2022 College Football Conference Preview: Who's The Favorite In The Big Ten | GMTM
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2022 College Football Conference Preview: Who's The Favorite In The Big Ten

ByBryan Armetta

Published on Sat Jun 11 2022

|

4 min read

2022 College Football Conference Preview: Who's The Favorite In The Big Ten

It's not the flashiest conference, nor is it the most talented, but Big Ten football offers consistent drama from top to bottom. Look no further than 5-7 Illinois' nine-overtime upset of then-seventh ranked Penn State, or plucky Purdue's takedown of then-fifth ranked Michigan State. While it tends to be one of Ohio State or Michigan getting the headlines, the Big Ten is filled with rivals itching for a chance at the conference title. Here's what to expect going into 2022:

The Favorites: Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Michigan State

Mortal enemies Ohio State and Michigan battled for the title last year, and nothing should suggest a departure from contention next season. C.J. Stroud's return makes the Buckeyes not only Big Ten favorites, but a good bet to make the College Football Playoffs. While two of Stroud's top receivers in 2021 (Garrett Wilson & Chris Olave) left for the NFL, the return of star wideout Jaxson Smith-Njigba and 1,000-yard rusher TreVeyon Henderson should keep OSU's offense churning. With new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles arriving in Columbus, fans are hoping to see a dominant pass rush for the first time since Chase Young was manhandling offensive linemen in 2019.

Aidan Hutchinson may have moved to Detroit, but the future is bright in Ann Arbor. Jim Harbaugh finally took down Ohio State, a major psychological barrier for Michigan's program over the past decade. While they followed that up with a playoff blowout to Georgia, there's enough returning talent to give the Wolverines hope that last season wasn't a fluke. The real intrigue for the program comes at quarterback. Cade McNamara had a solid, albeit unspectacular, junior campaign. Could his starting spot be threatened by former five-star prospect J.J. McCarthy? A soft out-of-conference schedule should give Harbaugh enough time to figure out who will be the guy under center before conference play.

Wisconsin is another predictably good program, but the Badgers have typically been stuck playing second fiddle to whoever wins the East division. Once again, the defense will be solid. The real question, as it always is in Madison, will be the passing game. Graham Mertz is the clear no. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, and anyone who has watched a Badgers game can see the junior has talent. Can he find consistency? New offensive coordinator Bobby Engram's scheme should give Wisconsin more of a downfield attack; perhaps that plays into Mertz's strengths as a pocket passer.

Michigan State was one of the biggest surprises in all of college football last year, winning 11 games and the Peach Bowl. However, the engine that made the Spartans go, running back Kenneth Walker III, is gone. MSU's offensive hopes now rest on the shoulders of quarterback Payton Thorne. He had a good season in 2021, but wasn't asked to carry the load with Walker III around. Thorne's development will likely determine whether Michigan State can keep pace with OSU and Michigan. The secondary was porous at times last season, but Georgia transfer Ameer Speed could make a difference at cornerback. Some new faces and bigger roles for returnees makes Tucker's squad feel more 'boom-or-bust' compared to other contenders.

The Contenders: Iowa, Penn State, Minnesota

Iowa had a real claim to best defense in the conference last season, and nothing has drastically changed this offseason to suggest a drop-off. The offense is more uncertain. One of Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla needs to prove that they can be the team's week-to-week starting quarterback moving forward. Otherwise, it's hard to envision Iowa in a New Year's Six bowl game come 2023.

Penn State started the season hovering around the top ten range in the AP Poll, only to go 2-6 in their final eight games. Playmakers like Jahan Dotson and Jaquan Brisker are gone, but quarterback Sean Clifford returns to Happy Valley for his fifth season. On the other side of the ball, former Miami head coach Manny Diaz steps in as defensive coordinator, which should only help an already elite group. The Big 10 West is always a gauntlet, but the Nittany Lions have the talent for a playoff push.

If you're looking for a program with real sleeper potential, Minnesota fits the bill. P.J. Fleck nearly took the Gophers to the conference championship game, and there's enough returning talent to improve on last season's 8-4 record. Quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim, recovering from an Achilles injury, are one of the Big Ten's best offensive duos, and the return of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who held the same position in 2019, could lead to something special. That year, Morgan threw for 30 touchdowns; could he do even better as a fifth-year senior with Ciarrocca?

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