BIG TEN EAST DIVISION
Last year: 8-5, 5-4 Big Ten, fourth in the East
Returning starters: 16 (7 offense, 8 defense, punter)
Players to watch: QB Michael Penix, RB Stevie Scott, WR Whop Philyor, WR Ty Fryfogle, TE Peyton Hendershot, DB Marcelino Ball, DB Tiawan Mullen.
The big questions: Indiana’s eight wins last season were the most by the Hoosiers since 1993. With 16 returning starters, could they be even better than last year? Can quarterback Michael Penix, who played only six games because of an injury, stay healthy? If he can, he will be a huge problem for opposing defenses. He had a torn ACL as a freshman and a shoulder injury last year. Will the offensive line miss the three starters from last season who are gone, including Coy Cronk, who transferred to Iowa?
Last year: 3-9, 1-8 Big Ten, sixth in the East
Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 5, kicker, punter)
Players to watch: QB Taulia Tagovailoa, WR Dontay Demus, WR D.J. Turner, OT Marcus Minor, CB Deonte Banks
The big questions: Josh Jackson, a Virginia Tech transfer who threw for 12 touchdowns last season, opted out of the season because of COVID-19. Will Taulia Tagovailoa, a transfer from Alabama, or walk-on Lance Legendre win the starting job? Can the Terrapins develop a running game after last year’s two top running backs, Anthony McFarland and Javon Leake, went to the NFL? Can Maryland’s offensive line play at a Big Ten level, something it has struggled with since entering the league? Starting offensive lineman Austin Fontaine also has chosen not to play this season.
Last year: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten, tie for first in the East
Returning starters: 12 (3 offense, 7 defense, kicker, punter)
Players to watch: QB Joe Milton, RB Zach Charbonnet, RB Hassan Haskins, WR Nico Collins, DE Aidan Hutchinson, DE Kwity Paye
The big questions: Is Jim Harbaugh ever going to beat Ohio State (0-5 so far)? Will inexperienced quarterback Joe Milton (11 career passes) be game ready early, or will Wolverines fans be doing something they didn’t imagine doing — missing Shea Patterson? Milton’s first start will be on the road against Minnesota, a team that won 11 games last season. Will an offensive line with four first-year starters be a question mark? Will a running back by committee work or will Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Jenkins or Chris Evans emerge as a clear No. 1?
Last year: 7-6, 4-5 Big Ten, fifth in the East
Returning starters: 9 (5 offense, 3 defense, kicker)
Players to watch: QB Rocky Lombardi, QB Theo Day, QB Payton Thomas, RB Elijah Collins, WR Jayden Reed, DE Jacub Panasiuk, DT Naquan Jones, LB Antjuan Simmons, DB Xavier Henderson
The big questions: Will new coach Mel Tucker shake up a program that might have gotten a little stale in Mark Dantonio’s final seasons? Who will be the starting quarterback? Can Michigan State begin to address the offensive line problems which have been persistent the last few seasons? Can wide receiver Jayden Reed, who transferred from Western Michigan and sat out last season, be a deep threat in the passing game? Is the schedule in Tucker’s first season somewhat favorable with Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota all having to come to Spartan Stadium?
Last year: 13-1, 9-0 Big Ten champion
Returning starters: 11 (6 offense, 3 defense, kicker, punter)
Players to watch: QB Justin Fields, RB Trey Sermon, RB Master Teague, WR Chris Olave, WR Garrett Wilson, OG Wyatt Davis, C Josh Myers, OT Thayer Munford, DE Zach Harrison, DT Taron Vincent, LB Tuf Borland, LB Pete Werner, DB Shaun Wade
The big questions: Are expectations of another national championship out of control, or is the talent there despite having returning starters at less than half of the every-down positions? Can quarterback Justin Fields stay healthy all season? Will Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon, last year’s back-up Master Teague and the rest of OSU’s ball carriers fill the big hole left by J.K. Dobbins going to the NFL? Will the three new starters in the defensive backfield play at a high level right away, or will there be some struggles? Is avenging a loss to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal, which included several controversial calls, something only fans talk about, or do the players think about it too?
Last year: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten, third in the East
Returning starters: 14 (8 offense, 5 defense, kicker)
Players to watch: QB Sean Clifford, RB Journey Brown, TE Pat Freiermuth, DE Shaka Toney, DB Lamont Wade
The big questions: After a good but not quite great first season as the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback, is Cincinnati St. Xavier graduate Sean Clifford ready to become an elite QB? Will new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarroca, who was at Minnesota last season, help him get there? How much will the Nittany Lions miss linebacker Micah Parsons, who chose not to play this season to get ready for the NFL draft? Is this Penn State’s best offensive line in many years? Who will provide the big plays offensively now that K.J. Hamler has gone to the NFL? With Ohio State scheduled to play at Penn State, do the Nittany Lions have a better chance than most years to win the Big Ten East?
Last year: 2-10, 0-9 Big Ten, seventh in the East
Returning starters: 13 (5 offense, 6 defense, kicker, punter)
Players to watch: QB Noah Vadrel, RB Isaih Pacheco, WR Bo Melton, WR Aron Cruickshank, CB Damon Hayes, DB Brendon White
The big questions: Can Greg Schiano recreate the winning program he built when he was Rutgers’ coach in the early 2000s? The Scarlet Knights weren’t playing in the Big Ten then, though. They have lost 21 straight games in the Big Ten. Can Schiano and transfers from winning programs like former Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank and former Ohio State defensive back Brendon White bring an immediate attitude change to Rutgers? How many wins would it take to show Rutgers is on its way back? Will Schiano be able to recruit the level of talent it takes to compete in the Big Ten’s East Division?