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College Football is one of many fall traditions in which people expect to watch, play and cheer for everyday. When the Big 10 conference canceled their season, people started to realize the void of entertainment sports filled. At the beginning of the pandemic many people still believed that College Football would not be affected as it was still a ways away. But, as the days kept getting closer to football, the most popular sport in the United States, doubt began to settle in if there would be any football.
Big 10 East:
Ohio State – Ohio State came off a very successful start to the Ryan Day tenure, losing to Clemson in just the last second of the College Football Playoff Semifinal. Justin Fields, Ohio State’s quarterback, returns to lead a stacked Ohio State roster. Fields, a Heisman finalist this year, hopes to repeat and improve on his impressive campaign. Ohio State returns one of the best offensive line groups in the entire country, three projected NFL lineman, including all-american Wyatt Davis. On the defensive side, future first round cornerback Shaun Wade comes back to lead his unit. One thing to note is the losses Ohio State suffered from last year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Last season’s sack leader and defensive player of the year Chase Young is gone and last season’s interception leader Jeff Okudah declared for the NFL. Not to mention, Ohio State’s leading tackler Malik Harrison opted for the NFL, leaving Ohio State with a young defensive group. All in all, I have Ohio State number one in the east because of the returning offensive production and the overall talent on both sides of the ball. Season prediction: (8-0).
Penn State – Every year Penn State has a double digit winning team, that almost makes the playoffs but cannot quite get over that hump. In head coach James Franklin’s seventh year, Penn State returns a very talented roster that should compete with Ohio State. But, with key opt outs from the best linebacker in the country Micah Parsons, and the injuries sustained at the running back position with Noah Cain and Journey Brown out for the season, Penn State is not at Ohio State’s level yet. Season prediction: (6-2).
Michigan – Michigan is always a conundrum. Coach Jim Haurbaugh fields a talented team every year but has continued to fail to meet expectations. Whether it be losing to Ohio State every year, or not being able to win major bowl games, Michigan is underachieving. I don’t think Haurbaugh is on the hot seat because of the loss of revenue each school will have resulting from the pandemic. But, I do think there’s mounting pressure on him to get over the hill of Ohio State. Michigan does return most of their starting offense and defense, but with three of their top playmakers out at defense and a new starting quarterback, I think this is a rebuilding year for Michigan. Season prediction (6-2).
Indiana – Last season Indiana had their first Big 10 winning record since 1993. Coach Tom Allen has revitalized the program. Indiana has 8 starters returning on offense and 9 on defense. This includes quarterback Michael Penix, first string running back Stevie Scott, top wide receiver Whop Philyor and leading tackler Micah McFadden. Overall, I think that Indiana will continue to trend up under Coach Allen and may shock a few teams. Season prediction: (5-3).
Rutgers – Rutgers made a splash hire with head coach Greg Schiano. Schiano has lifted a dreadful program from the dead to being competitive in maybe the best division in football. Rutgers returns 16 out of 21 starters and has one of the best defensive players in the country with Tyshon Fogg (104 TKL). Under Schiano, Rutgers will be competitive, which is a huge step forward for the program. Season prediction: (4-4).
Maryland – Head Coach Mike Locksley made some big offseason moves in signing Taulia Tagovailoa as quarterback, younger brother to star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Also, he signed Maryland’s highest wide receiver prospect ever in Rakim Jarrett away from LSU. In any other division I would have Maryland higher up, but the Big 10 East is so loaded that Maryland will have a tough time breaking in all their young talent. Season prediction: (2-6).
Michigan State – Michigan State for the past decade was one of the most successful programs in college football, including one playoff appearance. Over the past few years, the program has crumbled. Former longtime head coach Mark D’antonio left the program in disarray. Former Colorado Head Coach Mel Tucker has taken the job of turning Michigan State back into their dominante selves. With Covid-19, there was no spring practice or summer workouts hindering the progress of the team. I predict Michigan State to be in last place of the division because of the new coaching staff trying to rebuild a team during a pandemic in one of the toughest divisions of football. Season prediction: (1-7).
Big Ten West:
Wisconsin – Yes, Wisconsin’s quarterback room has been recently decimated but I still think Wisconsin will be able to revert back to their old selves, power running. Wisconsin still has one of the best offensive lines in the country and I have never seen a bad Wisconsin running back, ever. Two of Wisconsin’s best defensive players are gone, Chriss Orr and Zach Baun, but inside linebacker Jack Saborn returns to lead the group that returns 9 starters on defense. Even with an offense trying to figure itself out, I think Wisconsin still is far ahead of everyone in the Big 10 West. Season Prediction: (6-2).
