Fifty days away from the start of B1G football, here are 50 reasons to get excited
The time is finally here.
No, it isn’t the start of college football season. It is, however, 50 days from the start of B1G football. That means you get 50 reasons to be excited for 2017.
Here they are:
1. P.J. Fleck’s Row the Boat Show
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a guy shaking things up in the Twin Cities. In a division full of quiet, traditional coaches, Fleck is a bee at a picnic. We already saw Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz get worked up over Fleck’s recruiting strategy. Chances are, that isn’t the last person that calls him out. Fleck plans on rowing and rocking the boat in the B1G West.
2. New era of B1G quarterbacks
Gone are the likes of Tommy Armstrong, Mitch Leidner and Wes Lunt, all of whom started for what felt like a billion years. In addition to those three squads, roughly half the league will have a new starting quarterback. There’s optimism that guys like Tanner Lee, Brian Lewerke and Nathan Stanley can change their team’s respective offensive narrative. Perhaps one of them can become the next C.J. Beathard or Trace McSorley.
3. Janarion Grant has two healthy ankles
The most electric returner in the country is healthy after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the B1G opener last year. Now, the nation’s all-time leader in kickoff return touchdowns can get back to breaking other people’s ankles.
4. Who will feast in the East?
All the pieces are in place for the B1G East race to be WILD once again. Nobody could’ve predicted what happened last year. Penn State grabbed Michigan State by the ear and pulled it away from the big boy table. The Lions were the story of the year in college football, but will they provide an encore? And if they do, will it be enough to keep Ohio State and Michigan out of the B1G Championship for the third straight year? Lord knows if someone gets out of the East unblemished, the College Football Playoff debate won’t be nearly as heated as it was last year.
5. Chips, chips and more chips
If there was ever a time for Mark Dantonio’s squad to have a chip on its shoulder, now is it. After a nightmare year on and off the field, are we due for another MSU surprise? On paper, there’s not a lot to suggest the Spartans will bounce back from a three-win season. But if they do, expect to hear a whole lot about chips. Perhaps Dantonio will copy former Purdue cornerback Anthony Brown and get some new ink.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 21, 2017
6. Rashan Gary unleashed
We got to see flashes of the highest-rated recruit in B1G history last year. In 2017, we’ll get to see a whole lot more of Gary. Don Brown already said he believes Gary can be the best defensive lineman he’s ever seen. No longer will Gary rotate in behind three NFL defensive linemen. All signs point to him becoming the force many hoped he would be when he picked Michigan on National Signing Day.
7. Purdue is going to get a lot more interesting
If you’re unfamiliar with Jeff Brohm, just know this. The dude knows how to score points. Lots and lots of points. This team might have the feel of a Kevin Wilson Indiana squad. That is, shootouts, shootouts and more shootouts. We could use a little more of that in the B1G. Here’s hoping Brohm offers up some more classic soundbites, too.
LET’S PLAY FOOTBALL.
8. We can all watch Lovie Smith gaze at the scoreboard some more
I spent so much of my childhood doing this. The fact that this is a part of my life again is such a blessing. Yes, I know this was on the list last year. But until Smith stops his squinting ways, it will ALWAYS make this list.
Ah, there it is.
9. We get back to yelling about the College Football Playoff
But just shut up about three-loss USC.
10. Justin Jackson is coming for all your records
Entering his 12th season at Northwestern, Jackson is set up to make some history in 2017. Look at all the marks Jackson is on pace to set:
- Northwestern rushing yards leader
- Northwestern rushing touchdowns leader
- Northwestern all-purpose yards leader
- B1G’s second all-time leading rusher
- B1G’s second-most yards from scrimmage
No returning tailback in the country has more career rushing yards than Jackson. Perhaps 2017 is the year he finally starts getting his due nationally.
11. Tom Allen.gif
Two things seem like a certainty with the first-year Indiana coach. One is that the Hoosiers’ backbone will be the defense. The other is that Allen will produce a whole bunch of GIF-worthy moments.
There are 100 days until B1G football. pic.twitter.com/QWN32PmjzU
— Saturday Tradition (@Tradition) May 23, 2017
12. …and so will Jim Harbaugh
13. The Heroes Trophy
For my money, this is the best growing rivalry in the B1G. Iowa and Nebraska have essentially formed the most B1G rivalry ever. When the schedule comes out, Nebraska fans mark the Iowa game as a win every year, regardless of the circumstances. When that inevitably happens, Iowa fans love pointing out that the Hawkeyes have actually had more 21st century success than Nebraska. Both fanbases bark over who has the better corn and they fight for a trophy that was made up in 2011. If that’s not quintessential B1G, I don’t know what is.
