B1G post-spring power rankings
Let’s be clear: it’s way too early to be providing power rankings. We’re still four months away from kickoff, the transfer portal is still full of undecided players and we’re coming off the most unusual season in the history of college football.
Making projections after 15 practices and a spring game can be labeled as crazy. But it provides a baseline of how teams looked this spring and where we expect them to finish when the season rolls around in late August.
Spring ball in the B1G is virtually over, with the only exception being Rutgers, which got a late start because of COVID-19 issues. Still, we’re going to jump right into the B1G post-spring power rankings.
14. Michigan State Spartans
Mel Tucker’s team has some exciting potential at the skill positions with an upgrade at quarterback (Payton Thorne or Anthony Russo), a deep running back room and playmakers at the wide receiver position. It won’t mean much if the offensive line struggles again, and that was certainly the case in Michigan State’s abbreviated spring scrimmage. The defense will take a step back by losing top talents like Shakur Brown, Antjuan Simmons and Naquan Jones. This will be another rebuilding year in East Lansing.
13. Purdue Boilermakers
David Bell is an All-American wide receiver and defensive end George Karlaftis could be a first-round draft pick after the 2021 season. Outside of that, there are a lot of question marks entering Jeff Brohm’s fifth season. Purdue hasn’t been able to run the football, stop the run or slow down any passing attack. That’s a problem. Hiring Brad Lambert to run the defense and bringing back Mark Hagen to coach the defensive line are improvements from last year’s staff, but the Boilermakers still have a lot of room for improvement.
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Everyone saw what Greg Schiano is capable of doing in his return season at Rutgers. This is a team that still lacks the talent and depth to be more competitive with some of the top teams in the B1G, but the Scarlet Knights can give a lot of opponents a four quarter battle this season. Quarterback Noah Vedral still isn’t 100% this spring and he really could’ve used the offseason to improve his game. The defense should be good enough to win some games, but are the Scarlet Knights capable of scoring points?
11. Maryland Terrapins
If there’s one team that could be the surprise of the 2021 season, Maryland might be it. The defense looked a lot better in the spring game than it had in the previous two seasons under Mike Locksley, consistently putting pressure on the quarterbacks and limiting the big plays. That’s a step in the right direction. Plus, the Terrapins have some weapons offensively with Taulia Tagovailoa returning under center and Rakim Jarrett, Jeshaun Jones and Dontay Demus in the receiver room. Like other teams in the lower portion of these power rankings, Maryland’s biggest concern is on the offensive line. Play up front could be the difference between bowl eligibility and a 3-win season.
10. Illinois Fighting Illini
Maybe it’s premature to have Illinois this high on the list, but in the small sample size we’ve seen from the Fighting Illini, the play in the trenches on both sides of the football already looks better. That’s a Bret Bielema trademark and might actually be enough for this team to make a postseason appearance in his first year back in the B1G. Illinois returns a lot of production on the defensive side of the football and Bielema added some key pieces through the transfer portal who should be able to make an immediate impact. This is already a more fun, interesting team to watch.
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Return of the Blackshirt defense? It’s too early to tell, but with the Huskers returning nine starters on defense and the top players at all three levels — defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt, linebacker JoJo Domann and defensive lineman Ben Stille — this should be the best defense Lincoln has seen in quite some time. The offensive line showed major improvement in the spring game and there are plenty of options at the running back position. Can Adrian Martinez take that next step as a quarterback and will a someone at receiver establish himself as the consistent deep threat that’s been missing under Scott Frost? If those two questions are answered, Nebraska should finally be able to get back to a bowl game.
