Big Ten Preseason Predictions

Written By: Kellen Sharpe

This has been a wild year for college football and with the return of the Big Ten just around the corner, it seems as though this season will only get wilder. With a lot of talent coming out of the Big Ten conference, no team can overestimate another. I’m going to tell you what teams I think will boom or bust and what players will surprise you as well as who will disappoint you.

#14 Rutgers 

There is not much to stay about Rutgers that hasn’t already been said. Last year, Rutgers only had 2 wins, which came against Umass and Liberty. Those two teams are widely known as a couple of the worst teams in the country. Considering those 2 wins were against non-conference teams, it’s safe to say that they will not get a win in the 2020 season. If I had to pick a highlight for the 2020 season, it would be from Isaih Pacheco. Pacheco is a Junior RB who had 729 yards last season on 169 carries while adding on 7 touchdowns.There is not much to stay about Rutgers that hasn’t already been said. Last year, Rutgers only had 2 wins, which came against Umass and Liberty. Those two teams are widely known as a couple of the worst teams in the country. Considering those 2 wins were against non-conference teams, it’s safe to say that they will not get a win in the 2020 season. If I had to pick a highlight for the 2020 season, it would be from Isaih Pacheco. Pacheco is a Junior RB who had 729 yards last season on 169 carries while adding on 7 touchdowns.

#13 Maryland

The Maryland Terrapins may have one of my favorite jerseys but I won’t be watching those uniforms this year. Coming off a three win season with one conference win over Rutgers, the Terrapins can really only go up this year. Josh Jackson, who was the starting quarterback for the majority of last season, threw for 1,274 yards on 98 completions. In addition to that, he collected a total of 12 touchdowns. Jackson wasn’t the only one making plays on the offensive end for Maryland in 2019. The Terrapins had 2 rushers last season who each ran for 600+ rushing yards. The only thing that held Maryland from having more wins in 2019 was their terrible defense. Although Maryland’s defense held them back last season, it seems as though their offense may do the same this season. Six of Maryland’s top players, including QB Josh Jackson, OL Johnny Jordan, and OG Austin Fontaine have opted out of the season. Those losses are devastating to the powerful offense of Maryland. The best player to look out for this season would be safety, Antoine Brooks Jr., who had an above average season last year with 85 tackles. All in all, there is not much good coming out of Maryland this season.

#12 Illinois

To start things off, we can all agree that Illinois probably won’t break .500 this season or even win two games. The safe bet would be to say Illinois will win 1 game this season. Considering that they will only play 3 of the 6 teams they beat last season, I think their odds of getting those 3 wins back this season are unlikely. That being said, there is still talent on the Illinois roster. If I were a scout with a late round draft pick, I would have my eyes one senior QB Brandon Peters. In 2019, he threw for nearly 2,000 yards and ran for 200 yards, racking up a total of 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. In the 2020 season I would not be surprised if Peters has an outstanding season for Illinois.

#11 Northwestern

Northwestern had a disastrous 2019 campaign, finishing with a 3-9 record with their only wins coming against UNLV, UMass, and Illinois. Terrible QB play and lackluster passing defense incorporated into a 2 conference win season. There is one bright spot from the 2019 season and that was freshman RB, Drake Anderson. On 154 carries, Drake had 634 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. That doesn’t sound great at first, but for a freshman who had to split many carries in a backfield that was very misused by Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, I would take it. Speaking of Coach Fitzgerald, he had a very steep jump off from the 2018 season to the 2019 season and I expect that fall to continue. I see Northwestern, finishing the 2020 season 2-6 with those victories coming over Maryland and Illinois. One player to look out for this season is Derek Anderson. If coach Fitzgerald focuses on giving Anderson the ball, it is likely you could see 800 – 1,000 yards rushing this season. Despite the powerful running game, I think that continuous bad QB play and constant rotation at the QB position will prevent a good offensive flow and halt much scoring.

