No real need for a long, flowery introduction here. We got a bunch of us together and picked what we think is going to happen in the Big Ten this year.
Projected order of finish B1G West
Tyler: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois
Ryan: Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue, Nebraska
Belz: Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue
JJ: Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue, Nebraska
Kevin: Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue
Owen: Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue
Composite: Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Nebraska, Illinois, Purdue
Projected order of finish B1G East
Ryan: Ohio State, Indiana, Penn State, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers
Belz: Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers
JJ: Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan, Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan State
Kevin: Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Michigan State, Rutgers
Owen: Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan State, Maryland
Composite: Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers (tied), Michigan State (tied)
Tyler: Screw it, Wisconsin
Belz: Ohio State
JJ: This pick will never change. Wisconsin
Kevin: Ohio State
Owen: Ohio State
B1G Offensive Player of the Year
Tyler: Garrett Wilson (Ohio State)
Ryan: Michael Penix Jr (Indiana)
Belz: CJ Stroud (Ohio State)
JJ: Michael Penix Jr (Indiana)
Kevin: Garrett Wilson (Ohio State)
Owen: Chris Olave (Ohio State)
B1G Defensive Player of the Year
Tyler: Jack Sanborn (Wisconsin)
Ryan: Jack Sanborn (Wisconsin)
Belz: Brandon Joseph (Northwestern)
JJ: Brandon Joseph (Northwestern)
Kevin: Zach Harrison (Ohio State)
Owen Riese: Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)
Biggest surprise team
Tyler: I think Maryland is a team that will be an absolute pest in the conference. They return Taulia Tagovailoa at QB and he’s got a lot of good pieces around him. They’ll need to be better up front (allowed 4.9 YPC last year) but their secondary was sneaky good. Year Three for a coach usually means big jumps so we will see if Mike Locksley has this group ready.
Ryan: Indiana, although with their recent success it shouldn’t be all too surprising. Penix will be back after having his 2020 season cut short and with his playmaking ability, he could set himself apart as one of the better offensive players in the conference. They also landed running back Stephen Carr from USC to shoulder the load on the ground.
Belz: I think Illinois will be better than expected. Now I am not willing to say they will be a bowl team, but they should be improved on both sides of the ball. Say what you want about Bret Bielema, but he surrounded himself with a really solid coaching staff, and they return a ton of their top players after COVID decimated their roster for multiple games a year ago.
JJ: For those of you who have not kept up with my Twitter ramblings or are not in any college football group chats with me, I have fully bought in to the Schiano Era Part II at Rutgers. As a childhood Rutgers fan it gives me great pleasure to make clear that, despite all conventional wisdom and Vegas odds saying they’ll likely only win four or so games, I think they’re going to win six and go bowling,
Kevin: I also think Illinois is in a good spot to have a surprisingly solid season in Bielema’s first year at the helm. I like the fact they are a veteran-laden team that returns 22 “super seniors” (most in the nation) and are led by quarterback Brandon Peters, who has started 16 games for the Illini and played well before Covid cut his 2020 season short. Bielema has a proven track record in the Big Ten West, and I could see this team rallying around their first-year coach similar to how Arkansas did with Sam Pittman last season.
Owen: I don’t know how much I can say that they’re a surprise by finishing sixth in the West, but Illinois is a team I think will be much improved. With Bielema at HC, they’ll finally at the very least have an identity on offense, and the defense I expect to be much less soft. Brandon Peters at quarterback, with the offensive line they return and Jake Hansen back on defense, they’ll be a bigger issue to deal with than in years’ past.
Biggest letdown team
Tyler: Northwestern has won two of the last three Big Ten West titles but they lost nearly every productive piece from last years team. Yes, Fitzgerald brings some weird magic somehow but I still think this is a tough hill to climb.
Ryan: Minnesota. After being in the mix for a West title the last few years, I think the oars will float to the bottom of Lake Minnetonka and the Gophers will come back down to earth as an average team once again.
Matt: I agree with Tyler that Northwestern is a prime candidate to drop in the standings, but so is Michigan. Maybe Michigan will be better than I expect with a new defensive coordinator, but I am not sold on the Wolverines entering the year.
JJ: Not to be repetitive, but Northwestern is also my pick here. It’s not that I think NU will be bad, I see them being very solid, but a B1G Championship appearance is a tough act to follow and I think a retooled Wisconsin squad and a solid Iowa team both have the edge over the ‘Cats this year in the West.
Kevin: I just don’t see it with Nebraska. It’s now or never for quarterback Adrian Martinez, who has been up and down for much of his Cornhusker career. But with backup Luke McCaffrey gone there really isn’t much talent in the QB room in case Martinez continues to have turnover issues or gets hurt. Add on the distraction of the NCAA investigation that was just announced and a scorching hot seat for head coach Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers’ season could get away from them if they start slow.
Owen: I think this will be Scott Frost’s last year in Lincoln. They’ve been so under achieving, have had a ton of kids transfer out (Frost recruits) and Adrian Martinez has never really improved from his freshman season which looked so promising. The defense has been a sieve the last few years, and even marketing “big” games like against Ohio State have been laughable blowouts. I expect Nebraska to be better up front, but not enough to make a difference.
Non-conference game you’re most excited for (non-Wisconsin division)
Tyler: Obvious choice is Ohio State hosting Oregon, but I also really want to see Indiana play host to Cincinnati on September 18th.
Ryan: I have to agree with Tyler. OSU and Oregon should be a fun one to see. So much speed.
Matt: I am excited to see Iowa versus Iowa State. This matchup has been good lately with the Cyclones bubbling up under Matt Campbell. I think it will be an early benchmark game for both teams this year and a ton of fun.
JJ: As a current Notre Dame student I could not be more excited about the prospect of potentially dashing the dreams of an undefeated USC team in our first big home game of the year.
Kevin: Oregon at Ohio State. I actually think Oregon has the talent to make the Playoff this year and could really push the Buckeyes in Week 2.
Owen: I too am going to go with Iowa vs Iowa State. Both teams should be good this year, and Iowa State’s ever growing level of talent against the consistent consistency of Iowa should set the tone for both teams this season. I think Iowa State wins it, but Iowa should be better this year on both sides of the ball.