64. Kansas Jayhawks
Last year’s record: 1-11
Most important returning player: RB Khalil Herbert
Under the leadership of coach David Beaty, the Jayhawks have gone 3-33 over the past three seasons. There is not much to like about this year’s squad either. Kansas’ best player is Joe Dineen Jr., a linebacker who led the Big 12 in tackles last season. DT Daniel Wise is a preseason All-Big 12 selection, but beyond those two players, the cupboard is bare. Herbert is the Jayhawks’ best offensive player when healthy — Herbert posted a 291-yard rushing game against West Virginia — but injuries have been a problem. Kansas’ only win over a FBS team during Beaty’s tenure came against Texas in 2016. Lawrence natives should prepare for another rough season.
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63. Illinois Fighting Illini
Last year’s record: 2-10
Most important returning player: RB Mike Epstein
Lovie Smith’s return to coaching has not been pretty. Illinois is a combined 5-19 the past two seasons. These numbers provide little hope for both this upcoming season and Smith’s future. The Fighting Illini have an incredibly young roster, led by sophomores Bobby Roundtree and Bennett Williams. If the Illini have any hope of putting together a decent season, they must find a quarterback. Sophomore Cam Thomas was the only scholarship QB with the team in the spring (though three freshmen have since joined). Before suffering a season-ending injury last year, Epstein provided a spark from the running back position. This will be a pivotal year for Smith, as the Illini are pegged to finish last in the conference yet again.
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62. Oregon State Beavers
Last year’s record: 1-11
Most important returning player: QB Jake Luton
Oregon State was atrocious a season ago. The Beavers surrendered 516 points in 2017, the fourth worst mark in Division 1. Jonathan Smith is the new man in charge in Corvallis, replacing Gary Anderson. OSU will rely on quarterback Jake Luton to lead an offense that scored a Pac-12 low 248 points a season ago. The defense returns eight starters from last year, but if the Beavers hope to make any noise in the North, the unit must put forth a greater effort. OSU has an opportunity to gain some respect nationally as they open the season in Columbus against the Buckeyes, but year one will be a rebuilding year for Smith and the Beavers.
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61. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Last year’s record: 4-8
Most important returning player: LB Deonte Roberts
After a rough introduction to the Big Ten in 2016, Rutgers showed signs of improvement last year. The offense was abysmal — 13.8 points per game in Big Ten play — but the defense began to show promise. Led by Roberts, the Scarlet Knights defense will be relied upon to carry the team this season. Rutgers’ back seven is the strength of its team. Roberts finished the year with 104 tackles, while Trevor Morris finished with a team-leading 118. Freshman Artur Sitowski could be the answer at quarterback for head coach Chris Ash. Rutgers seems to be on the upswing, but the process may take at least another season.
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