Defending Big Ten champion Penn State returns a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back and a record-setting quarterback, and the Nittany Lions generally are regarded as one of the 10 best teams in the country.
They’re not even picked to win their division this season.
The Big Ten East favorite, as usual, is Ohio State, which is loaded with as much talent as ever and motivated to atone for an embarrassing finish to 2016.
So as great an accomplishment as it was for Penn State to go from being picked fourth in the division to winning its first league title since 2008, another grind is about to start. Coach James Franklin wants his players to put last season out of their minds.
Most Read Stories
“We’ve talked about it enough. The fans have talked about it. The media’s talked about it,” Franklin said. “They’ve been given rings. So that’s behind us. We have moved on.”
Saquon Barkley thrust himself into 2017 Heisman consideration after a dominant performance in the last-second Rose Bowl loss to Southern California. Trace McSorley led the Big Ten in passer rating and threw for four touchdowns in both the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin and the bowl. The question is whether a defense that allowed 34 points a game against ranked opponents can hold up its end.
A three-week stretch spanning October and November — Michigan at home and road games at Ohio State and Michigan State — likely will be the key to the Lions’ season.
Ohio State has 15 starters back after having seven players drafted, including six of the top 70 picks. You can be sure Urban Meyer will have the Buckeyes on a redemption tour after they lost 31-0 to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Penn State also feels it has something to prove. The Nittany Lions beat Ohio State and won the conference — and were left out of the playoff because of losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan.
Michigan, with losses in three of its last four games, is still waiting for the big payoff from its splash hire of Jim Harbaugh. He’s finished third in the East each of his first two years and still is looking for his first win over Ohio State.
Wisconsin brings back an experienced QB in Alex Hornibrook and a seasoned defense from its 11-win team. The Badgers don’t play Ohio State, and their toughest road game is at Nebraska.