Prior to the beginning of the season, I will be doing power rankings for each power five conference. Today we are starting with the Big Ten, mainly because I am an Ohio State fan. There was bias into this decision and if you do not like that, I would recommend you stop reading now. In the coming weeks I will dive into the other conferences and rank where each team stands prior to the season beginning. Feel free to give me any feedback you have!
1: Ohio State – The Buckeyes have won the Big Ten for the last four seasons and it is hard to imagine they will not be in position to play for the Big Ten title again. They may have lost Justin Fields but there is plenty of talent still on the roster. Wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave return after strong campaigns in 2020. Whoever wins the quarterback battle in Columbus will have plenty of weapons. The defense struggled at times last year but brings back experience in the secondary which should see an improvement in 2021. Until someone knocks off Ohio State, they will remain the top team in the Big Ten power rankings.
2: Indiana – The Hoosiers burst onto the national scene last year upsetting Penn State and giving Ohio State all they could handle. They bring back a strong core of players including quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Wide receiver Ty Fryfogle should be one of the best in the Big Ten after averaging more than 19 yards per catch in 2020. Defensive Back Tiawan Mullen returns after earning first team All-American honors last year. He should help lead another strong defense. The Hoosiers also received a few transfers including former USC running back Stephan Carr. There is a chance the Hoosiers take a step back this fall, but they also could cement themselves at the top of the power rankings.
3: Iowa – Iowa is returning seven starters on defense and five on offense from a team that went 6-2 last season. The Hawkeyes flew under the radar having a quietly successful season. Quarterback Spencer Petras had an overall good season but plenty of room for improvement. One of the biggest questions facing Iowa will be the offensive line. Both of their starting tackles will need to be replaced. The Hawkeyes open the season against Indiana then travel to play instate rival Iowa State. If they can weather the first two games of the season, they will be in prime position to rise in the national rankings.
4: Penn State – When looking at the Penn State schedule from 2020, it is a tale of two halves. The first half of the season was an atrocity including losses to Indiana, Nebraska, and Maryland. James Franklin was able to turn the season around and win the final four games against Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Illinois to end the season on a positive note. The major question with Penn State remains at the quarterback position. Can Sean Clifford be the guy he was in 2019? We know Clifford is never going to be an all world quarterback, but can he make the necessary plays to help his team win? Penn State should have good play makers on offense and one of the best secondarys on defense.
5: Wisconsin – The nation was able to get a glimpse at Graham Mertz last year who was able to get off to an incredible start. Mertz would struggle in the second half of the season but will be looking to bounce back this fall. Running back Jalen Berger averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his freshman season and will be looking to continue to Badger running back lineage this fall. The Wisconsin defense, which returns nine starters, defense allowed less than 300 yards per game last season. The defense is still lead by one of the best coordinators in college football, Jim Leonhard. Inside linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal should help the Badgers have one of the top defenses in the Big ten once again.
6: Michigan – Jim Harbaugh’s seat continues to get warmer each year. The Wovlerines enter fall camp with Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy battling to be the starting quarterback. Former Texas Tech quarterback, Alan Bowman, will also fight for the starting spot. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum should be the lead running backs as Michigan has rotated running backs over the past few years. The wide receiver room will lean on Ronnie Bell to continue to be the main target. The defense is a major question after Mike Macdonald took over as defensive coordinator. Defensive end Aiden Hutchinson will be the key name to watch on defense. He is projected to be a first round pick in 2022 NFL draft.
7: Minnesota – Tanner Morgan is entering his third season as the starting quarterback for the Golden Gophers. Morgan took a step back in 2020 completing less than 58% of his passes, down from 66% in 2019. Mohamed Ibrahim will be the focal point of the offense after he ran for over 1,000 yards in only seven games. The Minnesota defense struggled for a good portion of the season and looked to the transfer portal to help provide depth and experience. One of the key transfer is Nyles Pinckney who played over 1,000 snaps on the defensive line for Clemson. He was also a team captain and played in 55 games with the Tigers.