14. The B1G’s tight end factory
Usually when the Mackey Award winner (Jake Butt) heads off to the NFL, one would think the conference would be weaker at tight end the following year. Yeah, about that. Between Mike Gesicki and Troy Fumagalli, the B1G might have the two best tight ends in America. Believe it or not, seven (!) B1G tight ends made the Mackey Award watch list. Minnesota and Wisconsin had TWO tight ends make the cut. In other words, get ready to see a whole lot of big dudes catching passes in 2017.
15. Kevin Wilson’s return to Bloomington
When the 2016 regular season ended, everyone assumed that Wilson would be on sidelines when Ohio State came to Bloomington for the 2017 season opener. But nobody had any idea he’d be on the Ohio State sidelines. Wilson’s departure from Indiana was as surprising as they come. Accusations of player mistreatment were believed to have fueled the sudden announcement of his resignation. The fact that Urban Meyer scooped Wilson up and IU will see him every season is bizarre. The fact that Wilson’s return to IU will be the first game of the 2017 B1G season is even more bizarre. Is it Aug. 31 yet?
16. Three-sack Jack is back
Fun fact: Jack Cichy isn’t crazy about the “three-sack Jack” nickname. The guy who burst onto the scene in the 2015 Holiday Bowl was having an All-American season before he went down with a torn pectoral that cost him the second half of 2016. Healthy once again, there’s reason to believe the former walk-on can pick up where he left off. That’s a scary thought for B1G offenses.
17. Trace McSorley playing football
Even without Chris Godwin, we should still see McSorley air it out a TON this year. We saw how comfortable he got in Joe Moorhead’s offense. Once he started setting his feet and trusting his receivers, Penn State went to new heights. With the exception of his teammate (some guy named Barkley?), there might not be a more fun player to watch in the B1G than McSorley.
18. Maryland’s backfield
If you’re looking for something to pass the time until the afternoon games on a fall Saturday, flip on a noon Maryland game and watch Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison go to work. Thank me later.
19. Real Heisman talk
It’s been 11 years since the B1G claimed the Heisman Trophy. This year might be the conference’s best chance in recent memory to end that skid. Between Saquon Barkley, J.T. Barrett and Trace McSorley, the B1G has three household names that could easily put themselves at the top of the list throughout the season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Akrum Wadley or Wilton Speight join that discussion, either. Even though none of those five guys will be in Chicago for B1G Media Days, all of them could earn a trip to New York.
20. Baker Mayfield’s warm Columbus welcome
Speaking of Heisman contenders, Mayfield will be the talk of the town when he comes into Columbus. The talk might not be Heisman-related though. Are GIF posters a thing yet? If so, Ohio State fans will probably have a lot of them with this image on it:
21. Wisconsin could actually run the table
Look at the Badgers’ schedule and find a game that they WON’T be favored in. The combination of the favorable slate with all of the returning pieces is enough to believe this can be more than a typical double-digit win season in Madison. We already wrote about why nobody should overlook Wisconsin as a playoff contender. Consider this a double down.
22. College GameDay should be coming to plenty of B1G cities
We already mapped out the B1G’s 10 most-likely GameDay games in 2017. Given the amount of headliner games in the conference this year, it wouldn’t be surprising if the popular pregame show set up shop in B1G country four different times. And say what you want about his analysis, but Lee Corso signing a contract extension means we’ll get more moments like this again:
So this was cool. pic.twitter.com/o3rvV6Buvw
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) October 15, 2016
23. Urban Meyer after a bowl loss
In his entire career, Meyer has three bowl losses. The first was in 2007 when his Florida squad lost to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl. A year later, the Gators won a national title. Meyer’s second bowl loss was in 2013 when his Ohio State squad lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. A year later, the Buckeyes won a national title. Meyer’s third bowl loss was in 2016 when his squad was routed by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. A year later is to be determined.
24. MORE BIG BACON
You can call Indiana tailback Tyler Natee by his birth name. The rest of us will call him by THE BEST NICKNAME EVER. Without Devine Redding, Natee should see even more work this year. That means more BIG BACON STIFF ARMS.
— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) October 29, 2016
25. Marcus Allen not being nice to ball-carriers
If you thought Penn State was all offense, keep your head on a swivel and watch out for Allen. He doesn’t mind quieting that notion in a hurry. The senior safety is already showing up in the first round of early 2018 mock drafts, and with good reason. Penn State’s leading tackler returned for his senior season to lead one of the better secondaries in the country. It’s only a matter of time before Allen blows up a backfield.
Penn State safety Marcus Allen can get bring it. pic.twitter.com/TnuQjcTiOR
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) June 26, 2017
26. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tyjon Lindsey
It isn’t often that true freshmen receivers burst onto the scene. Needless to say, there are some big-time expectations for Peoples-Jones and Lindsey. Part of that is because Michigan and Nebraska both lost a ton of talent at the position. The main reason is that both are explosive, big-play wideouts that can become game-changers playing in pass-happy offenses. The sky is the limit for these two blue-chip recruits.
