2019 Big Ten East Football Preview
Wolverines or Buckeyes?
Our Big Ten East preview odds for 2019 has Michigan as the betting favorite. However, our Big Ten East preview sees the Wolverines as being vulnerable. They have issues that could prove to hamper their success. Still, of all teams in the Big Ten, we think that the Michigan Wolverines have the best chance of attaining a CFP berth. Four other teams in our Big Ten East football preview should be chosen to play in a bowl game. They include, the Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan State Spartans, and Penn State Nittany Lions. Finally, we do expect the Indiana Hoosiers to be in the bowl mix. Teams in the Big Ten East that will struggle to make a postseason appearance are the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Our 2019 Big Ten East Preview
In our preview for Big Ten East football, our ranking determiners conclude that it’s a close call as to whether the Michigan Wolverines or the Ohio State Buckeyes will finish on top. In our Big Ten East preview, we’re going with Michigan and then OSU. Both teams bring solid defenses to the field, but we find the Wolverines’ O-line and quarterback to be superior, putting them over the top. After projecting Michigan to be first and Ohio State second, we like Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are loaded on defense, and that will help them win some tough games.
The Penn State Nittany Lions, who we predict will finish fourth in the Big Ten East, have major question marks on offense, including at QB. On the other hand, they have a sound offensive line and one of the better defenses in the conference. The Indiana Hoosiers have a good shot at fifth place, although their defense could be a hindrance. The two teams with major issues on both sides of the ball are the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who should finish sixth and seventh respectively.
1. Big Ten East Preview – Michigan Wolverines (10-3)
Michigan will feature a no-huddle, spread offense that will get the ball in the hands of senior QB Shea Patterson as much as possible. Last season, Patterson was very effective, completing 64.6% of his passes for 2,600 yards and 22 TDs. He tossed seven picks. The Wolverines see four- of-five top pass catchers return. Plus, two TEs with experience, Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks, return. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, now a junior, led the team with 47 catches and eight receiving TDs. At the running back spot, top performer Karan Higdon, who averaged 5.3 YPA, gaining 1,178 yards and scoring 10 TDs, is gone. Chris Evans, who averaged 5.2 YPA and scored four times, is presently suspended. Red-shirted freshman Christian Turner or true freshman Zach Charnonnet may get the nod. Running back is a concern. The O-line’s strong. Four starters return from last season.
Defense and Special Teams
The defense, which returns five starters but loses its three top tacklers, is stacked in the secondary. Senior strong safety Josh Metellus, who picked three passes and broke up six more, is a major defender. The anchor of the group is senior corner Lavert Hill, who defended five passes and intercepted one. True freshman deep back Daxton Hill, a five-star recruit and top-ranked safety in the nation, will start. The linebacking unit includes senior SLB Khaleke Hudson and junior MLB Josh Ross. Hudson notched 44 tackles, two sacks, and three QBHs, while Ross earned 61 tackles, four TFL, and three QBHs. Although the frontline is the weakest defensive unit, they’re still pretty good despite losing Chase Winovich. Winovich made 69 tackles and recorded five sacks, 12 TFL, and seven QBHs. Junior DT Carlo Kemp is the lone returning D-line starter.
Special teams look very good, as starters return in every area. Big Ten Punter of 2018 Will Hart returns. He averaged 47.0 YPP. The battle for PK will be between junior Quin Nordin and sophomore Jake Moody. Both saw action last season. In limited play, Moody went 5-of-5 on extra points and 10-of-11 on field goals. Nordin was 45-of-46 on extras and 11-of-16 on FGs. On returns, it’s Peoples-Jones on punts and Ambry Thomas on kicks. Peoples-Jones averaged 10 yards per return and broke one for a score. Thomas also scored once and averaged 21.7 yards per return.
See our comprehensive preview of NCAAF #14 Michigan in our College Football Top 25 Guide for 2019.
2. Big Ten East College Football – Ohio State Buckeyes (13-1)
Our Big Ten East preview sees OSU as being solid on offense and defense. The O-line must replace all but two starters. RG Jonah Jackson, grad transfer from Rutgers, will be a major help, as will junior returning starter Thayer Munford at LT. Georgia sophomore transfer Justin Field quarterbacks, with Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak backing up. Fields played 12 games as a true freshman at GA and completed 69.2% of his 39 pass attempts. Despite the Buckeyes losing three receivers and a running back to the NFL, there’s still a lot of talent. Junior TB J.K. Dobbins, the team’s leading rusher, returns. Last season, Dobbins gained over 1,000 yards, while scoring 10 times and averaging 4.6 YPA. Five receivers, each with a minimum of 20 catches, return. K.J. Hill leads the way. In 2018, Hill caught 70 passes for 885 yards and scored six times.