8: Northwestern – Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best coaches in the country but it has been hard for him to retain talent on a year to year basis. He brought in transfer quarterback Ryan Hilinski from South Carolina who is expected to start for the Wildcats. Hillinski saw highs and lows at South Carolina and will look to be more consistent this fall. He will have one of the best offensive linemen in the country protecting him. Peter Skoronski stepped in as a true freshman and proved to hold his ground against some great defensive linemen. All-American Brandon Joseph is back to lead the defensive backfield. Northwestern has room to move up this list but it relies on the quarterback position.
9: Nebraska – Scott Frost is going to need to turn Nebraska around soon or he could be packing his bags. Frost is 12-20 in his first three seasons in Lincoln with little signs of improvement. Adrian Martinez enters his fourth season as the starting quarterback. Martinez has had an up and down career with the Cornhuskers but had his highest completion percentage of his career in 2020. Nebraska will be looking to make improvements on defense after finished 50th in total defense and 69th in rush defense. The Cornhuskers will return five starting seniors who will be using their extra year of eligibility this fall. Nebraska also travels to Norman to face Oklahoma where many wonder if they will even be competitive.
10: Maryland – Maryland appears to have found their starting quarterback in Taulia Tagovailoa after starting four games for the Terrapins and going 2-2. Tagovailoa threw for 394 yards against Minnesota and 282 yards against Penn State. Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett is expected to take a step forward and make a significant contribution to the offense. Defense remains a huge question for Maryland. They allowed 430 yards and 32 points per game last year which ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten. Maryland has started to acquire at skill positions but now they need to translate the talent into wins.
11: Rutgers – Greg Schiano made a strong impression in his first year returning to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights went 3-6 and were competitive in just about every game. Rutgers returns a large portion of their offense including quarterback Noah Vedral, running back Isaih Pacheco and leading wide receiver Bo Melton but the most meaningful return might be the fact the entire offensive line is back. Rutgers struggled in numerous aspects on defense but they did see success turning the ball over and forcing sacks. Rutgers had 21 sacks and forced 19 turnovers in only nine games. Schiano’s team will need to continue that success in order to stay competitive in the Big Ten this fall.
12: Purdue – Purdue will be relying heavily on wide receiver David Bell this fall. Bell finished with 53 catches for 625 yards and eight touchdowns. The main question is who will be throwing Bell the ball. Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer both saw time at quarterback last fall but Purdue will need to make a decision moving forward. Neither were fantastic in limited time but if one is named the starter, they may get more comfortable in their role. Edge rusher George Karlaftis is expected to be one of the best pass rushers in the country next year but he might be one of the only play makers on the Purdue defense. The Boilermakers hit the transfer portal hard bringing in OC Brothers (Auburn), Joseph Anderson (South Carolina), and CJ McWilliams (Florida) on defense. The first game against Oregon State should give Purdue an even match to see where they stand for 2021.
13: Michigan State – When Mel Tucker took over at Michigan State, it was widely believed Tucker would need time to rebuild the Spartan’s program. Payton Thorne will battle Temple transfer, Anthony Russo, to decide who will be the starting quarterback. Neither will blow you away with talent but both have reasons to give the Spartan fan base hope. Jalen Nailor is one of the more underrated receivers in the entire country and is possibly one of the fastest as well. All five starters return on the offensive line which is always great for a new quarterback. The Spartans only scored 18 points per game and allowed 35 points per game. Tucker is a defensive minded coach and will need to make incredible strides in year two in order to see his team competitive on the football field.
14: Illinois – One of the most intriguing hires this past off season was Illinois hiring former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach, Bret Bielema. He takes over for a team that was 112th in scoring offense and 97th in scoring defense. Bielema will return veteran quarterback Brandon Peters who led the team in passing in 2020. The wide receiver room is a major question as there is limited experience. Daniel Barker and Luke Ford are one of the best pairs of tight ends in the Big Ten. Illinois finished 47th in forced turnovers last year which is an area they will need to have continued to success in order to stay competitive with the lower tier teams in the Big Ten. Linebacker Jake Hansen has forced 10 fumbles in his career and is back to help the Fighting Illini. Bielema will need to understand improvements in 2021 may not come in the win column.