Operating under the (potentially false) assumption that college football is played this fall, we decided it was time to take a quick look at each Big Ten Conference program and take a look at the program’s trajectory over the next couple of seasons. This is a bit of a sliding scale, as expectations for fans of the Michigan Wolverines is different than what people are expecting of Illinois, for example.
There are three simple designations herein that the stock is up, down or steady for the 12 football teams in the Big Ten. The criteria are based on several variables, such as the seasons that each school is coming off of, the ingredients in place to win moving forward, and the ceiling of each program.
Without further ado, here we go.
Indiana: Stock up
The Hoosiers specialize in unpredictability and what they can bring to the table on a given Saturday. Now they have depth on both sides of the ball, a starting quarterback as talented as almost any in the conference (if healthy). In a potentially chaotic season with no non-conference games, likely no fans in attendance, and the potential of some top-end talent in the conference opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft, perhaps the Big Ten’s chaos machine can make some real noise.
Maryland: Stock up
Maryland has started to recruit at a higher level and Mike Locksley has done a nice job of keeping DMV-area kids home. The Terps were last in time of possession in the Big Ten last season and steps forward offensively are going to have to take place, but a five-star wide receiver in Rakim Jarrett and the potential of Taulia Tagavailoa at quarterback in the not-so-distant might make this a program to watch as being the East’s next thorn in everyone’s side at the top of the standings.
Michigan: Stock up
Some fans may call me nuts, but I’m still buying into the second wind of the Jim Harbaugh era. I’ll explain briefly for now and in more detail at a later date.
They will have a new quarterback under center, new skill players all over the field, and replace four NFL Draft picks on the offensive line. However, The early returns on the modernization of the offense have been positive and they are recruiting the right pieces to run it. They also have as talented and as deep a quarterback room as they have had under Harbaugh and it only gets better with J.J. McCarthy coming in 2021. The long-term future of the defense is rightfully in question after being blitzed by OSU two years in a row, but one cannot deny the talent they have developed on that side of the ball even with lower-rated recruits.
Michigan State: Stock down
The best coach in program history left abruptly, many of their top contributors are gone and their recruiting has been poor, namely on the offensive side of the ball, for several years in a row. New head coach Mel Tucker is a good recruiter, but the pandemic has severely hampered his staff’s ability to make a splash on the trail as a first-year regime. This is going to take a while for the Spartans to turn around.
Ohio State: Stock steady
People have been waiting for the other shoe to drop and water to find its level, but OSU appears to be showing no signs of slowing down under Ryan Day and their recruiting has somehow gotten even better. They recruit as well as anyone in the country and the gap between them and the rest of the conference continues to grow.
Penn State: Stock up
Nearly everyone from last season’s team returns after winning 11 games in 2019. People question James Franklin in critical moments — and rightfully so — but he continues to recruit well and Penn State has been in the thick of the Big Ten hunt. They are the conference’s best shot at toppling Ohio State this year.
Rutgers: It’s Rutgers
Greg Schiano is back, but the only thing that improves for Rutgers is the likelihood that they will be one of those teams that “plays through the whistle” aka “play a physical brand of football” aka “they dirty.” In a loaded Big Ten East, there is no path for them to emerge as anything more than a guaranteed win for everyone on the schedule.
Illinois: Stock up
Lovie Smith has had his work cut out for him in turning the Illini around, but they were able to make a bowl game last season and return most of the offense, led by former Michigan signal-caller Brandon Peters. For a few years there, Illinois looked every bit as terrible as Rutgers on the field. It seems like Smith and his staff have developed talent and have positively worked the transfer portal. It remains to be seen if they were a one-year wonder or not, but it does feel like they are moving in the right direction as a program.
Iowa: Stock down
You know what Iowa is as a product on the field. They are always physical and competitive and generally speaking one of the better programs in the B1G West. I originally had a potentially witty and more thought-out analysis here for “Diet Wisconsin.” However, after the release of a detailed report from inside the program (h/t Hawkeye Nation), it’s more important to direct your attention to those findings to know where things currently stand with Kirk Ferentz and his program.
Minnesota: Stock up
P.J. Fleck and the Gophers will not be sneaking up on the rest of the Big Ten anymore. Minnesota’s splash hire from a few offseasons ago paid off in year three to the tune of an 11-2 record a bowl win over Auburn. Another season like that may have Fleck in line for an upgraded job elsewhere, but as long as he is in the Twin Cities, the Gophers are going to be a contender in the West division moving forward. They have a new offensive coordinator and a lot to replace on defense, but we will see how strong of a program Fleck has built by how they fill those roles.
Nebraska: Stock down
There might not be a team whose stock is more affected by the lack of non-conference games. Six wins was probably the magic number for third-year head coach Scott Frost as he continues to try to turn around his alma mater. They are still projected to play games at Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin and also have tilts at home against Penn State and Minnesota. Anyone predicting a breakthrough season for the Cornhuskers either needs to re-evaluate their expectations or has a copy of Biff Tannen’s sports almanac.
Northwestern: Stock up
Everything that could go wrong went wrong for Northwestern last season, especially offensively. They have new blood there in offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and a grad transfer at quarterback in Peyton Ramsey, formerly of Indiana. Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach and usually follows up on seasons with positive ones. The 2019 season looks more like a one-year blip than a program in decline, so we give the Wildcats the benefit of the doubt here.
Purdue: Stock up
Purdue is still young and coming off of a season where it lost Rondale Moore early to injury. That alone is enough to suggest that the Boilermakers are another team in the West who’s future outlook has a variety of scenarios in play. Several are still waiting for the Jeff Brohm season that shows him worthy of being considered for a job somewhere with a bit more cache nationwide. This might not be the year for that, but there are still plenty of positive things going on with Purdue football.
Wisconsin: Stock steady
Wisconsin might be the most consistent program in the conference not named Ohio State. You can rely on them being a candidate to win 9-10 games a year and standing tall as one of the favorites in the West every season. The development of redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz and how much he plays this year might play into the stock of the next few seasons overall, but you can pretty much count on them to be nasty on the offensive line and have a great running game. This is a program hungry for more than just being the runner-up in the Big Ten, but their standing feels about the same heading into this year.