Team Previews: Big Ten Conference

The Big Ten has been top heavy throughout the College Football Playoff (CFP) era. The Big Ten East powers of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State have won every Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis since the East-West divisional format began in 2014.

With Michigan taking down Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and making the CFP for the first time, along with Penn State and Michigan State extending their head coaches, the trust for future success is all in the East. The West is again wide open with Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, and Wisconsin all being the heavier favorites and vying for the top spot.

In this preview, we’ll take a look at each team’s projected SP+ rankings and Returning Production Percentage to analyze their recent recruiting, returning production, and overall program health heading into the 2022 season. We’ll also have conference predictions and early game-by-game picks.

Illinois Fighting Illini

2021 Record: 5-7 (4-5 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 51%
SP+ Ranking: -3.2 (13th Big Ten, 82nd Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Wyoming
L @ Indiana
L vs Virginia
W vs Chattanooga
L @ Wisconsin
L vs Iowa
L vs Minnesota
L @ Nebraska
L vs Michigan State
W vs Purdue
L @ Michigan
W @ Northwestern

Record Prediction: 4-8 (2-7 Big Ten)

Illinois brings in Syracuse transfer QB Tommy Devito to compete with Artur Sitkowski, but there will be growing pains under new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. (UTSA’s OC in 2021). An out of conference visit from Virginia and drawing Michigan and Michigan State in cross-divisional play certainly bolsters the schedule.

Indiana Hoosiers

2021 Record: 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 67%
SP+ Ranking: -0.4 (11th Big Ten, 72nd Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Illinois
W vs Idaho
W vs Western Kentucky
L @ Cincinnati
L @ Nebraska
L vs Michigan
L vs Maryland
L @ Rutgers
L vs Penn State
L @ Ohio State
L @ Michigan State
L vs Purdue

Record Prediction: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)

The Hoosier offense was the worst in the conference in 2021 and with an overhaul at most of the skill positions, there isn’t much optimism for a rebound this season. Transfers Connor Bazelak (QB, Missouri), Shaun Shivers (RB, Auburn), and Emery Simmons (WR, UNC) all have a chance to earn playing time, but the defense needs to come up with more stops and turnovers if they want to be competitive.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2021 Record: 10-4 (7-2 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Citrus Bowl vs #22 Kentucky (L, 20-17)
Returning Production: 76%
SP+ Ranking: 12.5 (7th Big Ten, 27th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs South Dakota State
W vs Iowa State
W vs Nevada
W @ Rutgers
L vs Michigan
W @ Illinois
L @ Ohio State
W vs Northwestern
L @ Purdue
W vs Wisconsin
L @ Minnesota
W vs Nebraska

Record Prediction: 8-4 (5-4 Big Ten)

It’s expected that Iowa will have one of the nation’s best defenses again in 2022. They also return two-year starting QB Spencer Petras, but Alex Padilla is still in the competition. Iowa has a tough opening to the season with FCS power South Dakota State and Iowa State, but they should be in contention to win the West again.

Maryland Terrapins

2021 Record: 7-6 (3-6 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Pinstripe Bowl vs Virginia Tech (W, 54-10)
Returning Production: 70%
SP+ Ranking: 7.5 (10th Big Ten, 47th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Buffalo
W @ Charlotte
L vs SMU
L @ Michigan
W vs Michigan State
L vs Purdue
W @ Indiana
W vs Northwestern
L @ Wisconsin
L @ Penn State
L vs Ohio State
W vs Rutgers

Record Prediction: 6-6 (4-5 Big Ten)

Maryland is one of the few college football programs that have the luxury of having an established returning QB in Taulia Tagovailoa. With a talented and veteran receiving corps, the goal for the Terrapins should be to score more in Big Ten contests. Maryland was able to handle out-of-conference foes pretty handily, but struggled mightily against the four East Division powers and will need to be more competitive in those matchups.

Michigan Wolverines

2021 Record: 12-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: CFP Semifinal: Capital One Orange Bowl vs #3 Georgia (L, 34-11)
Returning Production: 65%
SP+ Ranking: 20.6 (2nd Big Ten, 4th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Colorado State
W vs Hawai’i
W vs UConn
W vs Maryland
W @ Iowa
W @ Indiana
L vs Penn State
W vs Michigan State
W @ Rutgers
W vs Nebraska
W vs Illinois
L @ Ohio State

Record Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 Big Ten)

RB Blake Corum is one of the nation’s best returning backs; he’ll lead the offense alongside either Cade McNamara or J.J. McCarthy at QB. They’ll have to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo on defense, but returners at other positions will be a positive. The nonconference schedule is weak, but the usual Big Ten East Division suspects all bring back talented rosters as well. Michigan should be competing for the conference well into November.