8. Michigan Wolverines
A new coaching staff, a new quarterback and plenty of other new faces on both sides of the ball. Michigan still has tremendous talent, but that hasn’t always produced the results you’d expect. The Wolverines have to get the quarterback situation right this year, whether it’s Cade McNamara, J.J. McCarthy or Alan Bowman. Parting ways with Don Brown was probably the right move and there should be some improvement on that side of the ball, even after losing stars Kwity Paye and Cameron McGrone. With running back Zach Charbonnet leaving and receiver Giles Jackson also transferring, Michigan is inexperienced at the skill positions. A lot of guys will have to grow up fast.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
It’s hard to have Penn State much higher right now based on what happened last season, but this is easily a team that could re-establish itself as a contender to Ohio State in the B1G East. Bringing in Mike Yurcich to run the offense and having a complete offseason to work with players could be enough to elevate this team back to the top of the conference. Where the Nittany Lions finish in the conference will depend heavily on how Sean Clifford performs under center. Penn State has the supporting cast to bounce back from the 4-5 season in 2020, but Clifford needs to be more consistent.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers
After watching the spring game, you could make the argument that Minnesota will have the most explosive offense in the B1G West. The offensive line has size and experience, Tanner Morgan was putting the ball right on the mark and Chris Autman-Bell looks capable of replacing Rashod Bateman as the No. 1 target. Oh, and Mohamed Ibrahim, last year’s B1G Running Back of the Year, provides this offense with an incredible number of options to pick up yardage. Defense struggled in the spring game and special teams issues still appear to be lingering around TCF Bank Stadium. P.J. Fleck has a team good enough to compete for a division title if those areas are addressed.
5. Northwestern Wildcats
The biggest loss Northwestern suffered was defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz retiring at the end of the 2020 season. There’s no question he’ll be tough to replace, and so will Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher and Greg Newsome II on that side of the football. But Pat Fitzgerald has a way of fielding a great defense every season in Evanston, regardless of who’s returning. Seeing Chris Bergin return and having Brandon Joseph in the secondary are big entering the 2021 season. Northwestern’s offensive line should be in great shape and there are plenty of options at running back. Can the passing attack provide enough of a spark to keep teams guessing? If the Wildcats can just have some threat through the air, this should be a really solid squad.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes
It’s easy to point at what Iowa lost and suggest that the Hawkeyes will drop in the standings, but this is a team that also has some really bright spots. The secondary return Riley Moss, Jack Koerner, Kaevon Merriweather, Matt Hankins and Dane Belton, giving Iowa one of the most experienced secondary units in the B1G. Losing Chauncey Golston and Daviyon Nixon from the defensive line is significant, but Kirk Ferentz gets the benefit of the doubt in developing talent up front on both sides of the ball. Tyler Goodson is an underrated running back and Tyrone Tracy and Sam LaPorta will be solid options in the passing attack. Really, the biggest question is how much Spencer Petras improves from his first year to his second season as a starting quarterback.
3. Indiana Hoosiers
There may not be a team in the B1G that depends more on its quarterback being healthy than Indiana. If Michael Penix Jr. is at full strength, Indiana is going to be one of the biggest challengers to Ohio State this fall. If not, then the Hoosiers might be left to squeak out six wins to get to a bowl game. Ty Fryfogle is a great weapon at receiver and Sampson James has the chance to be the go-to guy out of the backfield. Defensively, the Hoosiers will have one of the best back seven units in the league, led by linebacker Micah McFadden, defensive backs Tiawan Mullen, Reese Taylor and the return of Marcelino McCrary-Ball. Whether it happens or not is one thing, but IU has the talent and experience to compete for a B1G title.
2. Wisconsin Badgers
Having Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor and Jake Ferguson to throw to next season should make life a little easier for returning starter Graham Mertz. And behind a stout offensive line, Jalen Berger has to potential to have a breakout year out of the backfield. Essentially, Wisconsin’s offense should be a lot better during the 2021 season. Defensively, the Badgers might have the best linebacker corps in the conference, with Jack Sanborn, Leo Chenal, Noah Burks and Nick Herbig back, and the secondary locked down by Scott Nelson and Faion Hicks. Retaining defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was huge for Wisconsin in the offseason. Paul Chryst’s team is poised to make another return trip to Indianapolis after finishing 4-3 last year.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Not many spring games are going to be as impressive as the one Ohio State put on in April — and it wasn’t even a live tackling scrimmage. C.J. Stroud appears to be the current leader to land the starting quarterback job, and he’ll have a bevy of options at receiver, led by Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, the best combination in college football. Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford might be the best offensive tackle duo in the sport, as well. Offensively, this team has the potential to score over 40 points in every game. Concerns for the Buckeyes come at the linebacker spot and in the secondary. The Buckeyes lost four linebackers and the secondary struggled at times during the 2020 campaign. But even with those concerns, Ryan Day’s team should still be a favorite to reach the College Football Playoff.