Defense and Special Teams
The defense returns nine starters including six-of-seven top tacklers. Last season as juniors, WLB Malik Harrison and FS Jordan Fuller tied for the team-lead in tackles with 70 each. Both broke up four passes, while Harrison garnered 2.5 sacks, six TFL, and three QBHs. Junior LBs Tuf Borland and Pete Werner had 67 and 58 tackles respectively with each notching three sacks. Borland recorded six TFL, while Werner posted 4.5 along with seven PBU. The four-man D-line includes junior Chase Young at DE. In 2018, Young led the team with 10.5 sacks and nine QBHs while also recording five TFL and five PBU. The deep backs possess a wealth of experience and include senior FS Jordan Fuller. Fuller led the Buckeyes with 81 tackles while breaking up four passes and intercepting one. The safety and corner units are especially deep.
OSU has fine special teams. Punter Dru Chrisman averaged 43.8 YPP and netted 41.8 YPP while placing 29-of-61 within the 20-yard line. Blake Haubell, a junior, hit all 37 extra points last season and was good on 10-of-13 field goals. Hill was reliable on punt returns, averaging 5.4 YPR, while Demario McCall averaged 19.5 yards per kick return.
See our comprehensive preview of NCAAF #3 Ohio State in our College Football Top 25 Guide for 2019.
3. Big Ten East Preview – Michigan State Spartans (7-6)
There are question marks on offense for MSU, especially at running back. Plus, the O-line and receiving unit are just a little better than average. In 2018, QB Brian Lewerke had a bum shoulder and issues with consistency. Lewerke threw for 2,040 yards, completing 54.4% of his passes. He threw eight TD passes while tossing 11 picks. Now in good health, he’s expected to perform much better. Of the 10 Michigan State receivers from last year, eight are back. As juniors in 2018, WRs Darrell Stewart and Cody White had 48 and 42 receptions respectively. White averaged 13.2 YPC and totaled 555 yards and two TD catches. Although junior RB Connor Heyward, who averaged 4.5 YPA while scoring five TDs, is back, it’s true freshman Anthony Williams who may start. In camp this spring, Williams was impressive. Four starters return to the O-line, which should be improved.
Defense and Special Teams
The Michigan State defense is loaded with the frontline and middle being exceptional. Senior MLB and top tackler Joe Bachie is back. Along with 102 tackles, Bachie recorded five PBU, 7.5 TFL and one INT. Senior DE Kenny Willekes commanded a major amount of respect last season when he accumulated 78 tackles, 8.5 sacks, a dozen TFL, and another dozen QBHs. Look for him to be a huge factor in 2019. Senior NT Raequan Williams is back after posting 53 tackles, 8.5 TFL, five PBU, and three QBHs. In the defensive-back area, all four starters return, which should be a major advantage for this team. Senior corner Josia Scott grabbed two picks while breaking up seven passes last season.
MSU special teams look to be fairly strong. In the second game of last season, punter Jake Hartbarger broke his leg and was out for the season. The good news is that Hartbarger comes back for his sixth season. Junior kicker Matt Coughlin is also back after going 25-of-25 on extra points and 18-of-22 on field goals. Both Brandon Sowards and Heyward are back for returns. On punts returns, Sowards averaged a healthy 7.4 YPR, while on kickoffs Heyward averaged 22.1 yards.
4. Big Ten East College Football – Penn State Nittany Lions (9-4)
For the Lions six players return on offense with four of those are on the line. That means the O-line is their most experienced group on offense. There are major question marks, as PSU has just one starting senior on offense, LG Steven Gonzalez, and one starting junior, center Michal Menet. After that, it’s seven sophomores and one freshman. Sophomore Sean Clifford, who tossed seven passes in 2019 gets the nod at QB. He replaces longtime starter Trace McSorely, who could pass and run. Clifford has a sound group of receivers, including sophomore TE Pat Freiermuth. Last season, as a freshman, Freiermuth caught 26 passes and scored eight TDs. WR K.J. Hamler, who was the team’s leading receiver, returns after making 42 grabs and scoring five TDs in his first season. Sophomore Ricky Slade takes over at RB after averaging 5.7 YPA and scoring six times in 2018.
