Much like Clemson in the ACC, Ohio State has had a stranglehold on the Big 10 conference. The Big 10 conference is stronger top to bottom with Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State as top 15 talented teams. Can the rest of the conference capitalize on the inexperience at the quarterback position at Ohio State? With that, let’s unveil our 2021 Big 10 standings predictions.
7. Michigan State
My how the mighty have fallen. It doesn’t seem logical to put the Spartans here, but it’s where they belong. As tough as it was to start your career at a school in the middle of a Covid season Michigan State is still in the middle of a massive rebuild. Anthony Russo comes in to help solidify the quarterback position. An eight or nine loss season looks to be in the cards for Michigan State.
Maryland comes in to 2021 in the third season under head coach Mike Locksley. They get the benefit of hosting Iowa, Indiana, Penn State, and Michigan. But, do travel to Ohio State. Opening up hosting West Virginia could give the Terrapins an opportunity to start out hot. Four or five wins are likely for Maryland with an outside shot at a bowl bid if they can spring a few upsets.
The second stint for head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers is ahead of schedule. So much so that they are currently ranked in the top 10 in the country in the 2022 recruiting rankings. They could start off 3-0 with Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware on the schedule. Five wins are very possible and the Scarlet Knights can beat Maryland and Illinois.
The Wolverines had their worst season under Jim Harbaugh going 2-4 last year. So, naturally, he was rewarded with a contract extension. The quarterback play should improve with Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman and Cade McNamara battling for the job. However, the defense was not up to Michigan’s standards in giving up 35 points a game a season ago.
3. Penn State
After a very disappointing start to the season, the Nittany Lions won four straight to end the year. The offense should be in the mid-30s in most games behind nine returning starters including bringing back Noah Cain as the leading running back. Their first three road trips are very tough with Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio State all entertaining Penn State.
Indiana had a magical season last year which saw them go 6-1 in the regular season. There is tons of talent returning for the Hoosiers especially if Michael Pennix, Jr can return to form. However, the schedule is much tougher early on as they open up at Iowa, host Cincinnati, and go to Penn State all in the first five weeks.
1. Ohio State
At most schools breaking in a quarterback who has not thrown a meaningful pass could be a backbreaker. But, thankfully for our projected starter CJ Stroud he has an incredible supporting cast. They have the best receiving corps in the country, and they are loaded on both lines of scrimmage. Aside from the quarterback concerns at the linebacker and defensive back loom for the Buckeyes. However, they are still the clear best team in the division.
Welcome back to Big 10 country Bret Bielema. He inherits a rebuilding situation, but the cupboard is not bare. A case could be made that the Illini could start the year 3-1. But, that would include a minor upset of Nebraska in Week 0. They will be improved but asking for more than a four-win season and avoiding the basement is too much for year one.
Purdue may have one of the best passing attacks in the Big 10 with Jack Plummer and David Bell. Their four losses came by an average of approximately seven points per game. They win two winnable games at home to begin the season against Oregon State and Connecticut and then host Illinois and Minnesota to begin conference play. The Boilermakers should return to a bowl this season.
The first three years of the Scott Frost tenure have not gone as Cornhusker fans expected. They have digressed each year on offense going from 30 points to 23 points per game last year. But, Frost will rely on Adrian Martinez to finally put it all together. The schedule which starts with Illinois, Fordham, and Buffalo should give them three wins before conference season begins to set them up on a positive trajectory for the season.
The Wildcats will be one of the more inexperienced teams in the country with only eight total starters returning. Because of that, they will take a minor step back this season. Keep in mind, a step back just means they are likely not strong enough to play for a Big 10 Championship. But, they could still win seven or eight games in 2021.
2020 was a struggle for Minnesota as they finished 3-4. 20 returning starters should help including 1,000-yard rusher Mohamed Ibrahim and quarterback Tanner Morgan. The Gophers will get an opportunity to show they are back as they host the Buckeyes on the first Thursday night of the year to open Big 10 play.
The Hawkeyes finished last season as winners of their final six games after dropping their first two. They only return 14 starters, but still are one of the most talented teams in the conference. If Spencer Petras can continue to develop then Iowa will have a good chance to make it to Indianapolis. The October 30th tilt at Camp Randall could be the decision-maker.
Solid defense and a pounding running are what Wisconsin football does. Graham Mertz might be the catalyst between being pretty good and being elite. Be that as it may, the Badgers will be favored in every game this season. There are only four true road games and those are very winnable against Illinois, Purdue, Rutgers, and Minnesota.
Big 10 Championship Game
Wisconsin vs Ohio State
The Badgers have actually made it to the Big 10 Conference Championship Game in three of the last five years. Even though they have lost all three, they have been competitive in each game. This year will be no different as they will be competitive, but the speed and talent of the Buckeyes will be too much to overcome.