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2021 Big 10 Football Preview

Predicted Order of Finish

East Division

1. Indiana- the Hoosiers return 18 starters after a banner year in 2020 posting a 6-2 record and finishing 2nd behind Ohio St in the East, HC Tom Allen received a substantial raise in the offseason as the program continues its upward trajectory under his leadership, sophomore QB Michael Penix Jr. returns but his right knee remains in question after a second ACL injury suffered during last season, the receivers have talent and experience led by third team All-American Ty Fryfogle, the O-Line returns four starters and added Michigan transfer Zach Carpenter, the defense which finished 19th nationally in scoring will be a strength once again with 9 starters returning, Ohio State comes to Bloomington this time around

2. Penn State- 2020 was a tale of two seasons for the Nittany Lions who started 0-5 with unexpected lopsided losses at home to Maryland and Iowa, the team rebounded by winning four straight to close the season, QB Sean Clifford returns but will work under new coordinator Mike Yurich, WR Jahan Dotson leads the receiving corps after catching a league tying 8 touchdowns a year ago, the defense finished 17th in total yards allowed per game but gave up a school record 27.7 points per game and needs to replace 2 starting ends

3. Ohio St- HC Ryan Day enters his 4th and what could be his most challenging season yet, with QB Justin Fields gone the offense must turn to inexperienced redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud, Stroud will benefit from having 2 All-Big Ten receivers as targets and a quality O-Line to protect him, RB Trey Sermon is also gone but veteran Master Teague returns to carry the load in the run game, the defense was abysmal at stopping the pass in 2020 giving up 304 yards thru the air which ranked 122 nationally, lack of experience at linebacker is also a point of concern, must travel to Indiana and Michigan putting a 5th consecutive conference title in doubt

4. Michigan- after a nightmare 2-4 Covid-shortened season the Wolverines head into 2021 with renewed optimism, HC Jim Harbaugh signed a contract extension and spent the offseason reshuffling his staff hoping to address some of its deficiencies, junior QB Cade McNamara who took over the starting job in 2020 returns with another year of experience under coordinator Josh Gettis’s offense, there is both talent and experience at wide receiver and the O-Line returns four starters, Mike Macdonald takes over as D coordinator after the defense dipped all the way to 95th in scoring under Don Brown, will rely on future potential first round pick Christopher Hinton at nose tackle along with the leader in the secondary junior safety Daxton Hill, Harbaugh’s teams have failed to meet expectations since his arrival in Ann Arbor but with Indiana and Ohio State both at home this could be the year the script gets flipped

5. Rutgers- Greg Schiano enters his 2nd season in his return to Piscataway, the team showed tremendous progress in 2020 totaling 3 conference wins and putting a more competitive product on the field, senior QB Noah Vedral returns along with 9 other starters on offense from a year ago after increasing its points per game from 13.3 in 2019 to 26.7 in 2020, the numbers weren’t overly impressive but the defense took steps forward under the defensive minded Greg Schiano decreasing it points allowed from 36.7 to 32.1, the Scarlet Knights could enter conference play 3-0 putting a chance at a bowl in play

6. Maryland- HC Mike Locksley has proven he can bring in talent, the question is has he figured out how put wins on the board, Locksley is a woeful 8-43 as a head coach at New Mexico and Maryland, strong armed dual threat QB Taulia Tagovailoa returns after passing for 253 yards per game and rushing for 32.5, he will have a strong returning receiving corps, but must get better protection from an O-Line that was the achilles heel in 2020, stopping the run must be a point of emphasis for new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart after the unit finished 115th in rushing yards allowed a year ago

7. Michigan State- under first year HC Mel Tucker the Spartans beat rival Michigan in Ann Arbor and spoiled Northwestern’s undefeated season, the other 5 games however didn’t go as scripted, the offense which ranked 116th in scoring hopes to get a shot in the arm from Temple transfer Anthony Russo who started 26 games for the Owls in 2 plus seasons, the defense returns 7 starters including a strong D-Line but lost a number of players to the transfer portal

West Division

1. Iowa- Kirk Ferentz enters his 23 season as HC, after a tough 0-2 start the Hawkeyes showed resilience reeling of 6 in row to close the year, 14 starters return for a team with its sights set on a West Division title, junior QB Spencer Petras returns after showing much improvement limiting his mistakes as the season went on, RB Spencer Goodson anchors a strong backfield, the O-line however will have three new faces, the defense was among the nation’s best statistically in 2020 but must replace key contributors along the defensive line

2. Wisconsin- the Badgers had a near perfect start thru 2 games in 2020, things went south quickly as freshman QB Graham Mertz starting looking like a freshman and the offense stalled out, Mertz returns for his second season after tossing 9 touchdowns a year ago, the O-Line returns 4 starters along with All- Big Ten tight end Jake Ferguson, sophomore RB Jalen Berger returns but there isn’t much depth at the position, caught a break with both Iowa and Northwestern at home

3. Minnesota- last year’s 3-4 pandemic shortened season was a dud for HC PJ Fleck and the Gophers after reaching 11 wins in 2019 the programs most since 1904, senior QB Tanner Morgan who returns this year struggled to transition into new coordinator Mike Sanford ‘s system, expect much better production in year two as 9 other starters return on offense including workhorse RB Mohamed Ibrahim and a veteran O-Line, the defense not surprisingly also took a step back after losing 7 starters however showed much improvement the second half of the year, huge September 2 showdown at home against Ohio St could set the tone for the year

4. Purdue- Failing to reach the postseason in back to back seasons has the fan base in West Lafayette getting a little restless, the offense under HC Jeff Brohm who also serves as coordinator has lacked juice finishing 84th in scoring in 2019 and 73 last year, junior QB Jack Plummer who started 3 games in 2020 returns along with talented receivers David Bell and Milton Wright, the line remains a question, the defense with be under a new coordinator for the third straight year, Brad Lambert will rely on second All-Big Ten defensive end George Karlaftis up front, the secondary brings in host of SEC transfers to help bulk up the unit

5. Nebraska- Scott Frost enters his 4th season as HC after tallying an underwhelming 12-20 mark in his first three, the heat is on the former star Husker QB to get the program back to national relevancy, senior QB Adrian Martinez who was benched during parts of 2020 returns along with a solid group of receivers, the backfield is unproven, the defense returns 8 starters from 2020 and has talent of depth at just about every position, the schedule includes visits to Oklahoma and Wisconsin

6. Northwestern- HC Pat Fitzgerald remains one of college footballs most underappreciated coaches leading the Wildcat to 2 West titles in 3 seasons, the bad news is the offense must break in a new QB and entire receiving corps, strong armed Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson is set take over the starting role, on defense longtime coordinator Mike Hankwitz retired at the end of last year and will be replace by Jim O’Neil, gone from last years unit are LB Paddy Fisher and CB Greg Newsome

7. Illinois- HC Bret Bielema takes over for Lovie Smith who was unable to sustain any kind of success in 5 seasons with Illini, Bielema will look to install his power run game that helped lead Wisconsin to 3 straight conference titles from 2010-2012, with a deep backfield led by sophomore Chase Brown and a solid O-Line the offense should be well equipped under the new staff, senior QB Brandon Peters returns under center, defense never found its footing under Smith which despite being his strong suit, veteran LB Jake Hansen and CB Tony Adams will lead the way

Buy- Michigan, Purdue

Sell- Ohio State

Best Bet- Ohio State UNDER total wins

Coach of the Year- Kirk Ferentz Iowa

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