If you assume Ohio State is going to make the College Football Playoff—and for the time being that’s a prudent assumption—that means there’s going to be a Rose Bowl berth available for a Big Ten team. I count no fewer than seven viable contenders, three from the East and four from the West that can harbor legitimate hopes of winning the race to Pasadena as a runner-up…
Michigan State: They’re the favorite, with defensive end Shilique Calhoun being a legit contender for Defensive Player of the Year and senior quarterback Connor Cook having improved every year he’s been a starter in East Lansing.
Sparty returns 13 starters in all, but they have one big loss on the coaching staff—defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi went to Pitt. This may need to be a different kind of Michigan State team, one that relies less on their defense to win games.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions have a ferocious defensive front, where tackle Anthony Zettel will be one of the best interior D-lineman in the country and Austin Johnson isn’t far behind. The other side of the line of scrimmage is where the problems lie.
An inexperienced offensive line was absolutely terrible last year. They’ll have the benefit of experience this year, along with some incoming transfer help. If PSU’s pass protection can even rise to mediocre, the Lions are going to put points on the board, with prolific Christian Hackenberg behind center.
Michigan: Jim Harbaugh has re-energized the program and he’s got 16 returning starters to work with. That figure doesn’t include sophomore strong safety Jabril Peppers, one of the nation’s top recruits that got injured early last season. It would be a stretch to say the Wolverines are loaded, but Harbaugh isn’t inheriting a bare cupboard and we know that it doesn’t take long for him to work his turnaround magic.
Shane Morris is prepared to step in at quarterback. This is a question mark, but it’s fair to say that Morris isn’t as a big a question mark is Alex Smith was at the NFL level when Harbaugh went to the 49ers and the coach made that work out pretty well.