The Big Ten is Back! Here's What You Need to Know:
Kevin Warren be damned, the Big Ten is BACK BABY. It got to a point where I almost missed watching Rutgers play, emphasis on the almost there. The last of the ~relevant~ P5 football conferences is back, and I will be furious if Ohio State doesn't live up to the hype. I just don't want another Alabama vs. Clemson national title game. I put together a, hopefully, brief recap/here's some story lines/general things to know about the Big Ten teams. (Okay I'll be honest, it is brief per each team, but not overall. Whoops.) A refresher, or as what kept me alive through some awful English classes in college, a Big Ten Sparknotes. I needed to brush up on my Big Ten, so hopefully some of you do too.
Remember: On the weekend of December 19th, there will be the title game, as well as a crossover game between the East and West. So the #2 team in the East will play the #2 team in the West, the #3 teams will play, the #4 teams will play….and so on. Additionally, per B1G guidelines, if a player tests positive, the earliest they can return is 21 days. If a team has more than 5% positivity rate they must shut down for at least 7 days. There are also no bye weeks built into this schedule. Read: expect games to get canceled.
Here is schedule for the season. Remember to check the week of, since some weeks have a Friday game.
Alright, semantics are out of the way. Let's talk some football.
It is National Championship or bust for Ryan Day and Heisman hopeful Justin Fields. Ohio State has won the last 3 B1G titles and ended their 2019 season in the CFP semifinals with a loss to Clemson 29-23. They will likely be going on a scorched earth campaign to avenge their Clemson loss last year, and ensure that they're back in the playoffs. No one in the B1G came closer than 11 points to them last year. Luckily for the Buckeyes, CB Shaun Wade and OL Wyatt Davis decided to opt back in. They need to replace nearly the entire secondary and all but one WR. This sounds like a lot but Ohio State is used to having to reload, so it isn't a huge red flag. Kerry Coombs is back as a DC. They have lost JK Dobbins, who rushed for 2,003 yards last year, and will look to Master Teague or Trey Sermon to potentially fill that role. With the revised schedule, Ohio State drew what looks like about as much of a cake walk as possible, with the exception of at Penn State in week 2. Also, no band, cheerleaders, or Brutus at home games this season.
Penn State seems to be the next in line behind Ohio State but doesn't seem they are breathing down their necks. Finished 11-2 with losses at Minnesota and at Ohio State. Have a new OC, Kirk Ciarrocca who was the Minnesota Gophers' DC and QB coach for the last 2 years. LB Micah Parsons is one of the new B1G athletes that did not opt back in when the new schedule came out, so they will have to fill his spot as well as for the rest of the defense that has only 4 players returning. Only have one wideout returning that has more than a dozen career catches. Last year, statistically, defending the pass was an issue, at 251.5 ypg allowed they were 13th in the B1G and 100th nationally. Additionally, they finished 8th in the B1G in offensive passing yards at 221.3 ypg, and were 76th nationally. Do have their top 4 rushers back. Led the B1G in rushing defense and were 5th nationally. It came out this week that the team will be without Journey Brown this year, the team's top rusher at 890 yards in 2019, the next RB had 443 yards.
Harbaugh Hot Seat: This seems like a make or break season for Jim Harbaugh. He is 0-6 vs. Ohio State, has only won 2 of Michigan's 14 top ten team matchups, and has never competed for a B1G title, to name a few issues. Michigan football has been good under Harbaugh, but hasn't gotten over the hump to be great and always falls just short of it. His contract is up after the 2021 season.
Finished 9-4 last year, with losses to Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, and Alabama. QB Dylan McCaffrey has opted out so it is up to Joe Milton to lead this team. The junior QB played in 3 games last year, with 59 yards against Rutgers. He has shown he has a good arm, but still question marks about his run game. Four of the five offensive line starters have left. Last year the defense out-shined the offense; the defense ranked 10th-25th nationally in respective categories, whereas the offense was 44th-77th. No WR Nico Collins, #2 in receiving yards. Returns four of the five top rushers, as well as the top two receivers. Things could be interesting with Harbaugh coaching for his job, but expect them to just do what they're supposed to, they're a very solid team that has to be taken seriously when preparing for, but will not be great on their current trajectory. The hope here is if Joe Milton, in year two of Josh Gattis' offense finds a way to excel, but will likely still be stuck behind Ohio State and Penn State.