#10 Michigan State

Michigan State is possibly the hardest team that I had to rank. After a disappointing 6-6 regular season and only a 6pt bowl victory over an average Wake Forest team, coach Mark D’Antonio abruptly retired, putting Michigan State into a rebuilding phase. Losing Star QB Brian Lewerke and hiring Mel Tucker as coach D’Antonio’s replacement are going to be 2 obstacles that will be hard to get over in East Lansing this year. I project 3 wins on the year for Michigan State but like I said, it’s hard to place Michigan State because they have talent on both sides of the ball. Big Ten fans should still be cautious of the Spartans this year because of their sophomore RB Elijah Collins, who as a freshman almost broke 1,000 rushing yards and ran for 5 rushing touchdowns. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a monster year from Collins. 

#9 Indiana

It was difficult to put Indiana behind the Iowa Hawkeyes because I really believe that Indiana is a very talented team, but the loss of Marcelino Ball and the difficult schedule that Indiana faces puts them in the #9 spot. With the transfer of Peyton Ramsey to Northwestern, it will be interesting to see how Michael Penix Jr. adapts to the offense and how the offense adapts to him. With a tough first game against Penn State and two road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin, it will be hard for Indiana to find its groove. Although Indiana will have a tough start to the season, wins over Rutgers, Maryland or Michigan State could allow for them to show who they can actually be.  The Hoosiers will really show the talent gap between the last 5 and the first 9 in the Big Ten this year.

#8 Iowa

The Iowa Hawkeyes are another tough team to judge. I personally believe that Iowa is a team that could be upset multiple times and could resemble the 2007 Michigan team. I see a lackluster year from Iowa because the Hawkeyes lost OLB Djimon Colbert and Redshirt Freshman Taahjir McCall for this season. I do believe that wins against Northwestern, Michigan State and Minnesota can propel them to the #8 spot but losses to Purdue, Nebraska and Illinois hold them back from going any further. A new QB in Spencer Petras will cause an early slip up against Purdue, but WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette should have a good season and give Petras or whomever QB1 ends up being, an easy target. Overall, I anticipate an average season for the Hawkeyes.

#7 Nebraska 

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are entering their third season with Head Coach Scott Frost. Visible improvement has been seen from Nebraska since the hiring and it would only be reasonable to believe in another progressive season this year. I hate to burst the bubble of Cornhusker fans but this year will not be an easy one. Starting the year at Ohio State, then at home versus Wisconsin is not a fun way to begin the 2020 campaign. I do see a win for Nebraska in week 3 over Northwestern which will bring some life back into the Cornhuskers but a loss in week 4 vs Penn State will halt the momentum for Nebraska. The road gets much smoother as the year goes on when they face Illinois and Iowa although a tough game lies in week 8. The Cornhusker will face currently 24th ranked Minnesota. This game will be held in the final week of the season, which is where I see a pivotal win for Nebraska, propelling them to .500 on the season. I think Nebraksa has tremendous talent and some good coaching, but a very tough schedule prevents them from doing anything major this year. One player to look out for this year will be Junior, dual threat QB, Adrian Martinez. Martinez threw for almost 2,000 yards and had 600 yards rushing with a total of 17 touchdowns in 2019. Martinez must gain some discipline while in the pocket or else this could be a very disappointing season for Nebraska.

#6 Wisconsin

By the end of the 2019 campaign, the Wisconsin Badgers looked to have a promising 2020 season. Despite many expectations for a great season, the departure of Johnathon Taylor via the draft and QB Jack Coan due to injury makes it hard to determine the future for the Badgers. With a somewhat easy Big Ten West schedule ahead of them and a still talented defense, the Badgers should look to go 5-3 this season. I could see them squeaking out another win but major losses at key positions will prevent them from having the same explosiveness that propelled them to the Big Ten Championship last season. During the 2020 season, look out for TE Jake Ferguson. Ferguson had an average season last year but a thin wide receiver core this year will allow Ferguson to blossom into a star. In conclusion, look for the 6’5 man out of Madison to have a good year.

#5 Purdue 

Purdue has one of, if not the most explosive offense in the Big Ten. Speedy WRs Rondale Moore and David Bell should look to have monster seasons. An above average defense looks to give Purdue a fighting chance in every one of their games. They do have one thing holding them back and that is the QB play of Jack Plummer. He turns the ball over way too frequently and he alone could be the cause of a disappointing Purdue season. Even with bad QB play, a very weak schedule should give the Boilermakers an easy route to a 6-2 season putting them in the #2 spot of the Big Ten West. I could see a 7th win against Minnesota but I would play it safe and bet on a 6 win regular season and a bowl victory for Purdue.

