The college football season is upon us which means Big Ten football is officially here. 12 of the 14 teams are in action this weekend (Northwestern and Illinois are off) with four teams opening with interconference games in Indiana/Illinois and Penn State/Purdue. Let’s take a look at what some of our writers believe will be the results of another great Big Ten football season.
Most teams are a few weeks out of conference play, so which non-conference game (featuring a Big Ten team) are you most interested in?
Tyler: The obvious answer is Ohio State hosting Notre Dame, but I really don’t see that being much of a game. Notre Dame has a lot to replace and shore up and I don’t know if they are ready to hang with Ohio State right now. Due to that, I will go with Nebraska hosting Oklahoma in Lincoln in week three. That was a tight game last year and it's great to see the rivalry going back to Lincoln.
JJ: As a Notre Dame student, Ohio State/Notre Dame is about as obvious of a pick as I could ask for. Homerism aside, I agree with Tyler that Oklahoma/Nebraska should be a fun revival as OU starts a new chapter and Nebraska looks to pick things up from last season’s historically unlucky effort.
Nick: Definitely excited for Ohio State and Notre Dame, even though they play while the Badgers are playing, I’ll still be keeping an eye on that score. Iowa vs Iowa State should be interesting this year. Similar to Wisconsin, I want to see if Iowa’s offense has improved at all. Lastly, Oklahoma and Nebraska may be the funeral for Scott Frost and I am not missing that.
Kevin: I’ll go with a game that hasn’t been mentioned yet, Penn State at Auburn on September 17th. I think this is an important year for the Nittany Lions after back-to-back subpar seasons under James Franklin and a road win at an SEC program like Auburn would do wonders for this team’s confidence. However, a loss could put some doubt into whether Franklin is in it for the long run at State College, especially if the Nittany Lions find a way to lose to Purdue in Week 1 as well.
Let’s head out East, is anyone challenging Ohio State for the division title or should the Buckeyes book their hotels in Indy now?
Tyler: I’ll tell Ohio State fans what Hotels.com always tells me “BOOK NOW TO GET THIS FANTASTIC RATE”. Nobody else is winning this division. Michigan was great for the conference last year, but I don’t see them replacing the guys they lost on defense that easily and Ohio State is just loaded on offense.
CJ Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in last year’s Rose bowl:— Mack Perry (@DevaronPerry) August 27, 2022
Stroud: 37/46, 573 YDS, 6 TD, 1 INT
Smith-Njigba: 15 REC, 347 YDS, 3 TD
OSU/ND can’t get here fast enough. pic.twitter.com/nMz7PteOVM
JJ: I like a bunch of Big Ten East teams a decent amount. Michigan is obviously coming off a conference crown and retains enough talent to ostensibly once again be a top fifteen team. Michigan State has a squad that’s clearly trending in the right direction and is trying to build off their best season in years. I even think Penn State, who started off hot last year before collapsing down the stretch, could be a dark horse New Years Six bowl candidate.
However, at the end of the day, I just don’t see any of those teams having the sheer weaponry, experience, and chip on their shoulder to keep up with the Buckeyes. Ohio State missed the Big Ten championship for what feels like the first time in forever last season and returns a Heisman favorite at quarterback to aid in their quest to bring the title back to Columbus.
Nick: Nope. This is Ohio State’s conference this year. Unless they suffer an injury or they forgot how to play football, I don’t think they are losing this year.
Kevin: I wish I could give a different answer but it’ll be the Buckeyes heading to Indy in December. The offense is absolutely stacked and the defense should improve under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Even if, and it’s a big if, the Buckeyes slip up at Michigan State or Penn State, they still draw Michigan at home this year and I can’t see them losing back-to-back games against the Wolverines.
The West has the same cluster of teams hoping to contend for the title, who do you have winning it and why?
Tyler: I have filled this roundtable out for 5 years now and I think I have had the same pick every time. Wisconsin. Yes, we saw otherwise last year, but I think that that Iowa team was as fluky as any team we’ve seen in college football history. Mr. 8-4 will be in contention again, but I think I still give the Badgers the edge. I believe the off-season shored some things up for the Badgers and I trust what this staff and team are capable of doing.
JJ: After avoiding the urge to say Northwestern because it’s an even year, I’ll turn to the homer pick and go with Wisconsin. With Braelon Allen in the backfield, it’s hard to say such a pick doesn’t logically track as well. The Badger defense alone under Jim Leonhard is usually enough to contend in itself, but It won’t be a cakewalk.
Purdue should be a fun squad behind Aidan O’Connell. Minnesota brings back Tanner Morgan for his tenth year of college football and might have one of the deepest running back rooms in college football. And while Iowa is something of a boring pick as last season’s champions, it’s hard to see the Hawkeyes losing much at Kinnick. Theoretically, Nebraska was by the law of averages a couple of degrees of luck from competing for the West last year. At the end of the day though, I think the Badgers’ tough defense, fundamental offense (I think at minimum Graham Mertz will be an average-level quarterback), and will to get back to Indy after an embarrassing loss to Minnesota last season will be the deciding factors.
