College football: Big Ten East Division preview


Last year: 4-8, 2-7 Big Ten, sixth in the East

Coach: Tom Allen (30-40 all at Indiana)

Returning starters: 7 (4 offense, 2 defense, punter)

Players to watch: QB Tayven Jackson, RB Jaylin Lucas, WR Cam Camper, WR Dequece Carter, WR Donaven McCulley, DE Andre Carter, LB Aaron Casey

The big questions: Can the Hoosiers turn a good year in the transfer portal into a good season on the field? Who will be the starting quarterback, Tennessee transfer Tayven Jackson or redshirt freshman Brendan Sorsby? How healthy is No. 1 receiver Cam Camper, who had surgery for a torn ACL last October? Can defensive end Andre Carter, who had 7 sacks and 13 tackles for losses at Western Michigan last season, reach that level of productivity or close to it in the Big Ten? Will the offensive line, which allowed 38 sacks last season, do a better job of protecting the quarterback?


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

Coach: Mike Locksley (21-28 at Maryland, 23-54 overall)

Returning starters: 10 (4 offense, 5 defense, punter)

Players to watch: QB Taulia Tagovailoa, RB Roman Hemby, WR Jeshaun Jones, WR Tyrese Chambers, LB Jaishawn Barham, CB Ja’Quan Sheppard, CB Tarheeb Still

The big questions: Which unidentified SEC school was quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa talking about when he said at Big Ten Football Media Days he was offered $1.5 million to transfer by one of that league’s schools? How fast can the Terrapins rebuild their offensive line after two of last year’s starters were selected in the NFL draft and a third lineman signed as an undrafted free agent? Is eight wins the ceiling for Maryland again this season?


Last year: 13-1 overall, 9-0 Big Ten, Big Ten champion

Coach: Jim Harbaugh (74-25 at Michigan, 103-46 overall)

Returning starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)

Players to watch: QB J.J. McCarthy, RB Blake Corum, RB Donovan Edwards, WR Cornelius Johnson, TE Colston Loveland, DT Kris Jenkins, LB Junior Colson, S Rod Moore, CB Will Johnson

The big questions: Can Michigan win the Big Ten East and the Big Ten championship, beat Ohio State and go to the College Football Playoff for the third year in a row? Will running back Blake Corum (1,463 yards last season) be at full strength after knee surgery? Are a healthy Corum and Donovan Edwards the best running back combination in the Big Ten? How big a step will quarterback J.J. McCarthy (2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) take in his second season as the starter?

Michigan State

Last year: 5-7, 3-6 Big Ten, fifth in the East

Coach: Mel Tucker (16-14 at Michigan State, 23-21 overall)

Returning starters: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense)

Players to watch: QB Noah Kim, RB Jalen Berger, RB Jaren Mangham, DT Simeon Barrow, LB Jacoby Windmon, LB Cal Haladay, CB Charles Brantley

The big questions: Can the Spartans rebound from losing starting quarterback PaytonThorne and their leading returning receiver Keon Coleman who entered the transfer portal after spring practice? Thorne, who had started MSU’s last 26 games, landed at Auburn and Coleman is at Florida State. Who will be the starting quarterback — last year’s back-up Noah Kim, redshirt freshman Katin Houser or incoming freshman Sam Leavitt? Is MSU having any buyer’s remorse over that 10-year, $95 million guaranteed contract it gave coach Mel Tucker? Can the Spartans’ defense, which ranked No. 100 nationally overall last year, improve, especially the defensive backfield, which had only two interceptions all season?

Ohio State

Last year: 11-2, 8-1 Big Ten, second in the East

Coach: Ryan Day (45-6 all at Ohio State)

Returning starters: 13 (7 offense, 5 defense, punter)

Players to watch: QB Kyle McCord, QB Devin Brown, RB TreVeyon Henderson, RB Miyan Williams, WR Marvin Harrison, WR Emeka Egbuka, DE J.T. Tuimoloau, DE Jack Sawyer, LB Tommy Eichenberg, LB Steele Chambers, CB Denzel Burke, S Sonny Styles, S Lathan Ransom

The big questions: Can the Buckeyes beat Michigan? That’s the only question for some people in the Buckeyes’ fan base who came to expect an OSU win in “The Game” every year after 17 wins in 19 seasons against the Wolverines from 2001 to 2019. Will Kyle McCord or Devin Brown be the starting quarterback and how well will he perform? Will the loser of the quarterback battle stay until the end of the season or transfer? Will an offensive line with three first-year starters solidify early or be a season-long concern? Will Marvin Harrison Jr. be a Heisman Trophy finalist? Can running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams stay healthy? Will the defense solve its problem of allowing too many big plays?

Penn State

Last year: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten, third in the East

Coach: James Franklin (78-36 Big Ten, 102-47 overall)

Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

Players to watch: QB Drew Allar, RB Nick Singleton, RB Kaytron Allen, TE Theo Johnson, OT Olu Fashanu, DE Adisa Isaac, Hakeem Beaman, LB Curtis Jacobs, CB Kalen King

The big questions: Will sophomore quarterback Drew Allar, a former 5-star recruit from Medina, be the elite quarterback Penn State thinks he can be? Can the Nittany Lions compete with Ohio State and Michigan after going 3-9 in their last 12 games against those two teams? Is wide receiver a possible weak point in an otherwise strong offense? The Nittany Lions are loaded at running back with Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, but KeAndre Lambert-Smith, with 24 catches last season, is the only proven wideout.


Last year: 4-8, 1-8 Big Ten, seventh

Coach: Greg Schiano (80-89 overall and at Rutgers)

Returning starters: 13 (5 offense, 7 defense, kicker)

Players to watch: QB Gavin Wimsatt, RB Samuel Brown, WR Naseim Brantley, TE Johnny Langan, DE Aaron Lewis, Mohamed Toure, CB Max Melton

The big questions: Can the Scarlet Knights hope to get close to a winning season unless quarterbacks Gavin Wimsatt and Evan Simon improve on their stats from last season when they combined to complete only 51 percent of their passes and had 9 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions? Can Rutgers’ offensive line protect the quarterback and open holes for the running backs after being far from proficient in those areas last season when the Scarlet Knights scored an average of 17.4 points a game? Can wide receiver JaQuae Jackson successfully make the jump to the Big Ten from Division II California of Pennsylvania, where he caught 77 passes last season? Is Greg Schiano’s second attempt to turn Rutgers football around more challenging than the first time?

Compiled by Jim Naveau. Reach him at [email protected].

Jim Naveau
Jim Naveau has covered local and high school sports for The Lima News since 1978 and Ohio State football since 1992. His OSU coverage appears in more than 30 newspapers. Naveau, a Miami University graduate, also worked at the Greenville Advocate and the Piqua Daily Call. He has seen every boys state basketball tournament since 1977. Reach him at [email protected] or 567-242-0414.