The Big 10 starts their shortened season this weekend. Here are my Predictions for how both divisions will play out.
1. Ohio State (9-0) - I feel like this prediction is very self explanatory and should not come as a surprise to anyone. I think this is a team capable of winning a National Championship, led by Quarterback Justin Fields. They replaced the hole of JK Dobbins perfectly by adding Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon and they return one of the best wide receivers in the country, Chris Olave. The Buckeyes schedule is also extremely favorable as they dodge a bullet not having to deal with the Penn State whiteout due to Covid regulations. The Big 10 is theirs to lose.
2. Indiana (6-2) - This should be a huge surprise given the teams in this division but this team is extremely underrated and will show what they are all about when they upset Penn State in week one. The Hoosiers return 17 starters including Michael Penix Jr, the most underrated QB in the country. He won Big 10 freshman of the week twice last year despite only starting 5 games due to injuries. To curve his injury issues, he added 15 pounds to his 6’3 frame. They also return their two most dangerous weapons, Whop Philyor who had 1,002 receiving yards last year and Stevie Scott who is coming off a 10 TD campaign. The Hoosier’s offensive line made some improvements as well adding Stanford transfer Dylan Powell. This defense is also very underrated, they return 9 starters and add another Stanford transfer, linebacker Joe Swann who has recorded 10 sacks over the last two years. The only concern with this team is Penix’s health but I feel all the muscle he put on will help him tremendously. This is the most talented team Indiana has had since Tom Allen has taken over as head coach and expect them to make some noise in this shortened season.
3. Penn State (6-2)- This team loses a lot of production. KJ Hamler and Yetur Gross- Matos are now in the NFL, Micah Parsons opted out and now Journey Brown may miss the entire year due to injury. This team benefits from their schedule greatly as the two crossover games they have are Nebraska and Iowa. What puts them at 3rd in the division instead of 4th is the fact they have experience at quarterback, something Michigan doesn’t and for that reason, they are ahead of the Wolverines. I am not a Sean Clifford fan at all as I think he is merely average but having a year under his belt will help him greatly especially in a shortened season. The Nittany Lions will also benefit from the experience their offensive line has as they return four starters. A strong offensive line and experienced QB play will put this team over Michigan however I can definitely see them finishing worse than 6-2 as I am not very confident in their defense or offensive weapons.
4. Michigan (4-4)- The Shea Patterson era has ended and now enters Dylan Mccaffery, brother of NFL superstar Christian Mccaffery. Hopefully Dylan runs as well as Christian because he will be running for his life behind an offensive line that loses four starters. Their running attack will be led by Zach Charbonnet but Hassan Haskins will get a solid amount of carries behind him. Michigan’s three best receivers from last year will not be returning this year so there are little to no weapons for Mccafery to work with. I don’t see this offense producing much as Mccaffrey is unproven and doesn’t have much of a cast to help him out. On defense, the Wolverines front seven is very suspect, their undersized defensive linemen were a liability last year which makes them a hard group to evaluate going into this year. However on the edge they have two remarkable players in Kwity Paye and Adrian Hutchinson, who both totaled over 80 tackles last year. The secondary loses Lavert Hill but returns multiple starters such as Ambry Thomas, an all conference candidate and Vincent Gray. I’m confident they will figure out their defense but the offense has too many question marks making the Wolverines a liable team to lose games they usually would not. They will be in for a rude awakening week one versus Minnesota.
5. Rutgers (3-5)- I absolutely love the hire of Greg Schiano. He’s coming from a team where he produced two top 3 draft picks and he brought the energy in his electric introduction speech at a Rutgers basketball game. He instantly made great changes to the program by adding nine transfers coming from power 5 schools. I think this team has a lot of potential and can pull off a couple upsets this year. This team has a capable defense and a coaching staff that can lead them to success, but the one thing that will hold them back is quarterback Art Sitkowski. Hopefully he loses the starting job to Noah Vedral as I don’t even need to see Vedral’s highlights or stats, I just know he is better than Sitkowski. This is an up and coming program and a solid 2020 (for Rutgers standards) can give us glimpses for what the future holds. The shortened season also helps them a lot as they are not a very deep team. Will they beat MSU in week one, probably not but I'll be bold. Give me the Scarlet Knights over the Spartans.
