Stewart Mandel’s Big Ten predictions: It’s the Ohio State conference to lose

Michigan stormed the Big Ten last season, winning its first conference championship since 2004 and advancing to the college football playoffs. I have difficulty in believing ohio state won’t be doing it again this year. The Buckeyes remain the league’s most talented team, led by Heisman runner-up quarterback CJ Stroud, though admittedly his offensive line and defensive front need to perform at a higher level.

In the East, I’m interested to see if the Wolverines stay ahead of upstart rival Michigan State, if Penn State can bounce back after two mediocre seasons and if Maryland and or Rutgers may hold some surprises. (Poor Indiana sank to the bottom quickly.)

In the West, I can see any of the four teams – Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue Where Wisconsin – get to Indianapolis, although you’ll see below I predict the Badgers will do a mini slide. As for Nebraska… not seeing it.

Round table presentation of the Big Ten: Not thinking too much about Ohio State, where Michigan fit in, Scott Frost under pressure

Program status: Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Maryland | Michigan | state of michigan | Minnesota | Nebraska | North West | ohio state | Penn State | Purdue | Rutgers | Wisconsin

West

CREW BIG TEN GLOBALLY

6-3

9-3

6-3

9-3

5-4

8-4

5-4

7-5

3-6

6-6

2-7

4-8

2-7

4-8

Championship game

State of Ohio over Iowa

Five best non-conference games

Our Lady at Ohio State (September 3)
Penn State at Auburn (September 17)
Oklahoma in Nebraska (September 17)
Iowa State at Iowa (September 10)
Michigan State at Washington (September 17)

A good sneak

washington state in Wisconsin (September 10)

Washington State’s offensive coordinator Eric Morris’ Air Raid-like offense should be a good test for Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s retooling defense. If the Badgers aren’t prepared, they could end up on the wrong end of Cougars quarterback Cam Ward’s national release party.

Player of the Year

Ohio State Wide Receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. I may be picking the wrong Buckeye because QB CJ Stroud will inevitably post even bigger numbers than he did as a Heisman runner-up last season. But Smith-Njigba, now the team’s No. 1 receiver, could get his own DeVonta Smith Heisman-like season after catching 95 balls for 1,606 yards in 2021.

Finalist: Stroud

Impact Transfer

Michigan State running backs Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger. Mel Tucker needed two running backs to replace late star and former transfer Kenneth Walker III. Broussard, Colorado’s 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, and Berger, Wisconsin’s top rusher that season, should form a formidable tandem.

Finalist: Rutgers WR Ty Harris (from Syracuse)

First-year impact

Penn State RB Nick Singleton. Penn State has sorely missed a feature over the past two years. Singleton, the nation’s top-rated RB prospect, may not become that Week 1 guy, but he’s expected to play a big part in the Nittany Lions’ offense.

Finalist: Indiana linebacker Dasan McCullough

Coach most likely to get fired

Nebraska’s Scott Frost. The best guess here is that athletic director Trev Alberts is finally ripping the band-aid off halfway through what looks to be another lackluster season for the Huskers.

Impact Assistant

Minnesota OC Kirk Ciarrocca. The 2019 11-win Minnesota point guard is back and reuniting with PJ Fleck and Tanner Morgan. His return is the main reason I see the Gophers vying for and maybe winning the Big Ten West for the first time.

Does a Big Ten team make the college football playoffs?

Yes, and I believe we all know which team it will be.

Does a Big Ten team win the national championship?

Very probably. Ohio State is going to score a bazillion points, so if new DC Jim Knowles can get the defense in order, the Buckeyes have a chance against Alabama Where Georgia.

(Top photo: Joseph Maiorana/USA Today)

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