Nov 30, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines cheerleaders hold a megaphone during the second quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA Football 2014: Breaking down the BIG Ten East contenders

Ohio State loses 4 starters on the offensive line, Carlos Hyde and now Braxton Miller.  However, Buckeye fans shouldn’t be worried as new QB JT Barrett will have plenty of talent around him.  Urban Meyer has recruited elite talent like running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Brionte Dunn as well as athletes Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall to compliment returning starting wide receivers Evan Spencer and Devin Smith.

The defensive line returns all four starters including Freshman All-American Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Michael Bennett who all recording seven or more sacks last year.  This seems to be THE BEST d-line in the country.  They do lose their three top tacklers including Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby, but a change was needed in a secondary that underwhelmed in 2013.

Keep an eye on the kicking game as a new kicker takes over as well.  With Miller’s injury, it wouldn’t be a surprise if a BIG championship game appearance came down the leg of Sean Nuernberger.

The only game the Bucks should be an underdog is at Michigan State and possibly versus Michigan.  Otherwise it’s an easy schedule with Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa and Nebraska nowhere to be found.

Dec 7, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Keith Mumphrey (25) catches a pass and runs it in for a touchdown against Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Doran Grant (12) during the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State also has to rebuild their offensive line, but they return all of last year’s skill position contributors except for Benny Fowler.  The rebuilt offensive line is relatively experienced given all of the injuries the line suffered in 2013.  It’s safe to expect an improvement from QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford and the depth at receiver is tremendous.

The defense loses playmakers like Darquez Dennard, Denicos Allen, Isiah Lewis and Max Bullough, but State has become an absolute machine producing new quality players each year.  Trae Waynes, Shilique Calhoun, Kurtis Drummond and Taiwan Jones look to lead this group in 2014.  We can expect them to be down a notch, but that’s still on par with the rest of the Big Ten East.

State also has the best special teams in the conference with two stud kickers returning in Mike Sadler and Michael Geiger.

With Braxton Miller’s injury and their toughest matchups at home versus Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan, they are the favorites to win the BIG East.

Michigan is desperate on offense this year after firing coordinator Al Borges.  The main question marks are whether the O-line can gel and can Devin Gardner improve his decision-making?  Devin Funchess looks to step up for the graduated Jeremy Gallon as the go-to-guy at receiver.  Want to know if the Michigan staff can develop talent?  Watch his progress in 2014.  Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith look to shore up a dreadful rushing attack.  Coach Hoke expects them to bring the muscle this year.

Defense is clearly the strength of the team and they have depth all over the field.  This unit had little attrition as only two of the top 10 tackles have moved on.  Jake Ryan shifts to inside linebacker and Blake Countess returns to lead the secondary.  Safety is a big question mark, but the staff divided coaching responsibilities and former secondary coach Curt Mallory is working only with the safeties this year.

This team’s fate will be determined by road games at Ohio State and Michigan State.  It’s a tall task, but they have the defense to do it.

Sorry Penn State fans the roster is still depleted and you’re best play maker left for the NFL.  Coach Franklin is going to do big things in Happy Valley,

just not this year.

It’s going to be an epic three team battle this season.  Who is going to pull it off?  My money is on Michigan to pull the upset.

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Tags: BIG Big East Michigan State Spartans Football Michigan Wolverines Football NCAA Football Ohio State Buckeyes Penn State

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