Michigan, Nebraska look set to make breakthroughs in Big Ten

FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2019, file photo, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields runs a drill during NCAA college football practice in Columbus, Ohio. Georgia transfer Justin Fields' performance will be key to the Buckeyes’ hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff for the first time since the 2016-17 season.

Most of what’s below is self explanatory, with the following exceptions:

*The points for/against and yards for/against numbers don’t include bowl games.

*Football Power Index (FPI) is an ESPN metric.

*Phil Steele is a college football analyst best known for his annual preview magazine.

*The coaching records are as an FBS head coach only. NFL records of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Illinois’ Lovie Smith, for example, are not included.

2018: 13-1, 8-1 Big Ten. Best win: 62-39 thrashing of the Team Up North. Worst loss: 49-20 at Purdue as a 12-point favorite. Also the only loss.

Starters back: 13 (four offense, nine defense).

By the numbers: Points for/against, 593-357; yards for/against, 7498/5648. FPI: #13 in the country, #3 in Big Ten East. Phil Steele: #6 in the country, #2 in B10 East.

Schedule: (56th-toughest in FBS by opponents’ 2018 W-L) Aug. 31, Florida Atlantic; Sept. 7, Cincinnati; Sept. 14, at Indiana; Sept. 21, Miami (Ohio); Sept. 28, at Nebraska; Oct. 5, Michigan St.; Oct. 18, at Northwestern; Oct. 26, Wisconsin; Nov. 9, Maryland; Nov. 16, Rutgers; Nov. 23, Penn St.; Nov. 30, at Michigan.

Coach: Ryan Day, second year (3-0).

Fun fact: According to the Blue-Chip Ratio, which is the percentage of the roster consisting of four- and five-star recruits, Ohio State is the most talented team in the country.

Outlook: Day steps up from co-offensive coordinator to replaces Urban Meyer (as you may have heard). Day went 3-0 last year during Meyer’s suspension. The other big personnel deal is Georgia transfer Justin Fields, arguably the top high school QB (and maybe player) in the country in the class of 2018.

Fields apparently has Deshaun Watson-like potential, and Day ran an offense (and to a great extent, ran a program) that racked up nearly 600 points and 7,500 yards last year. But they’re both “new,’’ the offensive line must be rebuilt, and some experts/metrics are slightly less high on the Buckeyes than usual (for an extreme case, see ESPN’s FPI above).

This is a team with crazy talent and athleticism, and the schedule is a bit lighter than usual. One exception to that is the season-ending trip to the That School Up North which, as usual, will tell most of the story.

Prediction: 11-1, 8-1.