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2021 Big Ten Preview


(image credit: Aaron Doster / USA Today Sports)


Written by: Joseph Yun


The Big Ten returns to a full slate of action in 2021 after being the first conference to postpone their 2020 season and ultimately coming back on a limited basis. Can conference commissioner Kevin Warren rebound to shepherd the B1G to new heights after a disastrous debut in his new job? He made a lot of blunders and wasn’t the most media-savvy in explaining his conference’s decisions last year. Blunders that resulted in players’ families protesting at conference headquarters, even. Mr. Warren was a national pariah in the eyes of many college football fans and former Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott seemed impossibly competent in comparison.


On-field wise, the Buckeyes continued their run of hegemonic dominance and look primed to do so once again in 2021. Are there legitimate challengers to the Buckeyes’ seemingly permanent seat at the throne? Is this the year that Jim Harbaugh gets off the schneid against eternal blood rival Ohio State? How many more years of Kinnick Waves does longtime Hawkeyes legendary coach Kirk Ferentz have left in him? Can Greg Schiano keep Rutgers “competitive”?


If you missed the previous editions in the series:



EAST


Indiana


Sept 4 AWAY @ Iowa (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Idaho (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Cincinnati (L)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Western Kentucky (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Penn State (L)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 HOME vs. Michigan State (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Ohio State (L)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Maryland (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Michigan (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Rutgers (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Minnesota (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Purdue (W)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- The Hoosiers have a tough road schedule ahead of them with travels to such exotic locales like Ann Arbor, Happy Valley, and College Park on the docket. The October gauntlet is a really competitive stretch with two conference powerhouses and a legitimate contender so they will be fighting for bowl eligibility in 2021. Cincinnati looms as a G6 threat to make a run at the playoff after last year’s Sugar Bowl appearance. The key swing game for Indiana might be the one against Michigan State. It is not like they are bereft of talent either with QB Michael Penix, Jr, WRs Ty Fryfogle and DJ Matthews, RB Stephen Carr (USC) leading the way for the offense. It’s unfortunate that they occupy a division with the conference’s main primetime hitters.


Maryland


Sept 4 HOME vs. West Virginia (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Howard (W)

Sept 17 (Fri.) AWAY @ Illinois (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Kent State (W)

Oct 1 (Fri.) HOME vs. Iowa (L)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Ohio State (L)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 AWAY @ Minnesota (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Illinois (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Penn State (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Michigan State (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Michigan (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Rutgers (W)


Predicted Record: 7-5


- The Terps get a stern test of a 2021 season right from the jump with a game against the Mountaineers. An ominous start to a loaded slate that features a road date in Columbus and home contests against Iowa, Michigan, and Penn State. October will be a tough slate in particular but November won’t be easy either. Fighting for bowl eligibility might be the ceiling for this group. Alternating home and away games in November is an interesting quirk. Maryland has some draftable prospects like Taulia Tagovailoa (Tua’s brother), WR Rakim Jarrett, TE / FB Chigoziem Okonkwo, RB Tayon Fleet-Davis, WR Dontay Demus, Jr, S Nick Cross, and OLB Terrance Lewis. Head coach Mike Locksley needs to improve a ton from elite recruiter to serviceable game manager.


Michigan


Sept 4 HOME vs. Western Michigan (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Washington (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Northern Illinois (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Rutgers (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Wisconsin (L)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Nebraska (W)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 HOME vs. Northwestern (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Michigan State (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Indiana (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Penn State (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Maryland (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Ohio State (L)


Predicted Record: 8-4


- Michigan enters the 2021 season with its native son Jim Harbaugh on the hottest of hot seats and nothing short of a Big Ten title berth or higher can save his job. They don’t leave the state during the month of September but do host Washington who also needs several wins to stem the tide out West. The Wolverines are breaking in a relatively new quarterback Cade McNamara after several transfers, notably Joe Milton. He’ll be flanked by back Hassan Haskins. Receiver Ronnie Bell returns to lead a young group. Defensively, they should be better off as several key pieces like EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, IDL Donovan Jeter, LB Michael Barrett, and S Daxton Hill return. They do have to replace Cam McGrone, Kwity Paye, and Carlo Kemp defensively, however. Interestingly, an old friend Giles Jackson returns to face his former team when Washington visits. All those early home dates mean that they pay for it with just 3 of the next 8 at The Big House. Ohio State has to come to Ann Arbor this season so there’s that. The game against Nebraska might be the don’t lose or get fired bowl between the two programs. Michigan has a relatively manageable schedule should they not implode. Second place in the East is attainable.


