk of the conference’s second-highest scoring offense is gone. A majority of the remnants from last year’s squad have seen limited snaps.

But Heisman hopeful J.T. Barrett and Urban Meyer will keep the Buckeyes in the discussion for 2016.

Ohio State ranked as one of the B1G’s top three squads in total yardage and points per game each of Meyer’s four years. Even with a green lineup, the Buckeyes have the talent and coaching to be a force offensively.

High expectations have been placed on receivers Noah Brown and Austin Mack, who will have to replace last year’s top pass-catchers Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall. Running backs Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel are taking over for Ezekiel Elliott.

Those are big shoes to fill.

Barrett does provide stability for an otherwise unproven unit. In 2014, the quarterback finished behind Connor Cook as the conference’s top passer and scored 45 total TDs, breaking a B1G record set by Drew Brees.

Meyer said this could be the most talented team he’s coached. If that’s true, there’s no doubt Ohio State will again be one of the best offensive teams in the league.

3. Iowa

High-powered offense isn’t a trait typically associated with Iowa football. Returning key pieces from a team that averaged 30.9 points and 386.1 yards per game last year places the Hawkeyes in this year’s discussion.

“I think we have a chance to be pretty good. I do,” 13-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis said to the Des Moines Register. “I’m not backing away from that.”

C.J. Beathard was one of the more accurate quarterbacks in the conference last season, completing 61.6 percent of his 362 passes and tossing just five interceptions on the year. He also displayed great mobility at times, rushing for 237 yards and six scores.

The position group receiving the greatest praise, though, has been the offensive line. ESPN’s Ed Cunningham selected the Hawkeyes as the top unit in all of college football, and for good reason.

Boone Myers, Ike Boettger, Sean Welsh and Cole Croston bring 51 combined starts to the line for 2016. The group did surrender 30 sacks last season, but the experience up front should create holes for the running backs and keep Beathard upright most of the year.

LeShun Daniels, Jr. and Akrum Wadley return to the backfield after combining for 1,142 yards and 15 TDs last season. Leading receiver Matt VandeBerg and reliable tight end George Kittle are also back as primary targets for Beathard this fall.

2. Michigan

In just one season under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan climbed from last in yards per game in 2014 to the B1G’s fourth-most productive offense in 2015. It improved by over 60 yards and 10 points per game.

The second year in the Harbaugh regime could be even more fruitful.

Despite the ongoing quarterback battle between John O’Korn and Wilton Speight, Michigan’s greatest weapon is the passing attack. The Wolverines return three of the of the best targets in the conference, all with home run capabilities.

Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and tight end Jake Butt all finished in the B1G’s top 15 in receiving last year. Combined, the trio caught 159 passes for 2,145 yards and 17 TDs.

At B1G Media Days, Harbaugh also spoke highly of his returning backfield, especially the likes of De’Veon Smith and Ty Isaac.

Naming a starting quarterback is still in the works, but Michigan appears to have the necessary pieces in place to field one the B1G’s top offenses. With so many explosive players, Ann Arbor could be a highlight haven this season.

1. Nebraska

The Huskers might have the most athletic and experienced offense in the B1G entering 2016. That should translate to a lot of yards and high-scoring outings.

Nebraska returns seven starters from 2015, with a good chunk of those coming at the talent positions. It brings back its top two ball carriers in Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo who combined for 1,109 and 12 TDs last year.

The big asset, though, comes in the passing game.

The top eight pass-catchers for Nebraska will be back on the field this season, including Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and the speedy De’Mornay Pierson-El. That receiving corps is going to be a nightmare for defensive backfields to contain.

Even with a sizeable portion of last year’s production returning, much of the Huskers’ success on the offensive side will depend on four-year quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr.

Armstrong has struggled with his consistency over the past three seasons, owning a 53.9 completion rate for his career and throwing 36 interceptions in 33 games. His accuracy has been shaky, but the senior is still the second-most athletic quarterback in the conference behind Ohio State’s Barrett.

After a 500-yard performance against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl last year, Nebraska will likely take some pressure off Armstrong.

That’s a good thing.

If his passing attempts are more limited and he’s permitted to tuck the ball and run more frequently, the Huskers have a real shot to average upwards of 40 points per game and exceed the 400-yard mark regularly.

The Huskers have too much talent and athleticism returning to not be atop this list. This should be the most exciting offense to watch in the B1G in 2016.

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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