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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Football: Previews, predictions for each Big Ten team this season

Looking ahead at 2022 season, players, key games
Ahmad Hamid

Big Ten football is back. The conference contains a lot of solid squads this season with several potential outcomes. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Ohio State is already penciled in to win the Big Ten East, but the Big Ten West will be a brutal fight amongst many teams.

This preview breaks the 14 teams into five tiers with similarly talented teams in each tier.


Tier 1: Ohio State


Projected Record: 12–0

Key games: Notre Dame (week one), Wisconsin (week four), @ Michigan State (week six), Michigan (week 13)

Top Players: TreVeyon Henderson, running back (sophomore), Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver (junior), C.J. Stroud, quarterback (RS sophomore)

Storyline to Watch: In his 35th year of coaching, Jim Knowles will take over as the Buckeyes’ new Defensive Coordinator. Coaching for Oklahoma State the past two seasons, Knowles coached an extraordinary defense last year that ranked in the top five of all FBS teams in sacks, tackles for loss, third-down defense, total defense and rushing defense. Knowles’ aggressive defensive strategy should fare well in Columbus and possibly aid the Buckeyes to a potential national title.


Tier 2: Michigan, Michigan State


Projected Record: 10–2

Key games: @ Iowa (week five), Michigan State (week nine), @ Ohio State (week 13)

Top Players: Junior Colson, linebacker (sophomore), Blake Corum, running back (junior), Mazi Smith, defensive line (senior)

Storyline to Watch: Prior to the start of the season, head coach Jim Harbaugh is already engaging in contrarian coaching methods by naming two starting quarterbacks for the beginning of the season. Cade McNamara will start against Colorado State (week one) and J.J. McCarthy will start against Hawaii (week two). The phrase, “If you have two quarterbacks, you have none,” will certainly be tested by the Wolverines.

Michigan State

Projected Record: 9–3

Key games: @ Washington (week three), Ohio State (week six), Wisconsin (week seven), Michigan (week nine), Penn State (week 13)

Top Players: Jayden Reed, wide receiver (senior), Xavier Henderson, safety (senior), Jacob Slade, defensive tackle (senior)

Storyline to Watch: With star running back Kenneth Walker gone to the NFL, the Michigan State backfield needed a strong tailback to fill the role. Enter, Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard. Both transfer student-athletes from Wisconsin and Colorado, respectively, the running-based Spartans will utilize both backs to fuel their high-powered offense that averaged 31.8 points per game last season.


Tier 3: Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue


Projected Record: 8–4

Key games: Ohio State (week four), Michigan State (week seven), Iowa (week 11), Minnesota (week 13)

Top Players: Braelon Allen, running back (sophomore), Nick Herbig, linebacker (junior), Keeanu Benton, defensive tackle (senior)

Storyline to Watch: Wisconsin has a remarkable backfield with three high-quality and dependable backs in Braelon Allen, Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo. Led by Bob Bostad, one of the most highly regarded offensive line coaches in the country, the offensive line has depth, experience and talent. With the combination of a potent running attack with an exceptional offensive line, the Badgers have the potential to dominate the run game.


Projected Record: 9–3

Key games: Iowa State (week two), Michigan (week five), Ohio State (week eight), Wisconsin (week 11), Minnesota (week 12)

Top Players: Jack Campbell, linebacker (senior), Riley Moss, cornerback (senior), Seth Benson, linebacker (senior)

Storyline to Watch: After winning 10 games last season, with a defense loaded with studs and a three-year starting quarterback, the Hawkeyes come into the season unranked. The Big Ten West will likely be a tight battle between Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa. With no team as the clear projected favorite, Iowa’s underdog mentality could be a motivating force this season.


Projected Record: 8–4

Key games: @ Michigan State (week four), Purdue (week five), @ Penn State (week eight), Iowa (week 12), @ Wisconsin (week 13)

Top Players: Mohamed Ibrahim, running back (senior), John Michael Schmitz, center (senior), Chris Autman-Bell, wide receiver (senior)

Storyline to Watch: After a two-year stint at Penn State, Minnesota re-hired Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. The Gophers’ 11-win season in 2019 was spearheaded by their effective passing attack. After a two-year drop in production, the re-emergence of Ciarrocca should allow Tanner Morgan to elevate his game.

Penn State

Projected Record: 8–4

Key games: @ Purdue (week one), @ Auburn (week three), @ Michigan (week seven), Ohio State (week nine), Michigan State (week 13)

Top Players: Joey Porter, cornerback (junior), Parker Washington, wide receiver (junior), P.J. Mustipher, defensive tackle (senior)

Storyline to Watch: Freshman running back Nick Singleton is garnering a lot of buzz at camp. The 2021 Gatorade National Player of the Year rushed for over 2,000 yards and 44 touchdowns in his high school senior season. Last season, the Nittany Lions struggled with an offensive explosion — especially in the run game. The addition of Singleton and a platoon of other backs should be a welcomed change.


