Hickey: My 10 biggest upsets involving Big Ten football teams in 2022
Allow me to throw the parade now, because things can only go downhill from here.
One of the staples at Saturday Tradition and our sister sites (Saturday Down South, Saturday Road, Saturday Out West) is the preseason Crystal Ball series. We predict every game played by every team we cover.
Obviously, no one is hitting 1.000, or we’d be millionaires who would not spend our free time writing articles about college football. Only Biff Tannen has ever pulled that off, and he cheated via time travel to do it.
Upsets are the reason nobody’s perfect. They’re also the reason all of us watch college football. Even if it’s the same 4-6 teams in contention for a College Football Playoff spot every year, it’s the wild weekly upsets along the way that keep us wanting more.
And since upsets always happen, it would be foolish not to predict them. So we do.
One of the biggest upsets I pegged for this season is already in the books. Northwestern was a 12.5-point underdog to Nebraska in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic, but leaves Ireland with a 31-28 win.
So maybe I have an eye for this kind of thing. Or maybe I’m about to go 0-10 in the upset picks I’m about to give you. Either way, that’s why we’re having the parade before the season technically gets under way.
10. Illinois beats Minnesota
This would be a significant upset, because it would likely be the slip-up that costs the Golden Gophers the Big Ten West title. But dating to his time at Wisconsin, Bret Bielema is 8-0 all-time against Minnesota. That includes last season, when he led an inferior Illini team to a 14-6 win at Huntington Bank Stadium. I can’t see Bielema’s first loss to the Gophers taking place on his home turf. But that history also makes it the most mild of our upsets. This game doesn’t make the list if Nebraska and Northwestern hadn’t already played.
9. Indiana beats Nebraska
Since we’re focusing on things Scott Frost is bad at right now, how about this nugget: Frost has never won following a bye week at Nebraska. And sure enough, the Hoosiers will show up as homecoming opponents in Lincoln right after the Cornhuskers have a week off. Of course, this dynamic might change if Frost isn’t there when it happens. A Week 4 showdown against Oklahoma right before the bye may determine if that’s the case.
8. Washington beats Michigan State
This pick hasn’t gone over well in East Lansing, but I’m not backing down.
Washington’s failures last season were more tied to a toxic coaching situation than a lack of talent. And this game is in Seattle. Traveling back 3 time zones isn’t easy when you don’t have a week of prep like you do for a bowl game. New Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. are familiar with the Spartans from their time at Indiana and won’t be intimidated. Furthermore, Washington fans will see blood in the water against a Big Ten opponent. The league’s swiping of UCLA and USC puts their program in a very uncertain place. They’ll be loud, and angry.
7. Northwestern beats Purdue
As the Wildcats showed us in Dublin, they’ve got a darn good offensive line. And Purdue’s defensive front might take a step back this season with George Karlaftis in the NFL.
Pat Fitzgerald hasn’t lost a game in Ross-Ade Stadium since 2007 — a streak of 5 straight wins. The Boilers will be favored by a touchdown or more, most likely, as they’ll still be in contention to win the West in the season’s penultimate week. But the Wildcats will pull off the upset.
6. Penn State beats Ohio State
If I have Ohio State’s only loss as the No. 6 upset of the Big Ten season, you probably think I’m out of my mind. And you’re probably right. But I also think this isn’t that big of an upset.
Behind a banged-up Sean Clifford, the Nittany Lions gave the Buckeyes a heck of a fight last year. Healthy and at home, I like Penn State’s chances here. The Big Ten East will still be Ohio State’s to win, but the Nittany Lions will be the kings of Halloween weekend.
5. Miami (Ohio) beats Northwestern
In the best season in Northwestern history — 1995’s improbable Rose Bowl run — the Wildcats lost once in the regular season. Not to No. 9 Notre Dame. Not to No. 7 Michigan. And not to No. 12 Penn State.
It was to unheralded Miami (Ohio) in Week 2.
There’s quite a history here, too. The RedHawks are 6-3 all-time against Northwestern. And with Brett Gabbert expected to be the top quarterback in the MAC, they’ve got the weapons to do it again.
4. Charlotte beats Maryland
My Group of 5 formula for upsets hinges on a simple question: Is the quarterback any good?
In Charlotte’s case, the answer is yes. Chris Reynolds is the 49ers career leader in passing, and was a preseason second team all-Conference USA selection. The Niners beat Duke last season, and competed decently in a 24-14 loss at Illinois.
The fact that seals the deal for me? This game is at Charlotte. Tiny 15,314-seat Jerry Richardson Stadium is going to be rocking. And Maryland’s pass defense is just suspect enough for Charlotte to pick up its biggest win. (Worry not, Terps fans — even with this loss, I’ve got Maryland pegged for a 7-5 finish.)
3. Nebraska beats Oklahoma
The best part of Nebraska’s loss to Northwestern? It makes the redemption story even better. Scott Frost can erase 5 years worth of angst with a win over Nebraska’s most ancient rival.
The Huskers should have won this game last season. Oklahoma won by 7 points, but Nebraska missed 2 chip-shot field goals and had an extra point attempt blocked and returned for 2 points. That alone is 8 points that change the outcome. The Sea of Red will be ready to swallow an Oklahoma team that lost a lot of talent with Lincoln Riley’s departure.
2. Indiana beats Cincinnati
I have a belief that Indiana would have beaten the Bearcats last year had linebacker Micah McFadden not been ejected for targeting. It was a definitive turning point in a close game. IU led 24-23 at the end of the third quarter. Cincinnati closed the game on a 15-0 run in the final quarter and never looked back until it reached the CFP.
And for the sake of college football, it’s good all that happened. The Group of 5 ceiling needed to be broken. But the Hoosiers aren’t here to enable a sequel to that cute story.
With 9 players from that historic Cincinnati team now in the NFL, Indiana will pull off the upset at Nippert Stadium.
1. Rutgers beats Michigan
I have one simple request if my biggest upset of 2022 comes to fruition: a personalized, signed Greg Schiano “Keep Chopping” Rutgers hatchet. Or axe. Whatever it is he prefers to chop with.
The Scarlet Knights won’t be good this season. Even with this win, I forecast a 4-8 outcome. But I think the program is getting stronger even if its on-field record will be a game worse than last season. And a breakthrough against Michigan would be the proof.
In 2020, Rutgers took the Wolverines to triple overtime. Last year, the Rutgers defense held Michigan to 275 yards. Even Georgia, which had an all-time great defense with 5 first-round NFL Draft picks, allowed 328 in a dominating Orange Bowl win over the Wolverines.
This is the only game I picked Michigan to lose until the season finale at Ohio State. But I’m all-in. Schiano has his finger on the pulse of how to coach against Harbaugh. He just hasn’t had the personnel. The breakthrough is coming eventually.
Why not this year in Piscataway for the biggest shocker of the college football season?