Michigan State Spartans

2021 Record: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Peach Bowl vs #12 Pittsburgh (W, 31-21)
Returning Production: 73%
SP+ Ranking: 15.1 (5th Big Ten, 16th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Western Michigan
W vs Akron
W @ Washington
W vs Minnesota
L @ Maryland
L vs Ohio State
L vs Wisconsin
L @ Michigan
W @ Illinois
W vs Rutgers
W vs Indiana
L @ Penn State

Record Prediction: 7-5 (4-5 Big Ten)

Sparty returns QB Payton Thorne but needs to replace the electric Kenneth Walker III at RB and WR Jalen Nailor. The Big Ten East will have an abundance of returning QBs and will look to take advantage of a Michigan State passing defense that struggled in 2021. The roster is talented enough to compete for the Big Ten again, but the returners of other conference foes makes for a lot of toss-up games.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

2021 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Guaranteed Rate Bowl vs West Virginia (W, 18-6)
Returning Production: 69%
SP+ Ranking: 14.2 (6th Big Ten, 21st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs New Mexico State
W vs Western Illinois
W vs Colorado
L @ Michigan State
L vs Purdue
W @ Illinois
L @ Penn State
W vs Rutgers
W @ Nebraska
W vs Northwestern
W vs Iowa
W @ Wisconsin

Record Prediction: 9-3 (6-3 Big Ten)

Minnesota has been on the cusp of playing for a Big Ten title for years now under head coach P.J. Fleck, but they have yet to make the trip to Indianapolis. QB Tanner Morgan returns for his fifth season, and he gets the luxury of RB Mohamad Ibrahim returning in the backfield. With quality transfers like Darnell Jefferies (DL, Clemson) and offensive linemen Quinn Carroll (Notre Dame) and Chuck Filiaga (Michigan), there are reasons for optimism surrounding a Golden Gopher West Division title run.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

2021 Record: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 57%
SP+ Ranking: 12.3 (8th Big Ten, 29th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Northwestern (Aviva Stadium: Dublin, Ireland)
W vs North Dakota
W vs Georgia Southern
W vs Oklahoma
W vs Indiana
W @ Rutgers
L @ Purdue
W vs Illinois
L vs Minnesota
L @ Michigan
L vs Wisconsin
L @ Iowa

Record Prediction: 7-5 (4-5 Big Ten)

Nebraska is coming off a season in which they lost a lot of close games. QB Casey Thompson comes in from Texas and should provide a boost to an offense that couldn’t score in necessary situations. Nebraska should be able to match their 2021 win total early in the season, and it should be expected that they compete in most games in the even playing field that is the Big Ten West.

Northwestern Wildcats

2021 Record: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 65%
SP+ Ranking: -4.5 (14th Big Ten, 85th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L vs Nebraska (Aviva Stadium: Dublin, Ireland)
W vs Duke
W vs Southern Illinois
W vs Miami (OH)
L @ Penn State
L vs Wisconsin
L @ Maryland
L @ Iowa
L vs Ohio State
L @ Minnesota
L @ Purdue
L vs Illinois

Record Prediction: 3-9 (0-9 Big Ten)

Pat Fitzgerald is known to do more with less at Northwestern, particularly in even-numbered years (his Wildcats advanced to the Big Ten Championship Game in 2018 and 2020). QB Ryan Hilinski returns, along with RB Evan Hull and WR Malik Washington. The Wildcats draw Maryland, Ohio State, and Penn State out of the East this season and will need to rebuild their defense to keep up with the returning production of many of the Big Ten quarterbacks they’ll face.

Ohio State Buckeyes

2021 Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Rose Bowl vs #11 Utah (W, 48-45)
Returning Production: 73%
SP+ Ranking: 29.9 (1st Big Ten, 1st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Notre Dame
W vs Arkansas State
W vs Toledo
W vs Wisconsin
W vs Rutgers
W @ Michigan State
W vs Iowa
W @ Penn State
W @ Northwestern
W vs Indiana
W @ Maryland
W vs Michigan

Record Prediction: 12-0 (9-0 Big Ten)

Ohio State returns QB CJ Stroud, who is an early Heisman favorite, along with star RB TreVeyon Henderson and breakout WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The offense will be one of the best in the country and will put up a lot of points. The defense will be led by Jim Knowles, who held the DC role at Oklahoma State. He’ll have the chance to lead a loaded and young defensive unit that struggled at times in 2021. The Buckeyes should be early favorites for not only the Big Ten title, but also the CFP.

