After the Michigan Wolverines took a sizable step and made the College Football Playoff, and after many Big Ten players were drafted, the 14-team conference is up for grabs. With defensive juggernauts and disciplined running games alike, the Big Ten will be an exciting watch for this upcoming season. Expect a ton of neck-and-neck games. Here is where each team stacks up.
1. Ohio State
Ohio State football has become one of the most dominant teams in sports. With CJ Stroud coming back after an impeccable 2021 campaign while Ohio State grabbed more five-star recruits (seven) than anybody other than Alabama coming into the year, the Buckeyes are destined to grab the top spot back. Stroud threw 44 touchdowns to just seven interceptions under coach Ryan Day’s offense, and the team put up an FBS-leading 561.2 yards per game. The Heisman finalist will still have his supporting cast in team-leading rusher TreVeyon Henderson and pass-catcher Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Ohio State is getting reinforcements on defense, after allowing 22.8 points per game. Expect five-star linebacker C.J. Hicks to terrorize opposing offenses all year long as the Buckeyes push for a climb back to the top. Buckeyes fanatics should have plenty to cheer about.
What Jim Harbaugh’s team did in 2021 was nothing short of magical. The Wolverines grabbed the Big Ten title for the first time since 2004, and they became the third team, after Ohio State and Michigan State, in the conference to make the College Football Playoff. Plenty of fanatics were likely wearing officially licensed sports apparel in support of the team’s run. This year, Michigan will have to fare without Aidan Hutchinson.
Hutchinson’s prowess had plenty to do with Michigan being fourth in the Big Ten in points allowed at just 17.4 per game. The lack of decisiveness for quarterback with Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy both getting reps will prevent this team from winning battles against high-powered offenses.
3. Michigan State
After failing to obtain double digit wins three times in four years before the abbreviated 2020 season, the Spartans exploded with an 11-2 record. The team also finished with a Peach Bowl win and a top 10 national ranking. Losing Kenneth Walker, who was second in the FBS with 1,636 yards on the ground in 2021, will hurt the Spartans’ running game. However, keeping secondary cornerstone Xavier Henderson, among other familiar faces, should help reinforce the defense.
With six four-star recruits and no five-star recruits, it’ll be a tough task for Mel Tucker’s team to move the needle against an established powerhouse in Ohio State and a well-rounded squad in Michigan.
If Maryland hadn’t gone 0-5 against top 25 teams in 2021, they could have shocked a lot of people with a double-digit win season. Nonetheless, the Terrapins went 7-6 with a 3-6 conference record. This team took care of business against inferior opponents, but they didn’t have the firepower to pull off any major upsets.
Taulia Tagovailoa had 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the year, but he threw seven touchdowns and nine picks against top 10 teams in the FBS. Maryland’s future is bright with four-star recruit Jaishawn Barham being a huge addition to the linebacker core and Shaleak Knotts serving as another weapon out wide. This team has the tools it needs to take another step forward in 2022.
5. Penn State
Dropping off significantly since going 11-2 in 2019, Penn State once again failed to meet expectations after going 7-6 in 2021. The defense allowed just 17.3 points per game. Despite losing some big names, team interception leader Ji’Ayir Brown will return under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Sean Clifford will come back for his senior year in search of confidence and protection, as he threw 21 touchdowns while being sacked on 30 occasions. The boys in navy and white have six four-star recruits coming in, but they don’t have the firepower on offense to keep up with the teams above them on this list.
Indiana was the only team in the Big Ten to go winless in conference with an 0-9 record. The quarterback carousel spun through the entire year, as four guys took over 50 snaps under center for the Hoosiers. The defense also allowed the most points per game in the Big Ten at 33.2. With the 26th-best 2022 recruiting class, however, Indiana should take one small step forward in the Big Ten this year.
Scoring the second least amount of points per game in the Big Ten East at 19.7, Rutgers made it hard on themselves to win ball games. The Scarlet Knights ran the ball 500 times to just 394 passing attempts, but nobody with more than 20 carries could average above four yards per carry. Noah Vedral couldn’t break 2,000 passing yards and threw seven touchdowns to seven interceptions, so Gavin Wimsatt will have a shot at the starting spot this year.
