2022 Big Ten fan confidence index: Who should be the most excited?
Purdue football season tickets are becoming the hottest thing in West Lafayette since Orville Redenbacher’s first batch of popcorn.
— Tom Dienhart (@TomDienhart1) July 19, 2022
The Boilermakers have already sold 36,000 season tickets for the 2022 slate at Ross-Ade Stadium, which is the program’s highest total since 2008. With a month left before closing the books on sales, one suspects Purdue will reach levels unseen since Drew Brees’ graduation.
And it’s not because fans are geared up for the Week 2 matchup against Indiana State. Purdue is 1 of the favorites to win the Big Ten West this season.
To be fair, there are 4 other teams in the West that can also make such a claim, but it’s hard not to like what the Boilers have coming back this season. This is Purdue’s best shot yet at playing in the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time. And given the nature of Big Ten realignment, it could end up being Purdue’s best shot at playing in the Big Ten title game in a long time.
The confidence and anticipation in West Lafayette should be sky-high.
But what about the rest of the conference?
Since everything in college football is meant to be ranked, sounds like this is the ideal time for a Big Ten fan confidence index.
This is not intended to be a 1-14 ranking of how good each team will be in 2022. It’s a hybrid ranking of how confident each fanbase should be in their program’s immediate and long-term futures based on the 2021 season and the current offseason.
You’ll see what I mean.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are No. 1, because the Buckeyes should always be No. 1. The only time in recent memory this might not have been true was Ryan Day’s rookie year as a head coach. And if there were any fears at the time, they were pretty quickly quelled.
That being said, if it were mathematically possible to create a spot above No. 1, that’s where this year’s Buckeyes would belong. Even if it stumbles at some point this season, Ohio State will remain a favorite for a CFP spot. Only Alabama has better odds to win a national title.
The defense remains a question mark, but it’s reasonable to think new coordinator Jim Knowles will be able to coax enough improvement from the unit in Year 1 to legitimize Ohio State’s title hopes.
2. Michigan State
Michigan State fans are approaching the cult-like catchphrase usage of their Alabama counterparts, but with “Tuck Comin'” replacing “Roll Tide!”
Though the Spartans were very good under Mark D’Antonio, his personality and playing style did not generate the same level of excitement that Mel Tucker is creating in East Lansing. And since Michigan State gave Tucker 10 years and $95 million to work with, there’s little reason for him to bolt.
Granted, that’s a pretty big bet based on 1 successful season. His contract could end up being an albatross, though it seems quite unlikely.
The Spartans are dark horse contenders in the Big Ten East after finishing 9th in the country last year, but some slippage seems likely this season. But it shouldn’t be enough to waver the excitement over the program’s long-term trajectory.
It’s not often that a fanbase is this fired up the year after losing 2 of the program’s top players in the past decade to the NFL Draft. And there’s little question that Purdue would be the consensus favorite in the West if David Bell and George Karlaftis were still in the fold.
Nevertheless, the Boilers are a in very good place. Aidan O’Connell is the best Big Ten quarterback this side of CJ Stroud. Iowa transfer receivers Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones will thrive in Jeff Brohm’s offense.
Perhaps the only thing for Purdue fans to fret over this year will be what happens in the city across the river from New Albany, Ind. Brohm’s made it clear his dream is going home to coach at Louisville. Ideally the Cardinals will have a solid enough season to make replacing Scott Satterfield unnecessary.
4. Penn State
It figures to be a good, but not great, season for the Nittany Lions. You can guarantee at least 1 loss where James Franklin’s in-game decisions are cursed and/or mocked. Anything better than 3rd in the East is a win. But 2022 isn’t the season that should have Penn State fans champing at the bit.
Franklin has the nation’s No. 6 signing class arriving on campus, and next year’s class of unsigned commits is currently ranked 3rd. The program’s long-term outlook should outweigh the frustrations that will likely pop up the next couple seasons.
And it’s definitely all about the long-term lens, because Franklin just signed an extension intended to keep him in Happy Valley another 10 years.
Seems pretty low for the defending Big Ten champions, right?
Yet it’s warranted.
Last year’s Wolverines were an extremely veteran-laden group on defense, and lost defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to the NFL on top of that. Jim Harbaugh didn’t make finding replacements for the likes of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo any easier with his very public interest in the Minnesota Vikings’ job opening.
