20 way-too-early predictions for the 2020 B1G football season
The confetti is still on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the fog from the victory cigar smoke in the LSU locker room is still dense. The 2019 college football season was just put to sleep, and it’s time to start looking ahead to next fall.
Last season was a fun one for the B1G — one that saw the conference return to the College Football Playoff after Ohio State claimed its third B1G title and walked into the postseason with a 13-0 record. Minnesota stunned the nation, posting an 11-win season, complete with a 31-24 victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
Wisconsin won the B1G West and Iowa polished off the year with 10 wins, as well.
All of that is behind us now. Instead of looking back at 2019 — as fresh as it is — we’ll start looking ahead to the 2020 season in the B1G. And, why not make some predictions based on, well, very little.
Here are some way-too-early predictions for the B1G in 2020.
The winner of Penn State-Ohio State wins the B1G
Ohio State is going to enter the season as the favorite to win the B1G and return to the College Football Playoff. The only team that will likely be able to compete with the Buckeyes is Penn State. And, while Ohio State still has a talent advantage, Penn State isn’t far behind. This season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions, and still the program finished 11-2. With a good chunk of experience and skill returning, Penn State should be one of the 10 best teams in college football. It should be an interesting, high-stakes showdown in Happy Valley again in 2020.
Purdue wins the West
Get ready for the best coaching year of Jeff Brohm’s career. It’s strange to expect a 4-8 team to make the leap to division champion, but it’s important to remember that Purdue dealt with a laundry list of injuries this past year, losing linebacker Markus Bailey, defensive lineman Lorenzo Neal, quarterback Elijah Sindelar and wide receiver Rondale Moore for most of the year. With around 20 freshmen on the two-deep around midseason, Purdue’s younger talent was able to get plenty of live experience, even if the results weren’t what you’d desire. If the Boilermakers can stay healthy, they have all the pieces to make a run at a division title.
Indiana upsets a “big boy” program
Indiana made incredible strides in 2019, winning eight games and cracking into the Associated Press poll for the first time in 25 years. Those are once-in-a-generation accomplishments for the Hoosiers. But for Tom Allen to prove this program is trending in the right direction, IU must take down one of the bluebloods in the B1G. Indiana gets four chances, opening the season with Wisconsin, and having division battles with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. Beating one of those programs is the next step in Bloomington.
Michigan has at least three losses by November
Have you seen that schedule? Brutal. Michigan plays Washington, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue before the month of November. The Wolverines just won’t have the talent to be able to run through that kind of gauntlet without a few scratches. The 2020 version of Michigan might look an awful lot like the 2017 team.
Justin Fields wins the Heisman Trophy
First of all, Joe Burrow said after winning the Heisman this year that Fields would probably win it in 2020. Is anyone going to go against Burrow? In all seriousness, Fields did get through the B1G Championship Game with just one interception and accounted for 50 touchdowns. With another year in Ryan Day’s system and a plethora of future NFL wide receivers on his side, Fields is destined to put up big numbers next season. And unless there’s another Joe Burrow out there, he’ll have an excellent chance to end the B1G’s Heisman drought.
Nebraska ends its postseason drought
Speaking of droughts, Nebraska now has a bowl drought that has been extended to three seasons. That isn’t acceptable in Lincoln. And getting to that six-win mark isn’t going to be easy for the Huskers next year, either. From Oct. 31 through the end of the season, Nebraska plays Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which had a combined 55-12 record. BUT, Nebraska does have a schedule favorable enough to get to six wins early in the year and potentially steal a seventh with an upset win.
Rutgers gets its first B1G win since 2017
It’s hard to imagine any team going three full seasons without a win in conference play. While Rutgers has a lot of work to do before becoming even a team that flirts with bowl eligibility, certainly Greg Schiano can get this team one conference victory this season. Right?
Rondale Moore and David Bell both rank in the top five in receiving yardage
Remember what Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman did last fall? OK, now picture that in West Lafayette. Maybe Moore and Bell won’t finish as the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers in the B1G next season, but they’ll both likely be in the top five. Bell demonstrated an incredible ability to make tough catches and be the go-to option in the passing game. And Moore, well he’s Rondale Moore. With Brohm’s high-powered passing attack, there will be plenty of offense to go around, so look for Bell and Moore to get plenty of touches next season.
Rakim Jarrett gets on the field, but doesn’t help Maryland’s offense much
The five-star receiver who was once committed to LSU will be impossible to keep off the field. He’s by far the most talented player on the Maryland roster. The problem? There isn’t a lot of confidence that the Terrapins quarterbacks will be able to get him the football. Josh Jackson finished the season with a completion rate just over 47 percent. Jarrett’s arrival will certainly help Maryland’s passing attack, but Jackson — or whoever might be under center — is going to have to improve his accuracy before the fall to get this offense in gear.
There’s a change at quarterback at Wisconsin
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Wisconsin struggled to stretch the field offensively. And, once again, it may have cost the Badges a B1G title. Jack Coan looked like he might change that narrative early in the year, but when the defenses got tougher, his ability to hit his receivers down the field diminished. Coan is a fine quarterback who can move the Wisconsin offense, especially one that likes to run the football. But, at some point, the Badgers have to be able to attack deep down the field and Graham Mertz has the arm and ability to add that element. Maybe Mertz will win the job during the summer, or maybe he takes over at some point in the season, but Paul Chryst needs to give the four-star gunslinger an opportunity to lead the offense.
