Fifty days away from the start of B1G football, here are 50 reasons to get excited
Don’t worry. It’ll be here before you know it.
How soon until we can go back to watching B1G football? Fifty days, to be exact. If you aren’t a baseball fan, I can’t imagine how you get your live sports fix during the dog days of summer. On the bright side, at least the Summer Olympics are right around the corner.
Now a fan of those, either? Ouch. Hopefully this will tide you over.
Here are 50 reasons to get excited for the start of B1G football:
1. Wisconsin’s weekly early-season headliners
By the third week October, Wisconsin could have two losses and make a case that it should be in the top 10. Wisconsin could be sitting there with more wins vs. top-10 teams than most top-10 teams. Or it could be one of the best 2-5 teams in college football history.
2. Will Likely and Janarion Grant running all over the field
Two of the nation’s best returners are must-see TV when they get the ball in the open field. They might also be their teams’ best options to score points in 2016.
3. Jabrill Peppers at linebacker
In case you somehow haven’t heard, the dynamic Michigan junior has a new position. And even though it’ll just be a tweak on what he did last year, Peppers will be fun to watch with even more freedom.
4. Don Brown’s sideline demeanor
Michigan’s new defensive coordinator will be MORE animated than Jim Harbaugh. Just watch.
5. Lovie back in school
Apparently there’s a new coach in Champaign. Apparently he used to coach in the NFL. Apparently there’s some hype surrounding Illinois. Apparently I’ve killed the word “apparently.”
6. Northwestern dancing
The best part of the Wildcats’ torrid start was all of the dancing it yielded in Evanston. Here’s to a few more Northwestern wins accompanied by middle-aged men tapping into their youth.
7. More Shannon Brooks
We got a small sample size of the under-recruited true freshman tailback after he burst on to the scene. His workload — and national presence — will increase in 2016.
8. New-look Buckeyes
The least-experienced team in college football will have new faces across the board. Mike Weber, Torrance Gibson and Austin Mack are a few of the guys that’ll shape this era of Urban Meyer’s tenure. The drastic preseason feel from 2015 has been well-documented, but expectations will still be sky-high.
9. More disrespect to Mike D’Antoni…I mean Mark Dantonio
Because calling out people who STILL get one of college football’s top coaches mixed up is first-rate entertainment.
10. Iowa’s encore
Iowa has only had one stretch of consecutive double-digit win seasons in program history. That’s it. If the Hawkeyes can do it again — the schedule and returning talent is promising — it’ll help establish the upper-echelon culture Iowa has been looking for.
11. C.J. Beathard with a healthy lower half
Watching Beathard extend plays with his legs was 75 percent of the fun of watching Iowa. After hip and groin injuries, the senior is expected to be at full strength this year. If he is, don’t be surprised when he becomes a household name nationally.
12. The Saquon Barkley Show
I’m all aboard the hype train. I might actually be the conductor.
13. Highlight-reel catches from D.J. Moore
Maybe the most under-the-radar freshman in the B1G, Moore was one of the few bright spots for the Terps offense. He has speed and jump-ball ability that will give whoever starts at quarterback an explosive target.
Remember when he did this?
14. Strength of non-conference schedule arguments
I already talked about Wisconsin, but I can’t wait to hear Michigan play up a home win against Colorado or Iowa fans flexing about beating an FCS school — albeit an FCS power — at home. Non-conference wins are magnified in the playoff era, and there will be no shortage of B1G teams patting themselves on the back for winning games they were supposed to.
15. Devine Redding hurdles
No Jordan Howard? No problem. Indiana still has a guy who can do this:
16. The long-awaited second season for De’Mornay Pierson-El
It’s awful when a talented player like Pierson-El has a lost season, much less one that had so much promise. He was one of the few sophomores getting preseason All-American attention. Now a junior, Pierson-El will hope to deliver on some of the hype he generated for his open-field ability as a freshman.
