We’re at 221 days (and counting) until Michigan football goes to Ohio State looking for a second win in a row in the series, something the Wolverines haven’t done since 1999-2000.
The biggest rivalry in the Big Ten has retaken the stage as the biggest in all of college football. Looking seven months out, the Buckeyes and Wolverines seem destined to again play for the East division, a spot in the conference championship and a possible College Football Playoff berth.
There’s depth in the Big Ten, including another one or two teams — Penn State, maybe one of Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State — with preseason ambitions of factoring into the playoff race.
But all eyes are on OSU and Michigan. The Buckeyes and Wolverines top the springtime power rankings for the Big Ten.
1. Ohio State (2021 record: 11-2)
The Buckeyes will have options at running back. The clear starter is sophomore TreVeyon Henderson, who went for 1,255 yards and 15 scores in 2021. His backup, Miyan Williams (507 yards), had over 100 yards on the ground in the recent spring game and should see upwards of 100 touches during the regular season. And coach Ryan Day will try to find a role for redshirt freshman Evan Pryor, who played sparingly in 2021 but had a strong spring.
2. Michigan (12-2)
Unlike almost every other team in the Big Ten and elsewhere, Michigan didn’t do a deep dive into the transfer portal to rebuild a defense decimated by losses to graduation and the NFL. (Only two of the nine players to record two sacks in 2021 are back.) In addition, the Wolverines will have a new defensive coordinator in ex-Vanderbilt assistant Jesse Minter, who has a similar coaching background to former UM coordinator Mike Macdonald.
3. Penn State (7-6)
The stars of a top-ranked recruiting class arrived on campus in time for spring drills and should factor into the debate over playing time come September. Five-star running back Nick Singleton joins holdovers Keyvone Lee and Devyn Ford as Penn State looks to beef up last year’s nonexistent running game. (Another freshman, Kaytron Allen, is also in the mix.) At quarterback, five-star signee Drew Allar has a narrower path to a major role with senior Sean Clifford seemingly entrenched in the starting job.
4. Iowa (10-4)
Spencer Petras should stick as Iowa’s starting quarterback. But the Hawkeyes will take another look this offseason at junior Alex Padilla, who made three starts in 2021, and could even open the competition to a third contender in redshirt freshman Joey Labas. While pedestrian quarterback play didn’t keep Iowa from adding another West division championship last season, the offense needs more from the position than 6.2 yards per attempt and barely more touchdowns than interceptions.
5. Wisconsin (9-4)
Three experienced transfers, two coming from the Power Five, will help Wisconsin retool at cornerback. Jay Shaw comes over from UCLA after earning second-team all-conference honors in 2021. Cedrick Dort made 25 starts and played in 44 games at Kentucky. Toledo transfer and seventh-year senior Justin Clark has played in 41 games and made four interceptions.
The Badgers also lost a player to the transfer portal who is set to play a big role for a Big Ten rival. After playing in three games last season, former Wisconsin running back Jalen Berger is the early favorite to replace Kenneth Walker III, the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s best back. As many as four other contenders are in the mix, including last year’s primary backup, Jordon Simmons.
7. Minnesota (9-4)
Both lines must be rebuilt after another very successful season under coach P.J. Fleck. The offensive front brings back just one starter, sixth-year senior center John Michael Schmitz, but Fleck added a pair of high-impact transfers in Quinn Carroll (Notre Dame) and Chuck Filiaga (Michigan). Among the returning linemen, senior Nathan Boe has played in 15 games with two starts in his past two seasons, and sophomore Aireontae Ersery made one start in 2020.
8. Nebraska (3-9)
An overdue staff shakeup has led to a change in direction on offense and breathed some life into the Cornhuskers’ recruiting efforts. After reworking his contract on the heels of a three-win finish, coach Scott Frost has given most of the control over the offense to new coordinator Mark Whipple. New receivers coach and former LSU assistant Mickey Joseph has already leaned on his Louisiana connections to rebuild his room. Running backs coach Bryan Applewhite takes over a room with no proven options but plenty of competition.
9. Maryland (7-6)
The same starting offensive line from last year’s Pinstripe Bowl win has been taking first-team snaps during the spring, and this increased experience up front will help Maryland button up its pass protection. A cleaner pocket should draw even more production out of quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who finished with 3,860 yards in 2021 and will have an even more loaded receiver room at his disposal. Another benefit of this continuity will be in fewer penalties up front: Maryland averaged 6.7 penalties per game last season, good for 85th nationally and 13th in the Big Ten.
10. Purdue (9-4)
Purdue senior Aidan O’Connell didn’t have to do much this spring, as the only debate over the Boilermakers’ quarterback situation came in which of a few contenders would play backup to the reigning all-conference pick. Outside of Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, there’s no more proven passer in the Big Ten. O’Connell sparked a nine-win season by throwing 21 touchdowns against just three interceptions in Purdue’s last six games. Barring a big year from Nebraska’s Casey Thompson, who transferred in from Texas, O’Connell is a safe pick to repeat with postseason all-conference honors.
11. Rutgers (5-8)
Are the Scarlet Knights ready to take the next step? Last year’s team, the second of Greg Schiano’s second tenure, squeezed into the Gator Bowl as a late replacement for Texas A&M. Getting to six or more wins in 2022 will take some improvement at quarterback, with Noah Vedral likely to stick as the starter for the third year in a row. There will also be difficult decisions to be made at running back, where Rutgers is auditioning a big group to replace Isaih Pacheco, and at linebacker, where the defense lost four of last year’s leading tacklers.
12. Northwestern (3-9)
With just one established rusher on the roster in senior Adetomiwa Adebawore, the Wildcats looked to the transfer portal to beef up last year’s putrid pass rush and run defense. Stanford transfer Ryan Johnson made 16 tackles in 2021. Former Massachusetts interior lineman Taishan Holmes should contribute on early downs. From the Football Championship Subdivision ranks, Indiana State transfer Henrik Barndt brings 14 career starts to the table.
13. Illinois (5-7)
Stability at the skill positions isn’t a bad thing — Illinois brings a handful of proven contributors into coach Bret Bielema’s second season, including wide receiver Isaiah Williams and running backs Chase Brown, Joshua McCray and Reggie Love III. There will be a new offensive coordinator, however, in former Texas-San Antonio assistant Barry Lunney Jr., and the Illini still have to make a decision at quarterback between holdover Artur Sitkowski and Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito.
14. Indiana (2-10)
After giving up 5.7 yards per snap in Big Ten play, the Hoosiers have overhauled the defensive front seven with six Power Five transfers. Up front, Indiana reeled in a solid starter in California transfer JH Tevis, who earned honorable mention all-conference honors in 2021, and added depth with Mississippi transfers Patrick Lucas and LeDarrius Cox. At linebacker, UCLA transfer Myles Jackson is unproven but has potential as an edge rusher, senior Bradley Jennings played in 35 games with 11 starts at Miami (Fla.), and sophomore Jared Casey flashed great promise in two years at Kentucky.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg