The Big Ten is filled with iconic figures, but where statues and retired jerseys now reside, there was once just a signed letter of intent and unfulfilled potential. You know the household names in the heartland today and in the annals of history, but who are the players that will fill the void left by the starts of today moving on? We look at each team in the Big Ten, and who has the best chance of being the next superstar for good ‘ole State U.
First up, we’ll take a look at the East Division team-by-team:
Gone is running back Jordan Howard who made a splash in just one year running over opposing defenses. Gone too is Nate Sudfeld who beat up all other Big Ten quarterbacks in the stats department. And since the chess pieces are still being moved around by Kevin Wilson, we’d be re-missed if we didn’t stay on the offensive side of the ball. For that look no further than sophomore-to-be wide receiver Nick Westbrook.
The chances of the Hoosiers letting it fly around the yard plenty this fall are about as good as gray skies entering the equation come late November in the Midwest. And although Indiana returns its top three receivers in 2016, at 6-3 with plenty of speed, Westbrook is going to breakout at some point this season. If he doesn’t take over as the favorite target at some point this year, it’s almost a guarantee in 2017.
To say the Terps are a work in progress would be a bigger understatement than saying Donald Trump needs a new hairstyle. Regardless, someone has to step up as the main cog in an offense that was far too inconsistent in 2015. Though new head coach DJ Durkin, he’s had stops at places like Michigan and Stanford, and there’s a good bet that, he’s married to a tough nosed approach that revolves around running the ball.
Enter stage left sophomore running back Ty Johnson. At 5-10, 184 lbs., Johnson showed flashes of his game-changing abilities last year with 250 yards on just thirty-five carries (7.1 avg.), but simply failed to get enough opportunities in a season of trial and error for the Maryland offense. Look for that to be different in 2016. Durkin will want his defense to be well rested, and he’ll likely feature Johnson and the running game as long as he can withstand the pounding.
You know it, I know it, and almost every football geek on the planet knows it. Defensive tackle Rashan Gary is going to be an absolute beast for Michigan. He was the consensus No. 1 recruit last year, and for good reason. Gary possesses an uncanny blend of size, speed and power that has many believing he can contribute immediately.
The maize and blue sky appears to be the limit for this kid, and don’t think his freshman status will keep Harbaugh and company from allowing him to be a part of a defense that should be more than formidable yet again. This might not be the monster of all years for him, but those days appear to be on the horizon sooner rather than later.
Michigan State Spartans
There are plenty of pieces to replace on offense for Mark Dantonio’s crew, but there’s one guy that continued to get rave reviews from players and coaches alike for his play-making abilities in the spring. All-everything quarterback Connor Cook is gone to graduation, but at least presumptive starter Tyler O’Connor will have a potential stud in the making to throw to with wide receiver Donnie Corley lining up on the outside.
It’s not often that a guy is singled out so often as a recurring theme, but veteran and rookie players alike have continued to sing the praises of Corley’s speed, athleticism, football IQ and work ethic. Just a freshman, Corely is a sponge, and at 6-3 has the size and abilities to go up and make the tough catches, while also displaying speed to simply out run defensive backs. The Spartans will need to find a replacement for guys like Aaron Burbridge, and Corley seems to fit the bill.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Running backs seem to grow on Buckeye trees in Columbus, so you’re almost always looking for the next great one. Beanie Wells gave way to Carlos Hyde who gave way to Ezekiel Elliott who will give way to … Mike Weber.
If it weren’t for injuries and an absolute boss in Elliott already toting the mail in the ‘Shoe, you’d likely already have Weber jersey’s being made and sold in the local Buckeye Corner (unofficially of course). Urban Meyer might start the year with a running back by committee approach, but when healthy, Weber has the speed, power and vision to be the next good one in Columbus. He’s a good bet to take over the lions’ share of carries once things begin to get serious down the stretch.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Head coach James Franklin is still trying to get the Penn State program into the same conversations as brethren Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, but he has huge holes to fill on the defensive line with the graduation of defensive tackle Anthony Zettel who is off to the NFL.
Though undersized at 6-1, and 267 lbs, former end turned tackle Kevin Givens is the likely heir apparent. Coming from seemingly nowhere in the spring, all Givens did was record 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in the one half of the annual spring game.
He’s quick off the line and possesses instincts towards the ball that simply can’t be taught. He was tabbed as the surprise of the spring by the coaching staff, but don’t let it be a shock if he’s the next in line of many Penn State defensive linemen who end up playing on Sundays.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Former Ohio State D-coordinator Chris Ash inherits a program in turmoil and it’s unlikely to be an overnight strip-mall build towards relevance — especially in the same neighborhood as the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Spartans. Needless to say, the new coaching staff will be looking for star power immediately. Unfortunately for him, the pickings are somewhat slim.