Big Ten West
After starting the 2021 season off 1-3, the Badgers finished the year 8-1 and won the Las Vegas Bowl. While former four-star recruit Graham Mertz struggled with 10 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, Wisconsin isn’t built on the pass. Braelon Allen, who was 17-years old throughout the season, chugged for 1,268 yards on a 6.8 yards per carry average. The team allowed just 16.2 points per game, the lowest in the Big Ten.
The Badgers will likely need to take care of business against Iowa, Notre Dame, and either Michigan State or Ohio State to re-ascend to the top of the Big Ten West. If Wisconsin can accomplish this, Badger fans may have some Big Ten Championship sports collectibles they can go after for the first time since 2012.
The Golden Gophers love to run and mix it up in the backfield. Three different players went for over 500 yards on the ground, and nine different players scored a rushing touchdown. P.J. Fleck’s team had impressive wins over Purdue and Wisconsin last year, and they drew a favorable hand in not having to face Ohio State or Michigan this year.
Four-star recruits Trey Bixby and Anthony Smith expected to be disruptive on defense. The defense allowed just 17.3 points per contest last year, second in the Big Ten. The game between Minnesota and Wisconsin in late November may determine who wears Big Ten East champions memorabilia.
Iowa took care of business in the Big Ten East last year, as the Hawkeyes finished 10-2 while going 3-1 against top 25 teams. The one loss was against Michigan in the Big Ten Championship, where they were blown out by the Wolverines 42-3. The team lost its interception leader in Dane Belton to the draft, but the Hawkeyes hope to have four-star recruit Xavier Nwankpa cover plenty of space as a safety.
The Hawkeyes will have a tougher time getting to the Big Ten Championship this time around, as the two teams above them in these rankings have gotten stronger on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Iowa will be tasked with taking on both Michigan and Ohio State during the regular season.
Purdue football held their own and got the attention of many during their 8-4 stint in 2021. The Boilermakers went 2-2 against ranked teams, but they lost two crucial contests to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Aidan O’Connell is one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, as he threw 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year. Purdue’s lack of soundness on defense has hurt them at times, as they allowed 22.4 points per game.
The defensive numbers don’t look as if they’ll get much better since Purdue lost DaMarcus Mitchell and George Karlaftis at defensive end. The team has talent, but the question will be whether or not this melting pot of player and coaching personnel can mesh in time to stay afloat.
The 2021 Nebraska Cornhuskers were very likely the best 3-9 team in FBS history. While that statement may seem like an oxymoron, they never lost a game by more than nine points and played a total of six teams in the top 20. Signal-caller Adrian Martinez threw for over 2,800 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The team averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but seemingly every loss ended on a failed game-winning drive for Nebraska or a successful one for their opponent. Scott Frost’s team even finished with a net positive 65-point differential on the year. Four-star recruit Jaeden Gould should aid in securing a secondary that was cooked during the two-minute drill last year.
The Fighting Illini are searching for their first winning season since 2011. The team has gone through four head coaches and a lot of heartbreak since going 7-6 11 years ago. While Chase Brown ran for over 1,000 yards last year and still has some upside, most Big Ten teams are too big and bad on offense for Illinois to keep pace.
Quarterback Brandon Peters is now a member of the Los Angeles Chargers. Illinois doesn’t have a single recruit above three stars in the 2022 class, so it may not get easier for second-year coach Bret Bielema.
After seemingly reviving the Wildcat football program with three winning seasons between 2017-2020, Pat Fitzgerald’s team struggled mightily in 2021. Northwestern didn’t have a single signal-caller throw for 1,000 yards, a rare feat across all leagues. The team also rushed for 3.9 yards per carry. The Wildcats allowed 29 sacks in 12 contests, and the team’s only conference win came against a struggling Rutgers team.
Evan Hull was one of the lone bright spots at Northwestern, as he averaged 5.1 yards per carry and totaled over 1,000 yards on the ground last season. It’ll take plenty of help to patch up a team that gave up 29 points per contest last season.