It’s been precisely four months since the last college football game of the season was played in Tampa, and plenty has happened since then. Through signing day, offseason roster changes, injuries and some spring practice development, most teams look a bit different as college campuses start to clear out for the summer.
With that in mind, it’s time to take stock in how the last third of the calendar has changed the Big Ten programs. Which of them will be a worthwhile investment heading in 2017? We start today with a look at the East Division:
Penn State: Hold. The league’s defending champions still are on track to be one of the country’s most entertaining offenses as an encore to the show they put on with USC at the Rose Bowl in January. A couple of losses at defensive end and an injury to cornerback John Reid are problems that need to be addressed, but another year of development in the trenches and the emergence of wide receiver Juwan Johnson keep the Nittany Lions right where they ended 2016 -- a bona fide playoff contender.
Ohio State: Buy. The Buckeyes have been rising since taking an embarrassing hit in the Fiesta Bowl. Urban Meyer signed both the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation and Kevin Wilson, an offensive mind capable of filling up the scoreboard. Combine that with a defensive line that should be one of the country’s best groups in 2017, and it’s no surprise that Ohio State has climbed to the No. 1 spot in a handful of post-spring ball Top 25 polls.
Michigan: Hold. The Wolverines have plenty of questions yet to be answered. Nevertheless, they looked more settled than one would expect for a team that saw 11 of its starters picked in the NFL draft and a few others land on pro rosters. The additions of Indiana offensive line coach Greg Frey and former NFL offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were positive. Some assistant coaches are convinced that the defense that finished as one of the best in the nation last year can be faster in 2017. They’ll have to prove they can play on Saturdays, though.
Indiana: Sell. We’ve already mentioned two coaches that left the Hoosiers, including Wilson, who built them into a regular bowl contender but departed in December amid allegations of mistreating players. Some good experience returns to Bloomington -- All-America linebacker Tegray Scales, cornerback Rashard Fant, quarterback Richard Lagow -- but the offense might have trouble without Wilson calling the shots, which is what helped Indiana stay competitive with the upper half of the conference.
Maryland: Buy. After a promising start to spring, UNC transfer quarterback Caleb Henderson missed the spring game with an ankle injury and will have to battle a host of young contenders for the starting spot in August. The Terps should have some young playmakers for offensive coordinator Walt Bell. Head coach D.J. Durkin should help his program take a step forward on defense as well, but progress might be hard to measure in the top-heavy East Division.
Michigan State: Sell. There has been a steady stream of bad news coming from East Lansing this offseason. Legal issues have put football in the back seat from an outside perspective. The team still is working to repair locker room rifts that contributed to last season’s 3-9 record. On top of that, the loss or suspension of a few potential starters on both the offensive and defensive lines will further weaken groups that were a staple of the Spartans’ success in happier days.
Rutgers: Sell. The Scarlet Knights weren’t trading at a particularly high price at the end of 2016, and they’ve shown very few reasons to expect a positive turnaround in 2017. The team’s offensive coordinator and the majority of its quarterbacks jumped ship or were injured between the end of the regular season and last month’s spring game. Finding ways to score points will be difficult beyond a lone bright spot from senior Janarion Grant, who could be one of the league’s most versatile weapons if he’s fully healthy.