Projected Record: 8–4

Key games: Penn State (week one), @ Minnesota (week five), @ Wisconsin (week eight), Iowa (week 10),

Top Players: Cam Allen, safety (senior), Jalen Graham, linebacker (senior), Aidan O’Connell, quarterback (senior)

Storyline to Watch: Already named to the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Preseason Watch List, sixth-year senior, quarterback O’Connell is a star to look out for. After starring in one of the most exciting bowl games in recent memory, O’Connell looks to improve upon his success as he will face stiff competition in the Big Ten West. But in a division with a lack of quarterback star power, O’Connell can be the catalyst for a Purdue birth to the Big Ten Conference championship.


Tier 4: Maryland, Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois


Projected Record: 5–7

Key games: @ Michigan (week four), Michigan State (week five), Wisconsin (week 10), Ohio State (week 12)

Top Players: Dontay Demus, wide receiver (senior), Jaelyn Duncan, offensive tackle (senior), Taulia Tagovailoa, quarterback (senior)

Storyline to Watch: Throwing for a completion percentage near 70% last season, Tagovailoa remains the bright spot on a mediocre team facing formidable competition this season. But with the opportunity to face a number of solid defenses, the senior quarterback hopes to impress NFL scouts and follow in the footsteps of his brother, Tua Tagovailoa.


Projected Record: 4–8

Key games: Oklahoma (week four), @ Michigan (week 11), Wisconsin (week 12), @ Iowa (week 13)

Top Players: Luke Reimer, linebacker (junior), Garrett Nelson, linebacker (junior), Casey Thompson, quarterback (senior)

Storyline to Watch: Already collapsing against Northwestern, the reoccurring pattern of losing one-score games remains the predominant narrative in the Scott Frost era. Dropping to 5–21 in one-score games over his four-year tenure, the former Nebraska National Champion quarterback has a seat so hot it could fry an egg. With over 10,000 fans making the trip across the pond to Dublin, the Cornhusker fanbase is still rabid and passionate — but will they demand a Frost exit? That question will loom over the Cornhuskers this season.


Projected Record: 5–7

Key games: @ Penn State (week five), Wisconsin (week six), Ohio State (week 10), @ Minnesota (week 11)

Top Players: Peter Skoronski, offensive tackle (junior), A.J. Hampton, cornerback (senior), Adetomiwa Adebawore, defensive end (senior)

Storyline to Watch: Although Northwestern remains a subpar Big Ten team, Northwestern manages to battle Wisconsin year in and year out. In fact, Wisconsin has gone 1–6 in their last seven road games in Evanston. With this year’s game in Evanston, the aroma of upset could be in the air. If it happens, it will be a major disruptor in the fight for the Big Ten West.


Projected Record: 5–7

Key Games: Virginia (week three), Iowa (week six), Nebraska (week nine), Purdue (week 11)

Top Players: Sydney Brown, Safety (senior), Chase Brown, running back (junior), Devon Witherspoon, cornerback (junior)

Storyline to Watch: After a beatdown against Wyoming, winning 38-6, Bret Bielema and his Fighting Illini are off to a promising 2022 season. Transfer quarterback, Tommy DeVito, completed 27 of 37 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns in his Illinois debut. The key for Illinois will be to win the games against weak Big Ten opponents (i.e., Illinois, Nebraska and Northwestern) if they want to eclipse the .500 mark for the first time since 2011.

Tier 5: Rutgers, Indiana


Projected Record: 4–8

Key games: @ Boston College (week one), Iowa (week four), Indiana (week eight), Michigan (week 10)

Top Players: Christian Izien, Safety (senior), Avery Young, cornerback (senior), Aron Cruickshank, wide receiver (senior)

Storyline to Watch: It is year three of Greg Schiano’s return to Rutgers, which is usually the most consequential year for coaches taking over a program. After a few years of commanding the program, they have had the opportunity to recruit, coach and train the program. After going 3–6 and 5–8 in the past two seasons, it will be fascinating to see if they can get over the .500 bump.


Projected Record: 2–10

Key games: @ Cincinnati (week four), Michigan (week six), Maryland (week seven)

Top Players: Tiawan Mullen, cornerback (junior), Jaylin Williams, cornerback (senior), Cam Jones, linebacker (senior)

Storyline to Watch: After a 2–10 campaign a year ago, the Hoosiers have a top ten most difficult schedule in college football this season. Led by head coach Tom Allen, he resurrected the decaying program in 2019, posting an 8–5 record followed by a 6–2 record in 2020. But after a horrendous season last year, it does not look any brighter this year. Allen may be out the door if things do not improve this season.

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