Predicting every Big Ten football team’s final 2021 record

·8 min read

While the Big Ten doesn’t get the prestige of the SEC, there is no conference aside from that which is tougher from top to bottom. And in 2021, the parity in football will come closer to what we saw this past season in basketball.

Barely any of the teams in the conference will be an easy out, but some will be worse than others. There are a lot of young teams and some newer coaches, which could hamper some’s ability to truly excel. While Ohio State is the king of the mountain, even the Buckeyes have some tough sledding with significant personnel changes.

Meanwhile, Michigan is working to get back on the right side of things after a terrible 2020 campaign. We think the Wolverines will rebound to some degree, but that doesn’t mean that the maize and blue will rise to the top of the division.

With that in mind, here is what we’re predicting for every Big Ten team in 2021.

List

Ranking the best stadiums in the Big Ten

Rutgers (5-7)

Nov 21, 2020; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Shameen Jones (15) is tackled by Michigan Wolverines defensive back Hunter Reynolds (27) during the first half at SHI Stadium. Photo: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How it'll play out

Rutgers was visibly improved last year, but that doesn't mean it's ready for a bowl game. Greg Schiano has the Scarlet Knights heading in the right direction, but the Big Ten East is a little bit more challenging than the Big East was, once upon a time. Wins: Temple, Syracuse, Delaware, Northwestern, Illinois Losses: Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Penn State, Maryland

Maryland (6-6)

Oct 30, 2020; College Park, Maryland, USA; Maryland Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (3) throws from the pocket during the first quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

How it'll play out

Maryland is improving and has some young talent, but said talent is mostly still young. It's moving into Indiana territory in that it could be a force, but it's not there yet. The Terps have been a nouveau pick of mine on a yearly basis, but I want to see it before I start giving them higher marks after having been burnt a few times. Wins: Howard, Illinois, Kent State, Minnesota, Michigan State, Rutgers Losses: West Virginia, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana, Penn State, Michigan

Illinois (4-8)

Dec 12, 2020; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Brandon Peters (18) looks to pass against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Ryan Field. Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

How it'll play out

Illinois is almost the worst team in the conference, but not quite. Bret Bielema should improve this team, but it'll be a long-term project. However, it'll be better than Purdue and be able to take advantage of its in-state counterpart, but that's pretty much it. Wins: UTSA, Purdue, Charlotte, Northwestern Losses: Nebraska, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Penn State, Rutgers, Minnesota, Iowa

Minnesota (5-7)

Photo: Isaiah Hole

How it'll play out

Tanner Morgan is back, but Rashod Bateman is gone. Expect all of the Golden Gophers' games to be close, but they'll struggle mightily to actually put wins on the board. Wins: Miami (OH), Bowling Green, Purdue, Nebraska, Illinois Losses: Ohio State, Colorado, Maryland, Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin

Northwestern (6-6)

Photo: Isaiah Hole

How it'll play out

Northwestern is destined to take its usual step back, but it will still remain bowl eligible. The Wildcats rebound against the Spartans, win two-thirds of their nonconference and is just wildly inconsistent throughout the year. Without Mike Hankwitz leading the defense, that side of the ball will take a step back. Wins: Michigan State, Indiana State, Ohio, Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue Losses: Duke, Rutgers, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois

Purdue (3-9)

Photo: Isaiah Hole

How it'll play out

I have no faith in Purdue. Zero. But I also have no faith in Oregon State and UConn and MSU will be a bit of an inconsistent mess, I think. Purdue proves itself to be the worst team in the conference, by virtue of having a tough nonconference opponent in Notre Dame. Wins: Oregon State, UConn, Michigan State Losses: Notre Dame, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, Northwestern, Indiana

Nebraska (5-7)

Photo: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

How it'll play out

Nebraska was competitive in 2020 but constantly found ways to lose. At this juncture, it's no given that Scott Frost will have this team turned around. I have them winning two nonconference games, two games against equal opponents and a stunner against Iowa to close the season. Wins: Illinois, Fordham, Buffalo, Purdue, Iowa Losses: Oklahoma, Michigan State, Northwestern, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin

Iowa (9-3)

Photo: Isaiah Hole

How it'll play out

Iowa has a season that looks eerily similar to 2020, losing the first two games of the season before rattling off a bunch of wins. The Hawkeyes let their guard down, however, and lose the season finale in a shocker against Nebraska. Wins: Kent State, Colorado State, Maryland, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois Losses: Indiana, Iowa State, Nebraska

Wisconsin (10-2)

Photo: Isaiah Hole

How it'll play out

Wisconsin wasn't very good in 2020, but how much of that was due to an early COVID-19 break? The Badgers have a lot of talent and should be able to return to form with Graham Mertz leading the charge, losing the season opener and again vs. the Hawkeyes. Wins: Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan, Illinois, Army, Purdue, Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota Losses: Penn State, Iowa

Indiana (8-4)

Jan 2, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA;Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen reacts against the Mississippi Rebels during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

How it'll play out

Indiana follows up an exemplary season with another good one, but it doesn't have quite the same luck as before. Michael Penix Jr. returns and the Hoosiers add Stephen Carr. They open with a big win vs. Iowa but falter against a Cincinnati team that returns many of its playmakers after a Peach Bowl berth. Wins: Iowa, Idaho, WKU, Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers, Minnesota, Purdue Losses: Cincinnati, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan

Penn State (10-2)

Dec 19, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions players sing their alma mater following the competition on the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Illinois 56-21. Photo: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

How it'll play out

Penn State has its third offensive coordinator in as many years, which theoretically could cost the Nittany Lions. But it won't. With Sean Clifford returning, they'll pick up where they left off late in 2020 and win most of their games. For once, I'm on the side of James Franklin actually contending for something. Wins: Wisconsin, Ball State, Auburn, Villanova, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State Losses: Iowa, Ohio State

Michigan State (5-7)

Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi passes during MSU's 29-20 win over Northwestern at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020.

How it'll play out

Despite beating Michigan last year, MSU was a moribund team. Mel Tucker enters his second year with a completely new team, with dozens of players transferring out and some Power Five incoming transfers infusing the team with some new blood. It still won't be ready for primetime, and will be on the verge of bowl game eligibility when it's all said and done. Wins: Youngstown State, Nebraska, WKU, Rutgers, Purdue Losses: Northwestern, Miami (FL), Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State

Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes safety Josh Proctor (41) celebrates after a stop during the first quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

How it'll play out

While OSU is still the king of the conference, it will take a slight, slight step back from being the ultimate elite program compared to the likes of Alabama and Clemson, by virtue of a new signal-caller and several new starters. For the first time in a while, it will catch up to the Buckeyes, but not by much, as they lose a stunner to Oregon before rebounding and throttling nearly every other team they face. Wins: Minnesota, Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, Penn State, Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan Losses: Oregon

Michigan (8-4)

Photo: Isaiah Hole

How it'll play out

Michigan rounds back into form, beating the teams it's supposed to while losing to those that are considered its direct peers or worse than. There are a lot of moving gears here, including the defense and the quarterback situation. The Wolverines won't look nearly as bad as they did a year ago, but it will still be a disappointing season by Ann Arbor standards. Wins: Western Michigan, NIU, Rutgers, Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland Losses: Washington, Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State

1

1