Big Ten Championship: Ohio State over Minnesota
Big Ten East
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Projected Record: 13-0
Wins: Notre Dame, Arkansas State, Toledo, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota (Big Ten Championship)
The Buckeyes were uncharacteristically bad on defense last year finishing 59th overall. Now Ryan Day has brought in new DC Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to change that. There are still questions on how good this defense can be with linebacker and cornerback being a mystery. The defense will be heavily reliant on Sophomore defensive linemen like JT Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, and Tyleik Williams. Offensively, Ohio State will be one of the best in the nation with the top receiving group, top running back (TreVeyon Henderson), and a top quarterback (CJ Stroud). The great offense will be enough to get through the Big Ten, but the defense will need to step up if the Buckeyes want to be legitimate national title contenders.
2. Michigan Wolverines
Projected Record: 10-2
Wins: Colorado State, Hawaii, UConn, Maryland, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois
Losses: Penn State, Ohio State
The Wolverines are coming off a great season where they won the Big Ten and made the playoffs. The offense will be good again with either JJ McCarthy or Cade McNamara leading the group. Michigan has one of the deepest groups in the Big Ten at wide receiver, second to Ohio State. The question this year will be how Michigan replaces a ton of key leaders to their defense. The defensive line is especially thin and could keep Michigan from returning to the playoffs. Overall, this is a good team, but replacing that much defensive talent will be tough to make a return trip to the playoffs.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions
Projected Record: 9-3
Wins: Purdue, Ohio, Auburn, Central Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Rutgers
Losses: Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan State
Penn State is coming off two disappointing years including finishing 7-6 last year. Starting quarterback Sean Clifford is back again for his super senior season, but there are questions on what his ceiling is. The offensive line has to make an improvement as they struggled last year, especially in the run game. Even with the loss of Jahan Dotson, Penn State still has quality receivers including Parker Washington, Keandre Lambert-Smith, and Michael Tinsley (transfer from Western Kentucky). Defensively, the Nittany Lions lost five guys to the NFL Draft along with losing defensive coordinator Brent Prye. Despite the losses, expect a very good defense, especially in the secondary. Overall, look for James Franklin to turn it around and compete with Michigan for the number two spot in the Big Ten East.
4. Maryland Terrapins
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Buffalo, Charlotte, SMU, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, Rutgers
Losses: Michigan, Purdue, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State
Taulia Tagovailoa returns at quarterback with a great receiving group with Florida transfer Jacob Copeland, Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus. The offense also has four returning starters on the offensive line which makes this one of the Big Ten’s best offenses. The question for this team will be on defense where they finished 85th last year. Still with seven returning starters the Terps may make enough of an improvement of defense to be a sneaky good team in the Big Ten.
5. Michigan State Spartans
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Western Michigan, Akron, Washington, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State
Losses: Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois
The Spartans are coming off a great year where they overachieved to a 11-2 record and Peach Bowl champions. Payton Thorne returns to quarterback after a mediocre season, but he will have two really good wide receivers in Jayden Reed and Tre Mosley. However, the offensive line is a major concern going into the season as they are faced with replacing four starters to a line that wasn’t great. The strength of this team again will be at running back with Jarek Broussard (Colorado transfer) and Jalen Berger (Wisconsin transfer). Defensively, Michigan State was one of the worst pass defenses last year, but still finished as a top 40 defense. Ameer Speed is a Georgia transfer who will come in and start right away at cornerback to try to help out. Another huge concern with the Spartans is finding an edge rusher as they had a very low pass rush rate last season. Overall, I expect this team to come back down to a seven win team with just an ok offense and defense.
6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Projected Record: 4-8
Wins: Boston College, Wagner, Temple, Indiana
Losses: Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland
Rutgers continues to make improvements under Greg Schiano, improving to five wins last year even with a terrible offense. Look for Gavin Wimsatt to take over at quarterback who enrolled early last year and is probably the most talented guy Rutgers has had in a while. Rutgers also has talented transfer wide receivers Taj Harris from Syracuse, Sean Ryan from West Virginia, and Aaron Cruickshank from Wisconsin. However, they will be heavily reliant on transfers on the offensive line. On defense they will be reliant on young players to step up as they lose three of their top four defensive lineman and linebackers. Overall, Rutgers is still in the rebuilding process and a bowl game this year will be a massive success.
7. Indiana Hoosiers
Projected Record: 3-9
Wins: Illinois, Idaho, Western Kentucky
Losses: Cincinnati, Nebraska, Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue
Indiana is coming off a dreadful 2-10 season. During the offseason they received a commitment from Mizzou transfer starting quarterback Connor Bazelak. The Hoosiers are inexperienced at the skill positions and replace a ton in their front seven on defense. Given Indiana’s current personnel, I can’t see a drastic improvement for this team.
