Biggest concern I have with every B1G offense
Some of this is nitpicking, but no offense is perfect. Here is the biggest concern I have with every B1G offense:
Illinois: Passing attack will be one of B1G’s worst
Brandon Peters won’t have much in the way of receiving targets. Josh Imatorbhebhe opted not to return, so tight end Daniel Barker is the most proven returning pass catcher. Since Illinois’ offensive line will be among the league’s best and running back Chase Brown seems to be ready for a big season, the offense will move the ball. But if (and when) the Illini fall behind, it won’t be a group that is great at making comebacks.
Indiana: Underachieving offense line
The Hoosiers were really good in many areas last season. Offensive line was not one of them. They had the worst offensive line in the Big Ten last season, as Michael Penix was routinely forced into hurried throws. The Hoosiers had 2 of the 3 lowest-graded tackles in the Big Ten last season. If Indiana hasn’t improved its offensive line, Penix will be hard-pressed to stay healthy. Whether the Hoosiers can continue this upward trajectory hinges on the offensive line and keeping their QB healthy.
Iowa: Lower-tier QB
The Hawkeyes finished with a flourish, but it was no thanks to QB Spencer Petras, who has a lot to prove after finishing 10th in QB rating in the Big Ten. Petras did improve as the season went on, throwing 5 TD passes over the final 2 games, but he’s still a huge question mark. Iowa’s defense and offensive line are always very good, so Petras doesn’t have to be Superman. But he will have to take the next step for the Hawkeyes to take the next step. Can he develop a go-to target after Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith opted not to return?
Maryland: Consistency from game-to-game
When you put Maryland’s 2020 into context, it’s all understandable. The Terrapins had a first-time starter at QB with limited time to prepare because of COVID, absences throughout the season thanks to COVID and matchups against some of the league’s top defenses. But there has to be some middle ground from the explosive performances against Minnesota and Penn State and then the duds against Northwestern (3 points), Indiana (11 points) and Rutgers (24 points in an overtime loss).
Michigan: Upheaval at QB
The two players vying for Michigan’s starting QB job last season have both transferred (Dylan McCaffrey to Northern Colorado and Joe Milton to Tennessee). That means the No. 3 option from last season (Cade McNamara) is battling it out with 2 newcomers (Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman and 5-star freshman JJ McCarthy). Jim Harbaugh being unable to find his QB will continue to be a topic of conversation until he actually does.
Michigan State: Uncertainty at QB
With a lot of these teams, QB is a major question mark. That’s especially true of Michigan State, which has the makings of a much-improved offense. The wideouts are good, and Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker will give the running game a much-needed boost. Will Temple transfer Anthony Russo or Payton Thorne step up? It can’t get much worse than Rocky Lombardi, who has since transferred to Northern Illinois. Thorne showed some promise in spot starts, while Russo had some success in the AAC.
Minnesota: Rediscovering efficiency in pass game
Minnesota was so good in 2019 because it balanced a strong running game with an extremely efficient passing attack. The Golden Gophers averaged 10.2 yards per attempt (6th in the country) but dropped to 7.6 in 2020 (53rd nationally). It’s no secret that Minnesota wants to lean on the run, but it needs to figure out how to help Tanner Morgan recapture that magic of 2019.
Nebraska: Not an explosive offense
Nebraska lacks juice on offense. The Huskers ranked 112th nationally in passes over 30 yards, and it’s hard to imagine that changing with Adrian Martinez entering his fourth season as the starter. With all due respect to Martinez, he is who he is at this point. His best season was as a freshman in 2018, and yet the Huskers still haven’t had a player who can beat him out. They will be a decent offense because the offensive line and running game should be above average, and Martinez is good at making plays with his legs, but it’s hard to work your way downfield without any big plays.
Northwestern: Lack of weapons for new QB Ryan Hillinski
The Wildcats were by no means an explosive offense, finishing 110th nationally in yards per play. They lost their top 4 wideouts and return just 4 starters on offense. Bryce Kirtz (6 catches for 67 yards) is the leading returning receiver. Kansas transfer Stephen Robinson Jr. should step in to lead the way, but with a new QB as well (South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski), that doesn’t bode well for the Wildcats improving from last year’s middling offense.
Ohio State: There isn’t a QB on the roster who has thrown a college pass
The Buckeyes are loaded on offense, and they have 3 highly touted recruits to choose from to replace Justin Fields. The only problem? Neither redshirt freshmen CJ Stroud nor Jack Miller, nor true freshman Kyle McCord has thrown a pass in college. Ohio State will be fine, but the beauty of college football is that it only takes 1 game to ruin a season (see the 2015 Buckeyes). Ohio State has a sneaky tough opener at Minnesota, which returns 20 starters, before meeting Oregon. The new starter, presumably Stroud, needs to have a quick start.
Penn State: No insurance policy at QB
Sean Clifford is under a ton of pressure this season. Will he be the guy who helped Penn State to a Cotton Bowl victory or the guy who got benched last season? That will tell the tale of the Nittany Lions’ 2021 season, because the roster is a good one. Mike Yurcich is Penn State’s third offensive coordinator in 3 years. Penn State had 2 QBs transfer in the offseason and didn’t pick up any in the portal, so they are hinging a lot on Clifford.
Purdue: Non-existent run game
Purdue is going to be fine at QB, whether it is Jack Plummer or Aidan O’Connell back there. Both have proven to be adequate, and as long as David Bell and Milton Wright are healthy, the aerial attack will be just fine. But the Boilermakers have finished last in rushing in the B1G in 2 straight seasons. They averaged 3.26 yards per carry (112th nationally) and that was an improvement from the 2.96 they averaged in 2019 (126th nationally). Zander Horvath is a nice all-around player because he can catch out of the backfield, but the Boilermakers would be well-served to establish a better ground game.
Rutgers: Lack of elite QB
There’s a reason Rutgers used 3 QBs in 2020 and that it didn’t much matter which one was in. Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral was unspectacular with 9 TD passes and 8 INTs, capped by a season finale in which he threw for 36 yards and averaged only 2 yards per attempt. It couldn’t have been easy to be a transfer working with a brand-new OC during COVID because of the limited practice and meeting times. But now there are no excuses. He has to get up to speed with Sean Gleeson’s up-tempo system for Rutgers to take the next step. With Art Sitkowski transferring to Illinois, Vedral is the guy.
Wisconsin: Lack of running back depth
It’s unusual to worry about the running back position in a program that has produced so many great ones. And all indications are that Jalen Berger is the real deal. But who else do the Badgers have behind him? There were only two other scholarship running backs on the spring roster, Isaac Guerendo and Julius Davis, and both were out injured (as was Berger). The Badgers brought in 3 running backs in the 2021 recruiting class, and it’s likely at least 1 will be forced to play immediately. That’s the result of Nakia Watson transferring to Washington State and Garrett Groshek opting to go pro. The good news is that Badgers offensive line should make whoever is running the ball look good.