2021 Big Ten Season Preview – Buckeyes reign supreme
The college season is literally right around the corner now and it’s time to turn our attention to the Big Ten conference. Ohio State may run the conference and are the main talking point when Big Ten comes to mind. Welcome into the Big Ten 2021 season preview.
The Buckeyes may rule the roost but we cannot forget about the rest in what is a competitive conference across the board with no less than six AP ranked teams. Can Penn State and Michigan make up for their lacklustre 2020 and which teams are set to fight at the top and bottom of the divisions for 2021.
2021 Big Ten West
2020 Season: 7-2
Northwestern’s 2020 was rather impressive and ended as the winners of the Big Ten West before losing out on the title to Ohio State. 2021 could be a mixed bag following the loss of starting tackle Rashawn Slater and cornerback Greg Newsome as well as QB Peyton Ramsey and have a lot of spaces to fill on this roster.
It couldn’t have started much worse for Pat Fitzgerald and Co after the season ending injuries to star RB Cam Porter and OL Zachary Franks in training camp as well as mounting injuries on the defence. Ryan Hilinski is not the starting QB as almost everybody expected, it is Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson who has won the starting job and is looking to pick up where Ramsey left off but will have a tough time considering none of the current pass catchers from 2020 had double digit catches.
Fitzgerald and his staff have done a great job to date for Northwestern but 2021 is looking like it may be a step back for them with all they have lost. They are fortunate with their start to the season against Michigan State, Indiana State, Duke & Ohio (not that one) which should see them with a 4-0 start.
2020 Season: 6-2
Iowa will once again be battling near the top of the Big Ten in 2021 and have retained a big chunk of their roster for the upcoming season which could be the difference maker in 2021. Spencer Petras is a capable if not flashy quarterback who can get the job done even without setting the world alight. It’s the defence that proves the difference maker for this program averaging under 20 points per game over the last five seasons and I cannot see that changing in this season despite an overhaul of the pass rushers.
Iowa’s schedule looks favourable for them aside from a few key fixtures that could be the difference between winning the Big Ten West or not, including week two out of conference matchup against Iowa State and the away trip to Indiana in late October. Iowa has been involved in 32 one possession games since 2015 which is just incredible.
Spencer Pertras will need to impress this season with an unflattering receiving core that will make his life a bit more difficult. Iowa should have enough to see them through a great deal of the tougher fixtures and take it right up to the wire with Wisconsin for the Big Ten West title.
2020 Season: 4-3
Wisconsin are my prediction for the Big Ten West title and put themselves in the big Ten title hunt. Last year’s freshman standout QB Graham Mertz did enough for the team to keep them competitive but will need to improve in 2021 if Wisconsin wants to be the force many are expecting, the QB struggled at times and fans will be hoping these have been ironed out byt the coaching staff.
The Badgers have some tough games on the schedule in the form of Notre Dame, Ohio State & Washington along with a resurgent Penn State & Michigan to contend with. These fixtures could be the difference makers for them competing in 2020 or having a less than impressive looking record come December.
Wisconsin has retained a plethora of stars from last season including RB Jalen Berger, TE Jake Ferguson and almost the whole offensive line that will help Mertz to stay upright in 2021. The start at home against Penn State will not only be a real test but also an indicator for the season to come.
2020 Season: 3-4
P.J. Fleck and Co has done a great job adding to this roster for 2021 in particular on the defensive side which was needed to go along with their underrated offensive that includes one of the top running backs Mohamed Ibrahim and a beastly offensive line.
Minnesota starts against Ohio State which will be a tough ask for the program but from there the schedule is incredibly kind for the Golden Gophers which should see them with six or seven wins out of the next eight fixtures before a tough end to the season against currently ranked Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.
If Tanner Morgan can take a step up from his inconsistent 2020 and the new additions impress from the outset we could be in for a storming season for Minnesota. I think the West title could be a stretch too far this season for the Golden Gophers but keep a close eye on this team.