Coming off of a 10-4 season, 7-3 in the Big Ten, and 1st in the West. They played and lost to Ohio State twice last year, once in the regular season and loss 38-7, and again in the B1G Title Game 34-21. Other B1G loss was to Illinois 24-23. Beat Michigan, Purdue, and Minnesota by 21 points and shut out Michigan State 38-0. 2,727 passing yard QB Jack Coan is out indefinitely with a foot injury so all eyes turn to Graham Mertz to lead the Badgers. Mertz turned down scholarships from Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. He played in 2 games last season, completing 73 yards, before sitting to maintain a redshirt. The two bigger question marks are how Wisconsin will recover from the loss of 2,003 yard and 21 TD rusher Jonathan Taylor and 901 yard receiver Quintez Cephus? The next rusher has 331 yards and 2 TDs. The next receiver has 407 yards and 2 TDs. 9 starters return to a defense that finished with the #2 in the B1G and #4 nationally total defense last year with allowing only 287.1 ppg. They do have to replace their top linebackers. HC Paul Chryst is 0-6 vs. Penn State and Ohio State and 0-3 in B1G title games since coming to Wisconsin in 2015.
Coming off an impressive 11-2 season, 7-2 in the B1G, and finished second in the West after a tiebreaker to Wisconsin. This was their first 10+ win season since 1904. Had big wins over #5 Penn State and #9 Auburn. They are bringing in a new OC, but odds are that the system won't change too much since a lot of the offense is the same guys. This was quite an impressive season for the Gophers, now comes the question of if they can do it all again. Lost 1,163 yard rusher Rodney Smith and 1,318 yard receiver Tyler Johnson. Rashod Bateman, 1,219 receiving yards, opted back in. They return second B1G team QB, Tanner Morgan. The defense is not as lucky with only five returning starters, only one returning on the DL. They overachieved last year after the media picked them to finish sixth in the division and they actually landed at second. So now after finishing #10 nationally, and having hype surrounding the program, it will be interesting to see if they can have similar success.
Coming off of a 10-3 season, and 6-3 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes finished 3rd in the West. All of their losses were by a TD or less, Michigan by 7, Penn State by 5, and Wisconsin by 2. Did beat Minnesota by 4. And the B1G teams they did beat were often close with the exception of shutouts over Rutgers and Northwestern. The biggest loss is Nate Stanley, the team's 3 year starting QB. Now it is up to the unproven Spencer Petras to carry the torch. If Petras fits in well, he'll have the top 5 receivers back and 4/5 of the top rushers returning to work with. There is a lot of turnover in a defense that finished #5 in the B1G and #12 overall (#5 nationally scoring at 14.0 ppg) last year, so keep an eye on how they reload it. If the defense can successfully reload and the offense can take the next step forward, look to the Hawkeyes to go after a top spot in the West.
This team could be one of the bigger question marks in the Big Ten this year. Mel Tucker comes in as Head Coach after being stolen away from Colorado. He spent a combined 4 years at Alabama and Georgia, working on both defenses, so don't be surprised if this defense has some SEC aspects to it. OC Jay Johnson comes from Colorado as well, and DC Scottie Hazelton comes from Kansas State as their DC/LB coach. Last year went 7-6 and 4-5 in the B1G. Beat Northwestern, Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland. QB battle, as far as I'm aware, seems to still be up in the air between RS Fr Payton Thorne, RS Jr Rocky Lombardi, and RS So Theo Day. Thorne hasn't played, and Lombardi and Day combine for less than 100 yards in 2019. In the SEC we've seen a wide range of results from first year coaches through this pandemic, so there isn't really a playbook of what to expect here. The defense has only 3 returning players, has to redo all receivers and tight ends, and again the quarterbacks. Overall, just a huge wait and see what happens.
Coming off of their first 8-win season in 26 years, are trending in the right direction. They finished 8-5 (5-4 in B1G) with losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan, and lost to Tennessee by 1 point in the Gator Bowl. Lost QB Peyton Ramsey to Northwestern and now must solely rely on Michael Penix Jr. They do have Jack Tuttle, Utah transfer QB to back up Penix. Have one of the best receiving trios in the B1G, led by Whop Philyor. Despite being on the upward trend, since they are in the East division, they have to play Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan every year so it will be hard to compete for a B1G title. A big key for them to keep the offense healthy, particularly Penix and Tuttle, since there is no Ramsey safety net. If they can stay healthy, keep your eyes on the Hoosiers to make some big steps this year.
Coming off of a 6-7 season, and 4-5 in the Big Ten, and finished 4th in the West. They beat Wisconsin by 1, Purdue, Rutgers, and a huge comeback win over Michigan State. This is the first time in the Lovie Smith era that he returns a starting full-time quarterback. While they lose their top two rushers, the top four receivers are all back. Additionally they only need to replace one on the OL. So with the base of the offense pretty much the same, expect them to take a step forward this year. Most of the secondary and linebackers return, but will need to redo much of the DL. They're a solid middle of the pack Big Ten team that is looking for their next step up.
