Big Ten football is almost here. Tonight, Ilinois and Wisconsin kick this thing off on a Friday for some God-forsaken reason. With the dawn of a new season nearly upon us, let’s go ahead and look at where the conference stands.
Coming up: Home vs. Nebraska, Noon, FOX
SP+ Ranking: 1
Were you expecting anything else? The Buckeyes are National Title Good and unless something catastrophic happens over the next couple of months they’ll almost certainly get a shot at one.
Coming up: Away vs. Indiana, 3:30 p.m., FS1
SP+ Ranking: 5
This may be James Franklin’s best team at Penn State. That may not matter.
If the Nittany Lions can find a way to beat Ohio State they’d launch themselves right into the heart of the College Football Playoff race, but that’s a big if. They’ve got some good pieces offensively with Sean Clifford back under center, Pat Freiermuth at tight end and a stable that’ll include Noah Cain and Devyn Ford even without the injured Journey Brown. Defensively they’ll be without Micah Parsons, a really, really good player, but they’ve still got Shaka Toney and Lamont Wade around to help hold things down defensively. They should, at worst, be able to make an NY6 Bowl with the group they’ve got this year.
Coming up: Home vs. Michigan, 7:30 p.m., ABC
SP+ Ranking: 16
The Gophers rowed the boat all the way to an 11-2 record and a berth in the Outback Bowl, where they took down Auburn 31-24.
They lost some key pieces from that team including Tyler Johnson and Antoine Winfield Jr., but they bring back quarterback Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman, giving them a pretty strong foundation in the passing game. Mohamed Ibrahim should take the lead in the running game and they also return a pair of solid corners in Benjamin St-Juste and Jordan Howden.
As long as the Gophers don’t regress at all coming off of their big 2019, they could be in the running for an NY6 appearance, and if they can take down Wisconsin they’ll likely be headed to the Big Ten title game.
Coming up: Home vs. Illinois, 8 p.m., BTN
SP+ Ranking: 6
Jack Coan is out indefinitely with a foot injury and I wasn’t feeling particularly rosy about him, so I’m not sure I want any part of this offense with him out. The Badgers also don’t seem to have a dominant running back on the roster to follow the footsteps of Jonathan Taylor, Corey Clement, Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball, which doesn’t help matters.
They do have some nice players; this is Wisconsin, after all. Cole Van Lanen and Jack Sanborn could be pros this time next year. They’ll probably still run the ball well because they may not have another choice. Being in the Big Ten West will certainly help as well. They open with Illinois, so they could potentially end up in a fake-it-til-you-make-it situation. Their first big game will come against Michigan in week four, then they’ll face Minnesota a couple weeks later. Iowa is their last game of the regular season so they’ve got time to figure things out.
Coming up: Away vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., ABC
SP+ Ranking: 17
Pencil in the Wolverines for whatever the Hell Season version of 8-4 or 9-3 is. Moe Jilton, Him Jarbaugh, etc.
Coming up: Home vs. Penn State, 3:30 p.m., FS1
SP+ Ranking: 32
Probably not winning nine games this season, but most of the important pieces from last season are back. Let’s pray that Nick Sheridan can replicate what Kalen DeBoer did as the OC last season and that Michael Penix Jr. stays healthy because if both of those things happen Indiana could be staring down the barrel of another solid season and maybe, perhaps, dare I say, finally breaking through against one of the Brand Name Teams (hello, Michigan at home in week three).
Coming up: Away vs. Purdue, 3:30 p.m., BTN
SP+ Ranking: 27
Likely the third-best team in the division behind Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Hawkeyes have some things to figure out: who’s going to replace Nate Stanley, for one, how will you replace the production from Tristan Wirfs, A.J. Epenesa and other losses for another.
If you get those things hammered out, this could be a solid team. Luckily, they open the season with Purdue, Northwestern and Michigan State so they should have a chance to get off to a good start and get settled in before facing any of the Big Dogs.
Coming up: Home vs. Iowa, 3:30 p.m., BTN
SP+ Ranking: 44
Purdue was about 19012381209 injuries away from being pretty decent last season. This year, the Boilers get a lot of dudes back including future first-round draft pick Rondale Moore and he, paired up with David Bell, gives Jack Plummer perhaps the best 1-2 punch at receiver in the conference. George Karlaftis should be a monster on the edge, anchoring the defense, and Derrick Barnes should be pretty good on the other end of the defensive line.
Maybe they’ll come out and surprise us all in week one against the Hawkeyes, who knows?
Coming up: Away vs. Ohio State, Noon, FOX
SP+ Ranking: 31
Coming up: Home vs. rutger, Noon, BTN
SP+ Ranking: 51
Dark Mantonio called it quits and, frankly, the program took a bit of a downturn in his last few seasons. Mel Tucker takes over but I’m not sure what he’ll be able to do this season with a defense that, though it has some playmakers, also has some depth issues and an offense helmed by a jar of whichever brand of Mayonnaise he prefers. They’ll probably be able to run the ball well enough with Elijah Collins in the backfield, but if they can’t throw the ball they’ll be staring at a lot of stacked boxes on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Coming up: Home vs. Maryland, 7:30 p.m. BTN
SP+ Ranking: 54
Mick McCall is gone! Perhaps the days of Pat Fitzgerald Death Ball are behind us with Mike Bajakian calling the plays in Evanston. Peyton Ramsey will be the guy running things so we know that, for the first time in awhile, there’s some sort of competence under center for the Wildcats. Isaiah Bowser is a pretty decent running back. The ‘Cats might be watchable this season. Scary thought.
Coming up: Away vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m., BTN
SP+ Ranking: 66
Lovie took the Illini bowling last season! Would they be able to repeat a six-win effort if this were a normal season? Probably not! We’ll always have that weird upset over Wisconsin, though.
Coming up: Away vs. Northwestern, 7:30 p.m., BTN
SP+ Ranking: 84
Maryland was bad last season. Seemed like maybe they wouldn’t be when they took down a ranked Syracuse squad in week two, but it turned out ‘Cuse was bad, too. The Terps had some injury issues and the wheels fell off in week three when they lost to Temple. They went 1-8 in Big Ten play.
Over the offseason they picked up Tua Tagovailoa’s kid brother as a transfer. which was cool, but Mike Locksley won’t publicly name a starting quarterback before the Maryland offense takes the field, so who knows if he’s even going to play.
At least they can’t get much worse in 2020. I think.