That said, Michigan’s offense has a chance to be pretty potent this season. With another 9-10 win season, Harbaugh can show last year wasn’t just a blip and regain some shaken fan confidence.
Based on online interactions, the actual confidence level of Minnesota fans this offseason is considerably higher than 6th. Golden Gophers fans are rather convinced they are winning the West for the first time.
And there’s certainly reason for optimism. PJ Fleck is locked up to a long-term contract extension. The defense should be among the Big Ten’s best. Even after some key transfer portal defections, the Gophers have a bevy of talented running backs.
But counting on quarterback Tanner Morgan to recapture his 2019 form after 2 years of major regression is a big ask.
In other words, Gopher fans have reason to be excited — but maybe not quite as confident as they currently seem to be.
The Cornhuskers are the perfect team to inhabit the middle spot of the confidence index, because they’re essentially a Rorschach test.
Thanks to an influx of talented transfers and new position coaches, some believe there’s no way Nebraska can repeat last year’s 3-9 performance. Frankly, it seems impossible to lose that many games by fewer than 10 points, because it had never been done before.
Others are convinced that Scott Frost is simply in over his head, and this season will provide the final proof.
But it’s sort of a win-win situation: Frost wins big and sticks around, or loses big and Nebraska finds a better coach. Either way, the Huskers will be heading in a better direction in 2023.
The Badgers are the actual betting favorite to win the Big Ten West, so putting them as low as 8th in the confidence index might seem crazy. But have you watched Graham Mertz throw a football?
Wisconsin fans and coaches have, and let’s just say they aren’t brimming with swagger as a result. There’s good reason the program courted Caleb Williams before he ultimately decided to transfer from Oklahoma to USC.
Much of what Wisconsin’s capable of doing is dependent on a quarterback who had the country’s 4th-worst touchdown-to-interception ratio last season but still is in no danger of being replaced by his backups.
Maryland’s place on this list is a direct reflection of being stuck in the Big Ten East. The Terrapins will be one of the Big Ten’s most exciting teams to watch this season, but how many wins will come from it?
With Dontay Demus Jr. returning from injury to pair alongside Rakim Jarrett, Taulia Tagovailoa should be able to put up video game numbers in the passing game. And that’s enough for Maryland fans to have their highest level of confidence since joining the B1G.
But you can only have so much confidence in the country’s 98th-best scoring defense. If that unit doesn’t get better, the Terrapins have a limited ceiling.
For the first time since Ron Zook’s firing, there’s reason to feel good about Illinois football. Bret Bielema darn near maxed out his talent in 2021, going 5-7 with a stunning 9-overtime upset at Penn State.
Confidence will be further bolstered if the Illini can break through with a bowl berth this year.
Hawkeyes fans are caught in an existential crisis.
Kirk Ferentz signed a contract extension that runs through 2029, which assures that Iowa will never field an outright bad football team for the remainder of this decade. But it also creates a high probability that there is no way to force out Brian Ferentz as the program’s offensive coordinator, which might mean Iowa’s offense won’t be worth watching before 2030.
The Scarlet Knights will still be woeful in 2022, but at least they have direction. Greg Schiano’s 2022 signing class ranked 8th in the B1G and 33rd nationally. That’s pretty heady stuff for a program that hasn’t won a bowl game since 2011.
It’ll likely take another year to see much on-field progress, however. And it’s hard to get fired up about what’s likely to be the Big Ten’s worst offense in the meantime.
A year ago, Indiana fans were on a high that they hadn’t felt since the late ’60s. And unlike then, that high was purely football-based.
A lot has changed over the past 365 days.
Ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1968, Indiana was arguably the most disappointing team in the country in 2021.
It’s unlikely IU will post double-digit losses again this season, but the positive vibes previously surrounding Tom Allen’s program can only be regained with some victories.
The Wildcats won’t make a bowl game, but they do get to open the season in Ireland. So that’s something to get excited about.
Outside of that, it’s shocking how it’s possible to be so unenthused about a team that played for the Big Ten championship just 2 seasons ago. Northwestern was 125th nationally in scoring offense and 89th in scoring defense last year. There’s little to suggest they’ll be dramatically better in either category this year.