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Big Ten football: East Division capsules

August 25, 2018

East Division

Indiana

Last year: 5-7, 2-7 Big Ten (tied for sixth, East)

Coach: Tom Allen, 5-8 in his second year at Indiana and overall

The goods: Running back Morgan Ellison gives Indiana a playmaker on offense after ranking second among Big Ten freshmen ball carriers last fall. He’ll work behind a line which returns three starters. Nick Westbrook, who caught 54 passes in 2016 before missing all but one play in 2017, returns at receiver.

The questions: Indiana is still working to figure out its starting quarterback situation, with Arizona graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins battling sophomore Peyton Ramsey, a late-season starter last year, remaining in the mix. The Hoosiers will also be young on defense, looking to replace seven starters.

The bottom line: Injuries impacted Indiana’s possibilities in a major way last season but created experience the Hoosiers now look to use to their advantage on offense, where 11 players with starting experience return. Indiana will be green defensively, and progress there will dictate this team’s fate. BATTERSON’S PICK: 6-6, 3-6

SCHEDULE

9/1 at Florida International

9/8 Virginia

9/15 Ball State

9/22 Michigan State

9/29 at Rutgers

10/6 at Ohio State

10/13 Iowa

10/20 Penn State

10/26 at Minnesota

11/10 Maryland

11/17 at Michigan

11/24 Purdue

Maryland

Last year: 4-8, 2-7 Big Ten (tied for sixth, East)

Coach: D.J. Durkin, 10-15 in third year at Maryland and overall

Interim coach: Matt Canada

The goods: Maryland returns all five of its season-long offensive line starters, expected to create some holes for returning running backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison, who combined for 1,492 yards last season. Five starters are back on defense, led by nickel Antoine Brooks and end Jesse Aniebohnam.

The questions: Kasim Hill, a good fit for the pro-style preference of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, join Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenshlager in giving the Terrapins no shortage of experienced quarterbacks. Keeping at least one healthy is among Maryland’s top needs.

The bottom line: The heat stroke death of Maryland player Jordan McNair and the placement of Durkin on administrative leave create plenty of questions for the Terrapins as they prepare for the start of the season. How Maryland deals with it all moving forward creates questions. BATTERSON’S PICK: 6-6, 4-5

SCHEDULE

9/1 Texas in Landover, Md.

9/8 at Bowling Green

9/15 Temple

9/22 Minnesota

10/6 at Michigan

10/13 Rutgers

10/20 at Iowa

10/27 Illinois

11/3 Michigan State

11/10 at Indiana

11/17 Ohio State

11/24 at Penn State

Michigan

Last year: 8-5, 5-4 Big Ten (fourth, East)

Coach: Jim Harbaugh, 28-11 in his fourth year at Michigan, 86-38 overall

The goods: The Wolverines’ strength starts on the front and back end of its defense, where ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich join a secondary that returns intact and is led by cornerbacks Lavert Hill and David Long. Linebacker Devin Bush also factors into a defense that is loaded with experienced talent.

The questions: Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson steps in at quarterback, hoping to jumpstart an offense which struggled with line play and a passing game that converted just nine touchdown passes, the program’s fewest since 1975. Running backs Karan Higdon and Chris Evans will help limit the pressure.

The bottom line: The addition of veteran assistant Ed Warinner to the offensive coaching staff is being counted on to help fix Michigan’s offensive issues. His ability to do that before the Wolverines face Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State in succession will dictate Michigan’s fate this season. BATTERSON’S PICK: 9-3, 6-3

SCHEDULE

9/1 at Notre Dame

9/8 Western Michigan

9/15 SMU

9/22 Nebraska

9/29 at Northwestern

10/6 Maryland

10/13 Wisconsin

10/20 at Michigan State

11/3 Penn State

11/10 at Rutgers

11/17 Indiana

11/24 at Ohio State

Michigan State

Last year: 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten (tied for second, East)

Coach: Mark Dantonio, 100-45 in 12th year at Michigan State, 118-62 overall

The goods: The Spartans return 19 starters from a 10-win team, including 10 on offense. Quarterback Brian Lewerke and running back LJ Scott join receivers Felton Davis and Darrell Stewart in giving Michigan State plenty of playmakers. Linebacker Joe Bachie leads nine returning defensive starters.

The questions: There aren’t many with as much experience as Michigan State returns. The Spartans’ focus offensively has been on more consistent offensive execution and finishing drives after finishing 96th nationally and 10th in the Big Ten in scoring at 24.5 points per game last season.

