After a summer of big news — the expansion additions of USC and UCLA, followed by a record-breaking new media rights deal — the Big Ten are strutting their way into the season. The league has proven it can compete with the SEC in terms of revenue and realignment. National Championships? This is an other story.
Ohio State was the only Big Ten program to win a national title during the college football playoff era, and the only one to win a playoff game. Although the Buckeyes missed out on the CFP and saw their Big Ten title streak end at four last season, they are heavy favorites to win the league. Anything short of a national championship — and possibly a Heisman Trophy for quarterback CJ Stroud — would be deemed disappointing. Michigan doesn’t get as much respect as the defending league champion, but coach Jim Harbaugh’s team is coming back a lot on offense and should start strong. Michigan State is also aiming to reload after a top-10 finish, and Penn State is entering a key season after struggling since 2019. The Western Division is expected to be very competitive as top contenders Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue return quarterbacks and other key parts.
Scenarios to watch
1. Will Ohio State end its national title drought?
When Ohio State won the first CFP eight years ago, the Buckeyes looked likely to rack up the titles. Although they have continued to dominate the Big Ten, they have only one CFP win — and only three playoff appearances — since winning it all. Ohio State has a title-worthy team led by an offense that could score at will. Stroud returns alongside top wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, running back TreVeyon Henderson and a host of other playmakers. Coach Ryan Day wisely hired State of the State coordinator Jim Knowles. Oklahoma to improve a defense that didn’t consistently threaten opponents. Ohio State has enough talent and motivation after last year to reach SoFi Stadium on Jan. 9 and win it all.
2. What will Michigan do for a recall?
Michigan finally has benchmarks for what it can accomplish, both in the Big Ten and nationally. Last fall, the Wolverines beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011, won the Big Ten for the first time since 2003 and achieved their first-ever CFP. They return quarterback Cade McNamara, explosive running back Blake Corum, a host of receivers and several pieces of the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line. Still, Michigan isn’t a popular pick to repeat, as it lost two first-round picks (Aidan Hutchinson, Daxton Hill) and one second-round pick (David Ojabo) on defense, along with coordinator Mike Macdonald. This fall, the Wolverines will have the opportunity to show that they will be regular contenders for the CFP – and a problem for their rivals.
3. Which quarterbacks will step up to propel their teams?
Starting quarterbacks return in all scheduled Big Ten division contenders, but there are questions about who will join Ohio State’s Stroud at the elite level. Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell has a solid record after completing a team record 71.8% of his passes last season. Penn State’s Sean Clifford has records but wants to cement his legacy with a title run as a senior, while Michigan State’s Payton Thorne set a team record for touchdown passes in his first season as a leaving. Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa has steadily improved and will pitch to a group of gifted receivers. Will Michigan’s Cade McNamara keep his job, or is JJ McCarthy the answer in Ann Arbor? Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan is reuniting with point guard Kirk Ciarrocca. Iowa and Wisconsin could each win the Western Division if they get marginal improvement from quarterbacks Spencer Petras and Graham Mertz.
Defending champion Michigan should rightly feel disrespected, but Ohio State is returning too much sizzle on offense — plus a defense we’re seeing vastly improve under Knowles — not to take the top spot. Things get interesting later on as four or five teams could argue for the No. 3 spot.
Michigan State needs to significantly improve its defense, while Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State and Minnesota are looking for a jolt on offense. Both Purdue and Maryland return dynamic quarterbacks and could be sleepers if they get enough on defense. Nebraska probably needs to stand up for coach Scott Frost to keep his job.
1. Ohio State
3. State of Michigan
6. Penn State
Five must-have games
Michigan State in Michigan, October 29
Michigan State handed Michigan its only regular season loss last season, a 37-33 Spartans win. Running back Kenneth Walker III scored five touchdowns in the game while going for 197 yards. Walker is no longer on the roster and Michigan will seek revenge at home. It’s always a crucial game for both teams, and this season will be no different.
Ohio State at Penn State, October 29
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have been among some of the most exciting Big Ten games in recent years. The Buckeyes are going to have college football playoff aspirations, and Penn State is hoping to bounce back from its 7-6 season to prove it was more of an anomaly than the norm.
Michigan State at Penn State, November 26
It looks like a battle for position within the Big Ten. Both teams are trying to prove themselves and try to return to the conference championship. Ohio State is the clear conference leader, but the winner of this game could show us who’s up.
Minnesota to Wisconsin, November 26
Both teams are coming off of 9-4 seasons, and both teams hope to make a move forward in 2022. This game could end up being the deciding factor in determining which team represents the Big Ten West. Iowa will also be in the conversation, but the winner of this game could either power through the game or play the spoiler.
Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 26
It will be one of the most anticipated domestic matches of the entire season. Michigan beat Ohio State in 2021 to place in the Big Ten Championship Game and eventually the College Football Playoffs. The Buckeyes focused on that loss the entire offseason and swore it wouldn’t happen again. This is shaping up to be one of the best games to finish the season if both teams collide with whatever is at stake.
Preseason All-Big Ten Team
The Big Ten returns household names who have already proven to be statistical leaders for their teams and players from all conferences. Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud tops this list as a Heisman runner-up last season, returning to try to replicate his 2021 success. There are some new faces and a few potential stars, though. , including Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen, who came on very late in the season, and Michigan defensive lineman Mazi Smith, who is about to have a big year. In what might be the most Big Ten thing the conference can do, one of the strengths of the conference will be the punter. If there were no number constraints, there could very well be more than one bettor on the all-conference team with Adam Korsak of Rutgers, Tory Taylor of Iowa, Bryce Baringer of the Michigan State and Michigan’s Brad Robbins. Only one will survive, though, so maybe the better leg will win.
QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State
RB Braelon Allen, Wisconsin
RB TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State
WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
WR Jayden Reed, Michigan State
WR Rakim Jarrett, Maryland
TE Sam LaPorta, Iowa
OT Peter Skoronski, North-West
OG JD Duplain, Michigan State
C John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota
OG Zak Zinter, Michigan
OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
DL Mazi Smith, Michigan
DL Jacob Slade, Michigan State
DL PJ Mustipher, Penn State
DL Ochaun Mathis, Nebraska
LB Jack Campbell, Iowa
LB Nick Herbig, Wisconsin
LB Garrett Nelson, Nebraska
S Ji’Ayir Brown, State of Pennsylvania
S Ronnie Hickman, State of Ohio
C. B. Riley Moss, Iowa
CB DJ Turner, Michigan
CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
P Adam Korsak, Rutgers
K Jake Moody, Michigan
R Emeka Egbuka, Ohio State
Championship game prediction
State of Ohio over Wisconsin.