While half the country is already deep into its schedule, the Big Ten officially kicks off its conference slate this weekend.
In the fourth installment of a five-part preview series looking at the Power 5 conferences, theScore examines seven questions heading into Big Ten action.
Can Ohio State be stopped?
Not by anyone in the Big Ten. The class of the conference will once again be borderline unstoppable on both sides of the ball. Most teams would be crippled after losing JK Dobbins, Chase Young, Jeffrey Okudah, and Damon Arnette, but head coach Ryan Day just reloaded with another top recruiting class.
There's talent all over the field, but the main attraction in Columbus is once again Justin Fields. The Ohio State quarterback is coming off a season with an insane 41 touchdown passes versus just three interceptions. He has plenty of ground to make up, but don't be shocked if Fields is one of the last players standing for the Heisman Trophy.
The schedule is very favorable with Nebraska and Illinois representing the cross-division opponents, and the rivalry game with Michigan returns to the Horseshoe this year. Another Big Ten title and spot in the College Football Playoff seems a near certainty at this point.
Is Joe Milton the answer for Michigan?
Shea Patterson is gone. Dylan McCaffrey has opted to transfer. Michigan is Joe Milton's team now. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder gives Jim Harbaugh a presence at quarterback he hasn't seen in the collegiate ranks since he had Andrew Luck at Stanford. While Milton may lack polish, the physical skills are there in spades, and Harbaugh has a track record in getting strong production from his quarterbacks.
The Wolverines have struggled to keep up with Ohio State's explosive offense in recent years, but Milton could provide the spark to keep the rivalry game close. Will it be enough to see Harbaugh get over the hump and challenge for the East title? Probably not.
Can Nebraska show progress under Scott Frost?
They need to. According to USA Today, Frost ranks 17th among the country's highest-paid head coaches, but the on-field returns have not matched that salary through two years with Nebraska. The former star player has gone 9-15 since returning home; it's time to get past the .500 mark and show the program is headed in the right direction.
The good news for Frost? He has a very experienced roster, led by quarterback Adrian Martinez. Martinez has flashed skills that would see him rank among the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten when healthy. The bad news? The Cornhuskers have the toughest schedule in the division, with crossover games against Ohio State and Penn State.
What can we expect from Michigan State?
For the first time since 2006, someone other than Mark Dantonio is the head coach at Michigan State. The Spartans were so sold on Mel Tucker that the school gave him a monster six-year contract worth $5.5 million annually to get him out of Colorado. The cupboard isn't bare in Lansing, but the task ahead of Tucker is daunting. Playing in a division with Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State will always present its challenges for the Spartans, and a trip to Iowa in a crossover contest won't make things easier. Expectations in Tucker's first season should be low, with many changes needed after Dantonio's lengthy tenure.
Will Minnesota row past Wisconsin?
With appearances in four of the last six Big Ten championship games, Wisconsin is the clear king of the East division. There's a serious threat to the throne this year in the form of PJ Fleck and his boat-rowers from Minnesota. Fresh off an 11-win campaign, the Gophers return the star quarterback-receiver duo of Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman, along with almost their entire offensive line. That's certainly enough firepower to get the Badgers' attention at the top of the heap.
Wisconsin's offense, on the other hand, enters the season as a great unknown. Jonathan Taylor and Quintez Cephus are gone, and quarterback Jack Coan is out indefinitely with a foot injury. In steps highly touted quarterback Graham Mertz to run an outfit that has a lot of solid pieces but lacks star power. The number of changes in Wisconsin, and the Golden Gophers' emergence, should make the West race as good as any division battle in the country.