5 Big Ten football teams that can exceed expectations -- and 1 that won't
Welcome to the lull.
Basketball season is over. Spring football is a bit all over the place, with some schools gearing up and others such as Michigan and Nebraska already winding practices down.
It’s going to be awhile before anything truly interesting happens. So consider this a look ahead to when something finally does.
That moment in specific? The release of projected win totals for the 2022 Big Ten football season. None of the Vegas sportsbooks have done so just yet, but we did get an appetizer from 247 Sports analyst Bud Elliott on Tuesday.
Projecting Big Ten 2022 win totals, via @BudElliott3 👀
Who do y’all think will finish with a higher total? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/LOiRmNsGSk
— 247Sports (@247Sports) April 5, 2022
For the most part, these projections look spot-on. At most, there might be a game of wiggle room in either direction for a team.
But there are 5 teams that I expect to exceed Elliott’s expectations — and 1 that I am almost certain will fall short.
5 B1G teams that will exceed expectations
Projected win total: 3
Let’s start modestly.
I don’t even think the Scarlet Knights are going to reach a bowl game. But I do think Rutgers’ win total should be about the same as Maryland’s — 4.5 seems like the perfect Vegas number for both teams, with the winner of their season finale picking up that 5th win.
Rutgers will go 2-1 at worst in its nonconference schedule of Boston College (pretty good), Wagner (FCS) and Temple (not good). From there, all it takes is 2-6 in the Big Ten to beat expectations. I like the Knights’ chances of doing so.
Projected win total: 9
This is a case of me putting faith — perhaps too much — in the magic of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
The Badgers have many holes to plug on defense — key guys graduated or left for the NFL at defensive end, inside linebacker and cornerback. But if there’s anyone capable of finding and coaching up replacements, it’s Leonhard.
And if he does so, the Badgers are quite capable of hitting 10-2. Ohio State is the only guaranteed L on the schedule, and a Week 7 game at Michigan State will be a stern test.
But with new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram potentially sparking the Badgers on that side of the ball, this team could run the table against the rest of the West.
In reality, 9 wins is probably the right number to project here. But I think Wisconsin is far more likely to top that total than fall short.
3. Penn State
Projected win total: 8
This is definitely the right number for the Nittany Lions due to the strength of their schedule. With road games at Purdue and Auburn in the first 3 weeks, it’s entirely possible Penn State could start the year 1-2.
But I also see a pathway for things to finally click for Penn State after 2 straight seasons of losing virtually every toss-up game on its schedule. Iowa, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State were all teams Penn State could have beaten if not for a handful of plays in each game.
And even with that being the case, the Nittany Lions still won 7 games.
Penn State is losing a lot of key talent but also has a highly-touted recruiting class arriving. While most of those guys will be factors in 2023 and beyond, there may be some key contributors as early as this year.
That means this could be a 9-or 10-win team this season.
Projected win total: 4
Thanks to some good breaks, Indiana’s record was probably better than it should have been in 2020. And because of every possible bad break in the book, the Hoosiers were far worse than expected in 2021. By midseason, the team had simply given up as no reason remained to be hopeful.
So allow me to think that the 2022 season might be a more accurate reflection of where Indiana football is under Tom Allen — not as good as you thought in ’20, and not as bad as they looked in ’21.
I’ll go so far as to say the Hoosiers could match their projected total by the end of September.
The schedule opens with 3 winnable home games — Illinois, Idaho and Western Kentucky. That’s followed by a trip to a Cincinnati team losing a massive amount of talent from this past season’s CFP team. And the Hoosiers gave the Bearcats a fight when they did have that talent last season.
Heck, even a 5-0 start is possible considering what Nebraska is capable of not doing.
I expect IU to be anywhere from 1 to 3 wins better than this projection. And there’s only 1 other team capable of outplaying its expectations by that margin.
Projected win total: 6
It took mere seconds to knock Indiana fans from whatever natural high they were on. Because Purdue is going to take the cake when it comes to beating these projections.
I think 6 wins is an insanely low number for the Boilermakers. Purdue isn’t losing nonconference games against Indiana State, Florida Atlantic or Syracuse. So that gets the Boilers halfway home to begin with.
Then there’s the fact Purdue will likely have the next-best quarterback in the Big Ten (Aidan O’Connell) behind Ohio State’s CJ Stroud. And O’Connell is certainly the best QB in the West.
The loss of David Bell at receiver will hurt. And it’s imperative that Jeff Brohm actually develops a running game this season.
But barring catastrophic injuries, I don’t see how Purdue finishes worse than 7-5 this season.
At worst, this team finishes 4th in the West behind Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. I think 9-3 is most likely, and 10-2 is possible. And if the Boilers upset Penn State in Week 1, 11-1 even enters the realm of possibility.
And to be clear, this is the opinion of an Indiana graduate. So there is no Joe Tiller shrine in my attic. I just really like Purdue’s upside.
The B1G team least likely to meet expectations
Projected win total: 9
There’s no way of selling me on the idea that the Golden Gophers are going to be better than they were in 2021.
And a year ago, I was as high on Minnesota as I am on Purdue in 2022. I told anyone who would listen that taking Minnesota over the projected Vegas total of 7 wins was the best futures bet in the Big Ten. And though losing Mo Ibrahim in Week 1 and losing to Bowling Green in Week 4 did not help that cause, it still proved to be true.
Minnesota had its best offensive line since, I don’t know, probably Bronko Nagurski’s era. Absolutely elite. That’s why it didn’t matter how many Minnesota running backs got hurt. And now PJ Fleck has to replace 4 of those linemen at once.
To me, that’s a near guarantee of a drop-off.
That said, the Gophers have a chance to be terrific defensively. And given the caliber of offenses in the West, that makes a path back to 9 wins possible.
But with a pair of tough crossover games — the Gophers travel to Michigan State and Penn State — I would place 8-4 as my baseline of expectation for this team. In order to get to 9-3, Minnesota would then need to split with Iowa and Wisconsin and beat everyone else.
It’s plausible. But it would take every good break possible to get there — and the Gophers didn’t exactly catch many of those in 2021.