Defense and Special Teams
The Penn State defense, which also sees a half-dozen starters return, is comprised primarily of seniors and juniors. This unit appears to be quite strong. Senior DT Robert Windsor and junior DE Yetur Gross-Matos return having 38 and 54 tackles respectively last season. Windsor, with 7.5 sacks, was second to Gross-Matos who had eight. Gross-Matos also posted a dozen TFL and a half-dozen QBHs. Sophomore WLB Micah Parsons topped the Lions with 83 tackles in 2018, while senior FS Garrett Taylor returns after making 71 tackles, stealing three passes, and defending seven more.
The special teams could be in better shape. On punt returns, the explosive DeAndre Thompkins must be replaced. Hamler, who averaged 26.1 YP kick return, is back. As a freshman last season, PK Jake Pinegar hit 53-of-55 extra points and 16-of-24 field goals. He was 5-11 from 40-49 yards out and did not attempt anything from 50 or more yards out. Punter Blake Gillikin saw his net slump and accuracy diminish.
See our comprehensive preview of NCAAF #17 Penn State in our College Football Top 25 Guide for 2019.
5. Big Ten East Preview – Indiana Hoosiers (5-7)
The Indiana Hoosiers, who have a fairly friendly schedule and seven-each returning on both sides of the ball, could end up on the plus-side in wins. At QB, the Hoosiers have two choices, red-shirted freshman Michael Penix, who tore his ACL versus Penn State, and junior Peyton Ramsey, who completed 66.0% of his passes, tossing 19 TDs and 13 INTs. We expect the highly touted Penix to start. He’ll have the top three TD-pass catchers from last season to throw to, including senior WRs Donovan Hale and Nick Westbrook, who had six and four TDs respectively. Last season, which was his first year, RB Stevie Scott ran for 1,137 yards, averaging 5.0 YPA and scoring 10 times. Although the frontline only sees two starters return, four of those occupying that line made six or more starts. They should be an asset to the ground and air attacks.
Defense and Special Teams
Our Big Ten East preview notes that if it were not for the defense, this Indiana team could be especially troublesome. Last season, as the offense scored 26.4 PPG (87th), the defense allowed 29.9 PPG (81st). This side of the ball was ranked 83rd versus the run and 81st against the pass. There are nine guys back who have solid experience, including junior DT Jerome Johnson. Johnson posted 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and two TFL last season. Senior defensive ends Gavin Everett and Allen Stallings made 24 and 23 stops respectively, with Stallings recording two sacks and four TFL. Everett had five TFL and 0.5 sacks. The linebacking unit includes junior HUSKY Marcelino Ball. Ball is top returning tackler with 59. The omnipresent Ball also made one pick, defended three passes, had five TFL, and posted two sacks. Senior CB Andre Brown returns after defending six passes in 2018.
Both return men on special teams must be replaced, including evasive and explosive punt returner J’Shun Harris who averaged 9.2 YPR and scored a TD on an 86-yard bring back last season. Junior punter Haydon Whitehead averaged 40.0 YPP and placed 17-of-51 within the 20-yard line. PK Logan Justus, now a senior, was 32-of-33 on extra points last season and 15-of-18 on field goals. His longest was 44 yards.
6. Big Ten East College Football – Maryland Terrapins (5-7)
In our Big Ten East preview, Maryland, who scored 28.5 PPG (68th) while allowing opponents 28.7 PPG (78th), looks to be in good shape on the ground. Last season, their 17th-ranked rushing game averaged 230.2 YPG. This season, three core starters on the O-line return, as are three-of-four leading runners. Sophomore Anthony McFarland had a fine freshman season, gaining over 1,000 yards, averaging 7.9 YPA, and scoring four TDs. Also returning are Tayon Fleet-Davis, who scored five times, and Javon Leake, who averaged 9.1 YPA and scored seven TDs. The QB situation is questionable. Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Jackson, a junior, looks to get the nod. At VT, he tossed 25 TD passes and 10 picks. His receiving group, which is the weakest unit on offense, includes sophomore WR Jeshaun Jones. As a freshman, Jones caught 22 passes, scoring five TDs and averaging 13.1 YPC.
