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Big Ten Power Rankings Week 0/Preseason

Nebraska disappoints in Dublin and Illinois looks impressive as we head into a full slate of games for opening weekend.

After a long off-season, the Big Ten is fully back in action this weekend. A couple of teams were in action during week 0 and improved their stock while one other once again became the laughing stock of the entire conference in the national spotlight. Nebraska, the gift that keeps on giving! Alright, here are your Big Ten Power Rankings heading into week one.

1. Ohio State, Week 1: vs. No. 5 Notre Dame

To no one’s surprise, the Buckeyes are the clear-cut favorites in the conference heading into the season. Quarterback C.J. Stroud returns after a stellar sophomore campaign and Ohio State’s returning skill position players are some of the best in the nation. Coming off an incredible performance in the Rose Bowl, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a dark horse Heisman candidate while running TreVeyon Henderson will look to improve on his impressive true freshman season.

Ohio State struggled on the defensive side of the ball at times last season, however, the Buckeyes are hoping new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles can make improvements. Knowles comes in from Oklahoma State, where the Cowboys had one of the best defensive units in the country last season. The Buckeyes have a plethora of young studs on the defensive line including former five-stars J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, and cornerback Denzel Burke should be one of the best defensive backs in the country.

Ryan Day’s team will face a tough test on opening weekend when Notre Dame visits Columbus this Saturday night. The Irish lost some key pieces from last year’s 11-win team, including All-American safety Kyle Hamilton, quarterback Jack Coan, and running back Kyren Williams, but they’ll still be a pesky opponent for the Buckeyes. I’d expect to see Ohio State at the top of these rankings for most of, if not the entire season, and a trip to the College Football Playoff seems like an attainable goal for Ryan Day’s squad.

2. Michigan, Week 1: vs. Colorado State

The defending Big Ten champs will once again be a formidable team this season. Both Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy are back to duke it out in the quarterback room, but whoever wins the job will be a great choice. Star wide receiver Ronnie Bell is also back this season after missing all of 2021 with a knee injury. The losses of Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, and Dax Hill will be felt on defense, but I expect Michigan to reload on that side of the ball.

The non-conference schedule is cupcake city with home matchups against Colorado State, Hawaii, and UConn to start the season. The Big Ten slate is tricky with road games at Iowa and Ohio State, but the Wolverines do get Penn State, Michigan State, and Maryland all at home. Now that the Wolverines finally got over the hump with a College Football Playoff berth last season, it will be very interesting to see how Jim Harbaugh and company follow up that success in 2022.

3. Wisconsin, Week 1: vs. Illinois State

Wisconsin heads into the season in a good spot, but there are still some question marks with this team. Badger fans will be hoping that a step forward from quarterback Graham Mertz, coupled with the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram will take Wisconsin to the next level offensively. The offensive line should be more than adequate, as Wisconsin returns three starters up front and has tons of talent in the two-deep. We know the Badgers will be fine in the running game with Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi both back and healthy.

The defense should be great again, but the Badgers will need someone to step up at inside linebacker. Nose tackle Keeanu Benton and outside linebacker Nick Herbig will be two of the best defensive players in the Big Ten, while UCLA transfer cornerback Jay Shaw will hopefully give the Badgers some much-needed experience in the secondary. The Badgers open the season with a home matchup against FCS Illinois State. I’d expect a massive game from Allen and I’m hoping we see some new wrinkles in the offense with Engram now in charge.

4. Penn State, Week 1: at Purdue

After posting a losing record during the covid-shortened season and winning only seven games last season, the Nittany Lions are looking to get back to winning a Big Ten title in 2022. Unfortunately, I just don’t think James Franklin’s team has enough on the offensive side of the ball to compete with Ohio State and Michigan. Quarterback Sean Clifford returns for his fourth year as the starter and will look to put together an improved and more consistent season for the Nittany Lions. It won’t be easy for Clifford however, as Penn State returns just two starters on the offensive line and star wide receiver Jahan Dotson is in the NFL now.

Penn State’s new defensive coordinator and former Miami head coach Manny Diaz has a talented group to work with. The Nittany Lions boast perhaps the best secondary in the conference and linebacker Curtis Jacobs will be an All-Big Ten level player. Penn State will be tested early in the season with road games at Purdue this Thursday night and at Auburn in Week 3.