17. New targeting rules
A replay official can now intervene and review a targeting call. That means if refs get it wrong on the field, they have a backup. Maybe that’ll prevent targeting ejections on borderline calls. We can only hope.
18. The emergence of Markell Jones
D.J. Knox going down in the spring with a torn anterior cruciate ligament hurt, but it wasn’t a backbreaker for the Purdue offense. That’s because Jones is going to be the go-to option for the Boilers. Like Shannon Brooks, Jones was also under-recruited but showed he was plenty capable as a true freshman. If Purdue is going to get out of the B1G basement, it’ll start with Jones having a big sophomore season.
19. The non-conference headliners
Between LSU-Wisconsin, Nebraska-Oregon and Ohio State-Oklahoma, how can you not be excited for September? I’m even fired up for Illinois-North Carolina. As I said earlier, non-conference headliners have new meaning. All of these games could dictate early opinions of conference strength. Ask the Big 12 how important that is.
20. People throwing at Desmond King
One day, quarterbacks will get it. Until then, King might as well take the field rocking his cowboy hat and holding on to his Jim Thorpe Award. Maybe that’ll make quarterbacks notice him.
21. Quarterback battles will be over…hopefully
Basically the entire B1G East — sans Ohio State — is one big quarterback battle. Six East teams have yet to declare starters at the position. By the time the season starts, we should stop hearing the non-answer responses about which player might have the job. Well, maybe not in East Lansing.
22. Weekly debates about Associated Press/Coaches Polls that have been rendered useless
Like the points in “Whose Line is it Anyway?” the AP and Coaches Polls are nothing more than conversation starters. But they shouldn’t even be that. Last time I checked, the selection committee determines the only ranking that matters.
23. The debut of Rashan Gary
The first consensus No. 1 recruit in B1G history will have plenty of expectations. On most teams, a player of Gary’s caliber would be locked in as a Day-1 starter. But at Michigan, which has arguably the best defensive line in college football, that might not be the case. Whenever he gets his first collegiate action, expect a loud ovation from the Ann Arbor faithful. He’ll have to earn every one he gets after that.
24. The debut of Nick Bosa
Urban Meyer has said that he expects the five-star defensive end to make an immediate impact, despite his partially torn ACL at the end of last year. The bar was obviously set at an All-American level by his brother. Nick was actually the more highly-regarded recruit. If he can flash some of that potential as a true freshman, those expectations won’t go anywhere.
25. The beginning of the Chris Ash/D.J. Durkin eras
I’ve praised the recruiting efforts of the first-year head coaches. And to this point, the former B1G assistants have said a lot of the right things. It’s about time to see what they can do with a couple of depleted rosters in the mighty B1G East.
26. A postgame James Franklin rant
I’m not predicting when it’ll happen, because honestly, Franklin can blow up after a win or a loss. He went off after a six-point win against Army last year. With how much pressure he’s facing, I’m guessing it’ll happen at least once in 2016. And when it does, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Here’s part of James Franklin’s answer to question about, What would you say to fans pic.twitter.com/9Jm2rohslG
— Mark Wogenrich (@MarkWogenrich) October 3, 2015
27. An end to releases about watch-lists
Can’t. Take. Another. Watch. List. Release.
27. Damarius Travis, Ed Davis and Darius Hamilton return
Three guys who would’ve been All-B1G candidates played a combined one game in 2015. These three senior defenders will have a chance to bounce back and have the final seasons they were supposed to have a year ago.
28. More Indiana football, which is arguably the most entertaining team in America to watch
Fun fact: Only three Power Five teams played in higher scoring games than IU in 2016. The Hoosiers had the B1G’s top offense a year ago, and with their longtime struggles to defend the pass, it made for plenty of shootouts. Under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen, IU hopes to change that. But on the offensive end, Kevin Wilson wouldn’t mind if his team continued to look like a Big 12 team trapped in B1G uniforms.
