Big Ten Week: Predictions for each team
It’s Big Ten preview week and here are my predictions for the regular season record for each team.
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Ohio State: 12-0
The Buckeyes will be favored in all of their games this fall. Their toughest tests will be a visit from Oregon in Week 2 and heading to Indiana in late October, but that Indiana game comes after the Buckeyes' bye so they should be plenty ready for the Hoosiers. The following week they get the Nittany Lions at home, and it should be smooth sailing until the Michigan game, but they've had the Wolverines' number for the past eight meetings. Expect them to run the table unless something goes massively wrong at QB.
Penn State (9-3)
Right out of the gate, Penn State will be tested, opening its season at Camp Randall Stadium against a very good Badgers team. The Nittany Lions' Week 3 game against Auburn will tell us a lot about both teams. Indiana comes to town two weeks later, and then they travel to Iowa. Playing Ohio State in the Horseshoe will obviously be a tall task, but outside of that they'll be favored against all of the other teams on the back half of the schedule.
Getting the two best teams in the West (Wisconsin and Iowa) on the road is not going to do them any favors, so this might be a team whose record doesn't reflect how good they really are. I've got them losing to Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio State, with toss-up games against Indiana and Auburn.
Last season's darling team, if Michael Penix is back at or close to 100% the Hoosiers should be considered one of the favorites in the East to finish behind Ohio State. The Hoosiers' schedule isn't doing them any favors though, as they kick off the season in Iowa City against an always tough Iowa team, and play Cincinnati - preseason No. 8 - two weeks later in Bloomington.
If they are able to get out of those two unscathed (which is easier said than done), they still have to head to Happy Valley two weeks later and then Ohio State at home three weeks after that. The back half of their schedule though is very manageable, with a game at a questionable Michigan team as their only true test in their last five contests.
I imagine that they'll lose to Ohio State, and will go 1-2 against the Iowa/Cincinnati/Penn State combo, but with a bowl win could be in line for their first double-digit win season in school history.
The Wolverines head into the season with as many question marks as any team in the conference, and Jim Harbaugh is placed firmly on the hot seat in Ann Arbor. Games at Wisconsin, at Penn State and vs. Ohio State will more than likely be losses, and their Week 2 matchup with Washington is one of the more intriguing non-conference matchups for any Big Ten school.
They get upstart Indiana at home, as well as Northwestern (which can never be counted out at this point under Pat Fitzgerald), and things could get dicey at Maryland if they haven't settled their QB situation.
The season opener for the Terps against West Virginia should go a long way to giving us an idea of what to expect out of them for the rest of the season. They get a lot of their tougher opponents at home - including Penn State, Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan - so they could have a chance to pull off an upset against one of those, albeit not a great one. They head to Minnesota after their midseason bye, and that should be a really intriguing matchup. Both schools have a lot of unknowns, but could be spoilers.
Michigan State (5-7)
Mel Tucker's second season in East Lansing is one that will have a lot of tough tests, and the Spartans will need to get their bevy of transfers up to speed fast if they're going to be competitive. Starting the season in Evanston and then playing at Miami two weeks later could definitely see the Spartans starting 1-2.
Now, to be fair, they beat the Wildcats last year in one of the bigger upsets of the season, but I'm not sure if they'll be able to recreate the magic in the season opener with so many new players. Games at Indiana and at Ohio State - as well as ones with Michigan and Penn State at home - are more than likely losses, and Maryland and Nebraska at home are toss-ups. Not a lot of easy ones here.
The Scarlet Knights are ecstatic to get Greg Schiano back leading the program, and he's making a lot of inroads on the recruiting front. But he's still got a lot of work to do in order to build back up to the levels it reached under him in the mid-2000s. They open with Temple, and while the Owls weren't great last season, they'll be a good test for Rutgers, as will their game the following week at Syracuse.
After their game against FCS Delaware, however, they may not be favored in a game for the rest of the way. Their best shot to get some other wins under their belt will be Michigan State at home, at Illinois, and Maryland at home. I really like the direction that this program is headed in, but it's going to be at least another season before we see real results.
