It won’t be long before the leaves on Big Ten campuses turn golden brown and the winds off the Great Lakes chill the Midwest region. It also won’t be long before 14 college football teams of the conference hit the turf the same weekend. While summer is technically still here, for most football fans, fall starts this weekend.
As last season was full of confusion, cancellations, and COVID-19, it’ll be nice to see some teams finally play a full season with nonconference teams and all.
*knocks on wood*
So with just days before the season starts for most teams it's FINALLY time to begin the weekly power rankings series. While it’s a little hard to judge 12 of these teams before their first game I will attempt to rank them in this edition of where they stand week one.
1. Ohio State
Last Season: 7-1; Loss to Alabama in CFP National Championship
It’s hard to not put the reigning national runner-up as the best team in the Big Ten heading into 2021. While they lose firepower in the backfield with the departure of Justin Fields and running back Trey Sermon, they keep the big guns out wide with Chris
Olave and Garrett Wilson. The two will be a nice security blanket for freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud.
Stroud’s the big question mark for the Buckeyes. While he may not be Justin Fields right away, the 42nd best player in the class of 2020 will fit in just fine. Also, watch out for a fellow Virginian of mine, TreyVeyon Henderson, to get a lot of carries for the Buckeyes. He’s a stud.
Next Up: At Minnesota
Last Season: 4-3; Win versus Wake Forest in bowl game
It was a confusing and underwhelming 2020 for the Badgers with multiple cancellations and COVID-19 issues but the favorite to win the Big Ten West returns most of its star power. Quarterback Graham Mertz was impressive when he was able to play last year but couldn’t really stay consistent and comfortable.
Week one and week three will really tell the tale of the season for the Badgers, as they start with No. 19 Penn State and then host the No. 9 Fighting Irish on the 25th of September. If they can win both of those or even split them early on, Badgers fans may be in for a fun season.
Next Up: Vs. Penn State
3. Penn State
Last Season: 4-5; No bowl appearance
Yes. Yes. Yes, the Nittany Lions did start last season 0-5, but on the flip side they finished 4-0. It was a down year for Penn State clearly, something they haven’t been used to as of late. Quarterback Sean Clifford will look to have a bounce back year and star wide receiver Jahan Dotson will be the primary target. However, I do worry about the linebacking core after the departure of Micah Parsons and Shaka Toney to the NFL, but I remain optimistic for James Franklin and the No. 19 team from State College.
Next Up: At Wisconsin
Last Season: 6-2; Bowl game canceled versus Missouri
One name will decide the fate of the Hawkeyes season: Spencer Petras. The quarterback has been inching toward a breakout year and some more consistency in his game. Tyler Goodson is a nice cushion to rely on in the backfield, and the defense is superb as usual. The No. 18 Hawkeyes could have been 8-0 easily but dropped their first two against Purdue and Northwestern.
Next Up: Vs. Indiana
Last Season: 6-2; Loss versus Ole Miss in bowl game
It was a season defined by highs and lows for Indiana, from a miracle in week one to an injury to star quarterback Michael Penix. While it was a building block in the right direction for the Hoosiers who have suffered from decades of losing before Tom Allen, players will tell you they left 2020 with a sour taste in their mouth after the Outback Bowl loss. The Hoosiers return most starters on both sides of the ball and if Penix can stay healthy they can very easily make a run in the Big Ten East.
Next Up: At Iowa
Last Season: 2-4; No bowl appearance
Another forgettable season for one of the blue bloods of college football as the Wolverines had their last three games of the season canceled and only picked up wins against Rutgers and Minnesota. The big question for Jim Harbaugh is the quarterback and run defense. Cade McNamara is the guy and will finally get a chance as he did at the end of last season. It’s time for the former NFC Champion coach to prove it on the field in 2021.
Next Up: Vs. Western Michigan
Last Season: 7-2; Win versus Auburn in bowl game
Last season was a very successful one for the Wildcats, as they appeared in the Big Ten title game and overachieved their expectations. I expect Chicago’s college team to take a step back in 2021 as they lose a lot of starters but Pat Fitzgerald knows how to coach and the schedule is very favorable in the Big Ten West.
Next Up: Vs. Michigan State
Last Season: 3-4; No bowl appearance
It was just two years ago that Minnesota was one of the most underrated teams in college football but took a major step back last season on the defensive side of the ball. Mohammed Ibrahim looks to be one of the best running backs in the country and quarterback Tanner Morgan looks to return to 2019 form. Unfortunately for the Golden Gophers, the schedule is absolutely brutal this season finishing the last three weeks with No. 18 Iowa, No. 17 Indiana and No. 12 Wisconsin back to back to back. Yikes.
Next Up: Vs. Ohio State
Last Season: 2-3; No bowl appearance
It’s a shame that Maryland only played five games last season because the team never really could get in a complete groove. I think the Terrapins are still a few years away and recruiting has gone well. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is a major bright spot on the offensive side of the ball but a tough schedule will not do the Terps any favors.
Next Up: Vs. West Virginia
Last Week: Loss to Illinois 30-22
I’m going to be honest, I had Nebraska above Maryland before this past weekend but a loss to the consensus worst team in the Big Ten is not a good way to start the season. The Scott Frost era has been interesting to say the least, but I don’t see Nebraska getting back to blue blood glory anytime soon. On the bright side of things, the front seven looked much improved but the passing game is rough.
Next Up: Vs. Fordham
Last Season: 3-6; No bowl appearance
Recruiting has gone really well for the Scarlet Knights since the hire of Greg Schiano but they are still years away from bowl contention. Especially in the Big Ten East. It seems as if there’s a whole new feel surrounding the program since the return of Schiano and the fan base echoes that.
Next Up: Vs. Temple
12. Michigan State
Last Season: 2-5; No bowl appearance
It will be a rough next few years for Spartans fans as they look to return to the jovial energy they once felt in 2015 when the team played in the College Football Playoff. Mel Tucker is starting to build depth at every position with transfers and recruiting has picked up in the class of 2022, which is now the 19th best class in the country. Another tough Big Ten schedule awaits East Lansing.
Next Up: At Northwestern
Last Season: 2-4; No bowl appearance
It was 2018 when the Boilermakers absolutely decimated a No. 2-ranked Ohio State team which spoiled the Buckeyes' playoff chances. Since then, not much has gone right for the Purdue football team and now having to compete in state recruiting with a propelling IU down south in Bloomington, it’s gonna be a while. Although the opening slate for Purdue is favorable (besides a trip up to South Bend), starting in October it gets very nasty.
Next Up: Vs. Oregon State
Last Week: Win versus Nebraska 30-22
Illinois does have the worst roster on paper in the Big Ten but hey, the Illini are 1-0 now. A good start for the Bret Bielema era in Champaign. It was a sloppy game in the win over Nebraska on Saturday but it’s just not enough for me to inch them any further in this week's power rankings. However, anything is possible. Is that the saying?
Next Up: Vs. UTSA
The Big Ten is one of the deepest conferences in the nation top to bottom. Truly, any of these teams can compete for a bowl appearance but it mathematically isn’t a possibility. A lot of people will be in very good moods for the next four months and that’s for a really good reason — Big Ten football is back! We’ll revisit after the first official opening weekend and we will likely see many changes.