Michigan State


Sept 4 AWAY @ Northwestern (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Youngstown State (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Miami (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Nebraska (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Western Kentucky (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Rutgers (W)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Indiana (W)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 HOME vs. Michigan (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Purdue (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Maryland (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Ohio State (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Penn State (W)


Predicted Record: 7-5


- It was an interesting quickfire move to East Lansing for Mel Tucker last season. One could say that an ill-advised one given Colorado and Michigan State’s 2020 season as a result. Year 1 begins for Tucker in 2021 after a true year 0 last year. The schedule is a bit on the forgiving side outside of the big boys they compete against. Sparty returns a lot of its team, particularly for its offensive skill positions. There’s a quarterback battle between returnee Payton Thorne and Temple transfer Anthony Russo. The running back room could be legitimately four deep with Jordan Simmons leading the way. MSU’s OL was a mess last season and can only get better, right? Veteran center Matt Allen returns alongside COVID opt-out guard Jordan Reid. Defensively, there’s still a Panasiuk prowling on the roster with Jacub. The linebacker and secondary units will need some work but Tucker is renowned for making things work on defense. The offense will have to carry the day while it gets sorted. Bowl eligibility should be just right for Sparty in 2021.


Ohio State


Sept 2 (Thurs.) AWAY @ Minnesota (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Oregon (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Tulsa (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Akron (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Rutgers (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Maryland (W)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 AWAY @ Indiana (W)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Penn State (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Nebraska (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Purdue (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Michigan State (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Michigan (W)


Predicted Record: 12-0


- The Big Ten kings just reload over and over like the energizer bunny. Ohio State’s schedule is absurdly friendly even with an insanely loaded roster that should go unbeaten. They have the premier OOC game of the season with Oregon coming to the Shoe after the pandemic canceled the Buckeyes trip to Autzen. C.J. Stroud is the favorite to replace current Chicago Bear Justin Fields while it could be a four-horse race at running back with Master Teague III leading to replace Trey Sermon. The receiving room could be one of the best and deepest this side 2019-20 Alabama led by super senior Chris Olave and junior Garrett Wilson. Kamryn Babb, Emeka Egbuka, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Marvin Harrison, Jr are all expected to get snaps this year. The offensive line is loaded with the former five stars up and down the lineup. Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere are the best OT bookends in the country and should be drafted highly in 2022. Next up in the star EDGE to the NFL derby is Zach Harrison and potentially Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste. In terms of linebackers, USC transfer Palaie Gaoteote IV, Tommy Eichenberg, and Teradja Mitchell should be projected to replace Baron Browning, Pete Werner, Tuf Borland, and Justin Hilliard. A host of corners return including Sevyn Banks, Cam Brown, and Marcus Williamson. Safety Marcus Hooker returns as well. The only question for the Buckeyes is what they do in the playoff in January at this point.


Penn State


Sept 4 AWAY @ Wisconsin (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Ball State (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Auburn (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Villanova (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Indiana (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Iowa (W)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 HOME vs. Illinois (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Ohio State (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Maryland (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Michigan (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Rutgers (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Michigan State (L)


Predicted Record: 10-2


- The Nittany Lions step right into it to open 2021 with Big Ten West power Wisconsin in Madtown. That will be a tough go of it to come out with an upset but PSU has the talent to do it. The OOC slate features two easy wins and one questionable game against Auburn (depends on which Bo Nix shows up). October should be relatively manageable with one major contest against Iowa, two minnows, and the high-profile Ohio State game at the Horseshoe. James Franklin’s men should have a winning November if they beat Michigan at home. PSU needs a bounceback season in the worst way after muddling through a 0-5 start in 2020. Perhaps 2021 is that after a strong 4-0 finish? Penn State returns QB Sean Clifford and superstar receiver Jahan Dotson while gaining RB John Lovett from Baylor. RBs Keyvone Lee and Devyn Ford return to anchor the running game. Defensively, they have a ton to replace with Micah Parsons (opt-out), EDGE Odafe (Jayson) Oweh, EDGE Shaka Toney, and safety Lamont Wade all gone. DL PJ Mustipher, DL Derrick Tangelo (Duke), EDGE Adisa Isaac, CBs Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter, Jr, and S Jaquan Brisker return to help fill in the gaps. So to say, Penn State is a loaded team with emerging talents on both sides of the ball. Are they good enough to dethrone the Buckeyes and finally win the East division?