2020 Season: 3-5
Nebraska is an interesting team for 2021. There is a lot outside of football going on within this program that is taking the light off the players. How long will head coach Scott Frost be heading up the program remains to be seen but a slow start could all but end his turbulent tenure.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez is the definition of a boom or bust player who you never know what he is going to do on the field. The trouble is he is the main rushing attack in 2021 with none of the returning running backs hitting 100 yards in 2020, They do now have transfer Markese Stepp who should take some pressure off Martinez on the ground. The offense has lost WR Wan’Dale Robinson to Kentucky via the transfer portal and the remaining cast doesn’t look overly impressive.
I think Nebraska has enough on the defensive side to keep games competitive and overcome the likes of Illinois and Purdue in the season, they have the gimme game against Fordham week 2. Aside from that I see a struggle on the cards for the Cornhuskers in 2021 and a change at the helm sooner than later.
2020 Season: 2-4
Where do we start with Purdue, they lost Rondale Moore to the NFL in April, they couldn’t run the ball to save their lives in 2020 (sub 100th ranking in both rushing yards and Yards per attempt) and the defence performed below expectation. QB Jack Plummer is the starter for week one but will have Aidan O’Connell breathing down his neck once again.
It’s a shame as they have some talent around the field that in another year could make a push for the top and compete however the schedule they have been handed is brutal with five teams ranked in the preseason AP rankings as well as Pac-12 Oregon State to start the year.
Unfortunately all signs point to a lost season for the Boilermakers and Jeff Brohm unless they can perform at their absolute max almost every game.
2020 Season 2-6
Expect The Fighting Illinois to be the bottom feeders of the Big Ten once again, whilst other programs around them have strengthened it looks to be more the same for Illinois in 2020.
New HC Brett Bielema has a real job on his hands taking over from Lovie Smith, despite a number of seniors and super seniors returning.
It’s on the defensive side where Illinois have really struggled under Smith and the higher ups may have been looking at this as their reason for bringing in defensive minded Bielema to the program. Bielema has a job on his hands with this defence though with them allowing a 70% completed pass conversion against opposition in 2020.
It is shaping up to be another year of hurt for Illinois in 2021 unless Bielema can perform some real magic. I for one cannot see that happening just yet.
2021 Big Ten East
2020 Season: 7-1
The Buckeyes are rather unsurprisingly the team to beat once again in 2021 and will once again be in contention for the College Playoffs. That’s even without quarterback Justin Fields in the NFL. People should not be concerned about the quarterback position with CJ Stroud winning the job after impressing in training camp over Jack Miller & Kyle McCord. They have retained a great deal of talent from 2020 despite losing nine starters across the offence and defence.
I may be being overly bold with the undefeated record with Oregon, Indiana and Penn State on the schedule but the Buckeyes still look head and shoulders above the rest of the Big Ten on talent alone and have one of the best head coaches in Ryan Day.
QB Stroud may be untested but having arguably the best receiving core in college football and a dominating offensive line will certainly make his life easier from the outset. On the defence Ohio has two freshman pass rushers who could make an instant impact in JT Tuimoloau & Jack Sawyer.
I will be sticking to my guns that Ohio will be undefeated in the regular season and make it to the college playoffs.
2020 Season: 6-2
Indiana will once again be competing to be the best of the rest in the East behind Ohio State in 2021. Penn State & Michigan are slated for a resurgence this season but Indiana still looks to be the next team to beat. They do have a contest with Cincinnati week three which I don’t see them winning.
A Lot will once again be riding on quarterback Michael Penix Jr who Indiana will be hoping can return fully fit from his torn ACL and get over his injury plight of previous seasons. The start of season schedule will be tough on the Hoosiers and could be the make or break of their season. Wide receiver Ty Fryfogle and tight end Peyton Hendershot will be the key weapons for the Hoosiers in 2021 for the hopefully fit Michael Penix Jr.
