Big Ten Preview
There are very few teams in the country who can stack up with the talent of Ohio State. From top to bottom their roster is loaded which is why I am picking them to run away with the Big Ten East. While Head Coach Ryan Day has some work to do to fix the defense, the offense will be just as good as it was in 2021. Sophomore quarterback CJ Stroud is back to lead last season’s #1 offense. Stroud, the 2021 Heisman Trophy runner-up, finished with a 72% completion percentage, 4,435 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave have moved on to the NFL but Stroud’s top target, Jaxon Smith-Njigba is back. Smith-Njigba is joined by a group of young, talented receivers who will provide plenty of weapons for Stroud. Sophomore running back TreVeyon Henderson is also back after an incredible freshman year. Henderson rushed for 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns while grabbing 27 catches for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns. There really aren’t many weaknesses on the Ohio State offense. Now, that defense, though. It wasn’t the worst, but for as much talent as Ohio State has on that roster there’s no excuse for that team to give up as many yards and points as they did. If the defense plays above average last season Ohio State would have been in the playoffs and probably the National Championship game. Ryan Day brought Jim Knowles over from Oklahoma State to be the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator. Switching to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme should help utilize the best position on defense, the linebackers. Knowles was a very good get for Ryan Day and if he can get the Buckeyes defense straightened out, we will for sure see Ohio State in the College Football Playoffs again.
I know, Michigan fans, I know, you FINALLY beat Ohio State. I get it. So why do I have Ohio State ahead of Michigan? Because a lot of key pieces who anchored that win are gone. Hassan Haskins, Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo have all moved on to the NFL. Good news, though, is star running back Blake Corum is back. I just don’t think Michigan has the talent this season to beat Ohio State again. Penn State lost All-American receiver Jahan Dotson but still has some weapons on offense. Their defense is one of the Big Ten’s best, but they’re still a cut behind Ohio State and Michigan. Michigan State’s schedule is brutal, and their pass defense was ranked last in the country, but Mel Tucker hit the Transfer Portal so it should be better…just not good enough to pose a major threat. Maryland is on the rise but they’re talent level still isn’t enough to make a run just yet, but they’re going to scare a few teams along the way for sure. Indiana had a great season in 2020 but couldn’t ride the wave of success into 2021, that will continue in 2022. Rutgers is bad and this time around Greg Schiano isn’t building the Scarlet Knights into a conference contender like he did in the old Big East.
Wisconsin has the system and players in place to win the Big Ten West. Head Coach Paul Chryst is continuing the tradition of a clock controlling rushing attack and timely pass plays. Quarterback Graham Mertz returns for his junior season and the Badgers need him to improve on last season’s performance. He finished the season with a lowly 59.5 completion percentage, 1,958 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Badgers’ leading rusher returns in sophomore Braelon Allen, who rushed for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns. The top three receivers from 2021 are gone. The leading returning receiver is junior Chimere Dike who only had 19 catches for 272 yards and 1 touchdown. The defense last season was incredible, tops in the country in a number of categories. However, most of the starters have moved on and need to be replaced. Paul Chryst hit the Transfer Portal and added some key pieces which should make an immediate impact on the defense. The leading returning tackler is junior linebacker Nick Herbig who was third on the team last season with 61 tackles. He also led the Badgers in sacks with 9. Wisconsin needs to replace a starting safety and both starting corners, but the defense should be very good again, which is why I’m picking them to win the west.
Iowa is going to be the same tough, rugged Hawkeye team they always are. They return most of a great defense from last season, but the offense was not good in 2021. I’m thinking many of the same issues will resurface for Iowa’s offense, which to me will drop them into second place in the West. Minnesota has a very good rushing attack but not enough of a complete team to get ahead of Wisconsin and Iowa. Nebraska may actually start making that move that was supposed to happen two or three years ago. Scott Frost lured Mark Whipple to Lincoln, which should open up the offense a bit. While there are still too many holes in the Huskers lineup for this season, I can see them making a good run in the next season or two. Purdue has a great passing attack but are average at running the ball and at defense, which is why they’ll be stuck in the middle of the Big Ten West. Illinois is rebuilding and Bret Bielema will probably need another season to get things going in Champaign. Northwestern was supposed to be very good last season but, unfortunately, they weren’t. I’m thinking they’ll be more of the same this season.
Look for Ohio State -v- Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and look for the Buckeyes to run the Badgers out of the building. Depending on what happens above them during the regular season this win may get The Ohio State University the top seed in the College Football Playoffs.