Rutgers


Sept 4 HOME vs. Temple (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Syracuse (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Delaware (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Michigan (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Ohio State (L)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Michigan State (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Northwestern (L)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 AWAY @ Illinois (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Wisconsin (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Illinois (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Penn State (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Maryland (L)


Predicted Record: 3-9


- Greg Schiano returns for a second tour in Piscataway to help revive a historically doormat program he once led to a surprising run. There’s not a lot of winnable games on the schedule for Greg, however. The Scarlet Knights do get Ohio State and Wisconsin at home while having to travel to Michigan and Penn State so if they manage to hang around in any of those, it will be a major upset. The contest against Syracuse can go either way. Schiano has relied heavily on the transfer portal to help fill in the holes. It probably will be a cold November in terms of play for the denizens of New Jersey.


WEST


Illinois


Aug 28 HOME vs. Nebraska (L)

Sept 4 HOME vs. UTSA (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Virginia (L)

Sept 17 (Fri.) HOME vs. Maryland (L)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Purdue (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Charlotte (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Wisconsin (L)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 AWAY @ Penn State (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Rutgers (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Minnesota (L)

Nov 13 BYE

Nov 20 AWAY @ Iowa (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Northwestern (L)


Predicted Record: 2-10


- It’s going to be an arduous task for new head coach Bret Bielema to keep the Illini competitive in 2021. He inherits a lackluster roster left behind by former head coach Lovie Smith. They will be fortunate to win a game this coming season and will feature heavily with lowlights. The schedule is pretty decent for a middling program to manage but for the Illini? Three wins maximum.


Iowa


Sept 4 HOME vs. Indiana (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Iowa State (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Kent State (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Colorado State (W)

Oct 1 (Fri.) AWAY @ Maryland (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Penn State (L)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Purdue (W)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 AWAY @ Wisconsin (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Northwestern (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Minnesota (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Illinois (W)

Nov 26 (Fri.) AWAY @ Nebraska (W)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- Iowa is one of the favorites to come out of the West with a relatively easy schedule and a well-accomplished coaching staff under head coach Kirk Ferentz. They went through an enormous scandal last year with the former S&C coach accused of racism and he was subsequently fired. The Hawkeyes avoided Ohio State as a crossover opponent this season. However, it isn’t all peaches as they have to travel to Madison AND Ames this season. Quarterback Spencer Petras and RB Tyler Goodson return to lead the offense that has lost several key pieces like OT Alaric Jackson, WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and RB Mekhi Sargent. C Tyler Linderbaum returns to anchor yet another Hawkeyes potential star OL. He’s one of the best IOL in the 2022 class as a result. Defensively, they have to replace EDGE Chauncey Golston but do return LB Jack Campbell and EDGE Zach VanValkenburg. It’s a well-balanced schedule for the Hawkeyes with what should be a minimum amount of land mine losses.


Minnesota


Sept 2 (Thurs.) HOME vs. Ohio State (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Miami (OH) (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Colorado (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Bowling Green (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Purdue (W)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 HOME vs. Nebraska (W)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Maryland (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Northwestern (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Illinois (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Iowa (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Indiana (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Wisconsin (L)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- The boat gets off to a rough start with the reigning conference champions coming to the Twin Cities but the Gophers have enough talent to keep it competitive. A scenic road trip to Folsom Field awaits but they should handle the Buffaloes. The schedule sets up nicely in October but gets interesting in November with West heavyweights Iowa and Wisconsin in two of three to close it out. The chase for Wisconsin should be fascinating to watch until the very end. QB Tanner Morgan, RB Mohamed Ibrahim, and WR Chris Autman-Bell all surprisingly returned to the program and should be the bulk of the production. They do have to replace current Ravens receiver Rashod Bateman, however, but they did get a preview last season when he opted out, in, and back out again. The Gophers return a veteran senior-laden offensive line that got a ton of work in the past couple of seasons. Mammoth OT Daniel Faalele (6’8 380) returns after opting out last year. He’s a legitimate prospect. Defensively, a majority returns but they do have to replace CB Benjamin St. Juste, who has been having a good time of things in the NFL. P.J. Fleck’s men have a chance to row the boat all the way to Indianapolis for a rematch against Ohio State.