Indiana will win games with the defence in 2020 that finished 5th ranked in the country and has retained a great deal of their starters whilst adding some quality transfers to the unit. Big Ten Coach of the Year Tom Allen will certainly have a job on his hands but the roster is still a strong one and should be aiming to contend in the Big Ten once again.
2020 Season: 4-5
Surely Penn State cannot repeat the shambles of 2020, this program is too good for what we saw in the first half of the season. The powers that be have not been overly kind to Penn State in terms of schedule once again though with four ranked teams as well as the under-appreciated Ball State and Auburn to contend with early doors.
Sean Clifford will be the shot caller under centre again and running back Noah Cain is due to be back from injury. The WR room has some standouts in Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, that is if Clifford can get him the ball. A returning left tackle Rasheed Walker will also be a welcome sight to Clifford blind side.
The defence has retained a great deal of their top players from 2020 despite leader Micah Parson departing for the NFL. This team has talent across the field and despite a rough start should end the year well even with an away day to Ohio State late October.
Penn State should finish as the number two team in the East come December.
2020 Season: 2-3
Maryland’s season will rest on the shoulders of Taulia Tagovailoa who may have been turnover happy in 2020 but showed potential at times. The Terrapins have some quality weapons in Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus if Tagovailoa can find a consistent footing.
Maryland has a kind schedule to start before a tough run from October to Mid November being on the road to three ranked teams and a road visit to Ohio State. Everything is pointing towards a middle of the pack finish for the Terrapins.
HC Mike Locksley has a capable roster and is gradually improving the team from the 1-8 2019 season when he joined the program. If Tagovailoa can take a step up on a regular basis Maryland could have a winning season and a bowl game opportunity.
2020 Season: 3-6
Rutgers are no longer the whipping boys of the Big Ten, but let’s not get carried away as they are still a middle of the pack program at best with no signs of taking a turn step up. Head Coach Greg Schiano returned last season to much fanfare but it wasn’t the true homecoming by the end of the season.
The defence was abysmal in 2020 and has to be the point of focus for improvement for Schiano and his coaching staff. The offence rests heavily on three key figures in the form of quarterback Noah Vedral, WR Bo Melton and RB Isaih Pacheco with Melton and Pacheco able to make a play from nowhere if Vedral can get the ball to them.
The Schedule on paper should see Rutgers get off to a good start with Temple, Syracuse and Delaware winnable games before a rough mid season. The Scarlet Knights could quite easily see themselves with anywhere between 3-6 wins depending on the swing games against Maryland, Michigan State & Northwestern.
2020 Season: 2-4
Jim Harbaugh looked to be on borrowed time in 2020 after the Wolverines continued to regress, yet by January he was on NFL radars and a new four year contract was signed with Michigan. Only time will tell if this was the right decision.
Michigan is surely due for major improvements in 2021 with this roster they have with Cade McNamara under center and a number of weapons who should generate plays for the Wolverines. We can’t forget five star rookie QB J.J McCarthy and transfer Alan Bowman waiting in the wings. Aidan Hutchinson is the man to watch on the defence and should continue to state his claim as a first round talent in 2022.
I personally cannot see Michigan being in contention for the title this season but there will certainly be big improvements from last season. If Michigan can get past Washington in week two this team could easily be starting 4-0 for the season before the real challenges begin.
The final four weeks of the season are brutal for the Wolverines and could be the difference between Harbaugh staying or going.
2020 Season: 2-5
Michigan State is in the middle of a total rebuild and Mel Tucker has a job on his hands as despite some additions to the squad this team is not close to competing.
The Spartans have brought in Anthony Russo from Temple to compete with QB Payton Thorne and appears to be the favourite for the job and it will be quite a job to do. The offensive line is largely intact from last season which will be a boost even if they aren’t overly impressive.
One plus side for Michigan State in 2021 is the schedule is rather kind to them with home games against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Nebraska. If they can pick up another win or two elsewhere the season will be a positive one for them.
On paper it appears to be a race for the bottom of the East between Michigan State, Rutgers and Maryland but it will certainly be a close one.
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