1. Could this be Michigan’s year?
Jim Harbaugh is beginning his fifth season at Michigan and while he has a 38-14 mark at the helm of the Wolverines, he is 0-4 against rival Ohio State, hasn’t won a division title and hasn’t been able to end a Big Ten title drought that extends to sharing the crown with Iowa in 2004. Josh Gattis, the co-offensive coordinator at Alabama last season, has been brought in to move the Michigan offense forward. The pieces are in place, but the Wolverines face a challenging schedule that includes road tests at Penn State and Wisconsin, the latter a place where Michigan has lost in its last four visits.
2. Can Jonathan Taylor carry Wisconsin in the West?
He’ll have a very Wisconsin-like line to work behind, but he is the unquestioned leader of the Badgers’ attack that will likely start with Jack Coan at quarterback and may find a bit of balance in the anticipated return of receiver Quintez Cephus. The junior running back enters the 2018 season needing 2,235 yards to pass the FBS career record of 6,405 yards held by San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey. Ron Dayne has Wisconsin’s school record, but his 7,125 yards includes bowl games, something the NCAA does not count toward its records. Taylor ran for a nation-best 2,194 yards a year ago on his way to winning the Doak Walker Award.
3. Is this a new Day at Ohio State?
Former coach Urban Meyer hasn't strayed too far, remaining as an assistant athletics director and consultant to the Ohio State athletics department. But, with a new coach in Ryan Day, a new quarterback in Georgia transfer Justin Fields and an offense returning just four starters from last season’s 13-1 team, extending a string of three straight Big Ten championships may be a challenge for the Buckeyes. Day says Meyer remains only a phone call away, but the abilities of running back J.K. Dobbins, the development of a young group of receivers and developing a defensive edge will be the key to Ohio State’s chances for success.
4. Which coach is feeling a little heat in the seat?
Chris Ash has won seven games in his first three seasons as the head coach at Rutgers, which enters the 2019 season on an 11-game losing streak. This is likely a make-or-break season for Ash. Illinois’ Lovie Smith has won only nine games in that same span, but with signs of growth this season director of athletics Josh Whitman seems committed to his coaching hire. Both programs have invested in new facilities, with a new $4 million locker room facility at Rutgers and a new $80 million performance facility at Illinois.
5. Is Nebraska for real?
The Cornhuskers have been picked anywhere from first to sixth in the parity-filled Big Ten West Division and that probably is a realistic thing not only for coach Scott Frost’s second team, but for many other title hopefuls. The skill of quarterback Adrian Martinez and late-season improvement from last year’s 4-8 team have added to the hype. The schedule is manageable. It includes home games with Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa and does not include Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State, giving Nebraska a chance to return to the bowl mix if off-season strength gains translate to improved line play and a more effective defense.
-- Compiled by Steve Batterson