Penn State has the highest-scoring offense in the B1G
As if the four-headed running back monster of Journey Brown, Ricky Slade, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford wasn’t enough, Sean Clifford is back at quarterback, Jahan Dotson is at wide receiver, Pat Freiermuth will return at tight end and James Franklin stole offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca from Minnesota. This offense has the speed, the skill and now the scheme to eviscerate just about any defense on the schedule. Penn State’s offense should be one of the most explosive in the country and incredibly fun to watch with the talent on the field and the new playcaller on the sideline.
Bowl eligibility comes down to the final game for Illinois
That’s right, Illini fans are going to have to sweat it out until the very end. As much as you’d like to think Illinois took the next step as a program — and it kind of did — there’s just not enough consistency that makes you believe this team is a lock to return to the postseason. Illinois should be good enough to play in back-to-back bowl games, but the Illini are going to need a win over Northwestern to get that all-important sixth win in 2020.
Iowa swaps trophies with Wisconsin and Minnesota
What if I told you Iowa was going to snap a four-game losing streak to Wisconsin? What if I also told you it would end a five-game winning streak over Minnesota? The Hawkeyes have to travel to Minnesota early in the year for their first road game with a new quarterback under center. That’s going to be a tough situation for Iowa, and will send Floyd of Rosedale back to the Twin Cities. But at the end of the year, Iowa gets Wisconsin at home for the final game of the season. The circumstances are just right to see some trophy swapping happening in Iowa City this year.
Tanner Morgan takes a slight step back
Don’t panic, Minnesota fans. Morgan isn’t going to lose his touch overnight or anything, but losing your top receiver (Johnson) and offensive coordinator (Ciarrocca) is a pretty big deal. Morgan’s accuracy might be around the same level (66 percent in 2019), but the Gophers may have to be a little more reliant on the running game than they were this season. Yes, they do have some really talented receivers coming back next year with Bateman, Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas, but that’s just how important Johnson was to the offense. Oh, and scheme matters, too.
Michigan State fails to register any signature wins again
Michigan State has to get back on a level where it’s at least considered to be a contender. If that doesn’t happen, and quickly, Mark Dantonio could be on his way out of East Lansing. Having said that, I just don’t see a way in which Michigan State is competitive in the B1G East or even registers a signature victory this season. The Spartans were terrible in games against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. The Spartans have the tradition division powers on the schedule, as well as Iowa and Minnesota from the West and open the year with Northwestern. If this team is going to be different than the previous two, it’s going to have to prove it early.
Zach Charbonnet emerges as one of the top RBs in the B1G
One of the well-kept secrets around the B1G last season was the freshman running back from Michigan. In his first season in Ann Arbor, Charbonnet set a freshman record at Michigan with 11 touchdowns, and rushed for 726 yards on 149 attempts. With Shea Patterson, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black all departing, the Wolverines are going to have to establish a solid rushing attack. It wouldn’t be surprising if Charbonnet eclipsed 1,000 yards and hit double figures in the touchdown column again.
Northwestern returns to its “Fitzy” self
Penalties and turnovers were killer for Northwestern in 2019. It was compounded by the fact that the offense was stagnant all season, producing one of the worst years of the Fitzgerald era. But with Mick McCall out and Fitzgerald determined to get Northwestern turned back around, I don’t expect to see the same Wildcats in 2020 that we saw last fall. Even if Northwestern isn’t as good as it was two years ago when it won the West, this team should be fundamentally sound again, and all will be right with the world.
Wisconsin’s new starting running back still hits 1,000 yards
No Jonathan Taylor, no problem. It doesn’t matter who is starting at running back for Wisconsin, he’s going to hit 1,000 yards on the ground. It might be the easiest prediction ever made.
Penn State’s Jayson Oweh and Purdue’s George Karlaftis are the B1G’s sack leaders
These two pass-rushers should be some of the most fun defensive linemen in the B1G to watch next season. Oweh is a freak athlete, with blazing speed for his size. Because of Shaka Toney, Yetur Gross-Matos and a loaded defensive end position, Oweh hasn’t add the chance to unleash on the edge like he’s capable of doing. Karlaftis came to Purdue as one of the highest-ranked recruits in program history, and it translated on the field. He ended his first season with 7.5 sacks for the Boilermakers. A lot of talented defensive ends are leaving the B1G — Gross-Matos, A.J. Epenesa, Chase Young, Kenny Willekes, Joe Gaziano — but it should be fun to watch Oweh and Karlaftis in 2020.
Even with Nate Stanley gone, Iowa’s passing game is its greatest strength
Replacing a three-year starter is never easy, especially one of Stanley’s caliber. But the good news for Spencer Petras, Deuce Hogan or Alex Padilla is that all of Iowa’s receivers are returning. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Tyrone Tracy Jr., Nico Ragaini and Oliver Martin will all be back, providing the Hawkeyes with one of the most athletic and experienced wide receiver groups in the B1G. That makes life a lot easier for whoever is starting at quarterback next fall. And it should translate into the Hawkeyes having a really good passing attack, even with Stanley out of the picture.