Nebraska


Aug 28 AWAY @ Illinois (W)

Sept 4 HOME vs. Fordham (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Buffalo (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Oklahoma (L)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Michigan State (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Northwestern (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Michigan (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Minnesota (L)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 HOME @ Purdue (L)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Ohio State (L)

Nov 13 BYE

Nov 20 AWAY @ Wisconsin (L)

Nov 26 (Fri.) HOME vs. Iowa (L)


Predicted Record: 4-8


- Well, the Scott Frost era is off to a troublesome start, to say the least. Not to mention, the recent off-field allegations that resulted in an ongoing NCAA investigation. Allegations that the Huskers had more duties for analysts than NCAA required and workouts outside the boundaries of regulations. Not ideal for Coach Frost, who’s under significant pressure to deliver on the promise he once showed in the Magic Kingdom. The schedule is brutal with BOTH Michigan and Ohio State on it, not to mention a trip to Madison, Norman, and home against Iowa in consecutive weeks. It’s going to be a long year in Lincoln with a subpar quarterback and a talent drain on defense. It might result in Frost being relieved of his duties.


Northwestern


Sept 3 (Fri.) HOME vs. Michigan State (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Indiana State (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Duke (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Ohio (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Nebraska (W)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 HOME vs. Rutgers (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Michigan (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Minnesota (L)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Iowa (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Wisconsin (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Purdue (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Illinois (W)


Predicted Record: 8-4


- The reigning West division champions have an easy schedule but travel to Wisconsin and Michigan. They also have to replace a few pieces like JR Pace, Paddy Fisher, Rashawn Slater, and Greg Newsome II. The Wildcats also have a new/old starter at quarterback with Hunter Johnson named the starter a couple of days ago. He takes over for former Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey. Leading rusher Cam Porter returned but was injured and is out for the season. It will be a rock fight for the West that will go down to the wire again. Coach Pat Fitzgerald seems like a Wildcats lifer despite some growing interest by the NFL. While they probably won’t win the division again, it will be a war once more. A respectable eight wins for that gleaming facility next to Lake Superior.


Purdue


Sept 4 HOME vs. Oregon State (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ UCONN (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Notre Dame (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Illinois (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Minnesota (L)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 AWAY @ Iowa (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Wisconsin (L)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Nebraska (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Michigan State (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Ohio State (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Northwestern (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Indiana (L)


Predicted Record: 4-8


- Boiler Down? Purdue has a murderous schedule combined with a team incommensurate with its talent. They have to travel to Notre Dame, Iowa, and Ohio State while hosting Wisconsin. Gone is superstar receiver Rondale Moore. They still have receiver David Bell and Jack Plummer had a trial by fire season last year and should be better. Defensively, they have a solid EDGE in George Karlaftis, cornerback Jamari Brown (Kentucky), and safety Christopher Jefferson (DII Findlay). The home opener against Pac-12 opponent Oregon State is interesting and should be a fun time for Boiler Up. With a few breaks, Coach Brohm should be able to fight for bowl eligibility.


Wisconsin


Sept 4 HOME vs. Penn State (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Eastern Michigan (W)

Sept 18 BYE

Sept 25 Neutral vs. Notre Dame (Soldier Field) (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Michigan (L)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Illinois (W)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Army (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Purdue (W)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Iowa (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Rutgers (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Northwestern (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Nebraska (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Minnesota (W)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- The Badgers are the heavy favorites to make it to Indianapolis with a loaded team and possibly the best quarterback in the conference, Graham Merz. You just know that the offensive line is going to be good despite the unit’s losses every year. Who’s going to be the next star lineman? The next one could come from the tackle group such as Tyler Beach or the Logan brothers (Bruss and Brown). Offensively, they have to replace RB Garrett Groshek, FB Mason Stokke, and OL Cole Van Lanen but have ready-made stars like RB Jalen Berger. Defensively, they return a lot of their starters like Jack Sanborn, Nick Herbig, Faion Hicks, and Caesar Williams. Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis III return as leading receivers. The schedule is fun from the word go with Penn State coming to Madtown and a neutral Soldier Field date with Notre Dame. Michigan and Iowa both have to travel to Madison as well. The Purdue game could be of some interest as the Badgers have to face Army the week prior and a letdown game defensively. November should be easily manageable for them with a road trip to Minnesota the only question. Wisconsin has a ton of talent to make some noise and possibly compete in their 2019 grudge match in Indy.


East Champion: Ohio State


West Champion: Wisconsin


Conference Champion: OHIO STATE


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