5. Iowa, Week 1: vs. South Dakota State

Another season, another really solid Iowa team on paper. The Hawkeyes have one of the best defensive units in the conference and return last season’s starting quarterback in senior Spencer Petras. Petras leaves a lot to be desired most of the time, but he at least has some experience playing in the Big Ten. Without an explosive passing attack, the success of Iowa’s season will likely hinge on how well they can run the ball. Last year’s leading rusher Tyler Goodson is off to the NFL, so all eyes will be on unproven sophomores Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams to replace that production.

The Hawkeyes will be just fine on defense, with All-American candidate Riley Moss returning at cornerback and All-Big Ten first-teamer Jack Campbell returning at linebacker. In total, Iowa returns nine starters on the defensive side of the ball and should be one of the best units in the Big Ten. Kirk Ferentz’s team gets rival Iowa State at home in September but a tough East draw that includes both Ohio State and Michigan may ultimately keep this team from winning more than eight games.

6. Michigan State, Week 1: vs. Western Michigan

Mel Tucker led the Spartans to a surprise ten-win season in 2021, and despite losing some key offensive pieces, I still think Sparty will be tough out again this year. Firstly, quarterback Payton Thorne is back for another season after throwing for 27 touchdowns and just 10 picks as a sophomore. Wide receivers Jayden Reed and Tre Mosley also return to give Thorne one of the best receiver duos in the conference. Replacing Doak Walker Award winner Kenneth Walker III will be tough but the Spartans are hoping transfers Jalen Berger from Wisconsin and Jarek Broussard from Colorado can be difference makers.

Sparty returns six defensive starters and is hoping a trio of SEC transfers can help improve that unit. The schedule does Michigan State no favors though, with road trips to Washington, Maryland, Michigan, and Penn State on the slate. The Spartans also have to play Wisconsin and Minnesota from the West. I think the Spartans are safely a bowl team this season, but I think they are a clear step below Ohio State and Michigan in competing for a Big Ten title.

7. Minnesota, Week 1: vs. New Mexico State

The Golden Gophers have become a fairly reliable team under head coach P.J. Fleck, earning bowl births in three of the past four seasons and beating rival Wisconsin twice in the same span. I think Minnesota will not only make another bowl game this season but can compete for a Big Ten West title. Quarterback Tanner Morgan returns for a sixth season and knows how to win games in the Big Ten. We know the Gophers love to run the football and running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who made first-team All-Big Ten in 2020, returns this year after an Achilles injury forced him to miss all of last season.

Minnesota has an easy non-conference schedule with three home games, the toughest test coming against Colorado in Week 3. The Big Ten slate will be tough, as the Gophers’ East draw includes road games at Penn State and Michigan State, but a home date with Rutgers should be an automatic win. P.J. Fleck’s squad will open the season against New Mexico State on Thursday night in a game that will pit Aggies’ head coach Jerry Kill against his former employer.

8. Maryland, Week 1: vs. Buffalo

Is this the year Maryland finally takes the next step and competes with the upper half of the conference? The Terps went bowling last season but have not won more than four Big Ten games in a season since joining the conference in 2014. The hype surrounding the offense is at an all-time high heading into Week 1. Maryland returns all five starters along the offensive line, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, and two future NFL draft picks at wide receiver in Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett.

The offense is a sure bet to be explosive if everyone can stay healthy, but the defense is more of a question mark. New defensive coordinator Brian Williams will look to improve a unit that returns seven starters. If Williams can get this group to become above average and keep the Terps within striking distance for their offense, Maryland will be in the mix to finish second in the East. A relatively easy non-conference schedule of Buffalo, Charlotte, and SMU will give the defense time to gain some confidence before heading into the Big Ten schedule.

9. Purdue, Week 1: vs. Penn State

Head coach Jeff Brohm and the Boilermakers will look to keep the momentum going in 2022, after a nine-win season last year that included a bowl win over Tennessee. Purdue lost their best two players in wide receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis to the NFL draft, but plenty of talent still returns to West Lafayette. Starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell is back after throwing for over 3,700 yards and 28 touchdowns a season ago, as does wide receiver Broc Thompson who is fresh off a 217-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Boilermakers’ bowl win.

