Can B1G teams bounce back in 2016?
Bounce-back seasons are defined by perspective.
For these five B1G bowl teams in 2014, they all had reasons to believe that 2015 would yield as much or even more success. But it didn’t work out like that.
Some took significant steps back. Others took minor steps back or stayed the same, which for a program like Penn State, meant it underachieved.
The five teams that are on this list are all candidates for bounce-back seasons. Even though Michigan State and Ohio State might argue that they didn’t meet their own lofty expectations in 2015, nobody is going to call it a “bounce-back season” because winning 12 games isn’t exactly a down season.
And if Purdue were to win six games, it wouldn’t be deemed a “bounce-back” season because the Boilermakers are 6-30 in the Darrell Hazell era.
So for this discussion, let’s stick to the five B1G programs that are bounce-back eligible in 2016:
Wins for bounce-back: 6 — Six wins might be asking for a little too much, but like Rutgers, Maryland was coming off a seven-win regular season a short time ago. Getting back to a bowl game would be a welcome sight after the mess that was 2015. D.J. Durkin will have his work cut out for him, but luckily he has three head coaches on his staff that can help get the program turned around quicker than some might expect.
Consider this; Maryland starts off the season vs. Howard, at Florida International, at UCF and vs. Purdue. Four wins in that stretch is certainly realistic, even with the holes Maryland has on defense. Getting two wins against the likes of Indiana, Minnesota and Rutgers isn’t that far-fetched, either. If Maryland’s new offensive staff can remedy the turnover-prone ways at quarterback, a bounce-back season is within grasp.
Wins for bounce-back: 8 — The Gophers are in this category because going from eight regular-season wins to five is considered a step back. Minnesota was dealing with atypical circumstances with Jerry Kill’s midseason departure, but that won’t be an issue in 2016. Tracy Claeys won’t have to face the gauntlet he did in 2015, which is a positive sign for a team with key losses at linebacker and cornerback.
Minnesota will avoid Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State and will go from the conference’s toughest schedule to one of its easiest. A lot of Minnesota’s ability to get back into the top half of the B1G will depend on Mitch Leidner’s improvement and development of Minnesota’s receivers. Still, there’s no reason the Gophers can’t rack up eight regular season wins again.
Wins for bounce-back 9 — People in Lincoln aren’t used to coming off six-win seasons. The Foster Farms Bowl relieved some of the pressure heading into the offseason, but Nebraska’s desire to get back to the nine-win plateau — that many once scoffed at — will be great. Critical pieces to replace on the defensive line won’t make that easy, but Nebraska’s experience at linebacker and in the secondary will loom large when Oregon comes to town in Week 3. As long as Nebraska can get to the bye week in October with four wins, nine is a manageable — not guaranteed — number to shoot for in 2016.
Wins for bounce-back: 9 — Nine wins is a bounce-back-to-where-people-thought-Penn-State-would-be-at-this-time number. Seven wins isn’t going to cut it in State College. Some could justify that in the first two seasons of the James Franklin era given the sanctions he had to deal with, but not in Year 3.
Not only does Penn State need to get nine wins, but they have to beat a top 25 team or two. Home games against Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State could be the time for that. The Lions also have to take care of Pitt in a major in-state non-conference showdown at Heinz Field. That’s a big one for recruiting. A new-look offense and an inexperienced defensive line might have Lions fans uneasy heading into 2016. If Franklin can lead PSU to an undefeated non-conference slate, that would ease some of the pressure on him heading into the meat of the schedule.
Wins for bounce-back: 6 — It might seem like a long time ago that Rutgers was an eight-win team. Putting an eight-win expectation on a new coaching staff isn’t fair, especially considering all the players Rutgers lost to off-the-field issues last year. Just getting to a bowl game would be a significant boost for Chris Ash in his first year.
Replacing the likes of Leonte Carroo and Steve Longa won’t be fun, but the return of Darius Hamilton alongside Kemoko Turay could give the Scarlet Knights a pass-rushing element they desperately needed in 2015. Six wins is a fair on-the-field mark for a bounce-back year. But honestly, if they can stay out of the trouble off the field and just win a handful of conference games, that would prove that Ash righted the ship.