1 thing I want to see from every B1G team in its opener
The Big Ten season is here, at long last. After a long offseason of projecting what each team will look like this season, it’s exciting to finally have a real game to gauge where each team truly is.
You’ll notice a common theme among the things I’m looking for in the openers: Quarterback play.
Quarterback is the most important position in sports, and the success or failure of many of these B1G teams hinges on the QB. There are 5 teams with a QB making his first career start, 3 of whom play for teams that were ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 (Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa). That only adds to the intrigue — not only because each of those QBs is supposed to be good, but because each team needs these guys to be good in order to contend.
Here is 1 thing I want to see from every B1G team in the opener:
Illinois (at Wisconsin)
The bottom line is this: Illinois won’t improve on last year’s 6-7 record if Brandon Peters doesn’t improve. So, I want to see if Peters got any better. He reportedly worked with a professional QB coach in the offseason after never having done so before college. The big area in need of improvement is his completion rate (55 percent), which ranked 11th in the Big Ten.
Indiana (vs. Penn State)
After an injury-plagued career, I want to see a healthy, clean game from QB Michael Penix Jr. Indiana has put all its eggs in the Penix basket, so to speak, as Peyton Ramsey transferred to Northwestern. While backup Jack Tuttle was also a highly regarded prospect, so much of Indiana’s success is going to hinge on Penix’s ability to stay on the field and perform. This is the type of game Indiana needs to win to take that next step.
Iowa (at Purdue)
It’s going to be interesting to see how Spencer Petras handles his 1st start. He hasn’t lacked for confidence in any of his preseason media availability, and it doesn’t seem like there has ever been any question that he would be the guy to lead a Hawkeyes offense that could be really good. Petras has waited his turn behind Nate Stanley but has a ton of potential. He broke Jared Goff’s high school records for passing yards (4,157) and touchdown passes (50) in a season. So let’s see Petras show what he can do against a very forgiving Purdue defense.
Maryland (at Northwestern)
There hasn’t been an announcement as to who Maryland will start at QB yet, but it will either be Lance LeGendre or Taulia Tagovailoa. Expectations are high for both. Whoever it is, I want to see whether he can make Maryland a better passing team than it has been in the last 5 seasons. During that time frame, Perry Hills is the Terps’ single-season passing leader with 1,464 yards over 11 games — an average of 133 per contest. That just isn’t going to get it done in modern football, so I want to see encouraging signs from either LeGendre or Tagovailoa.
Michigan (at Minnesota)
Joe Milton has flashed some of his rocket arm and playmaking ability in spurts over the last 2 years, but now is the chance to see what the redshirt sophomore can really do. Dylan McCaffrey transferred, so Cade McNamara is the backup. If McNamara is in, something has gone wrong. The pressure to be the QB at Michigan is intense, so we’ll see how Milton holds up.
Michigan State (vs. Rutgers)
There are plenty of things I want to see from Michigan State, like competent QB and offensive line play, but most of all, I want to see how 1st-year head coach Mel Tucker interacts with his guys. He didn’t recruit them and he’s barely had a chance to coach them, so how quickly is he able to connect with them and get them to believe? How do they respond to him?
Minnesota (vs. Michigan)
I want to see whether Minnesota’s offense will still be as smooth as it was in 2019. Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca is gone to Penn State and Tyler Johnson is in the NFL, so can Tanner Morgan possibly average 10.2 yards per attempt (4th nationally) again? This will be our first hint as to what the answer to that question is.
Nebraska (at Ohio State)
Adrian Martinez had a disappointing sophomore season. Is that who he is, or did he make the necessary adjustments in the offseason? It’s going to be a tough day against the best defense the Huskers will see all season, but that means a strong performance will be huge for Martinez’s confidence. I want to see glimpses of who he was as a freshman (17 TD, 8 INT) when he displayed better decision making than as a sophomore (10 TD, 9 INT).
Northwestern (vs. Maryland)
It will be weird to see Peyton Ramsey in purple instead of crimson. Beyond that, what will Northwestern’s identity be offensively? Does Ramsey have any sort of chemistry with Riley Lees, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Kyric McGowan?
Ohio State (vs. Nebraska)
I want to see how Ohio State replaces some of the stars of the last few seasons, such as Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and JK Dobbins. Let’s see if Zach Harrison has the look of Ohio State’s next great pass rusher, if Sevyn Banks looks like the Buckeyes’ next lockdown corner and if Trey Sermon will provide the balance Ohio State needs offensively to make a run at a national title.
Looking at the bigger picture, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Ohio State to run up the score and impress the CFP committee. There will be plenty of time for that, but Ohio State needs to get a win and get out of the opener fully healthy going into the showdown at Penn State in Week 2.
Penn State (at Indiana)
Right off the bat, we’re going to get a feel for Penn State’s weakness in 2019, pass defense. It was 13th in the B1G in that category, allowing 251.5 yards per game (and 7.2 yards per attempt). Indiana, on the other hand, was 2nd in passing offense last season, racking up 302.4 yards per game and 8.3 yards per attempt. Penn State needs to show improvement in this area if it fashions itself as a serious CFP contender, especially going into the showdown in Week 2 with Ohio State.
Purdue (vs. Iowa)
I’m very curious to see how Purdue’s quarterbacks perform. So much of their success this season will depend on whether a QB can get the ball to Rondale Moore and David Bell, because those two wideouts represent Purdue’s greatest advantage over its opponents. They can’t have sloppy QB play like last season. Purdue had the No. 1 passing offense in terms of yards per game (309.9), but when you look at yards per attempt, it was 8th at 7.2 — so merely average. Let’s see how much Jack Plummer has improved and if he is the answer at QB.
Rutgers (at Michigan State)
Similar to Tucker, 1st-year head coach Greg Schiano is up against it thanks to the pandemic. He had about a 2-month head start on Tucker in terms of getting to know his players, but it will be unfair to judge either of these guys this season. So along the same lines, how do Rutgers players respond to Schiano’s coaching? They may not be talented, but are they disciplined?
Wisconsin (vs. Illinois)
All eyes will be on Graham Mertz in his 1st career start. Wisconsin’s defense is going to be exceptional once again, but in order to win the West as many expect, Mertz will need to settle in quickly. Jack Coan is out indefinitely with a foot injury, so it’s on Mertz to show that he is capable of leading the Badgers offense, which by the way has a lot to prove without Jonathan Taylor.