29. Wisconsin looking like Wisconsin again
Before 2015, the last time the Badgers failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher was 2008. But even that year, they rushed for almost five yards per carry and ran the ball nearly twice as much as they threw. The 2015 season was marred by Corey Clement’s lost year and a young, banged-up offensive line. In 2016, that won’t be the case. Clement is expected to be healthy, as is former All-B1G senior Dan Voltz. Expect the Badgers to get back to being the run-heavy team that we’ve grown accustomed to.
30. Maryland might have a clue on offense
Please, Walt Bell. Do the Lord’s work on the Terps’ passing game.
31. We can finally get beyond cliché preseason vernacular
- “All we’re focused on is (insert first week opponent).”
- “I can’t wait to hit somebody again.”
- “I’m looking forward to getting back on the field with my brothers.”
- “We’re going to start whoever is going to give us the best chance to win.”
- “Our guys have really grown since the start of fall camp.”
- “(Insert new coach) has done a good job of implementing his system.”
- “We’re going to control what we can control and let the other stuff play out.”
- “If we’re not ready to go, (insert directional non-Power Five school) will make us pay.”
32. Malik McDowell, Sam Hubbard, Jake Replogle, Duwaune Smoot and Chris Wormley can abuse quarterbacks again
If there’s one position the B1G is better than any conference, it’s defensive line. There are some menacing pass-rushers returning. Sure, the likes of Joey Bosa and Shilique Calhoun are gone, but those first-team All-B1G honors on the defensive line will be as hard-fought as ever in 2016.
33. We get to look at Lovie looking at the scoreboard
As a lifelong Chicago Bears fan, nothing made my dad crazier on Sundays than when the camera panned to Smith gazing at the scoreboard with a blank look on his face. Through thick and thin, Smith’s eyes will be fixated on that scoreboard the majority of the time. If you see an animated shot of Smith on the sidelines, consider yourself lucky.
34. There should be much better quarterback play in the B1G West
I don’t like to generalize, but I’m basing this one on experience. Of the seven B1G West teams, six have returning starters under center. Four of them will be seniors. The two that weren’t seniors were redshirt freshmen in 2015. The Year-2 jump is a big one, and one that David Blough and Clayton Thorson are capable of making. Expect turnovers to be down and points to be up in the West.
35. A regular dose of Jim Harbaugh
For some of you, that might be a reason to dread the start of college football. For those who appreciate him for the entertaining presence that he is, this is very good news. If Michigan does establish itself among the college football elite again, you can bet Harbaugh will be even more Harbaugh-y.
36. College GameDay should have plenty of stops in B1G country
I wrote about this a few weeks ago. I think there will be four times that GameDay makes its way to B1G country. That doesn’t include the season opener, which will be at Lambeau Field for LSU/Wisconsin. The three times that GameDay came to B1G country in 2015 were for Oregon-Michigan State, Michigan State-Michigan and Michigan State-Ohio State. All three of those games were instant classics. Here’s hoping GameDay brings that same juice to the Midwest in 2016.
37. The B1G, as a whole, has minimal national pressure and that’s good
Most preseason playoff projections have the B1G missing out. Teams like Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma appear to be the favorites, with a Pac-12 team or another SEC team (LSU) filling that last spot. Compare that to last year when Ohio State was the biggest preseason title favorite in the history of college football (they were the first unanimous preseason No. 1 in AP poll history). Sure, Michigan will likely start as a top-five team, but there aren’t overwhelming national expectations for the conference to meet. Phil Steele had the B1G as the weakest Power Five conference in 2016. That just means that the conference will have a better chance to surpass national expectations by picking up a few wins in key non-conference games.
38. More five-star fun
The 2017 class could be the B1G’s most talented ever. Already, there are six 5-star recruits committed to B1G schools. That’s the highest total in 12 years. If the 247sports crystal ball is accurate, the B1G will get seven (!) more. That would be as many as the previous five classes combined. Obviously things can change in an instant in the recruiting world and odds are, there won’t be 13 five-star players coming to the B1G in 2017. But those expected commits and a few other top-flight recruits are taking official visits to B1G country for headliner games this fall. You know, just in case those showdowns weren’t important enough.