6. Michigan State (2-6)- Michigan State is trending in a horrible direction. Hiring Mel Tucker makes no sense whatsoever. He was not good at all at Colorado and putting him in a far tougher conference will not help at all. They lost Brian Lewerke who seemed like he was there for ages. They return only eleven starters including their whole offensive line so basically every position other than that will be in serious trouble. They had a very poor recruiting class which included no four or five star recruits and ranked 10th in the conference. The only thing good to say about this team is that their run game will be very solid as I already said they return the whole offensive line and running back Elijah Collins. This program is dying very quickly and this year will just be the beginning. The Spartans are on major upset alert in week one as they travel to New Jersey to take on Rutgers.
7. Maryland (0-8)- Not much to see here, just the laughing stock of the big 10.
1. Minnesota (7-2)- This was the Big 10’s surprise team last year and to be honest, I wasn’t sold on them for a long time, that all changed when they played Penn State. This year, the Gophers return seven offensive starters including QB Tanner Morgan who ranked seventh in total QBR last year and third among returning QBs. They also return running back Mohamed Ibrahim who had 140 yards in their bowl win versus Auburn. They lose their top two receivers but expect Chris Autman- Bell to step up big time and fill their void. The offensive line returns all five starters, so expect this team to match the physicality that big 10 defenses bring and for them to have a great air attack as Tanner Morgan is looking to compete for the Heisman trophy. They hired former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr which is a solid hire. As for their defense, they are in some serious trouble as they only return five starters and lose their top six tacklers. Their recruiting class was nothing special as they only were able to sign one four star player on the defensive side of the ball. They are still a talented group but if this team wants to compete for a big 10 championship their defense is going to have to exceed expectations tremendously. This is still a very solid team and I expect them to go 7-1 as they play a very easy schedule, however they will most definitely get obliterated by Ohio State in the championship game.
2. Wisconsin (5-3)- This team loses a lot to say the least. Two time Doak Walker award winner Jonothan Taylor, leading receiver Quintez Cephus and Jack Coan who ranked ninth in QBR suffered a broken foot and is out indefinitely. They arguably had the best offensive line in the country last year but this year they only return two starters. To fill the shoes of Coan, the Badgers will turn to the highest rated quarterback recruit in school history, Graham Mertz who has drawn high praise from his coaches this offseason. As for the offensive line, I am not too worried. They signed two top 10 offensive line recruits and Wisconsin thrives at player development especially when it comes to their offensive line. Jonathan Taylor is literally irreplaceable, he was a one of a kind talent but if the Badgers are able to get half as good production from their new RB, they will be more than fine. I expect this offense to be inconsistent while showing lots of potential. As for the defense, they lose arguably their two best players, Zach Baun and Chris Orr. The loss of these two linebackers will be big but they did a great job recruiting as they signed two four star linebackers and Leo Chenal saw some significant playing time as a true freshman last year. Their defensive line will definitely help offset the inexperience at linebacker as they return all four starters from last season. They also return most of their secondary, making them one of the best defenses in the conference. Wisconsin is a very good team but benefits from a pretty weak schedule. I see them getting upset in their last game of the season at Iowa but 6-2 should definitely be considered successful given all the talent they lost.
3. Purdue (4-4)- Purdue holds one of the most underrated receiving tandems in the country, highlighted by the human highlight reel, Rondale Moore, who originally opted out of this season and David Bell who finished last season on a tear as he had six games with 100 or more receiving yards out of their final 9. Quarterback is a huge issue as they had three guys get meaningful reps last season but none of them were too impressive, they return two of the three (Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer) and add UCLA grad transfer Austin Burton who put up very solid stats last year given his small sample size. (44-64 365 yards 1 TD) Whoever starts I believe will do fine given their talent at receiver and that the two returning Boilermakers had meaningful reps last season. Their rush offense was horrendous last year as they ranked last in rush yards per game and yards per carry, they return both of their leading rushers so they are bound to improve and they return three starters on the offensive line. This offense has a lot of potential and I am looking forward to watching them this year. The defense was atrocious last year but will most definitely improve as they return their two best players, Freshman All American George Karlaftis and Lorenzo Neal who missed all of last season. They add two transfers who look to make an immediate impact in Tyler Coyle, UConn’s leading tackler last season and in 2018 and Juco transfer Damarcus Mitchell looks to make an immediate impact as well. They return their whole secondary which is huge. Look for this defense to improve greatly but they still have many holes. I see them beating Iowa at home in week one and having a very solid year. This program is trending in the right direction.
