A 2022 New Year's resolution for every Big Ten football team
So you say you want a resolution. How about 14 of them?
Join us, bleary-eyed reader, as we share what each Big Ten team needs to do in 2022.
Illinois: Learn how to pass
No Bret Bielema-coached team is ever going to set new school passing records. But Illinois might actually make a bowl next season if its ceiling for quarterback play rises above “sometimes adequate.”
Running back Chase Brown has a potential all-Big Ten season in front of him, but that task would be made much easier if the Illini could make sure there aren’t 8 defenders in the box at all times. Whether it’s Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito providing the boost or incumbent Art Sitkowski developing, Illinois needs to get better than 14th in the conference in passing.
Indiana: Identify a new quarterback
The once-promising Michael Penix Jr. era is over at Indiana after Penix transferred to play for former offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer at Washington. And that’s fine. The offense was built completely around the premise of a healthy, do-everything Penix, and that doesn’t seem possible anymore.
Even though both sides were right to move on, that doesn’t mean the Hoosiers know who they’re moving to. Jack Tuttle, with 4 career touchdowns and 6 interceptions, is about as far from a sure thing as you can be.
IU needs a starter to show himself in spring, though this will likely drag into August camp.
Iowa: Find any semblance of offense
It remains incredible that the Hawkeyes reached the Big Ten Championship Game with that offense. Which, of course, was exposed for all 60 minutes of that game as totally incapable of winning a championship.
Yes, the Hawks need better quarterback play. But the problems are everywhere for this offense. Tyler Goodson is a legitimately great running back in the open field, but Iowa was still 111th nationally in rushing.
There needs to be a change in play-caller, but given that the offensive coordinator is named Brian Ferentz, that’s unlikely to happen. Which means Ferentz needs to magically become a better play-caller.
Hey, just because you’re unlikely to achieve a resolution doesn’t mean you can’t make it!
Maryland: Resolve to stop someone
Fresh off their first bowl win since 2010, the Terps are moving in the right direction under Mike Locksley.
The biggest remaining hurdle? Figure out how to make opposing offenses move the wrong direction. Maryland was 97th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 30.7 points per game. Maryland can never hope for better than a 7-5 regular season if that doesn’t improve.
Michigan: Prove it wasn’t a flash in the pan
Is Michigan back?
Sure feels like it. But the last time we thought a traditional giant like this was “back” — Texas in 2018 — it proved to be a mirage.
Blowout loss aside, this year’s Playoff berth was a definitive turning point for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines must prove themselves perennial Big Ten contenders.
Michigan State: Keep Tuck buildin’
Spartans fans liked to say “Tuck Comin'” in 2021. Well, now he’s here. And for a long time after signing a 10-year contract extension.
Now comes the business of building a program rather than one great season. Mel Tucker was liberal in sprinkling transfers to turn a bad team into a great one. It will be interesting to see what strategy he uses to keep Michigan State swimming with the blue bloods.
Minnesota: Beat Iowa
A year ago, we would have had a similarly simple declaration for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan vis-à-vis Ohio State.
PJ Fleck has never beaten the Hawkeyes, who have won Floyd of Rosedale 7 straight times. The pig must come back to Minneapolis.
Nebraska: Hire a special teams coordinator
How do you go 1-8 in the Big Ten despite scoring the exact same number of points as you allowed in conference play? By having horrendous special teams.
Missed field goals. Missed extra points. Allowing blocked punts. Allowing punt return touchdowns. The Cornhuskers did it all in 2021.
As of now, Mike Dawson is still listed on Nebraska’s website as the team’s outside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator. Surely this will change by spring practice. You would hope.
Northwestern: Do everything better
The Wildcats were 14th in the B1G in scoring and 12th in scoring defense.
In short, they need to improve in every possible way.
Ohio State: Beat Michigan
At most, the Buckeyes will be coming into next season’s Michigan game with 1 conference loss and thus playing for the Big Ten East title. For Ohio State, 2022 is all about exacting revenge.
Penn State: Establish the run
The Nittany Lions were 13th in the Big Ten and 122nd nationally with just 3.1 yards per carry. That’s not going to cut it in the Big Ten East. Or anywhere, really.
James Franklin signed Nicholas Singleton — the No. 4 running back in the country and No. 2 player in Pennsylvania — which should help spark this moribund part of the Penn State attack. But the Nittany Lions need to get better up front more than anything else.
Purdue: Win the West
Sure, maybe this is like a “I’m gonna run a marathon this year” type of resolution. But if they really put their minds to it, the Boilermakers could pull it off. The beauty of the Big Ten West, if you’re in that division, at least, is that each of the 7 programs are capable of reaching Indianapolis within the next 5 years.
With a stable of actually healthy running backs in the mix, the Boilers could do more than play spoilers in 2022.
Rutgers: Win a bowl game
This should read “make a bowl game,” but thanks to the program’s APR score Rutgers was able to achieve that goal for the first time since 2014 as a last-minute fill-in for Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl.
The next step for Greg Schiano is to actually earn a bowl bid on the field — and then win the game. The Scarlet Knights haven’t done that since the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.
Wisconsin: Hire an offensive coordinator
Paul Chryst tries to wear the hats of head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach all at the same time, and it shows in Graham Mertz’s inconsistent play.
Even if Chryst wants to continue calling plays and finds someone to be the quarterbacks coach, it would be a welcome move. Mertz looked overwhelmed in September, contributing to a 1-3 start when the Badgers probably should have had the opposite record.