A few B1G teams are already being slept on in 2022, plus other Too-Early Top 25 observations
One of my favorite things to do on the morning after the national championship is to look at all of the “Way Too Early Top 25 Rankings” pieces from the national media.
I don’t think these should be taken too seriously, because so much will happen in the next 8 months — coaching changes (Jim Harbaugh?), spring practice, more transfers and unfortunately, injuries. And then, of course, the actual games will dictate the rankings.
But these rankings are an interesting window into how some of the most prominent media members view certain programs. I looked at 8 of them: ESPN, The Athletic, Sports Illustrated, 247, CBS, Action Network, Athlon and Sporting News.
A few observations:
Minnesota, Purdue are underrated
I’m a little surprised to not see more love for Minnesota and Purdue, both of which finished 9-4, won their bowl games and return their starting QBs. There was only 1 outlet to rank Minnesota (The Athletic, 18th) and only 1 to rank Purdue (SI, 24th).
I know Minnesota could lose up to 4 starters up front from a really good offensive line, but this program plugs and plays as good as anyone. Kirk Ciarrocca, the offensive coordinator for the 2019 squad that finished the season in the top 10, is back on staff in his former position. Tanner Morgan is back at QB, as is top target Chris Autman-Bell. Star running back Mohammed Ibrahim, who suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener, is returning. This team won 9 games after losing its best player early on, including a win in the finale over rival Wisconsin to keep the Badgers out of the Big Ten Championship Game. Keep in mind: Minnesota is 16th among Power 5 teams over the last 3 years with 23 wins. That’s as many as Wisconsin has, that’s as many as Kentucky has, and it’s more than Penn State and Auburn.
Purdue enters the offseason with a ton of momentum coming off its best season since 2003. The Boilermakers appeared in the Top 25 for the first time since 2007, and the beat 2 top-3 teams (Iowa and Michigan State). Then they went out and beat an SEC team in its home state in their bowl game, despite missing their 2 early-round NFL Draft picks. Aidan O’Connell is probably the No. 2 B1G QB entering 2022, behind only CJ Stroud. There’s a lot to be excited about in West Lafayette.
Ohio State is viewed as a national title contender
The Buckeyes were ranked either second or third by every outlet, and it’s not hard to see why: The Buckeyes may well have the top offense in the country once again. CJ Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba will all be among the best nationally at their respective positions. The question will be whether new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles can get that side of the ball in gear. It seems like the worst case scenario is that Ohio State will be in shootouts with a good chance to win, like in the Rose Bowl against Utah. Whether the Buckeyes can actually win a national title will be contingent on the defense.
Who knows about Wisconsin?
I’m not sure what Brett McMurphy (Action Network) knows about Wisconsin, but he has the Badgers all the way at No. 6. There are other outlets, like Sporting News (unranked) and The Athletic (24th) that aren’t buying the Badgers.
I was as high as anyone on Wisconsin before this season (I had the Badgers going to the CFP), but they did not have that sort of season. And now they are likely losing 3 starting linebackers of that great defense, including All-American Leo Chenal. Plus, Graham Mertz, who had a shaky second season as the starter, is losing his top 3 weapons. And as of now, Wisconsin is playing at Ohio State, at Michigan State and at Iowa. That’s a tough schedule.
Michigan, Michigan State earned respect
Michigan started this season outside of the Top 25, and Michigan State was nowhere near anyone’s radar before this season, but both could be in the top 10 or 15 to start next season. Michigan was 11th or better in 7 of the 8 rankings (Action Network was the exception), while Michigan State was 11th or better in 5 of the 8. Expectations are high in 2022 in the state of Michigan.
Media is taking notice of Penn State’s struggles
Penn State hasn’t started any of the past 5 seasons worse than 19th in the preseason AP poll, but I think that streak ends in 2022. The Nittany Lions cracked the Top 25 in only 4 of the 8 rankings, and only the Action Network had Penn State better than 20th. Penn State is 11-11 the last 2 seasons and 8-10 in B1G play, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.