Purdue opens the season with an important conference game against Penn State on Thursday night. Both teams are sitting just outside the Top-25 and have high expectations for the 2022 season. The Boilermakers have a tough October schedule with road trips to Minnesota, Maryland and Wisconsin all on the docket. They will also travel to Syracuse for a non-conference game in Week 3.

10. Illinois (1-0), W - 38-6 vs. Wyoming, Week 1: at Indiana

Illinois was one of three Big Ten teams in action this past weekend. Illinois hosted a subpar Wyoming squad and ran for 260 yards as a team in a convincing win for Bret Bielema and company. Running back Chase Brown is Illinois’ best offensive player and the junior rushed for 151 yards and had three touchdowns in the win.

The Illini will look to improve upon a surprise five-win season from 2021 but the schedule is difficult. They get both Michigan and Michigan State from the East and will play tricky road games at Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska. This weekend’s matchup against Indiana is almost a must-win if the Illini want to make a bowl game in Bielema’s second season at the helm.

11. Northwestern (1-0), W - 31-28 vs. Nebraska, Week 1: BYE

After winning just one conference game last year, the Wildcats notched their first Big Ten win of the season over Nebraska in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday. Quarterback Ryan Hilinski won the starting job in camp and had himself a day, finishing with 314 passing yards and two touchdowns. Running back Evan Hull was his typical productive self, rushing for 119 yards in the win.

The Wildcats always play hard for Pat Fitzgerald and they’ll find ways to be in games late against superior teams. If their win over Nebraska was any indication, this Northwestern team will be competitive in conference play this year. Last season the quarterback play was as bad as it’s ever been under Fitzgerald, but if Hilinski can play as he did on Saturday this is a team that can go bowling. The Wildcats have a bye this week before hosting Duke in Week 2.

12. Nebraska (0-1), L - 31-28 vs. Northwestern, Week 1: vs. North Dakota

Nebraska’s season began on a sour note after the Cornhuskers blew two double-digit leads and turned the ball over three times in a loss to Northwestern. Head coach Scott Frost was fairly criticized after the game for deciding to on-side kick in the third quarter after the Huskers took an 11-point lead. Nebraska has turned into a full-blown soap opera under Frost with how often they make costly mistakes and consistently find ways to lose one-score games.

After opening this year with another disappointing loss, Frost will be squarely on the hot seat all season long. It’s only one game but the Cornhuskers’ defense looked shaky against a pretty mediocre Northwestern offense. Quarterback Casey Thompson was great in the first half and I think offensive coordinator Mark Whipple will get the most out of him this season. I still believe Nebraska can make their first bowl game under Frost, but they just made it twice as hard with Saturday’s loss. The Huskers still have Oklahoma on their schedule along with the rest of their Big Ten slate which includes road trips to Michigan, Purdue, and Iowa.

13. Rutgers, Week 1: at Boston College

After being the laughing stock of the Big Ten since joining the conference in 2014, the Scarlet Knights took a small step forward last season. Head coach Greg Schiano coached his team to five wins and they were invited to play in the Gator Bowl after Texas A&M dropped out due to Covid issues. The Scarlet Knights weren’t overly talented last season but they played hard and showed signs of life in year two under Schiano.

Sixth-year senior quarterback Noah Vedral returns under center and at least poses a threat with his legs that can give defenses some trouble. I don’t expect much from Rutgers’ offense, but their defense should keep them in a handful of games. The Scarlet Knights will be at the bottom of these rankings for much of the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they sprang an upset or two this year.

14. Indiana, Week 1: vs. Illinois

The Hoosiers’ breakthrough nine-win season in 2020 seems like a distant memory after going winless in conference play last year. I have no doubt that head coach Tom Allen can get this program back on track, but it’ll be an uphill battle for this team to make a bowl in 2022.

The Hoosiers are hoping for some luck on the injury front after losing so many key pieces to injuries last season. Tom Allen will also need a handful of transfers to make a difference this season, including running back Shaun Shivers from Auburn, linebacker Bradley Jennings Jr. from Miami, and defensive tackle LeDarrius Cox from Ole Miss. Indiana’s schedule is always brutal having to play in the Big Ten East, but a home win against Illinois this Friday night would be enormous in the Hoosiers’ quest to get back to a bowl game.