Defense and Special Teams
In 2018, the Maryland defense allowed opponents 390.4 YPG in total offense. This defense has a fairly solid secondary and questionable D-line and LB units. Two players battle for the NT spot, both of whom have experience. It will either go to junior Oluwasun Olowatimi or junior Adam McLean. Both recorded a sack last year, while McLean had 36 tackles and Olowatimi 32. MLB Isaiah Davis, who’s the team’s returning top tackler with 94, anchors the LB unit. The secondary includes two seniors, strong safety Antoine Brooks, who nailed 68 tackles while making 2.5 sacks, seven TFL, and three PBU, and corner Tino Ellis, who made one pick while breaking up 11 passes and making three TFL. Freshman safety Nick Cross could make an immediate impact.
On special teams last season, Javon Leake averaged 24.1 YP kick return and broke a 97-yarder for a score. He’s back. Who will handle punts is a question. PK Joseph Petrino returns for his second season. He did well overall as a walk-on freshman, hitting 40-of-41 extra points and nailing 12-of-14 field goals, including his first 11. Punter Wade Less has to be replaced.
7. Big Ten East Preview – Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-11)
Last season, in their home opener, the Scarlet Knights beat Texas State 35-7. That was their only victory. The offense averaged merely 13.5 PPG (129th) and the defense gave up 31.4 PPG (89th). Sophomore QB Artus Sitkowski returns having thrown for 1,158 yards. He completed 49.1% of his passes for four TDs and 18 INTs. We anticipate some improvement there, but with a weak O-line and shallow group of receivers, don’t expect too much more from Sitkowski. While the pass attack was ranked 123rd, the ground game came in at 105th. Last season, RBs Raheem Blackshear and Isaih Pacheo each ran for 550-plus yards and scored three TDs apiece. Pacheo averaged 5.0 YPA and Blackshear 4.1. Both are back.
Defense and Special Teams
This defense could not stop ground games last season. Opponents averaged 214.8 rushing yards per game, which ranked 108th nationally. The best part of the D last year was the deep backs. Although this defense could not stop the rush, they did a good job versus the pass, holding teams to 186.7 YPG (19th). Corners Avery Young and Damon Hayes are back. Young defended 10 passes and Hayes made two interceptions while defending five passes. They are also the number one and two returning tacklers, with Young recording 66 and Hayes 63. In front, junior DE Elorm Lumor, who had 35 tackles, four sacks, three TFL, and five QBHs, will anchor that group. In the linebacking unit, juniors Tyshon Fogg and Tyreek Maddox-Williams are back after each garnered 48 tackles. Fogg posted three TFL and Maddox-Williams four.
The special teams group sees all of the primary starters return. This is, perhaps, the strongest unit for the Scarlet Knights. Sophomore punter Adam Korsak booted 78 punts, averaging 42.7 YPP while placing 23 within the 20-yard line. PK Justin Davidovicz was automatic on extra points hitting all 17 attempts. He was good on nine-of-11 field goals, including a 52-yard attempt. Avery Young averaged a healthy 6.8 yards per punt return, while both Pacheo and Blackshear averaged better than 18 YPR on kickoffs.
2019 Big Ten East Preview
Quick Lane Bowl, Dec. 26 – FIU Panthers and Indiana Hoosiers
Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 27 – Syracuse Orange and Penn State Nittany Lions
Fiesta Bowl (CFP), Dec. 28 – #2 Alabama Crimson Tide and #3 Michigan Wolverines
Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1 – Ohio State Buckeyes and Florida State Seminoles
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1 – Michigan State Spartans and Auburn Tigers
2019 Big Ten East Preview
Projected Best Bets
Aug. 31 – Howard @ Maryland – Bet the Terrapins at around -16.
Sep. 7 – Eastern Illinois @ Indiana – We like Hoosiers in home opener by 10 points.
Sep. 14 – Pittsburgh @ Penn State – Nittany Lions over Panthers by approximately 10 points.
Sep. 21 – Miami, OH @ Ohio State – OSU Buckeyes win by 30-plus.
Sep. 28 – Indiana @ Michigan State – Take the Spartans, but could be close.
Oct. 12 – Rutgers @ Indiana – Go with Hoosiers at approximately -10.
Oct. 26 – Liberty @ Rutgers – Bet on Scarlet Knights.
Nov. 9 – Illinois @ Michigan State – Take Spartans by -20 or fewer.
Nov. 23 – Michigan @ Indiana – Wolverines at -7.0 or fewer.
Nov 30 – Rutgers @ Penn State – We like the Nittany Lions by 21.
Utilize this 2019 Big Ten East preview to give yourself an added edge this NCAA football season. For more information on the Big Ten, go to our Big Ten West preview. You can access other conferences through our hub page.