One guy to keep an eye on however is incoming freshman running back Trey Sneed. At an unpolished 5-10, 205 lbs, Sneed is one of four freshman that enrolled early, and was recently the only true freshman to be “knighted” — having his black-stripe removed from his helmet signaling a welcome to the program type moment. He has the work ethic, leadership and skill set to be a star in the Rutgers backfield. It might not happen this year, but he’s got everything in front of him to be a showcase back.
Michigan’s Karan Higdon guarantees a win over OSU
Well, that escalated quickly.
It took all of one media session ahead of “The Game” between Michigan and Ohio State for things to get really interesting.
That’s because Michigan running back Karan Higdon decided to call the Wolverines shot…guaranteeing a win over the hated Buckeyes from Ohio State this Saturday.
To be fair, this all started with Higdon’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, who guaranteed a victory way back in 1986.
Harbaugh was right that day, leading the Wolverines to a 26-24 win and the Rose Bowl just like he said they would.
Ever since then, it’s been an annual tradition, but there hasn’t been this much on the line for “The Game” since the 2006 edition which pitted No. 1 against No. 2 in the nation.
Ohio State won that game and went on to play Florida in the BCS national championship game.
This year’s game has a lot of the feel of the 2006 and 1986 versions. All that is on the line is a Big Ten East division title and a berth in the College Football Playoff. You know, nothing big.
For Michigan, there is also the six-game losing streak to Ohio State and the fact that they are 1-13 since 2004 in the most-heated and hated of rivalries within the Big Ten.
Higdon may have been goaded in to the statement, but he also didn’t back down from it.
We’ll see if the Wolverines can back up the talk of their running back.
You can bet Ohio State will find some serious motivation that big of a statement.
Dantonio, Harbaugh jab at each other after bowl game selections
Rivalries have no offseason, and that certainly is the case for Michigan State when it comes to in-state rival Michigan. That’s especially the case when bowl season rolled around in 2017.
That’s because Michigan is headed to Tampa Bay to play in the Outback Bowl, while Michigan State is off the…gasp…horrific site of San Diego for its bowl game.
No. 16 Michigan State is slated to play No. 18 Washington State in easily the best non-New Years Six bowl game the Big Ten has, while Michigan gets South Carolina. Despite the disparity in location and quality of opponent, some felt the Spartans were slighted.
Dantonio was asked if the program felt slighted by not playing on New Year’s Day, and this was his response:
"I don't worry about that. I am just focused on the @HolidayBowlGame. I'll just continue to focus on beating Michigan and let things sort out." – Mark Dantonio when asked if he felt slighted because Michigan in playing Tampa. pic.twitter.com/6sjRzVZE6U
— Rico Beard (@RicoBeard) December 3, 2017
It was a clear dig at the Wolverines, whom the Spartans have owned since Dantonio took over as head coach at Michigan State.
Harbaugh just couldn’t let that go, responding back on Twitter on Monday.
Saw Coach D comments on continuing to "focus" on how "he" can beat Michigan. Congrats on turning around a 3-9 team, plagued with off field issues. Good for BIG to have him back.
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) December 4, 2017
Backhanded compliment much?
It’s clear these two don’t get along much, because usually these things get settled behind closed doors. Instead, Harbaugh took a very public jab at Dantonio and all the off-field issues that took place over the last year and a half.
Who will get the ultimate last word? Well, this season that was certainly Michigan State. Not only did the Spartans beat Michigan, but they finished second in the East division, while Michigan faltered to an 8-4 finish in the regular season.
If anything, this should fuel an offseason of rivalry fun between these two programs.
Michigan fans respond to John O’Korn with death threats following loss to OSU
John O’Korn leaves heartfelt message following loss to Michigan and some fans respond with death threats and more.
Michigan was supposed to be an East division contender and a national power this season, but that didn’t happen the way some in the media thought it would. Instead, Michigan lost for the seventh straight season to hated rival Ohio State on Saturday to cap off a disappointing 8-4 regular season.
Naturally, the worst in Michigan fandom came out following the 31-20 loss. The biggest target of their ire? Backup quarterback John O’Korn, who had to fill in for an injured Brandon Peters.
A late interception by O’Korn didn’t help in a close game at home against the Buckeyes. It also led to some rather horrible abuse on Twitter — including advice to “kill yourself” and death threats due to this loss.
It couldn’t get much worse than this nugget:
Kill yours self you worthless faggot.