4. Iowa (4-4)- They lose a solid amount of guys, very important guys to say the least. Three year starting QB Nate Stanley, first round draft pick Tristan Wirfs and one of the best defensive linemen in the country, AJ Epenesa. Despite all these losses, Iowa returns a good amount of players as well including running back Tyler Goodson, receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, senior defensive lineman Chauncey Golston and four starters on the offensive line. Kirk Ferentz always does a great job reloading this program and I don’t see any changes in that this year. The man replacing Stanley will be Spencer Petras, who only attempted 10 passes last season, because of this small sample size I am not really sure what to expect but I do know their rushing attack will be solid given who they have returning. As for the defense, they return five starters, which is not very promising. With the loss of AJ Epenesa, the spotlight is now on Chauncey Golston to lead the defensive front, I believe he is up to the task as he showed lots of promise last season. Matt Hankins and junior safety Jack Koerner will look to lead the secondary as both of them started over ten games last season. There is no doubt they will be worse than last season but this is still a very solid team as we have seen Kirk Ferentz reload time and time again. I see them at 4-4 as they play a very challenging schedule and with all the inexperience on both sides of the ball I see Purdue beating them in week one.
5. Nebraska (2-6)- Adrian Martinez looks to lead the offense after an abysmal 2019 campaign. The Huskers return a lot of quality players on offense, ten players that started four or more games to be exact so I expect this group to improve but not tremendously as Adrian Martinez is extremely inconsistent and just unimpressive in my opinion. The defense, they need to replace four guys on the defensive front and all the guys in the mix to take over have very limited playing time and are unproven which is not ideal given the physicality the big 10 demands. Their secondary returns Marquel Dismuke, Dicaprio Bootle and Cam Taylor-Britt who are all strong, versatile players. In the end, nothing intrigues me about this team and I don’t really see them improving that much given the moves they made.
6. Illinois (2-6)- What was this team last year? I’m still trying to figure it out. From winning as a +31 underdog versus Wisconsin to overcoming a 25 point deficit to Michigan State, Illinois’ 2019 was a rollercoaster to say the least. They return quarterback Brandon Peters, running back Mike Epstein and four of five starters on the offensive line. They are not a bad group by any means but they lucked out a lot last season as their defense forced turnovers at an unrepeatable rate setting up their offense for success. The defense does return lots of starters, with their best returning players Jake Hansen and Milo Eifler both being linebackers. The safety tandem of Tony Adams and Sydney Brown look to lead the secondary but look out for Marquez Beason to have a big year after suffering a season ending injury last year. This team is not bad at all but they play a very challenging schedule, I can see them finishing better than 2-6 as I gave them the short end of the stick in a couple of toss up games.
7. Northwestern (1-7)- Thank God they have Maryland on their schedule, also Peyton Ramsey is a solid quarterback but there's just not enough talent for this team to do anything meaningful.
Conference Championship Game
I see Ohio State hammering Minnesota as Justin Fields is just too good and will manhandle an inexperienced Minnesota defense.
Ohio State 42- Minnesota 20
OMVP: Justin Fields (Ohio State)
DMVP: Shaun Wade (Ohio State)
Most Improved: Michael Penix Jr (Indiana)
Comeback Player of the year: Mike Epstein (Illinois)
Freshman: Julian Fleming (Ohio State)
Coach of the year: Ryan Day (Ohio State)
Honorable Mention: Greg Schiano (Rutgers)