June is a great opportunity to take a step back and evaluate the state of affairs throughout the Big Ten Conference. Enough time has passed to wash away any lingering sins from the preceding season. Optimism is beginning to spread for the upcoming season — for most teams, anyway.
While the skies are bright in Ann Arbor and clearing up in Champagne, Illinois, things have become clouded in a hurry at some of the staple football programs in the conference.
Some of these may surprise you, so let’s get to it.
Indiana - 2021: 2-10 (0-9), Stock Down
Indiana only returns 11 total starters in 2022 while losing three of its best players: wide receiver Ty Fryfogle, tight end Peyton Hendershot, and linebacker Micah McFadden, who I thought was the best at his position in the Big Ten last year.
While the 2020 season was only two years ago, it feels like a lifetime in Bloomington. Head coach Tom Allen is coaching for his job this season.
Maryland - 2021: 7-6 (3-6), Stock Up
The Terps ended last season with a bang, emphatically beating Virginia Tech, 54-10, in the Pinstripe Bowl. They return the second most offensive starters (eight) in the conference and most importantly, they return the talented, albeit erratic, Taulia Tagovailoa at quarterback.
Maryland has not won more than seven games in a single season since 2010. Is this the year of the turtle? The Terrapins won’t make a run at the conference title, but they could spell trouble for one of the favorites any given week.
Michigan - 2021: 12-2 (8-1), Stock Up
In my best Paul Heyman voice: “The reigning, defending, undisputed champions of the Big Ten Conference!”
While questions persist across the defensive front seven, Michigan’s stock is as high as it’s ever been entering a season.
Michigan State - 2021: 11-2 (7-2), Stock Up
Head coach Mel Tucker has quickly built a program in his image and holds a 2-0 record against the Wolverines. Last season, he guided the Spartans to their best win total since 2015.
Despite heavy losses on offense — three offensive linemen, wide receiver Jalen Nailor, running back Kenneth Walker — Tucker has addressed these needs with savvy signings via the transfer portal. Enter: running back Jalen Berger from Wisconsin.
Last season will be tough to replicate, but the Spartans will be in the hunt for the Big Ten title. The honeymoon is still ongoing for Tucker in East Lansing, but even a Teflon reputation like his would take a hit if he does not have a better showing against the Buckeyes this year.
Ohio State - 2021: 11-2 (8-1), Stock Up
Ohio State has not had more than two losses in a season since 2011.
Also, the Buckeyes have not beaten Michigan in 915 days.
Penn State - 2021: 7-6 (4-5), Stock Down
Quarterback Sean Clifford returns for what feels like his 10th season and he will again be under constant duress. An under-manned offensive line loses three starters and the Nittany Lions will once again struggle to move the football.
Head coach James Franklin’s seat isn’t hot, but it’s warming up — he is 11-11 in his last 22 games. Fans don’t care about the three 11-win seasons between 2016-19, what have you done for them lately?
Rutgers - 2021: 5-8 (2-7), Stock Down
Rutgers returns one starter on defense and loses its best two playmakers on offense. Despite these experience deficits, the Scarlet Knights will be a tough and well-coached team under head coach Greg Schiano, but they will struggle for four wins.
Illinois - 2021: 5-7 (4-5), Stock Up
In head coach Brett Bielema’s first year back in the Big Ten, the Fighting Illini finished the year ahead of schedule. While 5-7 isn’t setting the world on fire, key wins over frisky Nebraska, a 9OT thriller AT Penn State and a road win over Minnesota help bring positive momentum into year two.
Iowa - 2021: 10-4 (7-2), Stock Up/Down
No team in the conference returns more starters than Iowa (17), who is coming off its first Big Ten West title since 2015. However, much like 2015, last season felt like the same old tune for Hawkeyes.
Iowa again reached the top three in the AP Poll (No. 2 last year) only to lose the final two games of the season. While the Hawkeyes have everything on their side for a strong campaign in 2022, do not be surprised if the song remains the same down the stretch.
Minnesota - 2021: 9-4 (6-3), Stock Down
Minnesota and the Fightin’ Flecks return one starter on the line of scrimmage. Hard to row a boat with that much inexperience in the trenches.
Nebraska - 2021: 3-9 (1-8), Stock Down
Completely serious — last season, Nebraska was the best three-win team in the history of college football. The Cornhuskers lost nine games by single-digits and were in contention to win at some point in every contest. Unfortunately, they may have missed “their” year.
Offensively, Nebraska returns just four starters and is set to break in a new quarterback in Casey Thompson from Texas. Defensively, there are no returners on the defensive line and only one in the secondary.
Maybe the only thing worse than a hot seat is one filled with Frost.
Northwestern - 2021: 3-9 (1-8), Stock Up
Simply put, I believe in Pat Fitzgerald to bounce back like he always does.
Purdue - 2021: 9-4 (6-3), Stock Up
Despite losing All-Americans on both sides of the ball — defensive end George Karlaftis, wide receiver David Bell — the Boilermakers will be Big Ten West contenders.
Six starters return on their high-powered offense and nine (tied for most in the conference) return on defense. Last year, head coach Jeff Brohm guided Purdue to its best single season since 2003. In 2022, I think he takes it a step further and procures the second 10-win season in program history and their first since 1979.
Wisconsin - 2021: 9-4 (6-3), Stock Down
Wisconsin returns the fewest starters of any team in the Big Ten (eight) and still has Graham Mertz playing quarterback. Double yikes.