Caught a lot of national attention this fall as they the battle to bring back Big Ten football, and threatening to secede from the B1G in order to play this fall. Scott Frost is in his third year at Nebraska, and has brought in the best recruiting class in the West for the third year. Adrian Martinez and all but one of the OL returns. Top 3 rushers return. A huge loss for the Huskers' offense is JD Spielman who transferred to TCU. He had 898 receiving yards, the next man up had 453. Their rushing offense finished 3rd in the B1G, and 30th nationally. Last year they went 5-7, and 3-6 in the B1G, with wins against Illinois, Northwestern, and Maryland. They did keep it within 7 in their losses to Indiana, Purdue, and Iowa. This year Frost's recruiting classes could start to shine and fill in holes between experienced returning starters. Nebraska did draw a ridiculously hard schedule this year for a team trying to take the next step forward. Some speculated it was the B1G getting revenge on the outspoken Frost. The Huskers will likely still be below .500 this year, but don't be surprised if some games are kept surprisingly close.
Coming off of a disappointing 4-8 season, were 3-6 in the Big Ten, which put them in 6th in the West. They beat Maryland, Nebraska, and Northwestern, and were within 7 in losses to Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa. Last year Purdue's passing offense was #1 in the Big Ten and #12 nationally at 309.9 ypg. Look to Rondale Moore and David Bell to keep the receiving core rolling. On the other hand the rushing offense came in at #14 in the B1G and #126 nationally with only 83.3 ypg. HC Jeff Brohm has tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be coaching this weekend vs. Iowa. It seems that there has been a starting QB chosen between Jack Plummer and Aidan O'Connell, with UCLA grad transfer Austin Burton "right on their hip." Both Plummer and O'Connell have over 1,000 last year. Plummer replaced Sindelar when he went down with an injury, started 6 games, and then went down with an injury and O'Connell came in to finish the last 3. Brohm brought in an additional DC, Bob Diaco, who had one year stints at Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Top 4 rushers and 4/5 of top receivers return. It is still a young team that needs to work on staying healthy. They benefit by being in the West this season, and getting Indiana and Rutgers as their crossover games.
Coming off of a 3-9 season, and 1-8 in the B1G, putting them in last place in the West. This was a huge step down from their 9-5 2018 season. Last year the offense ranked #124 nationally with averaging 297.1 ypg. Defense on the other hand finished #25 nationally with only allowing 335.6 ypg. HC Pat Fitzgerald brings in a new OC, first time since 2008, Mike Bajakian, who spent a year as BC's OC and the 4 years before that as Tampa Bay's QB coach. Another upgrade is Indiana QB transfer Peyton Ramsey. Ramsey has 23 starts and 5,329 yards in his last two seasons. Northwestern's strongest spot is its rushing game, where all 5 of its top rushers return to a #44 ranked rushing offense. Top 4 receivers return as well. On defense, have most of the front line and secondary back. Have to find a replacement for LB Rashawn Slater who opted out. They'll be looking to prove that the 3-9 season was merely an anomaly and not the start of a downward trend. Can they get back to a 9 win season, or is it a 2 year rebuilding process?
Coming off of a 3-9 year, and 1-8 in the Big Ten, that put Maryland 6th in the East. They beat Rutgers, and were within a score of Indiana and Michigan State. They lost their last 7 games. With QB Josh Jackson opting out, the QB battle now turns to Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa (younger brother of now QB1 for the Miami Dolphins) and RS Fr. Lance LeGendre. On Tuesday HC Mike Locksley announced that they had their QB1 but won't be announcing it until Saturday. Only has 4 starters returning on offense. Maryland loses its top 2 rushers, but returns 4/5 of its top receivers. Will have a very young team overall that will be doing a lot of learning on the job. Keep your eye for some moral victories this season.
I deadass couldn't find a gif for Rutgers football, they're that bad.
Greg Schiano is back at head coach, previously was there 2001-2011, and got Rutgers from a doormat to qualifying for bowl games when they were in the Big East. This will be a much harder task now that Rutgers is in the B1G. Last year they went 2-10 and 0-9 in the B1G, and their only wins were vs. UMass and Liberty. They were shutout 4 times and held to 7 or fewer points 7 times. Bring OC Sean Gleeson from Oklahoma State, and DC Robb Smith, previously a Texas A&M analyst. Their highest ranking on either side of the ball last year was their passing defense, #11 in the B1G and #76 nationally. The top 4 rushers and 3/5 of the top receivers return. Schiano hit the transfer portal hard and got: Malik Barrow (Ohio State), former 4-star DT - Michael Dwumfour (Michigan), 36 tackles & 7 TFL - Ireland Burke (Boston College), former 3-star DT - Brendon White (Ohio State), former 4-star DB. Schiano will likely have a very long leash to turn this program around, since it will not be an easy task. Keep your eye out for some moral victories this season.