This has been the weirdest football season in the history of college football. Well, at least in my lifetime. We finished the regular season on Saturday, and I was supposed to watch a bowl game on Monday? There’s a 2-8 team in a bowl game? Indiana is going to the Outback Bowl? What a weird year.
No one played the same amount of games, but in the end, Ohio State is the Big Ten Champion. Here’s how I have everyone else stacking up after a bizarre year.
That #B1GFCG champs feeling 🏈 🏆👑
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) December 19, 2020
14. Michigan State (2-4)
Last week: OFF
Previous ranking: 14
It was a strange year for Michigan State, but the Spartans have two very solid wins to show recruits and the returning players to prove Mel Tucker’s system can work. However, they had quarterback issues (Rocky Lombardi has entered the transfer portal), defensive liabilities, and lots of room to improve as they look ahead to year two for Tucker and company.
13. Illinois (2-6)
Last week: 21-56 LOSS at Penn State
Previous ranking: 10
I started to believe in Illinois after a couple of wins over Rutgers and Nebraska (and the tweet), but a bunch of blowout losses coming home established the fact that Illinois just isn’t a good football team. Lovie Smith is gone. We’ll see if Bret Bielema can do anything in Champaign, but they were a dysfunctional football team that couldn’t stop anyone on defense and had no offensive consistency.
12. Rutgers (3-6)
Last week: 21-28 LOSS vs Nebraska
Previous ranking: 13
I still maintain that Rutgers was a much improved football team this year. It would have been tough to get worse than it was in 2019, but Greg Schiano’s return seemed to spark something in Piscataway. After its first two losses to Indiana and Ohio State, they lost by three, six (in overtime), 16, and seven. They were a very competitive 3-6, and there’s something brewing at Rutgers for next season.
11. Michigan (2-4)
Last week: OFF
Previous ranking: 12
We didn’t see Michigan the last two weeks, so it seems like we’ve all forgotten how bad the season was for the Wolverines. Joe Milton turned out to be a swing-and-a-miss at quarterback, longtime defensive coordinator Don Brown had his worst showing of his career, and Jim Harbaugh’s seat is red-hot. They lost to Michigan State, a previously winless Penn State, and allowed Wisconsin to score 49 points, which now looks really, really bad. I am very interested to see what the offseason looks like in Ann Arbor, but please don’t forget how bad of a season this was for Michigan football.
10. Purdue (2-4)
Last week: OFF
Previous ranking: 9
Purdue is in the same situation as Michigan. The Boilermakers were trending in the wrong direction, after losing three straight, and with matchups against Indiana scheduled in the final weeks, it looked like a 2-5 or 2-6 season was inevitable. They fired defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, but that certainly isn’t the only issue Purdue has. This will be an important offseason for one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. If he can’t get things turned around in West Lafayette next season, his time might be up.
9. Nebraska (3-5)
Last week: 28-21 WIN at Rutgers
Previous ranking: 11
— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) December 19, 2020
One last time, thank you Nebraska for bringing back Big Ten football. If it weren’t for you, who knows what would have happened (we probably still would have played, but let’s let them have this one). Nebraska ends the season on a win, finishes 3-5, and declines a bowl bid. What a strange sentence. See you next year Cornhuskers.
Next up: at No. 12 Indiana; Saturday, 3:30 ET on BTN
8. Maryland (2-3)
Last week: OFF
Previous ranking: 6
Maryland was a tough read all season. The Terrapins couldn’t ever get going because of COVID issues. In its final game of the year, Maryland was missing its quarterback, Tualia Tagovailoa, and lost at Rutgers because of some back kicking and illegal blindside blocks. Maryland was improved from year one of Mike Locksley, but there are still some gaps to be filled before they can contend in the Big Ten.
