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Big Ten East preview: Two-horse race with Buckeyes, Spartans

FILE - In this Dec. 7 2013 file phoOhio State quarterback BraxtMiller throws pass against Michigan State during Big Ten

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2013, file photo, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller throws a pass against Michigan State during the Big Ten Conference championship NCAA college football game in Indianapolis. Despite missing nearly three full games with a sprained knee last season, he passed for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns, and ran for 1,068 yards and 12 scores. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File) ORG XMIT: NY160

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Updated: August 13, 2014 10:20PM

Mark your calendars. Ohio State’s game at Michigan State on Nov. 8 is the game of all games on the Big Ten schedule this year. The rematch of the Big Ten title game last year will be a de facto conference semifinal.

The Buckeyes and Spartans represent the Big Ten’s best shot to send a team to the College Football Playoff. Smart money is on one of these teams, both of which should be in the top 10 of any preseason poll, to win the conference championship.

The East welcomes the two conference newbies, Maryland and Rutgers. Will they struggle adjusting to the Big Ten? Or will teams struggle against them?

The latter might be a question that Michigan, Penn State and Indiana have to answer, but Ohio State and Michigan State should beat Maryland and Rutgers on talent alone.

1. Ohio State

Between the Buckeyes and Spartans, the nod goes to the team that hasn’t lost a regular-season game under coach Urban Meyer. A fresh-faced offensive line is the biggest question mark for the Buckeyes, and it could present a problem against the Spartans. Quarterback Braxton Miller should remain in the Heisman conversation all year.

2. Michigan State

The Spartans will push for the division crown, but it will be tougher without linebacker Max Bullough and defensive back Darqueze Dennard. That said, junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun could be an even bigger playmaker than both of them. Expect quarterback Connor Cook to take a step forward.

3. Michigan

Brady Hoke’s job rests on the Devin connection. Quarterback Devin Gardner and wide receiver Devin Fuchness have the goods to be one of the best offensive duos in the league. Will they bounce back after an inconsistent 2013 season?

4. Penn State

By the end of his sophomore season, Christian Hackenberg could be considered among the best quarterbacks in the country. James Franklin’s first season in State College will rest on Hackenberg’s right arm.

5. Maryland

With all but four starters back from a 7-6 team, Maryland should improve. But the Terrapins will need Brandon Ross to be a 1,000-yard rusher.

6. Indiana

With 17 starters returning, it’s get better or get out for coach Kevin Wilson. But the Hoosiers look much like the team that won three conference games last year. Hopefully the offense will provide more exciting moments.

7. Rutgers

It will be a rough welcome to the Big Ten for the Scarlet Knights, who host Penn State and Michigan before traveling to Ohio State and Nebraska.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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