Nick: I am very torn this year. Iowa isn't going to win it. I’ve heard people say that they think Iowa repeats and I need to take a second to remind them that Iowa’s offense is Wisconsin’s offense from last year, without Braelon Allen. Nebraska was going to be a contender before Scott Frost decided to call an onsides kick-up 11 in the 3rd quarter on Saturday.
Scott Frost attempting an onside kick… pic.twitter.com/oHyCCBzhGJ— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) August 27, 2022
Northwestern feels like they have improved so I think they are a dark horse. The only other team I worry about is Minnesota. I wrote their team preview a few weeks ago and the amount of veterans on the team feels like an advantage. Purdue has a good QB in Aiden O’Connell but I have no idea if they have the offensive weapons to be contenders and their defense is a big question mark as well. I also think Wisconsin is the best team on paper this year. Whoever gets the best QB play out of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and (even year) Northwestern will probably win the West. Give me Wisconsin because otherwise, I will feel like a bad fan.
Kevin: Give me the Badgers. I’m actually fairly confident with this Wisconsin team heading into the season. Bobby Engram comes in as the new offensive coordinator and I think he’ll breathe some much-needed life and creativity into the offense. Quarterback Graham Mertz is just too talented not to at least take a small step forward and the running back room is stacked with both Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi returning. I agree with Nick that Northwestern is a dark horse to win this division. Ryan Hilinski looked like a different player for them under center last weekend and the Badgers have to travel to the house of horrors that is Ryan Field in October.
What team do you think could be a dark horse in the conference?
Tyler: Look, if everything clicks the way they want, Nebraska could win the West. That is a HUGE IF and so far they look like the same Nebraska of old. Recent history will show you that the likelihood of this all blowing up in their face is high, but you have to think the bad bounces that went against them can’t happen again in 2022, right? Or maybe Frost keeps this trainwreck rolling and puts the final nail in the coffin.
JJ: Purdue’s schedule is highly favorable, as they avoid any of the Big Ten East’s top teams in crossover play and get three of their four toughest conference games at home. I like Aidan O’Connell quite a bit, and if the defense proves an above-average unit it wouldn’t surprise me if the Boilermakers won ten games this year.
Nick: I alluded to it above. Northwestern looked good, especially offensively against Nebraska. If they improve defensively heading into the meat of their Big Ten schedule, they could be a really tough out.
Kevin: I’ll go with Penn State. The trajectory of their season could change with a loss to Purdue on Thursday night, but if the Nittany Lions can get past that one I think they can push the Buckeyes in the East. They have a favorable conference schedule, with Ohio State visiting Happy Valley and they don’t have to play Wisconsin, Iowa or Nebraska from the West. Call it a gut feeling, but I just think quarterback Sean Clifford has a big year in his final season with the Nittany Lions and they get to ten wins in 2022.
What team do you think is overrated in the conference?
Tyler: I’m not all that high on Michigan State this year. I think they relied on Kenneth Walker SO MUCH in 2021 and he bailed them out every time they needed it. With him gone this offense should take a step back. Additionally, this defense was horrendous last year. They were dead last in pass defense. 130 of 130. I just don't see them being a 9-win team like a lot of places are projecting.
JJ: I’m not sold on Michigan, at least to the extent of them once again being a Playoff contender. I think their two quarterback situation is fascinating to watch, but probably not the best idea in terms of on-field strategy. The defense should be good, but I’m not sure if it will be able to shut down elite outfits like it did in 2021. They’ll be good, perhaps even great, but I don’t see them competing for the Playoff.
The @UMichFootball QB situation is one of the biggest storylines entering Week 1.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) August 29, 2022
Jim Harbaugh addresses his recently announced plan to start Cade McNamara in Week 1 and J.J. McCarthy in Week 2 ⬇️. pic.twitter.com/Z1gAeePZEW
Nick: Nebraska was the pick before Saturday but since they are now humbled and the expectations dropped, I would have to go with Michigan State. We saw what they did last year, but is it sustainable? Do they take another step? I think they are flash in the pan until they prove it.
Kevin: I think Iowa is a bit overrated heading into the season. While not ranked, they have been a popular pick to win the West but I just don’t see it. Quarterback Spencer Petras isn’t the answer under center and losing running back Tyler Goodson to the NFL is a huge loss, he was Iowa’s entire offense last season. The defense will be solid but I don’t think they can match the turnover output from last year’s squad.
Projected Order of Finish
East: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland, Indiana, Rutgers
West: Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern
East: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers, Indiana
West: Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern
East: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland, Michigan State, Rutger, Indiana
West: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, Purdue, Nebraska, Illinois
East: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland, Indiana, Rutgers
West: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska, Illinois, Purdue
Big Ten Champion?
Tyler: Ohio State over Wisconsin
JJ: Ohio State over Wisconsin
Nick: Ohio State over Wisconsin
Kevin: Ohio State over Wisconsin