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Last updated: Tue. Jul. 29, 2014 - 12:48 am EDT

COLUMN

Purdue, IU don't impress Big Ten voters

Ohio State favored in media poll

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If you believe in collective media wisdom, Indiana and Purdue will once again be Big Ten also-rans.

Specifically, IU will finish sixth in the seven-team East Division, Purdue will be last in the West.

Oh, Ohio State will play Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, with the Buckeyes winning to, perhaps, make the new four-team national playoff.

Welcome to a new Big Ten football era with Maryland and Rutgers in the mix, and a pair of seven-team geographic-based divisions loaded with intrigue and familiarity.

But does familiarity breed Boiler and Hoosier contempt?

With the annual two-day Big Ten media gathering in Chicago beginning today, let's take a look.

Twenty-nine media members -- including me -- voted in a preseason poll. They considered that Indiana returns 17 starters from a 5-7 team that boasted one of the conference's best offenses (38.4-point average) and one of the nation's worst defenses (38.8 points allowed), and assumed that wasn't enough against a rugged division field that includes Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.

What's that have to do with sanction-ravaged Penn State and new-kids-on-the-block Maryland, which also were picked ahead of the Hoosiers?

We'll get to that.

Tre Roberson's transfer to Illinois State leaves IU with no proven quarterback depth (Roberson led the Big Ten in pass efficiency last year), which won't be a problem if Nate Sudfeld stays healthy and productive. He threw for 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns last season while rotating with Roberson. If he stays healthy, he could approach 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns.

Sudfeld returns receiver Shane Wynn, who caught 46 passes, 11 for touchdowns. The offensive line, led by Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney, ranks just behind Wisconsin as the league's best. Running back Tevin Coleman is a big-play threat (he averaged 7.3 yards a carry with 12 touchdowns) and the perennially poor defense has to be better.

The defense has to be better. If it just allows 30 points a game -- a reasonable goal -- IU will win seven to eight games and go to a bowl for the first time since 2007.

The media looked at Purdue's 1-11 record, considered it was the direct result of using more teenagers than what you see at a Justin Bieber concert. The Boilers return 15 starters and 41 lettermen from a team that produced, by far, the Big Ten's worst offense (14.9 points), and challenged IU for the worst defense (38.0 points allowed).

Much of that was a byproduct of youth in the transition to new coach Darrell Hazell. The experienced gained will help, especially with sophomore quarterback Danny Etling (1,690 passing yards, 10 TD passes) and receiver DeAngelo Yancey (17.1-yards-a-catch).

Tailback Raheem Mostert, the Big Ten 100- and 200-meter champ, will have a far larger role after last season's limited action. The offensive line was the Big Ten's worst last season, and projects to struggle again this season, despite the presence of Robert Kugler, who rates among the nation's better centers.

The defense will be led by defensive end Ryan Russell (35 tackles) and cornerback Frankie Williams (61 tackles, two interceptions). Former Bishop Dwenger standout Landon Feichter is a big-hitting safety and strong leader. His key -- stay healthy.

The Boilers figure to be underdogs in every conference game, and their best chances to avoid a second straight winless Big Ten season come on the road against Illinois, Minnesota and IU.

At best, they win four games. By next year, they will have realistic hopes for a winning record. It helps they are in the perceived weaker West Division, with Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern and Nebraska projected to dominate.

Overall, Ohio State (23 first-place votes) was favored to beat out Michigan State (13) for the East Division title behind quarterback Braxton Miller, the top choice for conference preseason player of the year. He threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns, rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 TDs last season. The two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year received 21 first-place votes to Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon's five.

For the record, ties produced more than 29 votes for the division races.

However, Michigan State is poised to showcase another dominating defense led by defensive end Shilique Calhoun. He had 13 first-place votes to beat out Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory (10 votes).

Maryland was the No. 5 choice in the East, and might do better given it has the Big Ten's best receiving corps, led by Stefon Diggs, and ranks high in linebackers, defensive backs and special teams.

Penn State has a new coach (James Franklin) and continued scholarship restrictions, but the same potent offense led by quarterback Christian Hackenberg (2,995 passing yards, 20 touchdowns) to give it an East Division boost.

In the West, Wisconsin got 15 first-place votes to beat out Iowa (11). The Badgers have Gordon (1,607 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) running behind the Big Ten's best offensive line. Iowa counters with a strong offensive line, led by 320-pound tackle Brandon Scherff and a solid defense led by 315-pound defensive tackle Carl Davis. It also has the Big Ten's best punt returner in Kevonte Martin-Manley, who averaged 15.7 yards a return last year.

Does all this mean the Big Ten might finally return to national title contention?

We're about to find out.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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