Predicting 10 midseason headlines we'll see in the B1G
A month ago, I predicted the headlines that I didn’t expect to see in 2018.
I know what you might’ve been thinking. It’s a lot easier to predict something that won’t happen as opposed to something that will happen. I hear you loud and clear.
So instead of doing that, I predicted the B1G headlines that’ll dominate the news cycle come October and November.
Here are my 10 midseason headlines that I expect to see in 2018:
1. Here we go again? Wisconsin’s strength of schedule blasted by analysts
So in case you didn’t notice, teams who lack a quality non-conference opponent get torched for it come Playoff poll time. Instead of traveling to BYU like they did in 2017, Wisconsin gets to host BYU this year. Yikes. Picture another scenario. By the time the first Playoff poll rolls around in early November, Wisconsin’s only real chance for a statement win is at Michigan. If the Badgers lose that or if Michigan isn’t a top-15 team, the talking heads will bring up the same points they did last year about Wisconsin and the weak résumé. Never mind the fact that they could be a preseason top-5 team with a Heisman Trophy contender in Jonathan Taylor. Still, that’s how it’ll happen because Wisconsin.
2. Michigan QB Shea Patterson proving to be everything Jim Harbaugh hoped for
If you’re not all in on the Ole Miss transfer yet, I get it. He basically has just one season of college experience, and he has yet to light up a quality defense. But I’m telling you, he’s going to be a game-changer in this conference. He’s never played on a team with a quality offensive line, which I expect Michigan to have. He’s also never played on a team that had a quality defense who could take some of the pressure off him. I watched plenty of Patterson at Ole Miss to know that his skill set with his big arm and his mobility is Russell Wilson-like. I think by midseason, we’re talking about a Michigan team that’s very much alive in the Playoff hunt with Patterson running the show.
3. Ohio State running backs J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber look like nation’s top 1-2 punch
All of the excitement seems focused on Dwayne Haskins these days, but if I’m an OSU fan, I’m fired up about what that means for Dobbins and Weber this year. There are going to be a ton of carries available for them with J.T. Barrett, who averaged 164 carries per season, off to the NFL. Haskins isn’t going to run nearly as much as his predecessor did.
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Ohio State will commit to Dobbins and Weber even more, and based on their combined 2,029 yards on 295 carries (6.9 average), they could easily combine for 2,500 yards and 350 carries with someone who can stretch the field like Haskins. If you aren’t already, you should be buying stock in Dobbins and Weber.
4. Scott Frost’s offense lacking consistency at midway point of Year 1
Part of this is the likely scenario that there might be some growing pains with a freshman starting quarterback. That’s not to say either true freshman Adrian Martinez or redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia can’t succeed with Frost at the controls, but it just might be an inconsistent start. The Huskers travel to Michigan and Wisconsin, who ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in total defense in 2017. That might yield some different results than home games Akron and Colorado, who ranked No. 103 and No. 109 in total defense.
The good news is that the Huskers are loaded with skill players like Stanley Morgan Jr. and J.D. Spielman who can make home-run plays even if they’re struggling to sustain drives. And if there are some early kinks to work out, Frost is the ideal guy to make the necessary tweaks.
5. Penn State DC Brent Pry showing why impressive 2017 was no fluke
I’ll be honest. I didn’t think Penn State would finish the 2017 season ranked No. 7 in total defense. That got lost in the shuffle with all the skill the Lions had on the offensive side of the ball. But while the Penn State defense has some key pieces to replace, especially in the secondary, it’s still a unit that’s poised to stymie a bunch of B1G offenses with Pry at the helm.
The Lions still have a pair of playmaking defensive backs in Amani Oruwariye and the promising Lamont Wade, who is now at safety. I also like the idea of Shareef Miller developing into a first-team All-B1G defensive end — he’s aiming to break Carl Nassib’s Penn State record of 19.5 sacks — with true freshman Micah Parsons turning into an immediate impact guy in the middle of that defense. This unit might rank near the bottom of FBS in returning defensive production, but like Jim Leonhard at Wisconsin, I wouldn’t bank on Pry’s unit taking a step back.
6. College GameDay set to host huge Wisconsin-Michigan showdown in Ann Arbor
I think there’s a pretty solid chance that Wisconsin is undefeated going into that Week 7 showdown against Michigan. And if the Wolverines pull out a win at Notre Dame and get off to a 6-0 start, the hype in Ann Arbor will be off the charts. They might not be division foes, but there will likely be Playoff implications at stake. Add in a possible Heisman Trophy contender in Taylor with the possible emergence of Patterson and the GameDay crew won’t have justify making the trip. That week, the best competition could be that Michigan State-Penn State game or Georgia-LSU. Give me the game in Ann Arbor as the pick to host the popular pregame show.
7. Northwestern stuns Michigan State in East Lansing
Northwestern is always good for one of those random surprise wins and MSU is usually good for one of those surprise losses. Last year, those two coincided. That’s something I could easily see happening in 2018. For whatever reason, Clayton Thorson TORCHES Mark Dantonio’s defense. In two games against the Spartans, Thorson completed 72 percent of his passes for 627 yards with 7 total touchdowns in a pair of Northwestern victories. Assuming he’s healthy by the time that early-October matchup rolls around, Thorson will try and make it three in a row.
The Spartans do have a favorable start — they could be 4-0 — with huge matchups at Penn State and vs. Michigan following the Northwestern game. Sleeper game? Absolutely.
8. Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa taking B1G by storm
If I’m betting on a B1G breakout candidate on the defensive side of the ball, I’m putting all my chips on Epenesa. The former 5-star recruit flashed that rare combination of size and speed as a true freshman with 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. I don’t care if Epenesa isn’t listed as a starter heading into the season — Iowa is loaded at defensive end — and if he isn’t an every-down guy yet. He has the right head on his shoulders to learn how to become a complete player. I saw enough from Epenesa in 2017 to know that he’s going to be a force whenever he gets an opportunity. By midseason, he should be at the top of scouting reports on a weekly basis.
9. Purdue QB Elijah Sindelar getting NFL buzz
I did write a couple months ago that I thought Sindelar was an intriguing candidate to end the B1G’s drought of first-round quarterbacks in 2019. He could also end Purdue’s drought of 10 years without a quarterback in the draft. Sindelar obviously still has to overcome a torn anterior cruciate ligament. You know, assuming the guy isn’t just going to play through that again. He’s 6-4, 225 pounds with a big arm — scouts will love that — though he needs to improve his accuracy.
Still, it’s amazing to think he put up 784 passing yards, 9 touchdowns and just 1 interception in those final 3 games on a torn ACL. He’s going to be the guy if he’s healthy and with Jeff Brohm masterminding the offense, Sindelar is going to get NFL attention in a hurry.
10. For second time in three years, “The Game” will have B1G Championship, Playoff berth at stake
OK, so this is more of a late-season prediction than a midseason prediction, but it’s during the regular season so it still counts. Yes, I’m buying the possibility of both Michigan and Ohio State having Playoff chances alive heading into the regular-season finale. Both could set themselves up well with quality non-conference wins away from home — that would be huge — to still be top-10 teams with a potential conference title game looming. Ohio State would obviously need to win two of three between the TCU, Penn State and Michigan State games (all away from Columbus).
And for those of you saying I’m jumping the gun on the Wolverines, keep in mind that they return 83 percent of their defensive production from a group that was No. 3 in yards allowed in 2017. Call me crazy, but I like the idea of pairing that with Patterson and all of those returning skill players. Whether you like it or not, “The Game” could be heading for a repeat of 2016. Let’s just hope this time it involves a less controversial ending.