Big Ten West
1. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Projected Record: 9-4
Wins: New Mexico State, Western Illinois, Colorado, Michigan State, Purdue, Rutgers, Northwestern, Iowa, Wisconsin
Losses: Illinois, Penn State, Nebraska, Ohio State (Big Ten Championship)
The Golden Gophers return a bunch of starters on offense and defense coming off a nine win season. However, the offense needs to improve, especially quarterback Tanner Morgan. Luckily for Minnesota they get back Kurt Ciarrocca at offensive coordinator from their successful 2019 season. Mohamed Ibrahim is also one of the best running backs in the Big Ten back from an Achilles injury, while Chris Autmen-Bell is one of the conference’s top receiver. The defense was a top ten defense last year, but lost a few guys. However, they have enough talent still left to finish on top of the Big Ten West. Overall, expect this to be one of coach PJ Fleck’s most talented teams.
2. Wisconsin Badgers
Projected Record: 9-3
Wins: Illinois State, Washington State, New Mexico State, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska
Losses: Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota
The Badgers had an absolute beast of a defense in 2021. But now they have to replace some key pieces at linebacker and in the secondary. Wisconsin went in the transfer portal to grab three cornerbacks to help out. They have a strong defensive line led by Keanu Benton. But the offense will have to make major improvements this year, led by star running back Braelon Allen, if they want to win the Big Ten West. Overall, expect a strong defense that will most likely be held back by an average offense from being a top team in the nation. However, they still will be the favorite to win the Big Ten West.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes
Projected Record: 8-4
Wins: South Dakota State, Nevada, Rutgers, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, Nebraska
Losses: Iowa State, Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota
The Hawkeyes are coming off a 10-4 season despite having an absolute terrible offense (ranked 94th). Iowa needs Spencer Petras to improve if they want to compete at the top of the Big Ten West. Defensively, the group brings eight starters back to a talented group from last year. The linebackers are all back including Jack Campbell. Overall, Iowa will be a tough out, but the lack of offense puts a cap on their ceiling.
4. Purdue Boilermakers
Projected Record: 8-4
Wins: Indiana State, Syracuse, FAU, Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana
Losses: Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa
Purdue’s offense will be strong again coming off a 9-4 season. They will rely on Aidan O’Connor to throw it around coming off his 3700 yard season. The defense will also be strong returning nine starters to a top 50 defense. Still replacing first round edge rusher George Karlaftis will be tough. This is overall a solid team that will be contender in the Big Ten West.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Northwestern, North Dakota, Georgia Southern, Indiana, Rutgers, Illinois, Minnesota
Losses: Oklahoma, Purdue, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa
This could be it for Scott Frost who enters his fifth year with a 15-29 record. The offense could be decent this year with Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson leading the offense with LSU transfer wide receiver Trey Palmer and Omar Manning providing a solid receiving group. Defensively, Nebraska will also be strong with a big addition from TCU edge rusher Ochaun Mathis and four solid returners at linebacker. However, they are replacing a lot in the secondary. Overall, this should be a solid team in the wide open Big Ten West.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini
Projected Record: 5-7
Wins: Wyoming, Virginia, Chattanooga, Minnesota, Michigan State
Losses: Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern
The Illinois offense was absolutely awful last year, but they still finished with a 5-7 season including a 4-5 record in conference. The team was led by their defense last year finishing fourth in scoring defense Big Ten. The offense should be somewhat improved with Tommy Devito transferring from Syracuse and he should be the starting quarterback. They also have a solid running back with Chase Brown and wide receiver Isaiah Williams has the potential to have a 1000 yard from scrimmage season. Defensively this team should still be solid, but they do have to replace some key linebackers and defensive backs. Overall, this is a decent team where getting to a bowl game will be the goal.
7. Northwestern Wildcats
Projected Record: 4-8
Wins: Duke, Southern Illinois, Miami (Ohio), Illinois
Losses: Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue
Northwestern was incredibly bad last year and non-competitive finishing 3-9. This year’s team has very good running backs with Evan Hull and Cam Porter. They will be running behind one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten which has four returning starters. Still, Ryan Hillinski at quarterback is a major question. Defensively, the Wildcats return only five starters and will be relying heavily on transfers. Adetomiwa Adebawore on the edge will lead this defense. Overall, Northwestern will try to get back to a bowl game by relying on the run game and offensive line.