Minnesota – The Golden Gophers had a breakout year last year. With Head Coach PJ Fleck back in his 4th year with the program, I think they can continue where they left off last season. Quarterback Tanner Morgan returns with his receiving partner Rashod Bateman, one of the best duos in the country. Running Back Mohamed Ibrahim takes over the full time starting job as Rodney Smith declared for the NFL. Minnesota returns their entire offensive line leading the experienced offensive group. The cause for concern is on the defensive side of the ball. Only 4 starters return and their defensive leader Antoine Winfeild, who led the team in tackles (88) and interceptions (7), declared for the NFL. Out of the 6 leading tacklers on the team last year, 5 have gone to the NFL, including sack leader Carter Coughlin. Regardless of the losses on the defensive side of the ball, Minnesota’s high powered offense will be able to outscore opponents in the weaker division of the conference. Season prediction: (6-2)
Purdue – This is my pretty out there pick for this season. Most TV pundits and writers will have Purdue lower in the division’s rankings, but I think Purdue will shock people. Nine starters return on offense including quarterback Jack Plummer, running back Doerue and star wide receiver Rondale Moore returns from last season’s injury to put his team back on track. On the defensive side of the ball the dangerous duo of Derik Barnes and George Karlaftis return to wreak havoc in the backfield, both with 7.5 sacks last season. This Purdue squad with Rondale Moore will have an explosive enough offense and disruptive defense that will be able to pull upsets on some unsuspecting teams. Season Prediction: (5-3)
Northwestern – Last year was Northwestern’s worst year in Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s 15 year tenure at the program. After going 3-9, there were questions if Fitzgerald had control over his program. I think this year they will bounce back from that dreadful season. Only 2 starters won’t return to the team. Grad transfer quarterback from Indiana, Peyton Ramsey, will help lead the ship combined with the very deep running back room to a winning season for the Wildcats. On the defensive side of the ball, the big miss is defensive end, Joe Gaziano. Gaziano was the only player on the team that could pressure the quarterback (9 sacks). Other than that, I think Northwestern will have a bounce back year and be much better than last year. Season prediction: (4-4)
Iowa – The Hawkeyes are in a rebuilding phase this year after losing starting quarterback Nate Stanley and 3 starting offensive lineman, including all american Tristan Wirfs. The defensive side of the ball got hit even harder. All American defensive lineman AJ Epenesa declared to the NFL, leading tackler Kristian Welch and star defensive back Michael Ojemudia also declared to the NFL. Iowa won’t be terrible this year, they will still compete with the rest of the division but with all their losses at key positions I have them at 5th in the west this year. Season Prediction: (3-5)
Nebraska – Head Coach Scott Frost inherited an absolute trainwreck of a program 3 years ago. The Cornhuskers for the past decade and half fell from their dynasty in the late 90’s. It will take sometime to get this program back on track as they don’t have the same cache they used too. I don’t think Nebraska will improve that much this year as they have one of the hardest schedules in the country and Frost needs more time to recruit his guys. After this year I would not be shocked to hear Frost’s seat becoming warm. Season Prediction: (2-6)
Illinois – Illinois has not had a winning season since 2011. Head Coach Love Smith is trying hard to turn the ship around at Illinois, last year they went 6-7 and they went to their first bowl game since 2014. Quarterback Brandon Peters returns for his senior year with an experienced offensive line and his favorite receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe. But, Illinois loses their one-two punch at running back with Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown, shouldering the offensive load onto Peters. The defense on the other hand returns only 5 starters. Star linebacker Dele Harding, who accounted for 153 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss, is gone and accompanying him to the NFL is sack leader (9) Oluwole Betiku leaving two huge holes for the defense to fill. I think with the uncertainty at running back and overhaul at defense Smith’s program will go back to last in the division. Season prediction: (2-6)
Big 10 Player Of The Year:
(QB) Justin Fields – Last year’s Heisman Finalist will continue his impressive campaign into this season. Fields, maybe the best quarterback in the country, is on one of the best teams of the country. This award is almost a lock and if anybody but Fields wins it would be a major shock.
Big 10 Breakout Player Of The Year:
(DE) Shaka Toney – The Penn State defense the past few years revolved around star linebacker Micah Parsons, but since Parsons has declared to opt-out of the season the defense needs a new leader. Last year’s sack leader for Penn State and entering his senior year defensive end Shaka Toney will fill that defensive whole.
Big 10 Rookie Of The Year:
(WR) Julian Flemming – Yes, more Ohio State, According to 24/7 Sports Ohio State has 14 out of 20 five star players on their roster out of the entire conference. True freshman wide receiver Julian Flemming was the top wide receiver prospect in the country last year. Ohio State loses some of their best past catchers from last year’s team (K.J. Kill) and with a quarterback as good as Fields, Flemming will shine.
Big 10 Conference Championship Game:
Ohio State (8-0) v.s. Wisconsin (6-2) – This year’s conference championship game will be a rematch of last year’s, and much like last year’s it will be a Ohio State victory. Right now, Wisconsin’s quarterback situation is a glaring hole and combined with the fact that Jonathan Taylor (RB) is now in the NFL, the Badgers don’t have the offensive firepower to match Ohio State. Justin Fields and company won’t be shut down the entire game from the stout Badgers defense and Ohio State will pull away in the second half putting them into their 4th playoff appearance. Score Prediction: (9-0) Ohio State 34 – 17 (6-3) Wisconsin.