We are a few weeks away from the official kickoff of the 2020 football season in the Big Ten. With the dust clearing on the decision to play, the opt-ins and opt-outs and the return of padded practices, it is worth another look at what the chain of command appears to be in the conference.
With that in mind, here is our first edition of the MnB power rankings this year.
1. Ohio State
What is there to say that has not already been said about this program and where It stands? If I am over-complimentary of the Buckeyes, I’m called negative in this community. If I downplay their juggernaut status, people will say I am living in fantasy land. Let’s agree to just call them what they are as far and away the Big Ten’s best shot at a playoff team and a legitimate national title contender.
2. Penn State
If there is a team on paper that is the biggest threat to Ohio State in the conference, it would be the Nittany Lions. They return most of their offense from last season — sans wideout KJ Hamler, of course — and they perhaps were a year ahead of schedule in 2019 where they won 11 games. They get the Buckeyes at home in Week 2 in what will go a long way in determining their place in the pecking order this year. Not having linebacker Micah Parsons (opt-
out) will hurt, but it remains to be seen what impact that will have.
With star wide receiver Rashod Bateman back in the fold after opting out and quarterback Tanner Morgan returning after a big season, the Gophers are expected to be one of the favorites to win the Big Ten West after a breakout season under PJ Fleck last year. This is another team that will be tested right out of the gate with a home date against Michigan to start the year.
The Badgers lose a ton of production from the running back and linebacker positions on the team, but they typically reload even after losing elite talent. The Badgers are the most consistent threat in the West every season and this year’s team might come down to quarterback play. Jack Coan was the presumed starter but is now dealing with an injury, which could open the door for former four-star recruit and top-100 player Graham Mertz to take the wheel.
The 2019 season was a facelift offensively for the Wolverines with a new scheme in place and a fresh face at coordinator in Josh Gattis. While they improved there as the season went on, now the facelift comes in the form of the names on the depth chart. Michigan breaks in a new starting quarterback, a ton of young pieces at wide receiver and four new starters on the offensive line. Defensively they have some holes to fill, but they will be strong and deep in the trenches and athletic at linebacker. The ceiling of this team will depend on what it gets out of Joe Milton under center and if the defense can get off the field and stay out of its own way against the best teams on the schedule.
Indiana had one of its best teams in program history in 2019 and much of that team comes back this season, headlined by quarterback Michael Penix and wide receiver Whop Philyor. They have the pieces in place on offense to push to finish in the top half of the Big Ten East standings. However, there are regression concerns with a new offensive coordinator in place in former Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan. The biggest goal in Bloomington this year is seemingly to end the 24-game losing streak they have to the Wolverines.
Iowa is a consistent presence in the Big Ten West and has not finished with less than four wins in conference play since 2012. The Hawkeyes feel destined to go as far as quarterback Spencer Petras takes them.
Purdue was a young team last season and without its best player after Rondale Moore tore his ACL. If there’s a team in the west that can make a “surprising” jump this year, this would be the one I have circled. Jack Plummer should take a step forward in his redshirt sophomore season and with Moore healthy and opted back in, as well as David Bell as a standout at receiver, this should be a fun team to watch again.
Nebraska begged for the chance to play this season and was one of the teams at the forefront of bringing the Big Ten back and for that, a tip of the hat to them. However, much of the chatter was petulent and childish even from people in positions of power. As a result, the Big Ten gifted them an absolutely brutal schedule and start to the season with Ohio State and Penn State as its two crossover games in addition to the normal contenders in the West. They are extremely young and still probably a year away from potentially making some real noise under Scott Frost.
Maryland could be due for a bit of a jump in the second year under Mike Locksley after going 3-9 in 2019. Taulia Tagavailoa comes in as a transfer at quarterback and is competing for the starting job, while the offense should get a boost in five-star freshman wideout Rakim Jarrett. The next step for them is to consistently beat the programs in the lower rung of the conference and be more competitive against the top half.
Illinois brings back an upperclassman-heavy roster and has an experienced quarterback now in former Michigan signal-caller Brandon Peters, who performed admirably last season. Despite the experience that they bring back, they are a team that is hard to see finishing much higher than the middle of the standings in the Big Ten West.
Northwestern was putrid last season and arguably the worst team that I saw live in person in 2019 (granted, perhaps perspective is skewed because I was surrounded by Buckeyes in the stands at Ryan Field). Regardless, Pat Fitzgerald typically gets improved results out of his teams after a down season. They brought in Peyton Ramsey as a grad transfer from Indiana and if they can be somewhat competent offensively under new coordinator Mike Bajakian, it seems they could compete somewhere towards the middle of the Big Ten as opposed to its basement.
13. Michigan State
It was wise of Mark Dantonio to move on from MSU, but insanely scumbaggy to do so when he did back in February. He single-handedly torpedoed the program he built by refusing to change and keeping his friends on staff with diminishing returns in both recruiting and player development, namely on the offensive side of the ball. The cupboard is pretty bare here now, but MSU invested in Mel Tucker and a staff that should display some more recruiting chops than his predecessor did. The pandemic has severely undercut their efforts on the trail, but the Big Ten did them a solid with Rutgers right out of the gate. Surely nothing horrible could happen there, right?
Normally the bit around here is to cut things off by simply saying, “It’s Rutgers.” However, they have a head coach now in Greg Schiano who has turned them around before. It would be surprising if they had more than a single win this season, though. This might be the toughest rebuild in college football.