Penn State Nittany Lions

2021 Record: 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Outback Bowl vs #21 Arkansas (L, 24-10)
Returning Production: 65%
SP+ Ranking: 16.3 (4th Big Ten, 13th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Purdue
W vs Ohio
W @ Auburn
W vs Central Michigan
W vs Northwestern
W @ Michigan
W vs Minnesota
L vs Ohio State
W @ Indiana
W vs Maryland
W @ Rutgers
W vs Michigan State

Record Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 Big Ten)

QB Sean Clifford should be the expected week one starter for the Nittany Lions. Newcomer RB Nick Singleton will look to improve the rushing attack while WR Parker Washington and transfer WR Mitchell Tinsley (Western Kentucky) add some assistance for Clifford. The defense should be strong behind field safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who was tied for the FBS lead in interceptions with six. Competing for the Big Ten East should be within reason in 2022.

Purdue Boilermakers

2021 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Music City Bowl vs Tennessee (W, 48-45 / OT)
Returning Production: 67%
SP+ Ranking: 10.6 (9th Big Ten, 36th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Penn State
W vs Indiana State
W @ Syracuse
W vs Florida Atlantic
W @ Minnesota
W @ Maryland
W vs Nebraska
L @ Wisconsin
W vs Iowa
L @ Illinois
W vs Northwestern
W @ Indiana

Record Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 Big Ten)

Aidan O’Connell returns at QB for Purdue, who secured a nine-win season after an overtime bowl victory over Tennessee. Their out of conference schedule is manageable, as well as their cross-divisional games with Penn State, Maryland, and Indiana. WR Milton Wright looks to be the next star catcher for coach Jeff Brohm, who brings in some new coordinators. The schedule looks to be favorable for what should be a wild West Division season.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

2021 Record: 5-8 (2-7 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Gator Bowl vs #17 Wake Forest (L, 38-10)
Returning Production: 66%
SP+ Ranking: -1.4 (12th Big Ten, 78th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Boston College
W vs Wagner
W @ Temple
L vs Iowa
L @ Ohio State
L vs Nebraska
W vs Indiana
L @ Minnesota
L vs Michigan
L @ Michigan State
L vs Penn State
L @ Maryland

Record Prediction: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)

Rutgers struggled to score against Big Ten foes in 2021, and much of the East Division returns an abundance of offensive production. There is some talent on defense with S Christian Izien and CB Avery Young, which could alleviate some of the blows. Transfer WR Taj Harris (Syracuse) comes in with over 2,000 receiving yards under his belt, which is good news for returning QB Noah Vedral if he can win the starting job again.

Wisconsin Badgers

2021 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Las Vegas Bowl vs Arizona State (W, 20-13)
Returning Production: 62%
SP+ Ranking: 18.2 (3rd Big Ten, 10th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Illinois State
W vs Washington State
W vs New Mexico State
L @ Ohio State
W vs Illinois
W @ Northwestern
W @ Michigan State
W vs Purdue
W vs Maryland
L @ Iowa
W @ Nebraska
L vs Minnesota

Record Prediction: 9-3 (6-3 Big Ten)

QB Graham Mertz is the current starter for the Badgers. The offense needs to do a better job of capitalizing in the red zone, which will include finding a go-to receiver. RB Braelon Allen will look to have a successful season and receive a bulk of the carries as well. Wisconsin is another team that should be competing for the division well into November.

Conference Standings Prediction

EASTTEAMRECORD
1Ohio State Buckeyes12-0 (9-0)
2Penn State Nittany Lions10-2 (7-2)
3Michigan Wolverines10-2 (7-2)
4Maryland Terrapins6-6 (4-5)
5Michigan State Spartans7-5 (4-5)
6Rutgers Scarlet Knights3-9 (1-8)
7Indiana Hoosiers3-9 (1-8)
WESTTEAMRECORD
1Purdue Boilermakers10-2 (7-2)
2Minnesota Golden Gophers9-3 (6-3)
3Wisconsin Badgers9-3 (6-3)
4Iowa Hawkeyes8-4 (5-4)
5Nebraska Cornhuskers7-5 (4-5)
6Illinois Illini4-8 (2-7)
7Northwestern Wildcats3-9 (0-9)

Conference Championship Game:
Ohio State: 42
Purdue: 17

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