Preseason Power Rankings: Big Ten Conference
Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.
ICYMI My Other Conference Preseason Power Rankings:
2021 Big Ten Preseason Power Rankings
- Ohio State: Despite losing Justin Fields and not having a QB on the roster that has thrown a college pass, the Buckeyes come in at an easy #1 here. They are absolutely loaded at WR led by Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson and also have a great offensive and defensive line. There is a lot of positive buzz about Freshman QB CJ Stroud.
- Wisconsin: This is a team that looked great in their opening game against Illinois last year but then got crushed by Covid. I think Graham Mertz will emerge as a Top QB in the conference to go along with their strong offensive line and defense. I think Wisconsin the best team in the West this year.
- Penn State: I’m giving Penn State a pass for last season. Covid impacted everyone differently and it seemed like Penn State just couldn’t rally after the heartbreaking opening loss to Indiana and then Week 2 loss against Ohio State. I think the Nittany Lions will be back to normal this year. I think we will see improvements from the offense and QB Sean Clifford.
- Iowa: There is a lot to like about Iowa this year. The issue will be the QB play. I’m not high on Spencer Petras at all and they will have to overcome being below average at that position. The Hawkeyes really got rolling after the 0-2 start last season and bring lots of guys back. The schedule looks tough and Iowa-Iowa State will be an awesome non-conference game to watch.
- Michigan: Michigan is a tough team to rank. They are coming off a 2-4 season but that team was very inexperienced. This team has a lot more returning production and the offense should be making strides in year 3 of the Josh Gattis tenure (key word: should). I’m not sure who will end up at QB. Alan Bowman (Texas Tech transfer) probably has the inside track but there is a lot of buzz about true freshmen JJ McCarthy.
- Indiana: Tom Allen and everyone’s favorite Cinderella story is back this year and so is his starting QB Michael Penix and nine starters on defense. There is plenty to like about Indiana this year, but I do worry a little bit about them not being able to sneak up on teams anymore. As cliché as it sounds, it is a different game when you go from being the hunter to the hunted and their schedule is pretty brutal. That being said, they are good enough to beat just about anyone on a given day.
- Northwestern: The Wildcats lost a ton from last year’s Big Ten West and Citrus Bowl Champion team. They rank near the bottom nationally in returning production. But Pat Fitzgerald has instilled a culture of success in Evanston and has been recruiting a lot better than Wildcat teams of old. Brandon Joseph is an All-American caliber safety and tackle Peter Skornoski looks like the next Rashawn Slater. It is the first real offseason for new OC Mike Bajakian as he has to groom new QB Ryan Hillinski (South Carolina transfer).
- Minnesota: Will this be a bounce back year for PJ Fleck and the Gophers? After a very exciting 2019 they had a rough 2020. They bring back stud RB Mohammed Ibrahim (who is probably the best back in the conference) and experienced QB Tanner Morgan. Morgan looked like he regressed last season without the stud WR’s he had in 2019. He will have to play better for them to get back to the New Year’s Day bowl caliber team that we saw in 2019. The defense needs to make lot of improvements – on paper it looks like one of the weaker defenses in the conference.
- Nebraska: This is year 4 of the Scott Frost era and it would make sense if Huskers fans we’re starting to lose some confidence in him. But on paper this looks like the best team he’s had in Lincoln. QB Adrian Martinez is back and he has a lot of nice experience. Nebraska got stuck with a brutal schedule last year and ended up -15 in turnovers. If they can improve on taking care of the ball things should get better for them.
- Purdue: Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers have gone just 5-10 in his last two seasons after he produced promising early results. This year’s team has some potential as they bring a lot of starters back, including impressive WR David Bell. They need to get solid QB play from Jack Plummer and if they do, they should be able to hang around in most games. They have a very good defensive line but the LB and secondary look weak.
- Rutgers: 3-4 was an impressive 2020 for Greg Schiano considering he inherited a team that went 0-9 in the Big Ten the year before. When you consider how chaotic his first offseason was, it’s even more impressive. They bring back tons of starters and have the #1 ranked special teams unit in the Big Ten according to Phil Steele (led by KR Aron Cruickshank). They are no longer the pushover that they were in 2019.
- Michigan State: I didn’t love the Mel Tucker hire, but they were in a tough spot after Mark Dantonio left them so late in the offseason. Michigan State struggled to a 2-5 record last year and there isn’t much about their roster that gets me excited this year. With how late the Mel Tucker hire came last year this kind of feels like year one for him (with last year being year zero). They open up the season Friday night at Northwestern, so we will find out real soon if they are better than I currently think.
- Maryland: This team definitely had it’s moments last year (putting up 45 points in a 1-point thrilling win against Minnesota and beating Penn State 35-19 in Happy Valley). Taulia Tagovailoa is back at QB and he has plenty of talented WR to throw the ball to. They don’t have much on defense and I don’t love their HC Mike Locksley. I could see their offense keeping them in plenty of games, but eventually I think the defense and mistakes will do them in.
- Illinois: Brett Bielema is back in the Big Ten as he takes over for Lovie Smith in Champaign. Lovie seemed pretty disinterested in recruiting throughout his tenure at Illinois, so he’s not leaving Bielema with a whole lot of talent. Brandon Peters (who feels like has been around for 17 seasons) is back at QB for the Illini and they have officially removed the formerly highly touted recruit Isaiah Williams from QB to WR. I think Illinois will be more competitive this season under Bielema, but it will take time and the conference is too deep this year.