Predicting every B1G team's first loss in 2021
Making it through a college football season undefeated is incredibly difficult. So challenging, in fact, that only one B1G team has accomplished that feat since 2002: Ohio State.
The Buckeyes did it on the way to a national title in 2002 and then again in 2012, Urban Meyer’s first season as head coach. But that year, Ohio State played just 12 games because of NCAA sanctions, prohibiting the team from playing in the B1G Championship Game or a bowl game.
So, as much as we’d like to say your favorite B1G team is definitely going undefeated in 2021, the odds are it won’t happen. That then leaves us with a question to answer: when will each team lose it’s first game?
Illinois Fighting Illini: Week 2 vs. Virginia
All eyes are going to be on that Week 0 matchup against Nebraska. The Huskers will probably be a touchdown favorite in that game, but I’m fully expecting to see an entirely different Illinois team under Bret Bielema, one with more than 20 super-seniors, a returning quarterback and improved line play on both sides of the football.
What happens when Bielema has to take this team on the road, though? And against a quality opponent like Virginia? The Cavaliers are a well-coached team and have become more consistent under Bronco Mendenhall.
Illinois starts the season off hot, but Virginia pours a little water on the Fighting Illini in Week 2.
Indiana Hoosiers: Week 5 vs. Penn State
Yes, we all want to see that undefeated matchup between Indiana and Ohio State on Oct. 23, but it’s not going to happen. Penn State has this game circled in red ink and underlined 37 times on the calendar after the way last year’s season opener ended. This is a revenge game for James Franklin’s team.
Plus, Penn State still has the talent advantage in terms of depth. And in front of a (hopefully) sold-out crowd at Beaver Stadium, the pressure is going to be too much for a still-rising Indiana program.
Blowout? Absolutely not. But you better believe Penn State is looking forward to getting this game in Happy Valley with a chance to reaffirm it’s still a contender in the B1G East.
Iowa Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Indiana
So…you all saw how poorly Iowa played to open the 2020 season, right? I can’t pick the Hawkeyes in this type of matchup in the first game of the year, even if it is at Kinnick Stadium.
I really like Iowa’s linebacker corps and secondary but I also think Michael Penix Jr. and Ty Fryfogle could have big afternoons with this being a Week 1 game. And the Hoosiers will bring a really good defense into Iowa City as well, which could cause some issues for Spencer Petras.
Plus, there’s always the fact that Gary Barta is the chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee and Indiana felt like it was robbed of a spot in the New Year’s Six. Might be a little added motivation for the Hoosiers in the opener.
Maryland Terrapins: Week 3 vs. Illinois
This could be a sneaky-good game in a cross-division matchup. Maryland has better playmakers and Illinois has the better line play. In that situation, give me the battle in the trenches all day, every day.
Both teams are looking to get to six wins and play in a bowl game at the end of the season, so the outcome of this game could have postseason implications, making it critically important for both programs.
In past years, this might be a game you’d be willing to pass up. But this Week 3 matchup should be much more entertaining.
Michigan Wolverines: Week 5 vs. Wisconsin
New faces, same result.
Michigan has been pummeled by Wisconsin each of the past two seasons and that will probably be the case again this year. I do think we’ll see a much-improved Michigan team this year with the new staff and plenty of incoming talent, but the program is going to be pretty young in 2021 and it won’t be able to compete with a veteran staff and team like Wisconsin.
The Badgers have manhandled Michigan at the line of scrimmage recently and that will be the case again. The Wolverines get off to a hot start and create plenty of hype about a potential B1G East title (sound familiar), but Wisconsin will burst that bubble in October.
Michigan State Spartans: Week 1 vs. Northwestern
Revenge is a theme, isn’t it? And Michigan State spoiled Northwestern’s perfect season last year, which gives Pat Fitzgerald some additional fuel during the offseason.
I bet Mel Tucker is happy about that.
Northwestern still has some questions about the quarterback position, but the Wildcats’ defense should be able to take care of business against a new QB in East Lansing and an unproven offensive line. Fortunately for Tucker, Michigan State gets Youngstown State (FCS) in Week 2 to try and get the first win of the season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers: Week 1 vs. Ohio State
Welcome to 2021, Gophers.
I do expect Minnesota to be a challenger in the B1G West again this season, but much like Iowa, this is a team that has proven to get better as the season progresses. This might be a more fun matchup if it was played later in the year or in the B1G Championship Game — which could happen.