The Badgers will open the season at home against Penn State in one of the best opening-weekend matchups on the schedule in the country. The winner of that one should be feeling really good about themselves, and I've got the Badgers as slight favorites to take that one. The big one for the Badgers, though, comes in Week 4, where they will be taking on Notre Dame and former Badgers starting QB Jack Coan at Soldier Field in what will be one of the marquee non-conference games of the season.
All of the Badgers' toughest games after that are back in the friendly confines of Camp Randall, with Michigan, Iowa, Army and Northwestern all heading to Madison. They end the season battling for the Axe at Minnesota, but if it all breaks right for the Badgers, there's no reason they can't run the table in the regular season. That being said, I think they split the games with Penn State and Notre Dame, but still take the Big Ten West.
Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes have one heck of a start to year two of the Spencer Petras era - opening with Indiana in Kinnick Stadium to start the season and then heading across the state to play an Iowa State team the following week that has Big 12 title implications. If they can split those two that will be a really nice start to the season.
They've got Penn State at home to round out the first half of their schedule, and that should be a very close one, and then a bye before heading up to Madison to take on Wisconsin. Again, a split here would be a really good outcome for the Hawkeyes. They should be favored in their last five games, with the toughest test at Northwestern the week after playing the Badgers.
The Gophers get Ohio State at home to start the season, a game in which they are sure to be big underdogs, but after that there's a chance that they're not going to be underdogs again until mid-November, when they play at Iowa.
In that span, they'll play at both Colorado and Northwestern, and have home games against both Nebraska and Maryland, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Gophers start 8-1. However, their last three games are tough - at Iowa, at Indiana and home vs. Wisconsin are all going to be uphill battles for Minnesota and especially Tanner Morgan, who really needs to step up this season.
After winning the Big Ten West last year for the second time in three years, Northwestern will have a lot of questions heading into the season, and more than likely will take a step back. Then again, if there's anything we've learned in the last 15 years, it's to never underestimate Pat Fitzgerald. The nonconference schedule this season for the Wildcats is a bit of a joke - Indiana State, at Duke and Ohio, and they avoid both Penn State and Ohio State in crossover matchups, so the schedule is definitely favorable this year.
Depending on what Scott Frost is able to do in Lincoln, the game at Nebraska could be very interesting. I would put the Wildcats as slight underdogs at Michigan in Week 8, but to be fair, they could very well be 6-0 heading in to that one. Along with the game against the Wolverines, they've got their four toughest tests of the year all in a row, with Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin following their trip to Ann Arbor. And don't forget about their opener against Michigan State: They lost to the Spartans in a big upset last year, and will be looking for revenge.
This is a make-or-break season for Scott Frost, and he's going to have to lead the Huskers to some big upsets if he's going to hold on to his job at his alma mater. Lucky for them, they open the season with three very winnable games at Illinois and against Fordham and Buffalo.
However, in Week 4, the Huskers head to Oklahoma to take on their former Big Eight rival. They'll get both Northwestern and Michigan at home and could potentially win one of those two, but games at Minnesota and Wisconsin and home games vs. Ohio State and Iowa are more than likely all losses.
Jeff Brohm's teams have gotten progressively worse each season he's been in West Lafayette. Like Frost, he's firmly on the hot seat headed into the season. The Boilermakers' season opener against Oregon State is a strange matchup (they've only met once before, and that was in 1967), but definitely a potential win. However, they also play at Notre Dame two weeks later, which is almost certainly a loss.
Getting Illinois at home is a good thing for them, but after that Week 4 matchup with the Illini I would be surprised if they are favored in any of their remaining contests. Michigan State at home is probably their best chance to get another win, but it's not looking great for the Boilermakers.
Bret Bielema's first season back in the Big Ten brings very low expectations for Illinois, which has struggled mightily and hasn't had a winning season in a decade. The Illini actually start the season a week earlier than most teams, with an Aug. 28 matchup against Nebraska. While winning that game isn't the statement win it would have been in years past given how much the Cornhuskers have struggled in recent years, it would still be a great start for the Bielema era.
A non-conference tilt at Virginia will be tough, but their other two matchups outside of Big Ten play are with UTSA and Charlotte, both of which should be very winnable. Rutgers at home and at Purdue are their other two most winnable games, and I imagine that they should at least split those two if not win both outright. Outside of those, however, it's tough to find a lot of wins on the schedule for this team.