Big Ten preview: List of FAQs begins with Ohio State starting QB — both of them

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Defending national champion Ohio State has co-starters at quarterback, according to coach Urban Meyer: title-game hero Cardale Jones (above) and the experienced J.T. Barrett. | AP

The college football season begins in earnest Thursday night, with the Big Ten — the country’s new “it” conference — on major display. Will Michigan rise to the physical challenge at Utah (7:30 p.m., FS1) in Game 1 of the Jim Harbaugh era? And can -Minnesota pull off the season’s first mega-upset against No. 2 TCU (8, ESPN)?

But we’ll focus on bigger-picture questions here — the 2015 B1G FAQs, if you will. And why wouldn’t you?

So who’s the quarterback at No. 1 Ohio State?

That’s easy: It’s Cardale Jones, hero of the 2014 College Football Playoff, who on Wednesday was announced as the starter for the opener at Virginia Tech. Also: It’s J.T. Barrett, last season’s breakout star pre-injury, who also was announced as the starter.

Yep: Co-starters, according to coach Urban Meyer. As if that’s even possible.

My money is on Barrett to eventually take charge, though expect Meyer to give each player quality time against the dangerous Hokies.

What’s the biggest threat to the defending national champs?

Many would say it’s complacency, a legitimate concern. Heck, it might be Virginia Tech, which was the only team to beat the Buckeyes last season. I believe it’s Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, a great player at by far the most important position in the sport.

The fifth-ranked Spartans have two monumental Saturdays on their schedule: Sept. 12 vs. Oregon and Nov. 21 at Ohio State. Cook has a chance to be the most influential guy on the field in both of those games.

Which new head coach will have the most success in 2015?

Who else? Illinois’ Bill Cubit. (Sorry. Cheap shot.)

It depends on how you define “success.” If Harbaugh toughens up the Wolverines and has them ready to go jaw-to-jaw with Michigan State and Ohio State, the foundation will have been laid — no matter the final 2015 record — for an eventual Big Ten championship. That’s success, right?

But Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst will win the most games, even though his team must open with Alabama and face newcomer Mike Riley and Nebraska on the road in October. The rest of the schedule is cake, relatively speaking.

Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all reached double-digit victories last season. Who’s next?

Penn State — which should start 6-0 — has a real shot at 10 wins. Better shot: Minnesota. The Gophers probably won’t beat TCU, but they’ll get rolling early enough and, as Jerry Kill teams do, pick up momentum from there. The West division, far inferior to the East, is the place to be.

Any chance at all that the West winner steals the Big Ten title?

I’m trying to think of a stronger word than “no” …

Any chance at all that the league puts two teams into the playoff?

Sure. If Ohio State goes unbeaten and Michigan State loses only to the Buckeyes — and performs well in that defeat — it’ll be difficult to keep the Spartans out of the mix. Still, we’re talking about a long shot here.

Who’s the best running back in the league?

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is the top dog — as high on Heisman Trophy lists as any player in the country — but Wisconsin’s Corey Clement could steal Elliott’s thunder by continuing the massive success of former Badgers backs Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball.

You know who has a chance to sneak ahead of both players statistically, though? Northwestern’s Justin Jackson. It wouldn’t surprise me if, by season’s end, the sophomore is viewed as being on their level.

Who gets to six wins first, Northwestern or Illinois?

Do 2016 games count? Hate to say it, but I don’t see either the Wildcats or the Illini getting to a bowl game this season.

We’ve got the next three months to talk about why, but nutshell: In a fast-improving conference, Northwestern is stagnating and Illinois is a hot mess.



1. Ohio State (13-0, 9-0): Whatever Alabama was relative to the rest of college football, that’s what the Buckeyes are now. They have superstars galore and, in Urban Meyer, one of the most driven coaches of his generation. The schedule is mighty friendly, too.

2. Michigan State (10-2, 6-2): The loss of elite defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi could be more than a chink in the armor. In many a recent year, though, this Spartans team would have been a strong Big Ten favorite.

3. Penn State (9-3, 5-3): Road games at Ohio State and Michigan State? That’s just not fair. But coach James Franklin’s Midas touch is spreading, and he has an NFL first-rounder in quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

4. Michigan (7-5, 5-3): Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have the horses to win double-digit games in his first season as predecessor Brady Hoke did. The Wolverines will be motivated to the extreme, though. They will be a blast to watch.

5. Rutgers (6-6, 2-6): Athletically, the Scarlet Knights aren’t that far off the pace — but they still have tons of ground to gain in the weight room. The line of scrimmage won’t be a very fun place.

6. Indiana (5-7, 2-6): Newcomer Jordan Howard will be a standout at running back, and Nate Sudfeld has a nice-looking arm. The defense remains a huge problem.

7. Maryland (4-8, 1-7): Last season’s squad was decent, but the starting lineup was full of seniors. One step forward, two steps back.


1. Wisconsin (10-3, 7-2): The offenses led the way when Paul Chryst was offensive coordinator in Madison. Now that he is back as head coach, he will lean on what should be one of the better defenses in the country.

2. Minnesota (9-3, 6-2): The Gophs look ready to win the West, especially with Wisconsin on the home schedule. Problem: They’ve dropped 11 in a row to the Badgers. We’ll believe it when we see it.

3. Nebraska (8-4, 6-2): Mike Riley’s Oregon State teams often started slowly. Offensively, the Huskers might start extra-slowly as they transition into a completely different scheme.

4. Northwestern (5-7, 3-5): There’s just not enough “there” there, though running back Justin Jackson is terrific and the defense could be much-improved.

5. Iowa (6-6, 3-5): The talent level keeps dropping in Iowa City, along with Kirk Ferentz’s reputation. What will be the Hawkeyes’ identity? No one seems to know.

6. Illinois (3-9, 1-7): No matter how goofy Tim Beckman was as coach, his presence will be missed. Lots of little things tend to become fractured under interim-coach regimes.

7. Purdue (3-9, 1-7): In other news, the Boilermakers still stink. What, you suspected otherwise?

Thursday’s Big Ten openers


The facts: 7:30 p.m., FS1.

The storyline: Jim Harbaugh will look across the field a time or three and think, maybe even say out loud, “Man, that’s what I want my team to be like.” The Utes are downright Harbaughian: tough in the running game (remember the name Devontae Booker) and as physical defensively as any program in the Pac-12. The Wolverines will get there, but they’re not there yet. It will take a tremendous performance by transfer quarterback Jake Rudock for them to open with a victory.

The line: Utah by 5.

Greenberg’s pick: Utah, 24-16.


The facts: 8 p.m., ESPN.

The storyline: Wouldn’t it be something if the Gophers threw all of college football for a loop by knocking off a presumed national title contender? They have the secondary — perhaps the Big Ten’s best — to give Horned Frogs preseason All-American quarterback Trevone Boykin serious trouble. Problem: TCU’s speed on defense will be difficult for the Gophers to handle. It likely will be the difference in the end.

The line: Utah by 16 1/2.

Greenberg’s pick: TCU, 31-20.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.


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