What every Big Ten fan should be thankful for this Thanksgiving
In this piece, we will attempt to thread the needle between being so long that you won’t read it when there’s more important things to do, and being too short for you to use it as a viable excuse to avoid talking to Uncle Ernie.
The premise: There is something for every Big Ten fan to be thankful for this November. Even Nebraska, though I’m personally thankful the Huskers aren’t first in alphabetical order, because I need some extra time on that one.
Illinois — Bret and Brad
The arrow is pointing up for both the Illinois football and men’s basketball programs, which was not the case for the majority of the 2010s.
Bret Bielema won’t finish with a winning record in Year 1, but wins over Nebraska and Penn State given the talent in the cupboard make this season a success.
And despite a couple early-season hiccups, the trajectory of the basketball program under Brad Underwood has people taking Illini hoops seriously on a national level.
Indiana — Basketball season
The less said about Indiana’s 2021 football season, the better. It’s Mike Woodson’s time to shine now.
Iowa — A memorable year
It’s not every season that Iowa climbs to No. 2 in the AP poll. The Hawkeyes reached their greatest heights since 1985 in early October. And even though Iowa didn’t stay there, a quality bowl game and even a potential Big Ten championship remain in play heading into the final game of the regular season.
Maryland — Indiana and Illinois
Thanks to 3-point wins over the B1G’s lesser I-teams, Maryland remains alive for bowl eligibility this weekend. The Hoosiers are also to thank for that lone men’s basketball national championship in 2002. Bloomington deserves a crab boil.
Michigan — A return to relevance
Beating Ohio State remains the ultimate goal. But Step 1 was making The Game relevant again, and Jim Harbaugh has at least accomplished that much this season. Beating the Buckeyes and reaching the Big Ten championship game for the first time would be the whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie.
Michigan State — Mel Tucker
The Spartans were the biggest surprise in the country for most of the season, bringing Playoff hopes and Heisman hype to East Lansing. Mel Tucker made himself one of the hottest coaches in the country in that process, but it appears he’ll soon have a very lucrative reason to stick around.
Minnesota — PJ Fleck
The Gophers haven’t reached the shore yet, but Fleck has the program rowing in the right direction. His midseason contract extension provides the program with stability and Fleck with a chance to recruit the right quarterback to get Minnesota to the top of the Big Ten West.
Nebraska — Resolution
No need to put off the Christmas shopping this weekend and keep an eye out for a coaching search. Scott Frost is coming back for another season. And a year for now, we’ll know whether that is anything to be thankful for.
Northwestern — It’s almost over
Only 1 game to go for the Wildcats, and if it involves beating Illinois for the 7th straight time, all the better. Plus, it looks like Chris Collins might have the basketball Cats back to NCAA tournament contention for the first time since 2017.
Ohio State — Earth, Wind and Fire
It’s been a party since September as the Buckeyes have rebounded all the way from their Week 2 loss to Oregon to No. 2 in the CFP with a game remaining.
The biggest reason? The nation’s top trio of wide receivers — Chris Olave, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Garrett Wilson — who have helped freshman quarterback CJ Stroud throw for 3,468 yards and 36 touchdowns while adopting the “Earth, Wind and Fire” nickname.
Penn State — Jahan Dotson
In a conference ridiculously loaded at wide receiver, Penn State fans may have had the privilege of watching the very best. Dotson isn’t just good, he’s fun — the type of player you want to see get the ball in his hands no matter who you’re rooting for. Something cool is about to happen.
Purdue — The fear of Top 5 teams everywhere
The Boilermakers were already the nation’s leaders in toppling Top 5 opponents all-time before adding 2 more names to the list this season — Iowa and Michigan State.
Purdue’s place in college football’s pecking order should be “fun to watch, liable to strike out of nowhere.” Jeff Brohm has the Boilers where they belong.
Rutgers — Greg Schiano
Tennessee’s trash is New Jersey’s treasure.
Schiano has the Scarlet Knights on the brink of a bowl game for the first time since 2014, and that could just be the start of the rebound in his second Rutgers go-round.
Wisconsin — Braelon Allen
Wisconsin’s never-ending string of star running backs has yet another stud coming through the assembly line. Allen won’t even turn 18 until after the season, but he’s already second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. This guy will be fun to watch the next couple seasons.