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Now that the college football season is over, and Ohio State is basking in its Rose Bowl victory, it’s time to look ahead to 2022. August seems like a long way off, but we’ll all be back where we want to be again soon, with the scarlet and gray putting the finishing touches on launching another football season on the banks of the Olentangy.
This past season saw Ohio State not win the Big Ten for the first time in five years, with Michigan surprising everyone, finally acting like an American football team for once.
There is still news we’re waiting on with NFL decisions, transfers and all of that, but we’re taking a stab at what we believe the landscape of the conference will look like once all the games are gloriously shown on a television or streaming device near you next fall.
Oct 16, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald looks on in the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Ryan Field. Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports
It seems like Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald finds a way to get his team to rebound when it has a poor year, but that might be far too optimistic for 2022. There are still question marks at quarterback, the defense was less than stellar, the offense stagnant, and key pieces will need to be replaced. That all does not bode well for next season.
Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen walks along the sideline during the fourth quarter of an NCAA Division I football game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Indiana severely underperformed in 2021 despite having a lot of key pieces back. Looking ahead to next season, there are a lot more question marks. What the Hoosiers get out of the quarterback position and how they develop a lot of the youth that will be stepping up for a veteran team last season will determine if this team can sniff a bowl appearance or not.
Sep 17, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema walks off the field after the loss against the Maryland Terrapins at Memorial Stadium. Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
We saw some improvement from Illinois during the season, but it was an inconsistent one at best. The talent level still isn’t where it needs to be for the Illini to jump up too far, and we can probably expect another season where Bret Bielema would be happy to squeak into a bowl.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano walks on the field during pregame warmups before an NCAA Division I football game between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. Credit: USA TODAY Sports
There’s no doubt Greg Schiano has shifted the culture in a good way at Rutgers. However, realistically, the Scarlet Knights are probably still a year or so away from making a significant jump in results on the field. You have to believe that hyped-up quarterback Gavit Wimsatt will be given the keys at some point, but it’ll take time to get everything in sync. The goal for 2022 might just be to get into a bowl, this time with a winning record.
Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Teradja Mitchell (3) and Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste (8) come together to tackle Maryland Terrapins running back Challen Faamatau (29) during the second quarter of their NCAA college football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on October 9, 2021. Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Though the frontline talent is at a level that Maryland can win games against some quality teams, I’m still not sold on the depth and physicality the program will need to be consistently competitive in the Big Ten. Look for a season similar to what we just saw in 2021.
Nov 6, 2021; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost (right) looks onto the field during the second quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium. Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
Gone is quarterback Adrian Martinez, but he’ll be replaced by former Texas QB Casey Thompson. It should be enough to keep things at the level they were last season, but you have to believe that some of those close games will actually go in the win column in 2022. Nebraska makes a bowl this year and gains some much-needed momentum.
Nov 6, 2021; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell (16) drops back to pass the ball in the second half against the Michigan State Spartans at Ross-Ade Stadium. Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Getting one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country back is going to make a huge difference for Purdue. The Boilermakers will have to find someone to replace the production of David Bell at the wide receiver position, and the defense has to get better, but this team will still make life difficult on the big boys of the conference and should be considered a dark horse for the West Division.
Iowa Hawkeyes players Ryan Gersonde (2) Riley Moss (33) quarterback Spencer Petras (7) wide receiver Max Cooper (19) and defensive back Jack Koerner (28) get pumped up before an NCAA Big Ten Conference football game against Indiana, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Iowa will go as far as its offense can carry it. And while quarterback Spencer Petras will be better with another year of seasoning, he’s not the type that is going to put the team on his shoulders and win games against the more athletic and talented teams out there. Iowa will be Iowa and beat teams it shouldn’t, yet play with teams it should be better than.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Nov 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan (2) drops back for a pass in the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at TCF Bank Stadium. Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
This might not be giving Minnesota enough credit here. The offense should be really good with Tanner Morgan deciding to come back for one more season under center, and running back Mohamed Ibrahim back from injury, but there are still issues to address. The offense has to show more explosion and the defense more consistency. Honestly, if everything clicks, the Gophers have what it takes to be in Indy in December.
Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne (10) runs the ball against the Maryland Terrapins during the first half of action Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at Spartan Stadium. Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Look for the Spartans to take a wee bit of a step back in 2022. Losing Kenneth Walker III is going to be huge, but with Payton Thorned back and a talented wide receiving corps, the offense will still be able to move the ball. The defense has to be better, especially against the pass.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Oct 23, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions offensive lineman Rasheed Walker (53) and linebacker Jesse Luketa (40) and safety Jaquan Brisker (1) and safety Jonathan Sutherland (0) walk on the field for the coin flip prior to the game Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Penn State was much better than its record indicated last season. If quarterback Sean Clifford remains healthy and can be the star he was at the beginning of the year, the rest of the roster is talented enough to surprise and contend for the Big Ten championship. Especially since the Nittany Lions have Ohio State at home (queue up whiteout conditions).
Nov 20, 2021; College Park, Maryland, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh speaks with quarterback Cade McNamara (12) after during the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t expect Michigan to get the fortune and results it got this past season. The defense loses some key components and the Wolverines aren’t dynamic enough on offense to have the same success they enjoyed this year. However, this group will still be a tough out for anyone in the league. Michigan has to travel to Ohio State this season, so that’s going to be an issue too.
Wisconsin Badgers running back Braelon Allen (0) runs for a long first down in the third quarter against Nebraska Cornhuskers safety Myles Farmer (4) during their football game Saturday, November 20, 2021, at Camp Randall in Madison, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
Look for Wisconsin to be a problem this season. Graham Mertz might finally put everything together, and the running attack is going to be fantastic again with Braelon Allen and a physical offensive line. Add the typical defense we usually see in Madison, and this looks like the best team in the West, with the game against Ohio State early in the year having huge implications nationally … or so we think.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) throws a pass during the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl against the Utah Utes in Pasadena, Calif. on Jan. 1, 2022. Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Ohio State will be the most talented team in the Big Ten next year, it just depends on some breaks and being able to be better on defense. The offense will be one of the best in the country again with C.J. Stroud and his weapons abounding. If new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles can do anything with the defense, we could be talking about national title aspirations again.