27. All the Akrum Wadley jukes
Yes, Wadley put on weight this offseason in hopes of becoming a true three-down back. But man, is this guy fun to watch when he gets rolling. Behind that offensive line, Wadley can save his moves for when he gets to the second level. Everyones talks about the Michigan game as his coming-out party. It’s not hard to see why:
— Barstool Hawkeyes (@BarstoolUIowa) May 4, 2017
Any concerns about Wadley being overworked should’ve been quieted by the addition of graduate transfer James Butler. There’s a reason people are talking about Wadley as a dark-horse Heisman candidate and as one of the first running backs selected in the 2018 NFL draft.
28. Mike Riley’s return to Oregon
You know when you watch a scary movie as a kid and it freaks you out, so a few years later you’re like, ‘Hey, I don’t think I’ll sleep with my nightlight on for a month if I watch this movie again,’ but then you still do? Here’s hoping Riley’s return to Eugene isn’t like that.
29. Michigan State-Notre Dame
Even if both teams aren’t at the elite level they hope to be at in 2017, this game is still appointment viewing. Both of these programs will be desperate for a signature September win. Like last year, it’ll probably feel like the stakes are higher than they really are. The fact that it’s a primetime game on Fox probably has something to do with that. Still, this is one of the better non-conference rivalries in football with two of the better coaches in America. Playoff implications or not, sign me up.
30. We’ll decide the B1G vs. SEC argument based on the result of Michigan vs. Florida
It’s gonna happen. Just be ready for it.
31. Joey. Julius.
All is right with the world when Joey Julius is barreling down the middle of the field and blowing up an opposing return man. Hopefully Julius gets the help he needs and he can get back to doing what he loves.
32. More gold from the Minnesota specialists
Few units in the country are better at what they do on and off the field. On the field, Emmit Carpenter is one of the top returning kickers in college football. Off the field, the @MinnSpecialists Twitter account is gold (see what I did there?). Last year, it brought us the most unbelievable trick-shot vid, as well as a rousing rendition of the Gopher fight song. On top of that, former Minnesota punter Peter Mortell started the Holder of the Year award as a joke. Now it’s the best part of the postseason awards show.
— Peter Mortell (@PMortell1) December 9, 2016
33. The battle for Chicago continues
For some reason, Illinois and Northwestern are under the impression that they can turn a professional sports city into their territory. The marketing war was evident last year at B1G Media Days, and neither team appears to want to give up the title of “Chicago’s B1G team.” Ironically enough, the teams no longer play at Soldier Field so they technically can’t even win in Chicago. But hey, that won’t stop either team from slapping that slogan on every piece of marketing content it uses in 2017.
34. Jerry Kill is back on the sidelines
Three years ago, this guy was the B1G Coach of the Year. Now, he’s a Rutgers offensive coordinator. One would expect that there was some awful scandal or horrific season sandwiched between those two titles. Neither one of those things occurred. The question with Kill has never been his ability to coach or his character off the field. It’s been his health. Rutgers hopes to see all three of those things at their best.
35. The most underrated receiver in the B1G
Yes, I’m talking about Maryland’s D.J. Moore. If he made some of the plays he did in a Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State uniform, he’d be getting national attention. He had 66 catches for 994 yards and nine touchdowns in his first two seasons, but it was how it got there that was impressive. Playing for bad quarterbacks, Moore already has quite the highlight reel:
If Caleb Henderson is the real deal at quarterback, look for Moore to become a household name.
36. Having an excuse to watch Lamar Jackson on opening weekend
Poor Purdue. When it scheduled that Louisville matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium, it probably felt like a legitimate chance to pick up a nice win against a Power Five foe in Indiana’s biggest market. Instead, Purdue’s new coaching staff inherited the 115th run defense and it has to open the season against the Heisman Trophy winner. Jackson could run circles around the Boilermakers. But if you’re sitting at home on your couch, it’ll make for some top-notch entertainment on the first Saturday night of the B1G season.
37. Coaches Poll/Associated Press poll arguments
These are NOT to be confused with College Football Playoff debates. Now that the CFP poll exists, the Coaches Poll and Associated Press are absolutely useless. Still, one of the great traditions of college football is getting worked up by a meaningless poll and getting into social media fights with rival fanbases. We’re all guilty of it. #EmbraceDebate
38. Jumping Around to mid-90s hip hop is socially acceptable again
Last year, I made the trip to Madison for the Ohio State-Wisconsin game. My only prior experience in the Wisconsin press box was when the Badgers destroyed Indiana 83-20 back in 2010. Even then, I felt the press box shake. Fast forward to last year’s monster showdown when, for the majority of the third quarter, it looked like Wisconsin would enter the fourth quarter leading and we all wondered if Camp Randall would collapse from too much jumping around. For my own safety, I was grateful the Badgers threw an interception and killed the stadium-crushing momentum that was building. But anyways, Wisconsin fans will get to jump around plenty in 2017.
