The 2020 Big Ten football season was one filled with chaos, but it still had a familiar ending. The Ohio State Buckeyes won the conference and went to the College Football Playoff title game. Indiana had a program-defining season out of nowhere, while other traditional Big Ten powers slipped in the standings.
This year should bring about a return to normalcy. Non-conference games are back and stadiums are set to be filled this fall. Everyone also went through a mostly normal off-season program.
Here is who you should be buying and selling stock on coming out of the offseason.
Big Ten — East
Ohio State (2020 record: 7-1, 5-0 B1G): Stock slightly down
The Buckeyes lost a batch of star power to the NFL coming off of an appearance in the national championship game. That is worth a bump down on its own merits, but we know that OSU football has a blood pact with Satan himself. Lucifer and the rest of his minions will do what they can to ensure OSU stays at the top of the standings.
Indiana (2020 record: 6-2, 6-1 B1G): Stock down
Indiana just had the best season in program history, but was it a COVID-year fluke or something sustainable? Given the track record of the Hoosiers, I do foresee a comedown of sorts, but they will be in the mix to compete in the East.
Penn State (2020 record: 4-5): Stock up
Penn State was atrocious last season before winning its last four games. They were able to get things back on track late in the year and should be a better football team. Vegas agrees, as the over/under is set for nine wins this upcoming season.
Maryland (2020 record: 2-3): Stock up
The Terrapins were a weird team in an odd year. They got blitzed in Week 1 against Northwestern, then ripped off 80 points in their next two games. Three of their last five games of the season were canceled due to COVID and they lost to Rutgers in overtime. But I am buying the Taulia Tagavailoa and Rakim Jarrett stock. I can see them being a big-time pain in 2021.
Rutgers (2020 record: 3-6): Stock down
Do I think Rutgers is an improved program under Greg Schiano? Probably. But to keep their stock steady or bump it up would suggest I think they will win more than three games in conference this year. I have to see it in a year that isn’t massively chaotic to believe it.
Michigan (2020 record: 2-4): Stock up
Michigan is going to be better. People who are predicting that they could win as little as four or five games are overstating what ails them a bit much. I think that 2021 will be a return to normalcy in that they will probably win 8-9 games and drive fans nuts with their lackluster performances against the best teams on the schedule.
Michigan State (2020 record: 2-5): Stock up
MSU was another odd team in 2020. They grabbed wins over Michigan and Northwestern last year but looked terrible in every other game they played in. This was essentially year zero for Mel Tucker, but progress is being made. They have a decent amount of momentum in roster building and the vibes coming out of East Lansing. They also have the Paul Bunyan Trophy, meaning the state of Michigan currently belongs to them.
Big Ten — West
Northwestern (2020 record: 7-2, 6-1 B1G): Stock down
Northwestern loves to go through stretches where one year they will play for a Big Ten Championship and the next will look like one of the worst teams in the conference. I’m expecting a regression here after losing talents like Greg Newsome and Rashawn Slater.
Iowa (2020 record: 6-2): Stock steady
Iowa lost its first two games and then blew out almost everyone else the rest of the year. They always factor into the West division race and I would expect the 2021 season to be no different.
Wisconsin (2020 record: 4-3, 3-3 B1G): Stock up
The Badgers blew out Illinois in the opener and then had three of their next five games canceled due to COVID. Unfortunately, the Michigan game was not one of them and they demolished the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. They were pretty bad for a month after that but closed out the year with a pair of victories over Minnesota and Wake Forest. They are my early pick to win the West.
Minnesota (2020 record: 3-4): Stock up
Last year was a major disappointment for Minnesota. With that said, they are extremely senior-laden on offense and have as good a QB/RB duo in the conference in Tanner Morgan and Mohamed Ibrahim. We have never seen P.J. Fleck programs regress before, so this will be an interesting test for him.
Nebraska (2020 record: 3-5): Stock steady
At some point, “wait until next year” needs to be now for Scott Frost. I truly just do not see it here, though. They will fight it out in the middle of the pack, which could turn things nuclear for people that are running out of patience with Frost.
Purdue (2020 record: 2-4): Stock steady
I have Oct. 2 vs. Minnesota and Oct. 16 at Iowa as the stretch of games that will define Purdue. Jeff Brohm is 19-25 at Purdue and we are all still waiting for that breakout season. It still has not happened and I am not confident that we will see it this year.
Illinois (2020 record: 2-6): Stock cratering
Illinois is starting over again with a retread hire at head coach in Bret Bielema. The wins they stack up in non-conference play could be all she wrote for them this season.