The start of the 2016 college football season is just around the corner. What better way to get you ready for another fall of gridiron action than to give you some stats to chew on. Here's a nice serving of some key numbers to pay attention to in 2016 from around the Big Ten.
89.0: Tackles for a loss by Illinois in 2015
It would seem new head coach Lovie Smith is taking over a team with a knack for making plays behind the line of scrimmage. That should help Smith, who loves defense, but what would really help would be if Illinois could place more of that backfield pressure on the quarterback. The Illini had just 19 sacks last season, second-fewest in the Big Ten (Rutgers, 14.0).
85.8: Percent of Indiana’s offensive yards per game that must be replaced from 2015
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s passing and Jordan Howard’s rushing accounted for roughly 432 yards per game. Both have moved on from the Hoosiers, leaving head coach Kevin Wilson with big shoes to fill on offense.
4: Interceptions returned for touchdowns by Iowa in 2015
Defense was instrumental in helping Iowa win every game during the regular season with a Big Ten-leading 19 interceptions. Four of those were returned for a score, the ultimate defensive play.
36: Turnovers by Maryland in 2015
The Terrapins lost control of the football a whopping 36 times last season, with 29 coming by way of an interception. That is the most turnovers lost by a Big Ten team since at least 2008, so controlling the football with better decision-making through the air will be key this fall.
27.62: Third-down percentage by Michigan’s opponents in 2015
No Big Ten team did a better job getting off the field on third down than Michigan, with Wisconsin the next best (31.2 percent). Michigan cut that number down 10 percentage points from 2014 and may have been one of the more underrated results under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. It is the best third-down defense by this metric among all Big Ten teams since at least 2008.
13: Fumbles recovered by Michigan State in 2015
The Spartans may take pride in their pass defense, but they are typically very good with ball awareness when the pigskin is knocked loose. Michigan State forced 14 fumbles last fall (third-most in the Big Ten; Penn State 20, Maryland 17), and recovered more fumbles than any other Big Ten program.
11: Interceptions thrown by Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner last season
Leidner has been floated out there by some as a potential early round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but first he must improve upon his touchdown-to-interception ratio (14:11 last season). If Leidner can avoid costly picks, not only will that help his draft stock, but Minnesota’s offense also should improve.
94: Penalties called on Nebraska last season
The Huskers gave up nearly 64 free yards per game to their opponents in 2015, more than any other Big Ten squad. Nebraska has been notorious for playing undisciplined football since coming to the Big Ten, finishing in last or next-to-last in total penalties three times since 2011 and in the bottom half of the conference every season. This also was a trend in the Big 12 for Nebraska. There may not be much hope, as Mike Riley’s track record with penalties at Oregon State was on par with Nebraska’s reputation.
114: Northwestern's rank among FBS teams in scoring offense
Northwestern ranked near the bottom of FBS in scoring (19.5 ppg) yet still managed to win 10 games. That tells you how dependable Northwestern’s defense was, but can the Wildcats continue that trend and be successful this season?
5.62: Ohio State's rushing yards per play in 2015
Having Ezekiel Elliott leading the ground attack helps and he will no longer be in the backfield, but this is a testament to the work being done by the offensive line as well as the versatility a player like quarterback J.T. Barrett brings to the field as well.
6: Straight seasons Penn State has finished outside of the AP Top 25
The last time that happened, the AP only ranked 20 teams and the United States had yet to enter World War II. It’s been a while, to say the least. Can the Nittany Lions snap that streak this season?
73.68: Purdue's TD percentage in the red zone in 2015
Mind you, Purdue did not penetrate the 20-yard line too often (just 38 times), but at least the Boilermakers made the most of those opportunities. No Big Ten team had a better red zone touchdown percentage last fall.
34: Games played since Rutgers last won at home against a team with a winning record
Rutgers may play a bit tougher at home than when on the road in Big Ten play, but it has been a few years since knocking off a team with a winning record in the Garden State. The last team with a winning record to lose at Rutgers? Bret Bielema and his Arkansas Razorbacks in 2013.
5: Fumbles lost by Wisconsin last season
The Badgers have a good reputation running the football, and protecting it has been one of the things they tend to do very well. Wisconsin lost a Big Ten-best five fumbles last season, while recovering nine of their own loose balls. For a team averaging about 40 rushing attempts a game, that’s pretty solid.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com, TheComeback.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.