1 – Ohio State: National Title Contender
2021 was a down year for Ohio State standards. After early struggles from C.J. Stroud and a defense that played soft, the Buckeyes lost at home to Oregon and closed the season with a rare loss to arch rival Michigan. Still, with only two losses, the Buckeyes defeated Utah in the Rose Bowl and set out to correct some wrongs heading into 2022.
Ryan Day brought in Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to head the defense. Knowles was a huge part of the Cowboys success in recent years, changing an offense first identity to one of a tough, physical defensive team. This addition should hopefully set things right for a Buckeye team that is going to put up points in bunches.
Speaking of offense, C.J. Stroud greatly improved down the stretch, and will come into 2022 as a Heisman favorite, but he won’t be the only offensive player in Heisman consideration. Treveyon Henderson returns as one of the best running backs in college football, and Jaxson Smith-Njigba will slot into the number one receiver role after a star making performance in the Rose Bowl.
Both Notre Dame and Michigan will have to come to Columbus, which leads into my Ohio State prediction: The Buckeyes will end up in the College Football Playoff Final. I don’t see a loss on the schedule unless Michigan can get true star-making play out of one of their quarterbacks or the Jim Knowles hire doesn’t pan out in year one.
2 – A New Test for Michigan
Where 2021 was a down year for Ohio State standards, it was a dream season for Wolverine fans. After years of playing will he, won’t he, Jim Harbaugh led Michigan to wins over arch rival Ohio State and Iowa to claim a Big Ten Championship as well as a birth in the College Football Playoff.
Now, Michigan will face a new test: consistency at the top. The Wolverines lose three key defensive starters in Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, and Dax Hill, as well as Hassan Haskins out of the backfield, and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Michigan relied heavily on the defensive unit and running game for their success last season, meaning Michigan is going to need stronger play out of the quarterback position, whether that is J.J. McCarthy or Cade McNamara (I am of the mindset that McCarthy offers a higher ceiling and should start).
Trips to both Iowa and Ohio State will pose problems for the Wolverines, and while Michigan State travels to Ann Arbor, the Spartans are never an easy outing for the Wolverines. If Michigan can get to ten wins and at least one win over either Ohio State or Michigan State in 2022, I would chalk that up as a success considering the circumstances and would prove that Harbaugh is cultivating the kind of program that fan base has wanted since Lloyd Carr’s departure more than a decade ago.
3 – Western Fist Fight
As always, the Western Division of the Big Ten looks to be a fist fight amongst a variety of schools. In my opinion, the division will come down to four teams: Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa, and *drum roll* NEBRASKA? Hear me out! (Sorry, Minnesota fans, I still love you and wish you prove me wrong).
Wisconsin is likely the favorite, though you won’t catch me buying up any Graham Mertz stock like I did last year. The Badgers offense will have to replace their three leading pass catchers from an offense that already wasn’t very good through the air, not an ideal scenario for a quarterback that is looking to take performance leap. The good news is that Wisconsin will likely be strong on defense as long as Jim Leonhard is on staff, and running back Braelon Allen was a breakout star that warrants some preseason Heisman buzz. The Badgers have some tough road tests though in games against Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, and Nebraska.
Purdue comes into 2022 missing two stars for the program last year, pass catcher David Bell and pass rusher George Karlaftis, but continued development from quarterback Aidan O’Connell and a Purdue squad that has been trending up can’t be counted out of the division this year. The Boilermakers will need to improve greatly in the running game though to have a true shot against stout defensive teams like Wisconsin and Iowa though, and the schedule is fairly favorable with Penn State, Iowa, and Nebraska all coming to West Lafayette.
Iowa, the defending champs, bring back plenty of talent across the board like linebacker Jack Campbell, cornerback Riley Moss, and tight end Sam LaPorta, but like usual, the quarterback position with incumbent starter Spencer Petras is a giant question mark. Without consistent play there, Iowa will likely suffer a trip up or two, especially outside of Kinnick.
Why Nebraska? Because they made some good (and very necessary!) moves this offseason. Scott Frost overturned nearly the entire offensive staff, bringing in Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who helped played a key role in Kenny Picketts breakout campaign and Jordan Addison winning the Biletnekoff Award. The Huskers will also finally break away from the monotonous quarterback play under Adrian Martinez, who transferred out to Kansas State, and they bring in Casey Thompson from Texas. I think Thompson brings a much higher ceiling and will help make the Husker offense much more dangerous this season. Defensively, they bring back plenty of talent, as well as adding a stud pass rusher in Ochaun Mathis from TCU. Nebraska has potential and shouldn’t be written off this season.
4 – Predictions & Notes
5 Biggest Games
Notre Dame at Ohio State (Sept 3) – Former Buckeye linebacker Marcus Freeman returns to Columbus as the head coach at Notre Dame. Can the Buckeyes make an early statement on their quest for a National Championship?
Penn State at Auburn (Sept 17) – After a huge win against the Tigers in Happy Valley last season, Penn State travels to Auburn looking for a big road win against a talented, yet disarrayed SEC squad
Penn State at Michigan (Oct 15) – This game could determine a potential Rose Bowl birth for one of these schools should Ohio State win the conference and go to the Playoff like I’ve predicted. These teams often play each other very hard.
Purdue at Wisconsin (Oct 22) – A late October matchup between two different styles of play that could determine the winner out West in the Big Ten.
Michigan at Ohio State (Nov 26) – Michigan looks to start their own streak in one of the most historic rivalries in the sport, while Ohio State has strong desires to right last seasons wrongs and return to dominance against their biggest foe.
Ohio State defeats Wisconsin
Predicted Final Standings
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Michigan State