Big Ten football is right around the corner with the countdown to kickoff under 100 days at this point.
Athlon Sports is helping us get ready for the upcoming 2022 college football season by releasing predictions for each team in the conference. Steve Lassan has released his rankings of each team in the Big Ten East and West Division, and where he predicts those teams to finish this fall.
Check out Lassan’s predictions for each team, including the Spartans, this upcoming fall:
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Big Ten East Division Predictions
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The Big Ten East Division should again be a gauntlet, with the top four teams of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State all battling for a spot in the title game. Those are the four teams listed towards the top of the division, but continue reading to see who Athlon Sports has as the favorite and where the rest of the division’s teams land.
1. Ohio State
Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: The Buckeyes should return to the top of the Big Ten behind a high-powered offense (7.96 yards per play in ’21) led by quarterback C.J. Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. An offensive line returning tackles Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson Jr. should be among the best in college football.
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: Jim Harbaugh got Michigan over the hump last season by defeating Ohio State, winning the Big Ten title for the first time since 2004 and earning a trip to the CFB Playoff. However, the Wolverines have some retooling to do in order to reach that level once again this fall.
3. Michigan State
Nick King/Lansing State Journal
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: Mel Tucker’s Spartans took a huge step forward last season, jumping from 2-5 in the abbreviated ’20 campaign to 11-2 with a No. 9 finish in the final top 25 last fall. Replicating double-digit wins again will hinge on how well Michigan State can replace running back Kenneth Walker III (1,636 yards and 18 TDs) and improve a defense that struggled mightily against the pass (11th in Big Ten in pass efficiency defense).
4. Penn State
Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: It’s a crucial year for Penn State to get the program back on track after an 11-11 mark over the last two seasons. Also, after a 5-0 start last fall, the team went 2-6 over the last eight matchups. Reversing that trend starts on offense. Quarterback Sean Clifford has to play with more consistency, but the senior also needs more help from a shaky offensive line that surrendered the most sacks (44) of any team in the Big Ten.
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: After winning five games in coach Mike Locksley’s first two seasons (2019-20) at the helm, the Terrapins posted seven last fall. Also, the 7-6 record marked the program’s first winning record since ’14. While progress was evident, Maryland’s six losses – all to teams with a winning mark – came by a combined score of 281-100.
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: Greg Schiano’s return to Rutgers hasn’t netted a winning season yet, but the Scarlet Knights have showed progress by winning five games in Big Ten play over the last two years after recording seven from 2014-19. Contending for six wins and a bowl trip isn’t out of the question this fall but marked improvement on offense is needed.
Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: The Hoosiers seemed to be trending up after going 14-7 from 2019-20 under coach Tom Allen. However, the program took a massive step back last season with a 2-10 finish and an 0-9 mark in Big Ten games. Allen took steps to rectify last year’s disappointment, appointing new coordinators on both sides of the ball and taking over the play-calling duties on defense.
Big Ten West Division Predictions
Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier
Unlike the Big Ten East Division, there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut favorite in the West. Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Purdue all are considered to be in the mix to win the division this year, but who does Athlon Sports think will come out on top? See below…
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: There’s no clear favorite to win the Big Ten West in ’22 and a strong case could be made for a couple of teams here. The Badgers return only eight overall starters, but the guess here is the defense remains among the best in the conference with a quick reloading effort behind coordinator Jim Leonhard, and the offense does just enough behind rising star running back Braelon Allen.
Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: Last year’s 9-4 record was Purdue’s highest win total under coach Jeff Brohm and the program’s best season since 2003. The Boilermakers have a few concerns to address, namely how the defense improves under a new coordinator, but contending for the Big Ten’s West Division title is within reach.
Bryon Houlgrave/The Register
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: A repeat of last year’s Big Ten West Division title will hinge on one thing for Iowa: Offensive improvement. In conference games last season, the Hawkeyes averaged only 4.5 yards per play and 23 points a game. Also, this unit struggled to generate big plays and ranked near the bottom of the league in third-down and red-zone offense.
Harrison Barden/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: Although the Golden Gophers are picked fourth here, not much separates coach P.J. Fleck’s team from the top three in the division. The return of Kirk Ciarrocca as coordinator provides optimism for improvement on an offense that averaged only 5.45 yards per play and 25.5 points a contest last fall.
Ron Johnson/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: The 2022 season is a make-or-break year for coach Scott Frost in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers are 15-29 and have yet to earn a winning season or reach a bowl under his watch. Last year’s 3-9 record sparked major changes in hopes of a turnaround in ‘22, including the arrival of a new play-caller (Mark Whipple) on offense.
Ron Johnson/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: The Fighting Illini just missed a bowl in coach Bret Bielema’s first season in Champaign, but there was considerable progress in last year’s 5-7 record. Illinois knocked off Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota, while also losing four games by one score. Getting over the hump in ’22 requires more out of an offense that averaged only 20.2 points a game and ranked last in the Big Ten in passing.
Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports
Some of what Athlon Sports has to say: If recent trends hold, an even year (2022) could be a good one for Northwestern. After all, the Wildcats won the Big Ten West Division in ’18 and ’20 but had identical 3-9 records in the last two odd-year campaigns (’19 and ’21). Returning to the conference title game is going to be a heavy lift in ’22, however.
Big Ten Championship Game
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Ohio State over Wisconsin
Athlon Sports has Ohio State returning to the familiar spot of Big Ten champion in 2022, beating Wisconsin in the title game. Should the Buckeyes win the Big Ten this year, it will be their fifth in the last six years.