7. Minnesota (3-4)
Last week: 17-20 (OT) LOSS at Wisconsin
Previous ranking: 7
Minnesota had a lot of COVID issues as well this year, but even with that, the Golden Gophers were not as good as expected at the beginning of the year. Mohamed Ibrahim, the Big Ten Running Back of the Year, was phenomenal, but Tanner Morgan took a step back, and top wideout Rashod Bateman opted out, then back in, then back out again. This is a weird year and it’s hard to judge teams in 2020, but at first glance, it’s a disappointing season in Minneapolis.
6. Wisconsin (3-3)
Last week: 20-17 (OT) WIN vs Minnesota
Previous ranking: 5
Wisconsin just isn’t that good. That was a solid final week for the Badgers, keeping Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison and finishing at .500 for the regular season, but just like their rivals, they were a highly ranked team early, were hit by COVID, and never rebounded. Wisconsin’s offense was without many weapons throughout the season, but it was boring, slow and unproductive. Graham Mertz is clearly the guy though, with Jack Coan entering the transfer portal. With that being said, Chase Wolff was solid in leading Wisconsin to the win in the season finale. We’ll see who starts the bowl game next week.
Next up: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs Wake Forest (4-4); Wednesday, Dec. 30, Noon ET on ESPN
5. Penn State (4-5)
Last week: 56-21 WIN vs Illinois
Previous ranking: 8
Big props to Penn State for what the team did this season. No, it was nowhere near what was expected of the Nittany Lions, but an 0-5 team could easily pack it in and say, “see you next year.” But Penn State didn’t, and rallied off four straight wins to finish the season. Sean Clifford seemed to get some of his swagger back, but most importantly, the receivers, specifically Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, grew a lot and showed an immense amount of potential for years to come. Penn State will be just fine next season if all these weapons stick around.
4. Iowa (6-2)
Last week: 35-21 WIN at Illinois
Previous ranking: 4
Iowa is just a solid football team. A six-game win streak is impressive, no matter how down the conference is this year. Spencer Petras got a solid eight games of experience and will be ready to contend in the Big Ten West next season — which I guess now runs through Evanston? Iowa will certainly find another running back that no one can stop, and they’ll be locked and loaded next season.
Next up: TransPerfect Music City Bowl vs Missouri (5-5); Wednesday, Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
3. Northwestern (6-2)
Last week: 10-22 LOSS vs No. 3 Ohio State
Previous ranking: 3
Northwestern might be the kings of the Big Ten West for the time being. I know last season they were terrible, but in 2018 and 2020, they received the honor of being the Big Ten West team to get beat by Ohio State in Indianapolis. Peyton Ramsey was a really solid edition, and their linebackers were ridiculously talented. If any or all of them return next season, I would imagine the West runs through Evanston (or Chicago) again in 2021.
Next up: VRBO Citrus Bowl vs Auburn (6-4); Friday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET on ABC
2. Indiana (6-1)
Last week: OFF
Previous ranking: 2
You can check out our columns and other articles to hear our crew’s thoughts on where Indiana is for bowl season, so I’ll spare my thoughts. Indiana will get a chance to finish off one of its best seasons ever against an under-.500 Ole Miss team, and carry a lot of momentum into next season. Tom Allen always coaches with a chip on his shoulder, and I think this team will truly be ready to contend for the Big Ten next season. It’s time to stop sleeping on the Cream and Crimson.
Next up: Outback Bowl vs Ole Miss (4-5); Saturday, Jan. 2, 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC
1. Ohio State (6-0)
Last week: 22-10 WIN vs No. 14 Northwestern
Previous ranking: 1
Well, Ohio State, you got what you wanted. The Big Ten changed the rules to get the Buckeyes in the championship, and even though it was ugly, they got the win and the berth in the playoff they felt they deserved. The Buckeyes were probably the best team in the Big Ten, but the way it was handled is bizarre to me. Nonetheless they’ll get the doors blown off them in the playoff by Clemson and will bring in a new, talented recruiting class for next year and be the favorites in the Big Ten again in 2021.