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Big Ten Media Days Preview: Harbaugh suspension, Ohio State bounce back, Penn State's time + more

Credit: Michigan athletics

The final power conference media days begins Wednesday, as the Big Ten will host their annual league get together.

As always, there's plenty to discuss - especially with the news on Tuesday that Jim Harbaugh could be looking at a four-game suspension to start the 2023 season.

So what do you need to know? Here are a few key storylines:

Is Michigan the best team in the Big Ten - and how will Jim Harbaugh's potential suspension impact them?

Is Michigan ready to be the best team in the conference consistently? That’s the question because they made the last two CFP’s and were the overwhelming pick to win the league this year.

More importantly, can they do it with their head coach potentially suspended the first four games of the season?

We're about to find out .

J.J. McCarthy is back at quarterback and should be at his best heading into Year 3 in this system. Both Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are back this year at running back, after Corum rushed 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns to Edwards’ 991 yards and seven touchdowns. The offensive line added three starting caliber players through the portal, to what should again be one of the best units in college football. Colston Loveland and A.J Barner are the two names to watch at tight end, with Cornelius Johnson back at tight end.

On defense, the Wolverines should be elite again. Mason Graham and Kris Jenkins are big pieces on the interior of the defensive line, while Braiden McGregor should be able to step up off the edge. Junior Colson, Michael Barrett, and Earnest Hausmann lead an elite linebacker group. Will Johnson will be an elite corner back this year and he’s joined by Rod Moore and Makari Paige at safety.

Michigan has the pieces to be even better than last year, but it will be interesting to see if they can put it together.

Can Ohio State stay atop the conference?

For the first time in a long time, the Buckeyes have some uncertainty surrounding them. Ryan Day might not be the main play-caller on offense anymore and instead it might be Brian Hartline. It’s looking like Kyle McCord is going to be the new quarterback for the Buckeyes, but he enters the season with no real experience. TreVeyon Henderson is back and hopefully healthy, and the offensive line should be solid as well.

On defense, there should be even more improvement under second-year coordinator Jim Knowles. Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau are monsters off the edge and then Michael Hall Jr. should be a force in the interior. Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers are two very good linebackers. Denzel Burke should emerge at corner and then Jordan Hancock is another one to watch at corner who transferred in. Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor are good safeties and are joined by Ja’Had Carter from Syracuse.

Ohio State has as much - if not more talent - than anyone in the league. But talent hasn't been the issue the last two years either. It's time for them to prove they're still the best team in this conference.

Can Penn State take that next step?

This might be the year for Penn State. They have 14 starters coming back from a team that won 11 games and the Rose Bowl a season ago.

The biggest question is at quarterback, where five-star Drew Allar steps in for veteran Sean Clifford. Allar was - according to some recruiting services - the top quarterback in the class of 2022, and played sparingly last year. If he's as good as advertised, it could take Penn State to another level.

That's mainly because all the other pieces are there. Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen will split time at running back to help a Penn State run game that should be elite. The pair rushed for close to a combined 2,000 yards last year. And theyll be running behind a veteran offense line led by Olumuyiwa Fashanu, a tackle who turned down a likely spot in the first round of the NFL Draft for one more run in Happy Valley. KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Dante Cephas, and Malik McClain will be the main receivers and they have potential.

On defense, they should be better too in Year 2 of Manny Diaz’s defense. Abdul Carter is a player to watch at linebacker and he’s joined by Curtis Jacobs for one more year too. Adisa Isaac and Chop Robinson are big players for the Nittany Lions off the edge, but they need defensive tackles to step up this year. Kalen King and Johnny Dixon are two very good cornerbacks in the secondary too.

This might be James Franklin’s best team if everything works out, and Penn State can easily win the conference if the talent falls into place.

How will the new look Wisconsin Badgers be?

Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell as their new head coach in the offseason and underwent a big makeover. Phil Longo is the new offensive coordinator, coming from North Carolina, where his twist on the Air Raid help turn Drake Maye into one of the most productive QB's in college football. Now he's in Madison, and we'll see if he can have the same success with Tanner Mordecai - who is in after throwing for 33 touchdowns at SMU a year ago. Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi will split time at running back with Allen being the primary back after running for over 1,000 yards last year and the year before. They attacked the portal for the receiving corps with Bryson Green, Will Pauling, and CJ Williams all expected to be big contributors early on.

The defense should be very good the personnel just need to adjust for a new scheme. Maema Njongmeta is a big key as the leading tackler from last year at 95. Nick Herbig should be a standout off the edge and Hunter Wohler should be moved all over the place because he can play both safety and linebacker.

If all goes right, then Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten East.

What can Illinois do for an encore?

Bret Bielema’s team broke through last year, winning eight games in Year 2 in Champaign. But now he starts over after losing several key players, including starting QB Tommy DeVito and elite back Chase Brown

Luke Altmyer transfers in from Ole Miss to create a smooth transition from DeVito and the offensive line should be very good once again with three starters with Julian Pearl and Isaiah Adams being standouts for the ground and pound offense that Bielema likes to utilize. The receivers should be a plus with Isaiah Williams, Pat Bryant, and Casey Washington all being standouts to help Altmyer on the outside. The running back duties will be split between Josh McCray and Reggie Love III, and both have a lot of potential.

On defense, coordinator Ryan Walters left to take over at Purdue and Aaron Henry is the new defensive coordinator. Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph Jr. are big pieces up front at defensive tackle. The linebackers should be very good this year with Gabe Jacas being poised for an even better year than last year. Matthew Bailey at safety and Tahveon Nicholson at corner back should be the standouts in the secondary.

Illinois should be where they were last year, maybe better.

What happens to Nebraska this year?

The Cornhuskers hired Matt Rhule as their new head coach this offseason and he has a big job to rebuild the team. The offense will be more traditional and pro-like and not as hurry-up as last year. Jeff Sims is the new quarterback after transferring in from Georgia Tech and he adds a new dimension with a dual threat ability. The running backs will be by committee with three of the top four rushers coming back, led by Anthony Grant. The offensive line should be good and has a mix of experience and younger guys, but they need to develop. Thomas Fidone II, Marcus Washington, and freshman Malachi Coleman should be the big standouts in the receiving corps and at tight end.

The new defense led by coordinator Tony White should create some havoc and confusion. Luke Reimer was the leading tackler last year and is back at linebacker with Nick Henrich next to him too. The line is mostly new, except Ty Robinson, who should be in line for a breakout season at defensive tackle. Myles Farmer, Isaac Gifford, Quinton Newsome, and Marques Buford Jr. are all returning starters in the secondary that should be difference makers in some fashion.

Nebraska has the tools to be much better than last year, but they need to show it.

Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus

For full ACC betting odds - visit the Betfred Sportsbook


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