B1G Monday Morning: Examining the offseason momentum of each Big Ten program in 2022 (7 up, 7 down)
As former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler once reportedly said, “Every day, you either get better or worse. You never stay the same.”
Let’s apply that philosophy to the 2022 offseason for each Big Ten team. Here are 7 teams with positive momentum heading into the offseason and 7 that are on the decline, relatively speaking.
All in all, this was a pretty good first season for Bret Bielema. In 5 seasons under Lovie Smith, the Illini won 5 games just once, and they were 1-16 against ranked opponents. Illinois won 5 games in 2021 and went 2-1 against ranked opponents, with both wins coming on the road. Bielema has a rising star in defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who got an extension through 2024, and he hired a new offensive coordinator.
The most disappointing team in the entire country, Indiana went from preseason No. 17 to finishing 2-10. Tom Allen fired his offensive coordinator and had to take a pay cut. Indiana did have the No. 5 recruiting class in the B1G this year, but that was built off of 2020’s terrific season. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, 2021 was the inverse. Michael Penix Jr. transferred to Washington, so any hope of a reversion to 2020 is out the window, for now. A lot of work to be done in Bloomington this offseason.
Winning the West for the second time in the last 10 years, extending the longtime head coach and getting some key players to return for 2022 seems great, right? Well, yeah. But the elephant in the room is that the head coach’s son is the offensive coordinator of one of the worst units in college football. Plus, Iowa has a QB problem that significantly lowers the team’s ceiling. The Hawkeyes were embarrassed in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan and blew a lead against an undermanned Kentucky squad in the Citrus Bowl. Iowa’s point differential over the final 8 games was minus-52.
Maryland started 2021 strong and finished strong, too, giving it some juice heading into 2022. In a win-or-go-home game against Rutgers, Maryland rolled on the road. And then it dominated Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Terrapins hadn’t allowed fewer than 31 points in a game since September, yet they held Rutgers and Virginia Tech to a combined 26. With Taulia Tagovailoa back, Maryland will have one of the top QBs in the conference.
We still don’t know what will happen with Jim Harbaugh, but for now, it appears he’s staying despite rumors that he was headed back to the NFL. Either way, Harbaugh legitimized the Michigan program once again. Maybe the Wolverines aren’t good enough to win it all, but they are good enough to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten. This should really help on the recruiting trail. Plus, that young core for Michigan is extremely promising.
Michigan State: Up
What a difference a year makes: A win in the Peach Bowl, the lethal QB-WR duo is returning and the head coach turned down LSU. That’s a lot of good things, even if star running back Kenneth Walker III is leaving for the NFL. Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger can hopefully fill that void.
The Golden Gophers polished off a solid season with a victory in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, finishing 9-4. They won their final 3 games by double digits, and now they get their star running back and offensive coordinator from that terrific 2019 back in the fold for 2022. Plus, they extended defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, the leader of the No. 3 defense in the country. The hope, obviously, is that Tanner Morgan can recapture that 2019 magic with Kirk Ciarrocca.
Nebraska has had some positive things happen in the last month, but until that translates to the field, it doesn’t mean much. The Huskers have one of the longest bowl-less streaks among Power 5 programs at 5 years, only getting to 5 wins once in that span. Scott Frost has made some solid moves in hiring OC Mark Whipple away from Pitt and nabbing Texas QB Casey Thompson in the transfer portal, but basically starting over on offense in Year 5 isn’t great.
This season was a disaster for Northwestern, which once again bottomed out and had the second-worst point differential in the B1G. The tough part is that the Wildcats don’t have a ton of promising prospects for next season. South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski didn’t play well at QB, star safety Brandon Joseph transferred to Notre Dame and the team is riding a 6-game losing streak, with all but 1 of those coming by 18 points or more.
Ohio State: Up
Even with a loss to Michigan, Ohio State is looking at a big 2022. The Buckeyes are in the top 3 of every too-early Top 25, they made a great hire at defensive coordinator and they will likely have one of the best offenses in the country again. Anytime you have one of the top QBs, wideouts and running backs in the country, you’re going to be just fine.
Penn State: Down
Penn State is 11-11 over the last 2 seasons and facing a bit of an identity crisis. The Nittany Lions, who once boasted elite running backs Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders, didn’t have a back run for 100 yards in a game this season. Former 5-star running back Noah Cain hit the transfer portal, defensive coordinator Brent Pry took the head job at Virginia Tech and the Nittany Lions lost a ton off that great defense. It’s time for James Franklin to earn that lofty extension he received mid-season.
Even though it loses its 2 best players, Purdue is riding high into 2022. The way the Boilermakers took down Tennessee, in Nashville no less, gives this program positive momentum into Jeff Brohm’s sixth season. And that was only the third-most impressive win of the season, behind topping top-3 squads Iowa and Michigan State by double digits. Former walk-on Aidan O’Connell is one of the top 3 QBs in the B1G heading into next season, and in the always wide-open West, Purdue feels poised to contend again.
Even though Rutgers got to a bowl game, it went just 3-8 against Power 5 opponents, including 2-7 in the B1G. Considering Greg Schiano won 3 B1G games in his first season, this was a step back. In a game with bowl eligibility on the line, the Scarlet Knights lost by 24 at home to a Maryland squad that had lost 6 of 7.
Yes, the Badgers won 9 games, but they finished outside the final Top 25 of the season for the second straight season, after doing that just once in the previous 7 seasons. Wisconsin recovered nicely after starting 1-3, but with a shot to win the West, it lost to rival Minnesota. Plus, there isn’t a ton of optimism that Wisconsin has fixed its poor offense, even with Graham Mertz heading into Year 3 as the starter.