#4 Minnesota

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are a strange team. In 2019, they rallied behind Coach P.J. Fleck, who pushed his team behind the “Row the Boat” slogan. A surprising 11-2 season put Minnesota on the map of Big Ten contenders. I believe this year they will make the Big Ten championship and have a real shot at being Big Ten champions for the first time since 1967. A consistent defense and a consistent QB in Tanner Morgan will make for one of the most consistent teams in the NCAA. I see a 6-2 season for Minnesota, tying Purdue in record but the win over Purdue during the regular season will give The Golden Gophers the tiebreaker. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are a strange team. In 2019, they rallied behind Coach P.J. Fleck who pushed his team behind the “Row the Boat” slogan. A surprising 11-2 season put Minnesota on the map of Big Ten contenders. I believe this year they will make the Big Ten championship and have a real shot at being Big Ten champions for the first time since 1967. A consistent defense and a consistent QB in Tanner Morgan will make for one of the most consistent teams in the NCAA. I see a 6-2 season for Minnesota tying Purdue in record but the win over Purdue during the regular season will give The Golden Gophers the tie-breaker. 

#3 Michigan

I’m not usually high on Michigan, or at least this high ever since Jim Harbuagh came into the head coaching spot. The Harbaugh era has been a great disappointment. He hasn’t brought in the recruits everyone thought and hasn’t been able to beat Ohio State. With a small step up in 2019 going 8-4 and losing to Tennessee in the Tax-Slayer Bowl, I would expect the same good play for Harbaugh’s Wolverines. Michigan will go 6-2 with wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin but will have close losses to Ohio State and Penn State. It will be cool to see who Michigan goes with at QB this year because of the departures of Shea Patterson and Dylan McCafferey, but a good defense and a solid running back could make up for most mistakes made by a young QB.

#2 Penn State

Oh the Penn State Nittany Lions, my favorite team. Penn State is coming off a successful and promising 2019 season, finishing 11-2 with a Cotton Bowl Classic victory over Memphis. Penn State looks to quiet last year’s haters and dominate the 2020 season. I project an 8-0 regular season record with a Big Ten Championship over Minnesota while adding on their first College Football Playoff berth. The 2020 Nittany Lion squad really reminds me of the 2017 squad that brought the Rose Bowl Trophy to Happy Valley. I think the 2020 Penn State has a better defense and a more balanced offensive attack than the 2017 team. The loss of Micah Parsons does pull away some confidence in this year’s defense, but the Nittany Lions still have a lot of talent on the defensive end to keep them in a game against talent like Ohio State. As a Penn State fan, I know exactly who to look out for. You’ve got to notice the talent and Saquon Barkleyness that RB, Journey Brown has. Brown is a physical and speedy RB who showed tremendous skill in last year’s Cotton Bowl. You should also be aware the Penn State has the best TE in the country in Pat Freiermuth. You can say I’m biased but I assure you Penn State will come out ready to go and surprise you all.

#1 Ohio State

You may be wondering why I have Ohio State at #1 if I think Penn State will be the team coming out of the Big Ten. Well, I believe that Ohio State is the all around most talented team in the Big Ten. I think Penn State is a perfect match for Ohio State but I do believe that Ohio State has the upper hand. While having a very successful campaign in 2019 under first year Head Coach, Ryan Day, it would be easy to say that they would dominate the Big Ten. Despite that, I believe that the losses of J.K Dobbins and their leading defensive lineman Chase Young, will make the Buckeyes a more one dimensional team this year. Justin Fields should still have a magnificent season but one man is not enough to win the tough Big Ten Conference.

** If you have disagreements or just have an opinion leave a comment and don’t forget to subscribe to get a mix of high quality sports content. This is Kellen Sharpe and thank you for reading.

For more of Kellen’s content find his Instagram with the link below! https://www.instagram.com/ksharpie4/

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