1 B1G takeaway from every team in the 2021 season
We’re changing it up this week. Instead of a takeaway from Week 13, we’re looking bigger picture. Here is the big takeaway for every team in the 2021 season:
Michigan: The coaching overhaul worked
I would’ve said, regardless of what happened Saturday, that Michigan (11-1, 8-1) was in a far different place than a year ago at this time, when Jim Harbaugh looked iffy to return and the program looked like it was headed for a rebuild. And no one would argue against that after the 42-27 win over No. 2 Ohio State. Harbaugh’s restructured contract and a younger coaching staff worked wonders. The culture was obviously better, and Michigan was better on the field, too. Michigan’s defense was terrific this season under new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, and the run game was absolutely punishing all year, not just against Ohio State. Well done, Warde Manuel.
Ohio State: Needs to find its Jeff Hafley
By almost any standard, the Buckeyes (10-2, 8-1) had a really good season. But missing out on a Big Ten title and a College Football Playoff berth because of a loss to Michigan is going to lead to some changes. Ohio State’s defense hasn’t been the same since defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley took the Boston College job after the 2019 season. The common thread in Ohio State’s 2 losses this season was that it got gashed on the ground. Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs got demoted earlier in the season, and it would be a surprise if Ryan Day didn’t make a move this offseason to hire a new DC.
Michigan State: Mel Tucker is the real deal
Don’t let the haters and trolls tell you otherwise. Michigan State obviously agrees, as it gave him a 10-year, $95 million extension. The ugly losses at Purdue and Ohio State may have killed the buzz, but it really shouldn’t. It’s all about perspective here. The Spartans (10-2, 7-2) were supposed to finish near the bottom of the B1G, but they somehow worked their way into New Year’s Six bowl territory. The pressure is going to be on Tucker to prove this isn’t a fluke, as that bump in salary comes with higher expectations. He’ll have to prove this season was about more than just Kenneth Walker III. I think he’s up to it.
Penn State: James Franklin is staying, but he needs to get this turned around
Who would’ve thought, right? The way Franklin was constantly rumored to be a candidate for other jobs, I sure thought he was on his way out. But his new deal is a program-stabilizing move that will hopefully allow this program to move forward after a couple frustrating seasons. After the loss to Michigan State, the Nittany Lions (7-5) went 4-5 in conference play 2 straight years. That won’t get it done. With Michigan finally putting it all together, Ohio State absolutely loaded for years to come and Michigan State on the rise, Penn State needs to get a lot better to compete in the East.
Iowa: The little things matter
To go 10-2 with the worst offense in the Big Ten is simply incredible. Yes, an offensive intervention is necessary this offseason, but that’s a topic for a later date. The Hawkeyes are one of those teams that seems to make their own luck. If some of these talented teams care about the details as much as Iowa (looking at you, Nebraska), they’d be a lot better off. The Hawkeyes are simply the best on special teams, whether it is punter Tory Taylor, kicker Caleb Shudak or kick returner Charlie Jones. The defense continually creates opportunities for the offense, too. Kind of reminds me of some of those great Chicago Bears teams under Lovie Smith.
Wisconsin: Water eventually finds its level
I picked Wisconsin to not only win the West but win the B1G. That was somehow still possible after a 1-3 start to the season, including an 0-2 start in the B1G. The season ended in disappointing fashion with a loss at Minnesota, though, and that should prompt some changes to the offensive side of the ball, which didn’t score enough. The Badgers need something when Plan A (give the ball to Braelon Allen) doesn’t work. Even though the offense struggled against Minnesota, this has been a terrific turnaround with 7 straight wins. All you can ask for is to control your own destiny on the final day of the regular season, and Wisconsin did after a horrendous start. Fixing this pass game will be at the top of the offseason priorities for the Badgers.
Nebraska: Special teams has to be point of emphasis this offseason
Scott Frost brushed aside a question about hiring a full-time special teams coordinator after the gut-wrenching loss to Iowa to put a cherry on top of a miserable season for Nebraska (3-9, 1-8). But it would be negligence to not address an area of the game that repeatedly hurts the Huskers. Frost admitted the blocked punt for a TD against Iowa changed the game, and there have been countless other examples this season where special teams play was the difference. He needs to fix it or he’ll be out of a job.
Minnesota: One of the most resilient teams in college football
It’s honestly hard to believe that Minnesota was a few breaks away from winning the West. With all of the injuries, especially in the backfield, the Golden Gophers somehow pushed through, even as their QB had a down year. The biggest gains were in stopping the run; they went from one of the nation’s worst run defenses in 2020 to one of the best in 2021. That was on display in being the first team to shut down Wisconsin star running back Braelon Allen.
Purdue: An unlikely success story
When Purdue was limping through games scoring 13 points (it happened 4 times in 5 games!), I wrongly thought it was a mediocre team with a great win (at Iowa). But the Boilermakers turned into one of the most fun teams in the Big Ten, averaging 35 points in the final 5 games. And Aidan O’Connell, who wasn’t even the starter to open the season, turned into a full-fledged star. After 4 TD passes in the 44-7 romp of Indiana, he finished the last 5 games with 16 TD passes and no interceptions. He had 370 or more yards in 5 games this season.
Indiana: Year-to-year success is hard to sustain
Was there a B1G program that felt better about its direction coming into this season than Indiana? No. And now, is there a B1G program that feels worse about the season it just had? No. What a year to forget for Tom Allen and the Hoosiers. After an 44-7 loss to Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game, Indiana finished the season 2-10 and 0-9 in the Big Ten. That was after going 6-1 in league play last year and nearly winning the East. Indiana doesn’t have the quality of depth that some of these high-end programs have in order to sustain success.
Northwestern: The floor for this program is low
Is there a wider gap between floor and ceiling than for Northwestern? It entered this season having won 2 of the last 3 West titles, but the bottom fell out again, as it finished last in the West for the second time in 3 years.
Illinois: The foundation has been laid
The Illini had to be one of the best 5-7 teams in the country, punctuated by the 47-14 rout of rival Northwestern, a program that seems to always give Illinois trouble regardless of record. To get 2 road wins over ranked teams and play several other division contenders (Purdue, Iowa) closely speaks volumes of the job of first-year head coach Bret Bielema. Now when a lot of these players graduate, can Bielema make the Illini competitive again in 2022?
Maryland: Bowl drought is over
The Terrapins did all you can ask for; they beat the teams they were supposed to and lost the rest, often by a wide margin. But hey, that means going 6-6 and reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2016. The 40-16 win at Rutgers is an important momentum-booster in terms of recruiting on the East coast. Taulia Tagovailoa had more ups than downs this season, and he was great against Rutgers with 312 yards and 3 TDs.
Rutgers: An offensive overhaul is necessary
After an ugly loss to Maryland to miss out on a bowl game, Rutgers has to find a way to improve its offense. It topped 20 points against a Power 5 program just once this season, and that was against last-place Indiana. Even in the 5 wins, the success was often due to a strong defensive effort. Greg Schiano needs to find his QB. In all likelihood, that’ll be Gavin Wimsatt, who skipped his senior year of HS to join Rutgers and got some game experience while still preserving a redshirt.