Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, 10/7/17

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (white) is stopped by Nebraska defensive back Dicaprio Bootle (23) and linebacker Dedrick Young II (5) in second-quarter action at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 7, 2017.

3 reasons why it will be Ohio State-Wisconsin in Indy

1. Outside of Wisconsin, no offensive line in the Big Ten will be able to outmuscle the Buckeyes' defensive front four led by Nick Bosa. Ohio State bull-rushed its way to 114 tackles behind the line of scrimmage (Bosa had 16) last year, including 45 sacks. With Chase Young on the opposite side of Bosa and Dre'Mont Jones in the middle, the OSU defense will help take pressure off Dwayne Haskins — or Tate Martell — and the offense.

2. The Buckeyes and Badgers can run the ball with the best of them. J.K. Dobbins rushed for 1,403 yards during his freshman campaign in Columbus, and don't forget about Mike Weber. Together, they form a potent combination. The Badgers had a newcomer emerge last year, too, in Jonathan Taylor, who broke Adrian Peterson's FBS record for rushing yards by a freshman (1,977).

3. The Badgers will run away in the West. They have Taylor. They have the nation's top offensive line. Alex Hornibrook showed in last year's Orange Bowl that he can be a difference-maker at quarterback. And that defense is always physical. Yes, Wisconsin has road games at Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State, but if Paul Chryst's crew comes out on top in Iowa City and Evanston, the rest of the West will have a tough hill to climb.

3 other teams who could quickly shake things up

1. Michigan State. No FBS team returns more starters than Michigan State, which includes quarterback Brian Lewerke, who quietly emerged as one of the top players in the league last year. The schedule isn't bad either. Michigan (Oct. 20) and Ohio State (Nov. 10) come to East Lansing.

2. Penn State. Saquon Barkley and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead are gone, but the Nittany Lions have the league's best quarterback in Trace McSorley. The offensive cupboard remains stocked, too. Wide receivers Juwan Johnson, Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins are back.

3. Michigan. Defense has never been a problem during Jim Harbaugh's three years in Ann Arbor, and this year's "D" is pretty stingy and just as reliable. The questions surround the offense. If Ole Miss QB transfer Shea Patterson is indeed the real deal, then count the Wolverines as a Big Ten title contender.

5 nonconference games to watch

S1: Maryland vs. Texas

S1: Michigan at Notre Dame

S8: Penn State at Pittsburgh

S15: TCU vs. Ohio State

N3: Notre Dame at Northwestern

11 conference games to watch

S29: Ohio State at Penn State

O6: Nebraska at Wisconsin

O13: Michigan State at Penn State

O13: Wisconsin at Michigan

O20: Michigan at Michigan State

O27: Wisconsin at Northwestern

N3: Penn State at Michigan

N10: Ohio State at Michigan State

N10: Wisconsin at Penn State

N17: Michigan State at Nebraska

N24: Michigan at Ohio State

Big Ten preseason rankings

1. Wisconsin. How fast is sophomore RB Jonathan Taylor? He ran a 100-meter dash in 10.61 seconds in high school. Oh, and he's good at tackle football, too.

2. Ohio State. Speed and depth. The Buckeyes have both, as well as a lot of muscle in the trenches. Can Dwayne Haskins — or Tate Martell — excel? Or will Buckeye Nation sorely miss J.T. Barrett?

3. Michigan State. The Spartans know how to handle close races. They finished 5-1 in games decided by one possession last year. Was it a lot of luck? 

4. Penn State. Trace McSorley has a great arm, but he's a good runner, too. He picked up 491 yards on the ground last year. How will he look in new OC Ricky Rahne's offense?

5. Michigan. Any fast track to Indy will have several bumps along the way. The schedule — games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State — is very tough.

6. Iowa. Remember watching the Hawkeyes shred Ohio State last year, only to lose at home to Purdue the following week? Determining where the Hawkeyes may finish this year is just as perplexing.

7. Nebraska. Scott Frost has instilled plenty of speed into the roster. How fast NU gets back on track will be determined by this stretch of games — at Michigan, at Wisconsin, at Northwestern, Minnesota, at Ohio State.

8. Northwestern. The Wildcats are as pesky as any team in October and November (they finished with eight straight wins last year). Can they avoid their typical slow starts to the season?

9. Purdue. Jeff Brohm received major props last year, and rightfully so. He turned a 3-9 team into a 7-6 bowl squad. The second-year coach must weave a complete makeover of the defense.

10. Maryland. The Terps ranked 119th in scoring defense last year. Some transfers should help offer relief, and the QBs are healthier, but how will this program respond to the recent offseason news?

11. Minnesota. The quarterback picture … well, there isn't one. It's a three-player race, but none of them is going to strike fear in opponents. Minnesota ranked 108th in scoring offense last year.

12. Indiana. The Hoosiers were down on their luck last year (injuries, losing four games by eight points or less). A lack of playmakers and an unproven QB will have Indiana playing catch-up.

13. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights hired OC John McNultry to revive an offense that ranked near the bottom in several categories last year. The Scarlet Knights are hoping for a bowl trip.

14. Illinois. Anyone remember playing "World Class Track Meet" on the original Nintendo system? Turtle was the slowest runner you'd compete against and you'd beat him every time. Illinois is Turtle.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


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