25 reasons why you should be excited for Big Ten football
It’s hard to believe but the Big Ten football season is just 25 days away. Minnesota will take on No. 2 TCU and Michigan will travel to Utah on a Thursday night to open 2015. In honor of the season being right around the corner, here are 25 reasons to get excited for Big Ten football this year.
25. Week 1 fun
Let’s fittingly start this countdown at Week 1. Eight Big Ten teams will take on bowl qualifiers from last year. Headliner matchups across the board pit Wisconsin against Alabama, Minnesota will square off with TCU and Ohio State will look to get revenge against Virginia Tech.
24. Returns of Anthrop, James
Knee injuries weren’t kind to Big Ten stars last year. But Danny Anthrop and Paul James will be back to lead their respective clubs in 2015. Anthrop was Purdue’s best offensive weapon before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament last November. His return should pay dividends for the nation’s 103rd-ranked pass offense. James will also provide a safety valve to an uncertain quarterback situation.
23. C.J. Beathard experiment
The talk is that Kirk Ferentz’s decision to start the long-haired signal-caller could determine his future in Iowa City. If Beathard fails to lead the Hawkeyes to West Division title contention, the Big Ten’s longest tenured coach could be on the way out. If it does work out, the Hawkeye offense will be fun to watch, as will be the confident Beathard in postgame pressers.
22. Tri-quarterback system?
If Pat Fitzgerald implements a three-quarterback system in Evanston, the Wildcats will be bucking conventional wisdom. Matt Alviti, Zack Oliver and Clayton Thorson would give college football something it hasn’t seen in recent memory.
21. Twin City tandem
It’ll be entertaining to see Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun go to work for the Gophers this year. The cornerback duo could easily wind up being the Big Ten’s best.
20. Nate Sudfeld shouldering the load
The Indiana quarterback is back to full strength after a shoulder injury ended his, and Indiana’s season. Kevin Wilson’s offense looks a whole lot better with Sudfeld running it. If the Hoosiers can have a slew of underclassmen receivers emerge — a big if — Sudfeld will lead one of the Big Ten’s best offenses.
19. Jack’ed up
Yes, you can get excited about offensive line play, especially at Michigan State. It’s almost unfair that Sparty still has Jack Conklin and Jack Allen. The Spartans could have the nation’s best offensive line blocking for what could be the nation’s best pocket passer. Yowza.
18. Riley’s pressure-filled pressers
The Nebraska media contingency developed a reputation for asking the tough questions. Former Husker coach Bo Pelini didn’t always answer them nicely. New coach Mike Riley, who comes off as the friendliest guy on earth, will have a different tone. Will Riley ever lose his cool? Has he ever lost his cool? If he, like Pelini, can’t take the heat anymore, the reaction will cause quite the stir in Lincoln.
17. Next Badger up
Wisconsin running back Corey Clement might not produce as many highlight reel runs as predecessor Melvin Gordon, but it’s only a matter of time before he runs wild in Madison. Few will be as electric out of the backfield as Clement.
16. Mammoth Monheim
I’m still not convinced Illinois linebacker Mason Monheim has eligibility. He’s been leading the Illini defense for the last decade, it seems. The bearded veteran is somehow everywhere at once, which should make the Illini defense watchable, and better in 2015.
The Big Ten’s most productive returning receiver gets open as well as anybody in the conference. Maybe that’s why he believes he’s the Big Ten’s best. Even with a new quarterback, his route-running is always entertaining.
14. GameDay love
Sure, ESPN’s College GameDay only released its opening week schedule. But both games feature Big Ten teams, and if this year’s slate of headliner conference games mean anything, there will be a bunch more. Corso bigheads for the win.
13. A Likely touchdown
William Likely’s cover skills are well-documented. The Maryland junior burst onto the scene in his first year as a starter by tying for the Big Ten lead in interceptions. He also emerged as the conference’s best Pick 6 threat. The Terps would appreciate a few more of those this season.
12. “Jump Around” happens again
The best tradition to witness in college football happens at the start of the fourth quarter in Madison. Nothing conveys excitement like “Jump Around.” If you’ve never seen it, please do so immediately.
11. Caputo crushing
There might not be a more feared defensive back in the conference than Wisconsin’s Michael Caputo. Few can cover the ground the Badger safety can, and few can deliver a blow like he does. He doesn’t care if it’s a running back, receiver or tight end. There’s a reason the Badgers ranked fourth in the country in passing defense last year. It all starts with No. 7.
10. Zeke the freak
Just because Ezekiel Elliot can’t rock the crop-top anymore doesn’t mean he’s slowing down anytime soon. The Buckeye back couldn’t have finished 2014-15 on a better note with single-game records in each of Ohio State’s final three postseason contests. For all the talk surrounding the quarterback situation, Zeke’s encore could be the driving force behind another national title run.
9. Pierson-El touching the football
You won’t want to leave your seat when a team gets ready to kick off to Nebraska. Nobody is more electric on special teams than De’Mornay Pierson-El. It’ll be interesting to see when teams finally start squib kicking. It probably won’t be until he’s made a few trips to paydirt.
8. Hack is back
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg became a polarizing figure last year for the varying opinions that people developed about him. This year, with an improved offensive line, he’ll convert many of the non-believers.
7. Braxton out wide
If the former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year can become a productive receiver in the Ohio State offense, the Buckeyes will be sitting pretty. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen what Braxton Miller can do in the open field. We’ll all be reminded soon enough.
6. Westerkamp Vines
Nebraska’s Jordan Westerkamp was made for Vine. I saw his behind-the-back catch last year in person and still had to watch the Vine 20 times to make sure it was real. As the No. 1 receiver, he should have plenty more Vines this year.
5. Is Jabrill for real?
Yes, I put Jabrill Peppers at No. 5 because of his number, and because of his unanimous five-star ranking coming out of high school. He could play on all three units for the Wolverines this year, which is why the Charles Woodson comparisons were heard. And squashed. But Peppers’ first full season should provide plenty of excitement in Ann Arbor.
4. Sparty’s high-flyin’ party
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a quarterback in East Lansing who throws lots of touchdown passes. Connor Cook is coming off the best offensive season in program history. If Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings can step up, there won’t be many defenses that can contain the Spartans. Expect the encore to be even better than last year’s show.
3. The decleaters
Pick your poison. Joey Bosa? Shilique Calhoun? Anthony Zettel? Which one of them would be fun to be tackled by? I’d stay away from Zettel. After all, he’s been tackling trees all summer. I wouldn’t want a piece of Calhoun, either. His speed would make for a nasty collision coming off the edge. And Bosa? As long as he’s still lifting quarterbacks off the ground like rag dolls, I want no part of that. Moving along.
2. The Harbaugh Show
The season hasn’t even started and the new Michigan coach has already been the talk of the conference. From clunker interviews to shirtless (but not khaki-less) pickup games, the high-profile leader isn’t going away from the spotlight anytime soon. The spotlight — like his khakis — follow him wherever he goes.
1. THE repeat run
Quarterback controversies, suspensions, new life to old rivalries…what doesn’t Ohio State have going into 2015? It’s as entertaining a time as ever to be consuming all the hype surrounding the defending national champs. Everybody has an opinion on Ohio State. Whenever they’re on TV, the Buckeyes will be the game to watch, whether it’s for or against them. But if you’re rooting against them, don’t hold your breath.