39. Larry Johnson’s defensive line possibilities
Don’t be surprised if at some point, Johnson decides he wants nine defensive linemen at once. That might be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. To say that Ohio State is loaded on the defensive line would be like saying Nick Saban is a successful coach. The Buckeyes have veteran experience (Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard) mixed with promising young talent (Nick Bosa, Jonathon Cooper, Chase Young) that could become the best unit in the country. There might not be a deeper unit in the B1G than that OSU front.
40. The trolling
We can do without some if it, but a little trolling never hurt anybody. The beauty of trolling in this era is that in can come in a variety of forms. It can come via a Jim Harbaugh tweet or it can come via a postgame Urban Meyer press conference.
Debate all you want if that was truly trolling. Inevitably, there will be obvious forms of it all season.
41. James Franklin-isms
When Penn State started winning, Franklin’s ways came to the forefront. Before the Purdue game, he gave everyone juice boxes because he wanted there to be enough juice for the potential sleeper matchup. After Penn State took down Oklahoma State in a huge wrestling showdown, Franklin copied Mike Gundy by getting his entire staff to pose for a picture wearing singlets. Franklin also walked into a lecture hall and called out players for sitting in the back row. Needless to say, as long as Penn State is winning, Franklin will do things his way.
42. The freakout over the reveal of Michigan’s alternate uniforms
In case you haven’t heard, Michigan is rolling out some alternate threads for a game this year. That was enough to get Michigan fans buzzing this offseason. You know that the second those things hit social media — that’ll probably happen around the start of the season — they’ll be debated until the cows come home. Messing with Michigan’s sacred uniforms is a dangerous game.
43. Maybe, just maybe, we get a healthy De’Mornay Pierson-El
I know, I know. I say this every year. It’s been a long time since his breakout true freshman season in 2014. Major injuries the last two seasons limited his growth as a receiver. Pierson-El should still have his return abilities, which Nebraska needs with a bunch of new skill players on offense. Let’s not forget how good this guy is when he’s at 100 percent.
44. A.J. Epenesa’s Iowa debut
It’s one thing for a five-star recruit to sign with Michigan or Ohio State. It’s another for a five-star recruit to sign at Iowa. Epenesa, who committed to Iowa over a year before signing day and held his pledge, will have a chance to make an immediate impact for the Hawkeyes. He won’t be expected to start from the jump, but the freakish three-sport athlete should get plenty of reps at defensive end. Iowa fans chanted Epenesa’s name when he showed up to basketball games as a sophomore. What will they do when he makes his first career sack?
45. The return of the Jazz Sweep
Ah, one of my favorite plays to watch. Jazz Peavy running the jet sweep is must-see TV. Last year, Peavy gashed a handful of B1G teams running the misdirection play. Even though he’s Wisconsin’s No. 1 receiver, the plan is still for Peavy to run the Jazz Sweep. It might only come a few times per week, but don’t be surprised if it wins Wisconsin a close game this year.
46. Year 3 of Clayton Thorson, David Blough
Last year, we wondered if Thorson and Blough could take their games to the next level. Now redshirt juniors, we should see even more maturation from the 3,000-yard passers. Each of them have different areas in need of improvement. Thorson took too many sacks and Blough took too many unnecessary risks. Thorson and Blough aren’t considered household names. After showing plenty of promise as sophomores, we should see more of those mistakes cleaned up in 2017.
47. The Ohio State quarterback of the future debate
Amazingly, J.T. Barrett still has one more year in Columbus. But if you think that’s going to quiet the “quarterback of the future” discussion, you’re dead wrong. Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins already fired up those talks by dominating the spring game. Days after that, Chris Spielman predicted that Haskins would win a B1G MVP. There will be plenty to watch for if and when OSU gets into garbage time and a backup comes in.
48. We’ll be that much closer to an epic B1G Championship
I have no idea who will be in it, what the final score will be or what will be at stake. But after the last two B1G Championships, I feel pretty confident that it’ll be a thriller. Book it.
49. You didn’t think I forgot Saquon Barkley, did you?
Come on, now. I wouldn’t forget about the human highlight reel. In my opinion, there’s not a more entertaining player in the country than Barkley. As long as he stays healthy, Penn State is appointment viewing. Let’s just take five minutes and appreciate the fact that we get at least one more year of watching this guy play football:
50. Friday night football