Michigan State saw standouts Kenny Willekes, Raequan Williams, and Joe Bachie each return to anchor what could be the best defensive front seven in the Big Ten next season. Also, given his star-crossed career, L.J. Scott moving on could be considered addition by subtraction.
Though Michigan lost several standouts early to the pros, it could've been much worse. Instead, the Wolverines still return two defensive backs (Lavert Hill and Josh Mettelus), a key offensive lineman (Ben Bredeson), and a starting quarterback (Shea Patterson) who will likely each be on every preseason All-Big Ten team when the preview magazines hit the shelves around Memorial Day.
Putting Iowa here is a little misleading, because right now it has the highest roster point total of any Big Ten West Division team in the three seasons I've been tracking this metric (see below). However, the Hawkeyes were close to having one of their most talented returning teams in recent memory -- until every one of their eligible underclassmen coveted by the NFL chose to forego their college careers.
Penn State has lost over 30 roster points from early attrition alone since the 2018 season ended. Right now the Nittany Lions have only 59 scholarship players with 18 recruits signed for 2019, and more than 70% of the prospects already spoken for nationally. Which means the pickings are slim between now and February's signing day, so James Franklin will likely be active in the transfer market.
Dwayne Haskins is poised to become the first Big Ten quarterback since Kerry Collins in 1995 to be a first round pick. And given the recent trend towards teams trading up for the most coveted quarterback(s), he could very well be the first overall pick come April, too.
Miles Sanders did a capable job filling the gigantic shoes of Saquon Barkley, but with just one season of being "the guy" in the Penn State backfield on his resume one wonders if he could've benefited from being "the man" for the Nittany Lions next season. Although it's considered a weak running back draft class, which likely compelled Sanders to jump now.
Big Ten Roster Ratings
With the early signing period and the early entree deadline for the NFL draft behind us, we now have our first glimpse at how Big Ten football rosters are shaping up for this fall.
I've been doing my own college football preview since I was a sophomore in high school in 1988. A few years ago, I started noticing that returning starters wasn't the telltale metric it used to be. What with so many underclassmen declaring for the draft nowadays, early enrollees preparing freshmen to play earlier than ever before, and pro-style sub-packaging of personnel groupings becoming prevalent as well.
So starting with my 2017 preview, I started assessing the overall roster strength of each power five team. Using the 247 composite recruiting rankings, a team is assessed 5 points for a 5-star, 4 points for a 4-star, and 3 points for a 3-star recruit. If that 4 or 3-star recruit has clearly overplayed his recruiting ranking since being on campus, I give them a bonus point as well. This also awards points for 5th-year seniors that factor into the two-deep as well as incoming and outgoing transfers, too. So far this has been remarkably accurate. Forecasting Georgia's rise in 2017, and that LSU was underrated in 2018 as just two examples.
With the offseason just now upon us, I've only been following the Big Ten schools so far. Here's the current roster talent score for each team, with 2018's final roster score from my preseason preview in parentheses.
Ohio State: 339 points (355)
This score counts on transfer Justin Fields being immediately eligible.
Michigan: 323 points (300)
I've already accounted for 5th-year seniors I don't believe will be invited back, and the Wolverines are still a few scholarships over the limit. So more underclassmen attrition will be needed.
Michigan State: 289 points (260)
Spartans beginning to dig out depth-wise from disastrous 2016 class.
Penn State: 288 points (312)
See above for more on their situation.
Iowa: 287 points (268)
Nebraska: 281 points (258)
About 60% of its roster points are from 2018 and 2019 classes, so this will still be a young team this fall.
Purdue: 280 points (242)
No coach has upgraded his school's roster more and quicker than Jeff Brohm.
Maryland: 277 points (267)
The new regime inherits some good skill talent from the old one.
Wisconsin: 274 points (280)
Badgers aren't much different from last season's score, it's just rest of West Division is catching up.
Minnesota: 273 points (243)
P.J. Fleck is also really upgrading his roster in real time.
Illinois: 271 points (229)
Lovie Smith is crushing the transfer circuit, and right now I'm counting on all of them being eligible this fall given the current NCAA trend. Those transfers account for 14 of their points. Take them away and they're Rutgers.
Indiana: 266 points (245)
Rutgers: 256 points (235)
Northwestern: 247 points (234)
Keep in mind there will be plenty of further attrition and addition to track between now and camps opening up in July. But for now, this provides a framework that draws two immediate conclusions: the overall talent in the league is trending up, and Wisconsin's dominance of the West Division might be at an end.