The bottom line: Consecutive mid-October games against Penn State and Michigan will determine if the Spartans are contender or pretender in the East Division race. The schedule, aside from a potential early-season trap at Arizona State, is favorable and does not include Wisconsin or Iowa from the West. BATTERSON’S PICK: 10-2, 7-2

SCHEDULE

8/31 Utah State

9/8 at Arizona State

9/22 at Indiana

9/29 Central Michigan

10/6 Northwestern

10/13 at Penn State

10/20 Michigan

10/27 Purdue

11/3 at Maryland

11/10 Ohio State

11/17 at Nebraska

11/24 Rutgers

Ohio State

Last year: 12-2, 8-1 Big Ten (first, East)

Coach: Urban Meyer, 73-8 in his seventh year, 177-31 overall

Interim coach: Ryan Day

The goods: The Buckeyes led the Big Ten with 243.1 rushing yards per game last season and sophomore J.K. Dobbins and junior Mike Weber provide Ohio State with a 1-2 punch that will be complemented by receiver Parris Campbell. All-American end Nick Bosa and tackle Dre’Mont Jones lead the defense.

The questions: Four-year starting quarterback J.T. Barrett and Rimington Award-winning center Billy Price have completed their eligibility, leaving sophomore Dwayne Haskins and senior Brady Taylor as first-year starters. The Buckeyes return just four defensive starters and are green at linebacker.

The bottom line: Offensive coordinator Ryan Day’s ability to keep things moving forward as Meyer is suspended for the first three games. Ohio State faces two of its biggest Big Ten challenges on the road, playing at Penn State and Michigan State this season. BATTERSON’s PICK: 11-2, 7-2

SCHEDULE

9/1 Oregon State

9/8 Rutgers

9/15 TCU at Arlington, Texas

9/22 Tulane

9/29 at Penn State

10/6 Indiana

10/13 Minnesota

10/20 at Purdue

11/3 Nebraska

11/10 at Michigan State

11/17 at Maryland

11/24 Michigan

Penn State

Last year: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten (tied for second, East)

Coach: James Franklin, 36-17 in his fifth year at Penn State, 60-32 overall

The goods: Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki are gone, but Big Ten passing leader Trace McSorley returns at quarterback after throwing for an average of 274.6 yards per game. Receivers Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins, who combined for 82 catches, return as do three offensive line starters.

The questions: End Shareef Miller is one of three players with starting experience returning on defense, where Penn State is in rebuild mode but does return corner John Reid after he missed 2017 with an injury. Incoming freshman Micah Parsons is expected to compete at linebacker this season.

The bottom line: Penn State has plenty of work to do as this season begins, particularly on defense the entire secondary must be replaced but the comforts of home will be plentiful for a young group. The schedule brings Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa through Beaver Stadium this season. BATTERSON’S PICK: 9-3, 6-3

SCHEDULE

9/1 Appalachian State

9/8 at Pittsburgh

9/15 Kent State

9/21 at Illinois

9/29 Ohio State

10/13 Michigan State

10/20 at Indiana

10/27 Iowa

11/3 at Michigan

11/10 Wisconsin

11/17 at Rutgers

11/24 Maryland

Rutgers

Last year: 4-8, 3-6 (fifth, East)

Coach: Chris Ash, 6-18 in his third year at Rutgers and overall

The goods: A group of eight returning starters on defense, led by linebacker Trevor Morris and cornerback Isaiah Wharton, lead the Scarlet Knights’ hopes. Boston College graduate transfer Jonathan Hilliman will step in at running back behind an improving offensive front.

The questions: Quarterback has been problematic for the Scarlet Knights throughout Ash’s first two seasons and the competition has been crowded during fall camp, with fifth-year senior Gio Rescigno, sophomore Johnathan Lewis and freshman Artur Sitkowski all given first-team reps this past week.

The bottom line: If a starting quarterback and reliable receivers emerge, Rutgers has a chance to gain some traction early. The Scarlet Knights face opponents which were a combined 32-54 a year ago in the first seven games, including 12-2 Ohio State. Progress has been steady. Expect it to continue. BATTERSON’S PICK: 4-8, 1-8

SCHEDULE

9/1 Texas State

9/8 at Ohio State

9/15 at Kansas

9/22 Buffalo

9/29 Indiana

10/6 Illinois

10/13 at Maryland

10/20 Northwestern

11/3 at Wisconsin

11/10 Michigan

11/17 Penn State

11/24 at Michigan State

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