Hickey: 5 Big Ten takeaways from ESPN's returning production breakdown
For data nerds, the week ESPN analyst Bill Connelly releases his returning production data is among the most interesting of college football’s long trudge of an offseason.
But it’s not just fun for nerds.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys making a little money wagering on each season, the data can also be informative.
Veteran teams are not guaranteed to succeed, and inexperienced rosters are not doomed to fail.
Talent-filled programs like Alabama and Ohio State tend to have a high level of turnover certain years.
Michigan State was among the Big Ten’s most experienced teams in 2022 but failed to reach a bowl game.
But experienced teams can make for unexpected contenders, like Indiana in 2020 or Purdue in 2022. And when teams don’t return a great deal of production, it’s no surprise when they struggle — like Northwestern in 2021.
According to Connelly, this is what each Big Ten roster looks like for 2023 — though keep in mind there will be alterations following the spring wave of transfers.
Not many surprises checking out the @ESPN_BillC data on returning production in the Big Ten next season.
48. Ohio St
56. Penn St
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.
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— Alex Hickey (@bigahickey) February 10, 2023
So, what does this tell us about the Big Ten next season?
1. Jim Harbaugh would have been crazy to leave Michigan
The Wolverines, who are already coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles, return 81% of their total production next season. With Blake Corum electing to return, the offense rates 4th nationally with 84% of production coming back.
There may well be a time for Harbaugh to depart for the NFL, but this offseason was not it. These Wolverines represent his best chance to win a national championship at Michigan.
Once we learn more details about a Harbaugh contract extension, we’ll see whether or not his NFL job interviews were merely a bargaining tactic. But next year is poised to be when his stock is highest.
If Michigan hadn’t performed so poorly in the past 2 College Football Playoffs, it would be the national championship favorite.
2. Buy the Wisconsin hype
I’ve been high on Wisconsin from the moment Luke Fickell was hired, and Connelly provided me with needed confirmation bias. The Badgers are 3rd in the Big Ten with 72% of overall production returning. On top of that, Wisconsin has very good outside help arriving in former SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai.
The Badgers should be favored to play Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game. Yes, the coaching staff still has to integrate a radically new system, especially on offense. But as TCU and USC showed last season, those types of quick overhauls are now very possible in college football.
3. Nebraska is going bowling
Matt Rhule is going to snap Nebraska’s 6-year bowl drought in his 1st season.
The Huskers are 4th in the B1G in returning production. Starting quarterback Casey Thompson is among those returning, and incoming Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims will push him for the job.
Also helping Nebraska’s cause? The 4 teams who have the most production to replace — Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern — all reside in the West Division.
4. Greg Schiano needs to make it happen this year
In Schiano’s 1st go-around at Rutgers, 2005 was the year the Scarlet Knights made the leap. After 4 straight losing seasons to open his tenure, Rutgers went 7-4 in the regular season. It was the 1st of 5 winning seasons for Schiano among the remaining 6 in Piscataway.
Schiano is entering Year 4 of his 2nd tenure at Rutgers and has yet to experience a winning season in the Big Ten. Rutgers’ 1st year in the league, 2014, remains the only winning season for the Scarlet Knights in the B1G.
If it’s going to happen again, it needs to be now. Rutgers poached Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca in hopes of jump-starting the Big Ten’s worst passing offense. The Knights are 2nd in the B1G and 23rd nationally with 73% of overall production returning.
Things are set up for Rutgers to reach 6 or more wins, but the Big Ten East is a bruising neighborhood to live in.
5. Northwestern is going to stink — again
As previously asserted, a lack of returning production does not guarantee a lack of success. But in the case of Northwestern, which isn’t exactly replete with 4- and 5-star talent to replace the outgoing production, disaster is pretty much written in stone.
The Wildcats must replace their most talented players on both side of the trenches in offensive tackle Peter Skoronski and defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore. Both will be drafted. And even with the benefit of their talent, the Cats didn’t win a game in North America in 2022.
An already bad offense rates 115th nationally with just 46% of production coming back.
This will be Northwestern’s 3rd straight losing season since reaching the Big Ten Championship Game in 2020. Pat Fitzgerald will need this group to take its lumps and rebound in 2024, or conversations may start getting awkward in Evanston in the same way they did for David Shaw at Stanford.