So we’re going to begin our Big Ten preview talking about the Big 12. Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in a second.
Earlier this week, Big 12 head honcho Bob Bowlsby did something unusual: he said something intelligent! (I kid. Mostly.)
Anyhow, ol’ Bowls said that in this period of pandemic-ness, every conference should craft their own personalized plan to play this season. This makes sense. The sport as a whole becomes more resilient to COVID-fueled disruption, and there’s another added benefit: we can figure out whose plan works best to contain COVID.
And now we come to the Big Ten, which decided in early July to play a conference-only season that’ll probably clock in at ten games. This may be for the best. The Big Ten has struggled like no other major conference with maintaining health among its fall sports teams during this offseason. Many schools have canceled voluntary workouts out of an abundance of caution. It remains to be seen whether that trend will continue.
Combined with the NCAA’s decision this week to allow any football team to move its season opener into Week Zero, this means that every Big Ten team will essentially have three “bye weeks” – one already scheduled, and now two more formerly filled by games. If it were up to me, I’d space those out throughout the fall to allow flexibility in case teams have to cancel games.
(Which reminds me: if you want to keep up with the fast and furious current pace of college football news, follow me on Twitter and turn on notifications. For the low price of $0.00, you’ll get regular updates, weekly conference rankings, and live game coverage every Saturday.)
Regardless, the Big Ten is probably more wide open this year than it’s been in a while. Which should make for interesting, meaningful football all season long! (However long that season is.)
Who’s gonna win it all? Who most certainly won’t? I took a look at every returning Big Ten squad this week to find out.
WINNER: Ohio State
Introducing the undoubted 800-pound gorilla of the conference, rulers of the roost for nearly a decade. Bet on the Buckeyes’ continued success this season, as QB Justin Fields returns, bolstered by Oklahoma standout transfer Trey Sermon in the backfield. There’s a bit of room for concern, though, given only three returning defensive starters and a new offensive coordinator. If someone catches an unprepared Ohio State D early in the season, the Buckeyes could suffer an unfortunate loss.
Gollum. Janus. Two-Face. Wisconsin. What do they have in common? Split personalities. The Badgers have nine returning starters on defense and should keep other Big Ten offenses out of the endzone. On offense, though? They return a killer line, but shifty RB Jonathan Taylor will need to be replaced, there’s no notable receiving talent, and a QB competition’s raging behind the scenes. Wisconsin may be able to keep games close, but pulling away might be a challenge.
DARK HORSE: Michigan
At some point I need to learn. Every year I do this to myself. I convince myself the Wolverines might seriously challenge the Buckeyes for the Big Ten championship. And I’ve done it again. The chips look like they’ll fall right, with exceptional offensive talent and a top-tier balanced defense serving as a foundation. What worries me: a weaker offensive line and the open QB competition between Joe Milton and Dylan McCaffery. Don’t break my heart, Michigan, or I’ll . . . tweet #FireHarbaugh a bunch. Yeah, that’ll do it.
I hate putting the Gophers/Boat-Rowers here; I really do. I believe strongly in the culture PJ Fleck’s instilled at Minnesota, and his team loves him. But I don’t expect the same atmospheric levels of success Minnesota enjoyed last year. Tanner Morgan can throw to Rashod Bateman all he wants, but at some point they’ll need to try running the ball, and RB is a big question mark, along with the entire Gopher D.
It’s Rutgers. I don’t need to explain this, do I? Sure, they hired veteran coach Greg Schiano. I don’t care whether they hired Nick Saban. This is the biggest rebuilding job in Power-5 college football. The first year of any rebuilding job is usually bad. So this will be very, very bad.
Next week we’ll look at the Big 12. Feel free to follow me on Twitter to keep up with college football news, and as always, happy watching!