39. The nine-game conference schedule
The B1G got with the times and will begin the nine-game conference schedule in 2016. It’s another chance to play a Power Five opponent instead of Florida Atlantic. For strength of schedule, that’s a good thing. The bad news is that no Power Five team has ever run the table with a nine-game conference schedule. There’s more meaningful football. I’m all for that. But the margin for error is slimmer for teams competing for a playoff spot. Bowl games are tougher to reach for those borderline teams who bank on three or four non-conference wins every year. Take the good with the bad and appreciate one more week of B1G games to look forward to.
40. The B1G’s most promising set of twins
For whatever reason, we don’t often see twins shine together in college football. The McCourty twins and the Pouncey twins are the only prominent college football twins that come to mind. Well, get ready for the next great set of twins. Nebraska defensive tackles Khalil and Carlos Davis both could become stars as redshirt freshmen this year. Khalil already won the Husker Power Athlete of the Year award, which is basically given to the best athlete on the team. The Davis brothers are stars on the Nebraska track and field team, and they could be set up for stardom after the early departures of Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine.
41. Anthony Walker might be even better
I don’t know if people realized how good Walker was as a sophomore. The Northwestern linebacker racked up 20.5 tackles for loss, which was good for fourth in the nation. He blossomed into the most valuable player on a 10-win team. What will he do for an encore? That remains to be seen, but Pat Fitzgerald did say that he could become the best linebacker in program history if he maximizes his potential. If Walker has even more room to grow, that’s a scary thought for B1G offenses.
42. Satellite camps will officially be on the back burner
They already are I guess. But there shouldn’t be any reason for that dreaded topic to surface mid-season.
43. J.T. Barrett should look like his freshman self
It seems like a long time ago that Barrett set 19 school records and finished fifth in the Heisman voting as a redshirt freshman. Without Cardale Jones looking over his shoulder, Barrett should get back on track after his first full offseason as the starter. And if he gets back to the player who scored 45 touchdowns as a freshman, he’ll be must-see TV every Saturday.
44. Westerkamp Vines
Ok, so I put this in the “25 reasons to be excited for the 2015 season,” too. But a year later, this is still true. There will surely be a handful of Jordan Westerkamp catches that you’ll want to watch on loop about 30 times.
45. Rafael Gaglianone shimmying
We didn’t see as much of that from Wisconsin’s charismatic kicker in 2015 as we did in 2014. Gaglianone actually lost a good amount of weight this offseason, which he’s hoping will help him bounce back from an up-and-down sophomore season. Paul Chryst said that fans might not recognize him without his bulging belly. They will once he nails a 45-yarder and shimmies back into viral glory.
Kicker dance! pic.twitter.com/kv5FzqgGUw
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) August 31, 2014
46. The return of the Michigan State-Notre Dame rivalry
If you can’t watch this one, just catch the last 30 seconds. That’s probably when the game will be decided.
47. We can go back to barking at B1G officials
One of my college roommates once dressed up for Halloween as a B1G official. He had the blind-man shades and the blind-man stick. True story. Slightly offensive, but he got the point across. Here’s hoping no outcome is decided like the non-out-of-bounds call in the Nebraska-Michigan State game.
48. We can go back to barking at the College Football Playoff Selection Committee
Because they just never give the B1G the respect it deserves. Unfortunately, Jeff Long stepped down as CFP Chairman/post-announcement social media punching bag. We’ll have to direct our angry tweets and shouts at the TV at some other sucker.
49. Another chapter in the Dantonio/Harbaugh/Meyer trivalry
Yeah, I made up that word. It really has become a three-team rivalry in the B1G East. Last year’s games produced instant classics in two of three contests and one blowout. But with Michigan’s experience and returning talent, this could be the year that Harbaugh picks up his first win against those two. All signs point to this trivalry (TM pending) being better than ever.
50. Your Saturdays can go back to being unproductive but entertaining
And more importantly, you can put down your phones and stop looking for Pokémon.