How I would vote at 2022 Big Ten football Media Days
Big Ten football Media Days are back.
The 2022 season kicks off in a figurative sense this week as coaches and 3 players from every team meet with reporters at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It’s unclear how much focus at the event will actually be on the upcoming season, though. The Big Ten’s summertime additions of USC and UCLA and the ramifications it will have for all of college athletics are a clear talking point. The issue of player rights recently espoused by Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and others is another obvious discussion.
But even though it won’t be the focal point, let’s not forget that the upcoming season is the intended focus of Media Days. And that includes predicting what will happen in the upcoming season.
Last week, my Saturday Down South colleague Connor O’Gara shared his ballot for SEC Media Days. That ballot actually counted toward the conference’s preseason poll, which was released at the end of media days.
They do things differently in the Big Ten, which has not conducted an official preseason poll since Nebraska joined the conference in 2011. Perhaps they figured picking who would win the Leaders or Legends was just too much to handle.
There is still a preseason Big Ten poll, though, which is conducted by Cleveland.com. It’s limited to 1 beat writer per program, plus 22 additional voters.
This gatekeeping isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It likely prevents foolishness like we saw last week when some delusional voter picked Vanderbilt to win the SEC.
But it also means I don’t have a vote in the preseason poll. Yet. So while Connor was able to put his money where his mouth was, my ballot is purely hypothetical. Which is fine. Now you can’t blame me if you hate the outcome of the actual poll.
How I’d pick the B1G East
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Michigan State
This is the easy one.
After getting interrupted by Michigan last season, the Buckeyes will regain their perch atop the East. This Ohio State team represents the Big Ten’s best shot at a national title since 2014.
I’ve got Rutgers and Indiana both going 2-7 in conference play, but the Scarlet Knights with the head-to-head win at home to earn the official 6th-place vote.
There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting will be officially launching on January 1, 2023. Ohio will join other Big Ten states where sports betting has become legalized such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and more.
How I’d pick the B1G West
This is where things get, shall we say, convoluted.
For a variety of reasons, there is no clear-cut favorite in the West this season. That’s the case most seasons, but even those had nothing on the parity we’re likely to see in 2022.
Thanks to crossovers and each team’s respective strengths and weaknesses, there’s a very realistic path to 5 teams finishing tied atop the West with 5-4 records. And that is the chaos I foresee.
This isn’t by design, because I’m not smart enough to invent such a design.
I predicted the game-by-game results for every Big Ten team, which will be explored in detail in our Crystal Ball series beginning Aug. 15. And the way this year’s schedule breaks down is conducive to this bonkers outcome. (Perhaps the biggest swing game? Penn State at Purdue in Week 1. Win that, and the Boilermakers have an excellent shot to win the West outright. Lose, and the chaos scenario may begin to weave together.)
If you’re wondering if anything this weird has happened before, the answer is yes. In 2004, 4 teams tied for the Big East title at 4-2. UConn was just a game behind at 3-3.
Granted, that outcome is much more likely when there are 6 conference games as opposed to 9. But with the variety provided by the Big Ten’s 3 divisional crossover games, it’s also possible with a 9-game schedule.
So how would that tiebreaker work?
Fortunately, the Big Ten rulebook is actually prepared to handle such a contingency.
In the event of a tie between 3 or more division leaders, the first tiebreaker is the team with the best record in games between the tied teams.
So in this case, we’d have:
- Purdue (3-1): Iowa (W), Minnesota (W), Nebraska (W), Wisconsin (L)
- Iowa (2-2): Wisconsin (W), Nebraska (W), Minnesota (L), Purdue (L)
- Nebraska (2-2): Wisconsin (W), Minnesota (W), Purdue (L), Iowa (L)
- Wisconsin (2-2): Purdue (W), Minnesota (W), Nebraska (L), Iowa (L)
- Minnesota (1-3): Iowa (W), Purdue (L), Nebraska (L), Wisconsin (L)
Just picking the West from 1-7 would have saved a lot of time and legwork, but what’s the fun in that? I’m fully invested in the chaos scenario.
How I’d pick the B1G championship
Ohio State over Purdue
It’s darn near impossible to outdraw Ohio State fans at any neutral site, but Purdue’s proximity to Indianapolis would give this matchup a true 50/50 feel. Or maybe even a slight edge, since Buckeyes fans might be saving up for the CFP semifinals. As they should be.
That 49-20 Purdue win over Ohio State in 2018 might be reversed here. The Boilermakers don’t have nearly enough defensive weapons or ability to chew up time of possession on offense.
Preseason B1G Offensive Player of the Year
WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Buckeyes quarterback CJ Stroud is almost certain to be the preseason offensive player of the year. It’s rare to have a Heisman finalist returning for an encore season.
However, I think Ohio State would have a harder time replacing Smith-Njigba than Stroud. If it came down to it, Ohio State would still win the Big Ten with backup quarterback Kyle McCord. Even in a talented receiving room, Smith-Njigba is at a different level than his peers.
Last year, Smith-Njigba averaged 25 yards per game more than Garrett Wilson and 45 ypg more than Chris Olave — both top-11 draft picks! That gap over his teammates may grow even larger this season. Though Brian Hartline’s position group is talented, it is green behind Smith-Njigba.
Smith-Njigba’s presence is what makes Ohio State’s offense almost impossible to defend.
Preseason B1G Defensive Player of the Year
LB Nick Herbig, Wisconsin
While Offensive Player of the Year boils down to a 2-man race in my eyes — Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson would be the only other candidate — it’s a much different story on defense. There are at least a half-dozen players capable of earning this distinction.
Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell and cornerback Riley Moss, likely first team preseason All-Americans, are obviously near the top. Penn State defensive back Joey Porter Jr. and Ohio State defensive back Ronnie Hickman are also candidates. And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Nebraska outside linebacker Garrett Nelson is this year’s version of Aidan Hutchinson — a guy who grows by leaps and bounds to lead his program out of the doldrums.
But I’m playing it somewhat safe and choosing Herbig. The Wisconsin redshirt sophomore sensation is the Big Ten’s returning leader in tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (9) from a year ago. And those are the types of stats that get people excited.
Herbig is 1 of just 3 starters returning for Wisconsin’s defense, so it feels likely defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will put a lot on his plate. I’m betting he’ll be ready.