Our crew of Big Ten reporters will periodically offer takes on burning questions that face the league. We'll have strong opinions, though not the same view. We'll let you decide who's right.
Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite to field the Big Ten's top offense in 2015. The other side of the ball takes center stage in today's Take Two topic: Which Big Ten team will have the top defense this season?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Let's take a moment to appreciate just how good some of the league's defenses were in 2014. Wisconsin was leading the nation in yards allowed late into the season. Penn State's defense was nothing short of heroic, allowing just 18.6 points per game despite little help from its own offense. Michigan State put up great numbers despite playing three of the top offenses in the country in Oregon, Ohio State and Baylor. Michigan's defense was solid despite some tough circumstances, Minnesota got in people's grills and Ohio State locked things down when the games mattered most.
So it's tough to pick which defense will be the best in 2015. But I'm going out on a short limb and saying Penn State will lead the Big Ten in key statistical categories once again.
I love what Bob Shoop did in his first year in State College with that defense, which manhandled Ohio State more than any other league team in an overtime loss. Tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson could absolutely terrorize opposing offensive lines up the middle. Replacing the ultra-productive Mike Hull at middle linebacker is not easy, but Penn State has decent depth there. The secondary should remain strong as well, and I'm looking forward to seeing a full year of Marcus Allen at safety.
Finally, don't forget about the schedule. While the Nittany Lions will have to deal with those Buckeyes at the Horseshoe and slow down Michigan State at home, the nonconference slate (Temple, Buffalo, San Diego State and Army) doesn't exactly feature many high-flying offenses. That should be enough for Penn State's defense to pace the Big Ten in yards and points allowed for a second straight year.
Take 2: Josh Moyer
Brian, the Nittany Lions clearly had the top defense in 2014. I'm not going to argue that. But this is 2015 -- and, weak schedule or not, I think another East Division team deserves that No. 1 preseason spot.
The Ohio State Buckeyes.
Now, I'm not trying to take anything away from Penn State. Shoop is one of the best coordinators in the conference, Zettel is the B1G's best defensive tackle, and the secondary is on the upswing. But Ohio State simply has more going for it right now.
Look at each position group individually, and it's difficult to give PSU more than one advantage. At linebacker, PSU lost the heart of its defense in Hull while one of James Franklin's primary concerns remains the depth here. Ohio State? No worries at all. All-B1G LB Joshua Perry returns, as does defensive playmaker Darron Lee and one of the B1G's upcoming stars in Raekwon McMillan (aka "The Chosen One"). Clear advantage: Ohio State.
How about the defensive line? Well, this is close. Both teams lost a pair of starters, and both teams return one All-B1G player. But I'm giving the edge to the Buckeyes, who happen to have next year's potential No. 1 overall draft pick in Joey Bosa. Plus, even by your own admission in February, you ranked the Buckeyes ahead of the Lions in this department. So I think we're in agreement -- slight advantage: Ohio State.
The secondary follows a similar storyline: PSU lost safety Adrian Amos, Ohio State lost cornerback Doran Grant. But the Lions are in the process of moving Jordan Lucas from cornerback to safety -- an identical move that took Amos two seasons to fully grasp -- while that's one less variable the Buckeyes have to contend with.
Both teams are sure to have great defenses again this season. But, at this early point, I just think Ohio State deserves the nod over the Nittany Lions.