Big Ten football teams played their final game two weeks ago and it is a long way until the first conference game of the 2022 takes place in Ireland with Nebraska and Northwestern facing off in week zero to kick things off overseas.
The Buckeyes are one of 11 teams that won’t play in week zero as the Buckeyes will play in the traditional week one of the season and won’t start conference play until September 24th against Wisconsin.
What we see from teams now and what we will see from teams along various other steps along the way will be drastically different. Players are still deciding if they want to make early draft declarations or jump in the portal, the 2022 signing class if not even complete with NSD still a couple of weeks away and the coaching carousel is still very much in motion with teams shaping up their coaching rosters.
So, a guess at how the 2022 season may shape up would be completely premature, right?
Well, let’s take a look at it with nothing more than the memory of what the 2021 season brought up, a thin idea of who is gone and coming back and maybe a little name recognition to boot.
Big Ten West
Let’s start with the other division just to get everyone started. For those who forgot (or put it out of their mind already) the Iowa Hawkeyes won the division by a game over Minnesota, Wisconsin and Purdue as nobody really wanted to win the division.
At least the conference did not have to go to tiebreakers with Iowa holding that full-game lead over the competition.
There was more parity on this side of the division than the east with four teams finishing with six or more conference wins (to the East’s three) and while nobody really expected the West to breakthrough and dethrone the East, those expectations were met as Iowa got throttled in the B1G Championship Game.
What is the premiere non-conference game on this side of the schedule? If Nebraska ends up being better than in years past, that game with Oklahoma could be exciting with a complete staff and roster turnover in Norman (Okla.) and this game will take place in Lincoln (Neb.).
I see the divisional race being very similar to last season with several teams all right there with better than .500 records but even with a projected loss for Wisconsin at Iowa, the Badgers will finish November stronger than anyone else in the division as Iowa will fall apart after that big win with losses to Minnesota and Nebraska while nobody on that side of the division outside of the Badgers will be able to finish strong.
This year will be a second bad one for Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats after a couple of recent visits to the B1G Championship Game. The loss of former defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz is still being felt in Evanston (Ill.) as the Wildcats face the harsh reality that the transfer portal is not as easy to navigate at Northwestern as at other places.
Big Ten East
Do we really need to talk about how last season finished for the Buckeyes in 2021? Ohio State technically tied for the divisional title but the head-to-head loss against you know who cost them the berth in the B1G Champ Game and what would have likely been a pretty easy win over Iowa.
|1.||Ohio State||12-0, 9-0|
|T2.||Penn State||10-2, 7-2|
|4.||Michigan State||7-5, 5-4|
Okay, let’s just address the comment that will be made. Shocking that you are picking an undefeated season, Kevin.
I know, I know… we don’t know how much the defense is going to be fixed this season, it is not an overnight fix (even though coaches like Greg Schiano and Jeff Hafley saw immediate results, granted the cupboard was deeper for those two coaches).
But what we do know is that the Ohio State offense is going to be really, really good, even with some key losses.
And who on the schedule is really poised to overtake the Buckeyes at this point? Sure, Michigan edged the Buckeyes last season and that is not something that fans can just wish away, but the game in 2022 is in Columbus and while the Buckeyes lose a few key parts, the Wolverines lose a lot more. Plus, at the time of writing this, Jim Harbaugh is still the coach, but will that be the case in a week or a month?
The Big Ten East just really keeps to a script with the same teams usually end up being good and the others, not so much. Indiana fell off the table last season and while the Hoosiers are working the transfer portal, if you lose your place in line in this league, it is difficult to climb back up.
I am expecting Michigan even with significant roster turnover to have a strong year, much to the chagrin of Ohio State fans, but a loss at Iowa early in the season will put the Wolverines down a game in the league race, even if it is out of division.
Penn State will have 12th-year quarterback (well, maybe not 12) Sean Clifford back for another go but with the losses of Jahan Dotson, Noah Cain and several on the defense, a return trip to Auburn will prove to be difficult as the middle of the Penn State season will prove to be too much to handle.
I am most interested in seeing what Michigan State does at Washington. The Huskies have a new coach but have a ways to go, but will that long road trip work out for the Spartans who are having to hit the portal once again for some key roles? A four-week stretch later in the year with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan (with an open week in there).
The conference would take a little bit of a step back with only eight bowl eligible teams in this scenario, down from nine (and ultimately 10 as Rutgers found the golden ticket to get into a bowl game, even with a bad outcome).
Ohio State would be a shoo-in for the College Football Playoffs obviously at 12-0 on the year and with a Big Ten Championship in their grasp with a game against Wisconsin awaiting. Even a loss to the Badgers (and the East has never lost to the West in the B1GCG previously) could still put the Buckeyes into the CFP.
The next question would be could a three-loss Wisconsin team, that would lose to Ohio State get the selection over Michigan or Penn State? It would be safe to say that the B1G would get three teams into the New Years Six with Michigan likely being locked into the Rose under this scenario. It would then be for Penn State and Wisconsin to potentially land that final spot.
What would a second bad season mean at Indiana for Tom Allen? The hope would be that Indiana realizes that seasons like 2020 don’t occur all that often and if the Hoosiers ever want to find the middle of the pack in the B1G, continuity and patience are musts at a program like IU.
We will resort the rankings out after all 14 conference teams play their annual spring games or close their spring practice and see what kind of movement we have with the benefit of a little more personnel knowledge.