2016 Big Ten predictions: J.T. Barrett's offense tough to beat

Game week is less than a week away for college football. It's time to sort through who will be the best players, coaches and teams in the Big Ten this season. We offer our best guesses about what you should expect from the 2016 season.

Big Ten championship game

Brian Bennett: Michigan over Iowa

Wolverines’ experience gives them an edge in a tight Big Ten East race, and Jim Harbaugh will lead the Maize and Blue to the playoff in his second year.

Josh Moyer: Michigan over Nebraska

Believe in the Harbaugh hype. The Wolverines could wind up with the top defense in the country, and it’s difficult envisioning anyone in the West knocking them off. This is the best team in the Big Ten.

Dan Murphy: Ohio State over Nebraska

The Buckeyes will edge out Michigan to win the East in late November, then cruise past Nebraska in Indianapolis. Urban Meyer is too good of a coach to miss the conference championship game in back-to-back seasons with that much talent in Columbus.

Jesse Temple: Michigan over Iowa

If Michigan reaches the league title game, it will have done so by escaping the Big Ten East gauntlet, which makes the Wolverines as good as any team in the country. Iowa should win the West with relative ease, but Michigan's talent will overwhelm the Hawkeyes to help the Wolverines reach the College Football Playoff in Jim Harbaugh's second season.

Austin Ward: Ohio State over Iowa

The Buckeyes may be young, but the similarities between the roster Urban Meyer has this season and the one that he unleashed in 2014 are hard to ignore. By the end of the year, Ohio State will be the team that nobody wants to face.

Offensive player of the year

Bennett: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

Barrett is "the man" in Columbus once again, and Urban Meyer will give him every opportunity to put up record-breaking numbers.

Moyer: Barrett

Forget the conference; Barrett should be one of the best players in the nation. He finished fifth in the Heisman race his freshman season and, with no QB controversy this year, he should take a big step forward.

Murphy: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

No one is as central to his team’s success on offense as Barkley will be for the Nittany Lions this year. If the offensive line can take even a small step forward, the tough-to-tackle sophomore should be one of the most productive backs in the nation.

Temple: Barrett

Barrett doesn't have the proven talent around him this year, as he did during a breakout freshman season in 2014. But he's such a special player that he should still be the top signal-caller in the league -- and a legitimate Heisman candidate -- especially now that the offense again belongs to him.

Ward: Barrett

Completely healthy and unquestionably the leader of Ohio State’s high-octane attack, Barrett is poised to take another step forward as both a rusher and passer. Expect the record books to be under attack again.

Defensive player of the year

Bennett: Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

The most disruptive lineman in the league takes another step forward as a junior and wreaks havoc in the Big Ten.

Moyer: Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

The “superhero” linebacker is coming off an All-American season in which he registered 20.5 tackles for loss, and coach Pat Fitzgerald said in the spring that “he’s got the opportunity to be the best we’ve ever had here.” It’s best to jump on the bandwagon now.

Murphy: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan

The Wolverines should have the most dominant defense in the conference this season. Lewis’ coverage abilities will be a difference maker for the Wolverines. If he can pull down a few more interceptions this season, he’ll steal the Jim Thorpe Award from his buddy Desmond King.

Temple: Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

McMillan was a finalist for the Butkus Award last season after leading the team with 119 tackles. He could be in line for a monster junior season. Jabrill Peppers and Desmond King are big names, but Peppers could be busy as a three-way player, while quarterbacks are likely to avoid throwing toward King after his Thorpe Award-winning season a year ago.

Ward: Lewis

The standout cornerback doesn’t seem to get enough attention even on his own team, but Lewis might just be the most talented cover guy in the country.

Coach of the year

Bennett: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

When Michigan wins its first outright conference title since 2003, even those who don’t like him will have to reward him for it.

Moyer: Harbaugh

I picked Michigan to win the B1G championship -- and I think the Wolverines are headed to the playoff -- so it’s hard to choose any other coach here. He may be the conference’s weirdest coach, but he’s also one of its best.

Murphy: Mike Riley, Nebraska

Somebody had to go a different direction, right? After beating Oregon in September and turning the Huskers around in his second year, Riley gets the nod.

Temple: Harbaugh

Barring a huge surprise like Iowa last season, this award should go to the coach whose team wins the rugged Big Ten East. Since I picked Michigan to win the East, then Jim Harbaugh is the answer.

Ward: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

At some point, the ludicrous trophy drought for Ohio State coaches has to end, right? If Meyer can replace all those superstar draft picks and return to the College Football Playoff, he’ll have earned the hardware.

Freshman of the year

Bennett: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

Though he won’t start initially on Michigan’s deep defensive line, last year’s top overall recruit will have a big impact by the end of the year.

Moyer: Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

Twelve of the last 15 Big Ten Freshmen of the Year were skill players, so I’m steering clear of defense here. Weber already has garnered comparisons to Carlos Hyde, and he’s oozing with potential.

Murphy: Donnie Corley, WR, Michigan State

Speed and opportunity give Corley the ingredients he needs to make a big splash this fall. If he stays healthy, he’ll end up as the Spartans’ top receiver by November.

Temple: Gary

Gary was the top-ranked recruit for a reason. He's eventually going to be a force for the Wolverines up front this season.

Ward: Michael Jordan, OL, Ohio State

Interior offensive linemen don’t generally spend much time in the spotlight, but Jordan, a true freshman, has emerged as a viable starter at a crucial position providing protection for Barrett.