Remember, Minnesota is a team that needed late-game heroics to beat South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern in the first three games of an 11-2 campaign in 2019. You might already know this, but Ohio State is quite a bit better than all three of those teams.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: Week 0 vs. Illinois
You probably guessed this after I suggested Illinois won’t lose until a few weeks into the season. But it won’t make it any easier to stomach for Nebraska fans if the team starts off the year 0-1, and I do believe that will happen.
Illinois has absolutely nothing to lose and gets the game in Champaign. There will be a lot of energy built up and the Fighting Illini will play loose. Nebraska’s offensive line should look a lot better and the defense should be good, but I suspect the pressure will get to the Huskers if it’s a close game going into the 4th quarter, regardless of score.
The pressure is really going to be on Scott Frost after this one, but fortunately athletic director Bill Moos was able to get Fordham on the schedule in Week 2, allowing the Huskers to bounce back quickly.
Northwestern Wildcats: Week 5 vs. Nebraska
Speaking of Nebraska…
These two teams seem to always have incredibly close games and Northwestern always has that one game that everyone expects it will win and ends up laying an egg. The trip to Lincoln will be that game the Wildcats let slip away.
I think the Huskers are a team that will continue to improve as the season goes along and catching an undefeated Northwestern team at home early in the B1G schedule might be the boost the program needs. Eight of the 10 games the two schools have played since Nebraska joined the B1G have been decided by a possession, so this should be another fun one.
Ohio State Buckeyes: College Football Playoff semifinal game
Ohio State is still the best team in the B1G, and while it’s incredibly difficult to go through the regular season undefeated for a third-consecutive year, I do believe it will happen. There will be some challengers along the way — Minnesota, Oregon, Penn State and Indiana — but the Buckeyes should squeak out wins in all of those games.
Are the Buckeyes good enough to win a national championship? I don’t think they’ll beat teams like Alabama, Clemson, Georgia or Oklahoma, so I believe the run ends in one of the semifinal games of the College Football Playoff.
Still, three appearances in three years is pretty good for Ryan Day.
Penn State Nittany Lions: Week 1 vs. Wisconsin
Somebody has to win the game, right? This is probably the best matchup of Week 1 and has major implications for both programs. Really, the nod goes to the Badgers because of the home-field advantage and it should have the better defense, as well.
Penn State’s offense should present some challenges with improved quarterback play and a better offensive attack, but working out the rust on the road in one of college football’s toughest environments — against one of the B1G’s most consistent programs — is an incredibly difficult task.
Wisconsin will knock off Penn State to open the season, but don’t give up on the Nittany Lions after one game.
Purdue Boilermakers: Week 3 vs. Notre Dame
The fun in-state rivalry has been renewed, but it’s not going to end well for Purdue. Notre Dame is simply better in just about every area, and the Boilermakers’ only hope would be a gutsy offensive scheme that catches the Fighting Irish off guard.
Notre Dame has won five straight against Purdue and you can chalk up another “W” in that streak.
Here’s a fun anecdote, though: Boilermaker legend Drew Brees will be on the call for the game as NBC’s analyst for Notre Dame games. I’m sure Purdue fans will take that well.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Week 4 vs. Michigan
A much better Rutgers team in Year 2 under Greg Schiano, but still not one that gets a win over one of the power programs in the B1G East. Depth, talent and size all favor Michigan, so the Scarlet Knights will start B1G play with a loss.
Rutgers did give Michigan all it could handle a season ago in Piscataway, but Michigan should be a much better team. Having to travel to the Big House in front of a big crowd might also be intimidating for Schiano’s team this fall.
Still, it’d be an incredibly good sign if Rutgers skates through the nonconference season with a 3-0 record, given their past struggles.
Wisconsin Badgers: Week 9 vs. Iowa
Spider-Man meme, anyone?
Wisconsin and Iowa always put a heavy emphasis on play at the line of scrimmage and both are always consistently in the B1G West conversation — although it’s typically been the Badgers that get to Indianapolis. By the time these two teams meet in mid-October, I think this will be coin-flip contest.
Even though revenge has been a theme, Iowa got that sweet taste of victory last year and it’s not quite ready to hand back the Heartland Trophy just yet. And the outcome of this one might have B1G Championship Game implications.