— Chevy Chase🇵🇷🇮🇷 (@ThatKidChase7) November 26, 2017
Keeping it classy as always happens on Twitter, Michigan Twitter fans also went with the classic burn of “Yo Momma”
Yo mom need smacked for making such a shitty fuckin quarterback
— Gage (@FinlayGage) November 26, 2017
Then of course there were the more mild and idiotic Tweets. You know, things like the classic “you blow” burn and the like.
You fucking blow!
— Nick Reamer (@ReamerNick177) November 26, 2017
Worst starting QB in Michigan history. At least you'll be remembered for something
— Brendan Lang (@blang_96) November 26, 2017
This was you today… grateful your gone ✌️ pic.twitter.com/eGMK43Yuln
— TaylorgangTrippy2050 (@IamTrippyMane) November 26, 2017
Sometimes Twitter really is the worst of humanity. Luckily, these tweets were a small sampling compared to the overwhelming group that showed support and thanks for the efforts of O’Korn and the Michigan team despite the loss.
Yes, losing to your arch-rival in a football game doesn’t feel very good. Yes, fans are going to get riled up continually losing those kind of games.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time this season something like this has happened to a Michigan quarterback. It all started with the vocal criticism and threats made to former starter, Wilton Speight.
Here’s a small piece of advice — if you feel the need to tell someone to kill themselves or to threaten them with death — put the Twitter machine down, walk away and don’t ever come back to it. Seriously? As much as we all love football, it is just a game at the end of the day and wishing death on someone because they didn’t play the way you wanted them is about as low as it gets.
O’Korn clearly left everything he had on the field for the Wolverines. Was it good enough to win this game? No.
But, what more can you ask for from any player other than to give it all for their team.
While O’Korn and the Wolverines lost the game, those who threatened him and the team following it are the ones losing at life.
Get over yourselves and move on with life. One loss by a team you support shouldn’t define your life. If so, it’s truly a sad one and we feel sorry for you.
Michigan, Michigan State embracing importance of in-state rivalry
Michigan and Michigan State at least agree that this rivalry game is an important one.
Michigan and Michigan State couldn’t be more different. It’s in their DNA as universities really. But, that stark difference really hasn’t been seen much on the field.
Off the field, these two teams treat this game in vastly different manors.
Publicly, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has tried to play down the bitterness of this game. He’s of the “this is the game on our schedule this week” camp, but does at least acknowledge the fact that this game does matter.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is the second-longest serving head coach in the Big Ten, but his stance on the game with Michigan hasn’t changed. He’s not afraid to call it a rivalry, nor shy away from the importance of this in-state matchup.
“I think coaches know what games are important, they understand,” Dantonio said on Tuesday, via MLive.com. “They can stand up here and say, ‘well, it’s just another football game,’ but it’s not.”
It’s not a surprising stance, given Dantonio is the one who has made this game in to a real rivalry on and off the field.
I mean, there’s the classic, “pride comes before the fall” moment…
…and who can forget his comments on Mike Hart calling Michigan State “little brother?”
Then there’s the fact that Michigan State has taken advantage of Michigan’s downturn on the field. Dantonio backed up any talk so far, owning a 7-3 record against the Wolverines.
Going from after thoughts to College Football Playoff participants speaks volumes, and making the Michigan game in to a true rivalry helped get the Spartans to where they are today.
“I have a great amount of respect for what they’ve accomplished down there – always have had that,” said Dantonio, via MLive.com. “My goal when I came here was to make that a rivalry. I think it’s a rivalry. We’ll leave it at that.”
As for his counterpart…well, Harbaugh is heaping praise on the opponent and downplaying the talk of the bitterness of this game.
If that isn’t the classic rope-a-dope tactic of a head coach, I don’t know what is.
At least one of his players isn’t afraid to talk about the bitterness and importance of this game. Defensive end Maurice Hurst let us know this game’s importance isn’t just on the field, its in the battles for recruiting as well.
“Everything really matters about this one because the recruits care about it, the people in the state care about it a lot and you hear about it for the entire year,” Hurst said. “It is something that brings the best out of people, just because a lot of these guys know each other and a lot of them are from the same area.”
With Michigan again getting all the national attention and Michigan State coming off a brutal 2016 and 2017 offseason, it’s understandable for Dantonio to want to play this game up.
Can his team show that the emphasis on this game can translate back to winning results? Let’s not forget that the Spartans have won three of the last four in this series.
But, this is a vastly different year in the rivalry. There are a lot of young players on both sides of this thing, and that could make for some interesting moments on Saturday night under the Michigan Stadium lights.
It may just be whomever can get the emotional aspect of this game right that will win.