Big 10 Football Preview
Take an early look at how Big 10 football stacks up leading up to the 2022 season. Reviewing stats, recruiting ranks, win totals, and more!
Big Ten Contenders
The cream of the crop from the Big 10. This year, Ohio State returns one of the top offenses in the country featuring starting QB and Heisman hopeful CJ Stroud. Last season, Stroud led the powerful offensive attack to the tune of 10 wins and 45.7 points per game.
However, the team did see two WRs drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Will that put a dent in their production? Doubtful. Because their roster features Jaxon Smith-Njigba, one of the best WRs in the country, that train should keep on chugging. In addition to JSN, the WR room is stacked with Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, and Emeka Egbuka.
While the defense will have to do their part, the stacked roster and offensive horsepower has the Buckeyes dreaming about CFP titles. They seem to be on course to meet up with Alabama for the final game of the season.
Well folks, the mad man did it. Harbaugh was just crazy enough to get big blue that Big 10 title in 2021. Last year’s squad did it on the back of a dominant defense led by Aidan Hutchinson, Dax Hill, and David Ojabo. All three of whom departed for the NFL a few months ago. Additionally, they have new play callers on both sides of the football.
While the Wolverines are replacing those players with high end talent, it is still to be determined whether the new guys can live up to the predecessors. Especially along the edge, where Hutchinson and Ojabo made for an explosive pass rush combo.
On the offensive side of the football, enter JJ McCarthy. While the incumbent Cade McNamara is a consistent presence on the field, his production has left us wanting more during his tenure at Ann Arbor. McCarthy might be able to put the exclamation point into this offense. The explosive, playmaking QB would offer explosive dual threat capabilities that is difficult to keep on the bench.
Coming off an underwhelming 7-win campaign in 2021, Penn State is looking to right the ship in 2022. The program boasts one of its best recruiting classes in the past few years, ranking 6 th in the country according to 24/7. The class is headlined by QB Drew Allar (5-star), RB Nick Singleton (5-star), and DL Dani Dennis-Sutton (5-star). However, at QB the Nittany Lions will again turn to Sean Clifford.
The fourth-year starter knows the job and how to do it. But he continues to battle with his footwork and pocket presence. While Clifford generally plays it safe, I cannot help but wonder whether the offenses upside has been limited. The WR room is one of the best in the country, featuring Parker Washington and WKU transfer Mitchell Tinsley.
On defense, the unit lost multiple key defenders to the NFL. Most notably, EDGE rusher Arnold Ebikete and safety Jaquan Brisker. While they surely have the recruiting pedigree to replicate the success of the departed players, just how quickly can it be done? The Penn State defense was a dominant unit in 2021 and could be due for a small step back.
Wisconsin did not quite live up to expectations in 2021, posting an 8-win season and narrowly missing out on the Big 10 title game. This is a team that has won 10+ regular season games in half of their seasons with Paul Chryst at head coach (excluding 2020 / COVID year). Per usual, Wisconsin lost a handful of players to the NFL. Most notably is the loss of “Death Row” linebackers Leo Chanel and Jack Sanborn.
Graham Mertz returns to play QB for the Badgers. The most hyped QB at Wisconsin since Russell Wilson has not quite lived up to expectations to this point. Entering his third year starting, it is fair to questions whether Mertz will ever reach his potential. The Badgers will continue to lean on a ground and pound offensive attack that limits Mertz’ ability to make mistakes. Although, if he shows improved accuracy and decision making maybe the offense will open the door for him a little bit more.
With high end talent at the EDGE, CB, S, and DL positions, this defensive front should continue to be a problem for opposing offenses. Despite the loss of a lot of talent at LB, the unit should be able to weather the storm and replicate much of its success from prior years.
Big 10 Football Cover Machines!
Death. Taxes. And Kirk Ferentz’ zone blocking scheme. The three absolutes of life. Per usual, this squad is going to trot out a low scoring offense, a high-powered defense, and a consistent run game. Despite coming off a 10-win campaign that ended in a Big 10 Title game loss, Vegas has set the win total for the Hawkeyes at 7.5. In 2022, they will face a brutal schedule, which is ranked the 13 th most difficult in the country. This year we should see multiple QBs as Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla battle it out for snaps. With TE Sam LaPorta and WR Arland Bruce (son of Isaac Bruce), you would think that the more explosive Padilla could put some points up for the Hawkeyes.
Gone is Kenneth Walker III, which means that QB Payton Thorne may need to shoulder more of the offense in 2022. Can RB Jalen Berger fill the large shoes of Walker? While the WR room returns deep ball specialist Jayden Reed, the offense will surely feel the impact of losing four starters to the NFL. The defense should be like last season, which was strong against the run but suspect in coverage.
Tanner Morgan returns to Minnesota for his sixth year of eligibility. In 2019, Morgan produced 30 touchdowns versus 9 INTs across 13 games. Outside of 2019, Morgan has played 29 games totaling 26 touchdowns versus 20 INTs. Was 2019 an anomaly? Was 2021 the result of good play with some bad
luck? Some consider Morgan’s 2021 to have been a bounce back season, but I want to see more. Returning to Minnesota for the 2022 season is Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator. Ciarrocca was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator for that 2019 season when Morgan broke onto the scene.
This may have been the unluckiest team in college football in 2021, as they managed to lose eight games by 8 points or less. But that was still a team that went 3-9. If we were to assume each of those one-score games to be “coin flips”, we could reasonably see this team improve to the 6-to-7-win range. Although they lost some talent to the NFL, they brought in 14 transfer players. That includes QB Casey Thompson, who is coming over from Texas. Thompson is a polished pocket passer who has the athleticism to break the pocket.
Coming off an 8-win campaign that was a bit of a surprise, the Boilermakers are here to make some noise in 2022. With Aidan O’Connell returning at QB, the high-flying offense is set to pick up where it left off. Despite losing David Bell to the NFL, the WR room should be fine with the addition of a few talented transfers. However, the team might struggle more with the loss of EDGE George Karlaftis, who was propping up a very poor run defense before he left. O’Connell may need to put up a Heisman type numbers to give them a chance at the Big 10 title.
Do not sleep on the Terrapins. Taulia Tagovailoa is an ANIMAL! When in doubt, look to the QB and WR depth chart. And you will like what you see from the Terrapins. Taulia is coming off an extremely efficient and effective 2021 season. And he did that without two of his best WRs for most of last season. If the trio of Taulia, Demus Jr., and Jones can stay on the field together, Maryland has some chance to make some noise. But they will need to consistently match their oppositions offensive production, and the margin for error is thin with many questions around the defense.