MLB Underdog Picks
The on-field regression wasn't a surprise. After all, the Wolverines returned only six starters, were forced to play three quarterbacks and featured youth and inexperience at a couple of positions. A year later, the outlook for Michigan has improved. Harbaugh's team has one of the Big Ten's top quarterbacks in Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, and the defense is poised to rank among the nation's best with eight returning starters.
Michigan possesses one of the nation's top defensive lines, linebacker units and defensive backfields in While Patterson will help the offense, this unit won't improve unless the line takes a step forward. Also, Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones have to develop on the outside to give the offense more big plays downfield. Of Michigan's five losses last year, four came by 14 points or less. Also, the Wolverines had a minus-eight turnover margin in losses in With an improved offense and fewer turnovers, a couple of those close defeats should turn into wins in There isn't much separation among the top four teams in the Big Ten East Division.
Ohio State is a projected playoff team by Athlon Sports, with Michigan finishing just outside of the top four. Penn State and Michigan State took the next two spots in the predictions, but there was plenty of debate in Athlon's meeting about the order.
The Nittany Lions got the nod, largely due to the schedule. Michigan State was one of the most-improved Power 5 teams last year, increasing its win total by seven games from the previous season. Another jump in victories or matching the win campaign of wouldn't be a surprise. The Spartans return 19 starters, including quarterback Brian Lewerke and nearly everyone from one of the Big Ten's top defenses.
Coach Mark Dantonio's team needs to generate more production out of its ground game and has to navigate a road trip to Penn State. One stat to watch: Michigan State had good fortune in close games last year, winning six contests by 10 points or less. Considering the returning talent, any reversal in fortune could be overcome by a depth chart stacked with talent and experience.
The Badgers are poised for another run into the top four behind an offense that returns 10 starters, including Heisman Trophy candidate and running back Jonathan Taylor. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook needs to be more consistent and cut back on interceptions 15 last season , but the supporting cast is there for marked improvement.
Wisconsin's receiving corps is among the best in the conference, and the line ranks No. While the offense could be even better than last year's version, the defense will likely take a step back. The Badgers return only three starters and enter the season with concerns at cornerback.
The schedule is also tougher for coach Paul Chryst's team. Assuming the defense doesn't regress too much and Hornibrook takes a step forward, the Badgers will the mix for a playoff bid in November. Considering none of those three teams ranked inside of Athlon's top 25 for , it's hard to call any a threat to win the division. But if a team could surprise and win the West, it's likely to be Iowa.
Quarterback Nate Stanley returns after throwing 26 touchdowns last fall, and Iowa's defensive line is among the best in the conference. Purdue gets the nod over Northwestern for third in Athlon's projected standings.
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