Who Will Win The Big 10?

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Tyler Krebs, Sports Writer

 In the 2021 season, one of the most craziest conferences has been the Big 10. This conference is full of great teams with playoff contenders, teams that love to pull off upsets, and bottom feeders. Many of the teams in this conference have played high level football this season. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, and Iowa are a few teams that have had success this year. The Big 10 East is a conference of heavyweights, while the Big 10 West is a division full of pretty good teams that are trying to win the division with bad losses. Now, I will explain how each team in the Big 10 has done this season and where they could finish.

Big 10 East

 Ohio State: The Buckeyes have had a pretty great season, especially since they lost great QB Justin Fields to the 2021 NFL Draft. QB CJ Stroud has played very good football, with 3,036 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. The Buckeyes have also got good production from RB Treveyon Henderson, WR Chris Olave, WR Garrett Wilson, and WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The Buckeyes are 7-0 in conference play, 9-1 overall and #4 in the AP Poll. They have victories against Minnesota, Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, Penn State, Nebraska, and a blowout win against Purdue. Their only loss was a 35-28 defeat at home against the now 9-1 Oregon Ducks. I believe that Ohio State will probably win out and win the Big 10 title like they always do, despite tough games against Michigan State and a game in Ann Arbor versus Michigan. The Buckeyes will also probably represent the Big 10 in the College Football Playoffs as a #2 or #3 seed if they win out.

Michigan State: The Spartans have had a fantastic bounce back year after a very down 2020 season. QB Payton Throne and especially fantastic RB Kenneth Walker, who has rushed for 1,473 yards and 17 touchdowns, have been standouts. Also wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor have had good seasons for Michigan State. The Spartans are 6-1 in Big 10 play and 9-1 overall, as well as #7 in the AP Poll. They have won against Northwestern, Youngstown State, Miami, Nebraska, Western Kentucky, Rutgers, Indiana, and at the time #6 Michigan in a huge game at home in East Lansing. However, the next week they lost to unranked Purdue 40-29 as the #3 team in the nation. Purdue was able to upset Michigan State behind an astounding performance from QB Aidan O’Connell, who threw for 536 yards and 3 TOUCHDOWNS! The next week, the Spartans were able to bounce back and beat Maryland. The rest of this season, they will probably lose to Ohio State and be in a close game against Penn State. As a result, Michigan State will finish with 2 to 3 losses and miss the College Football Playoffs, but they should be able to get a high level bowl game.

Michigan: The Wolverines have also had a astounding bounce back season after their horrific performance in 2020. QB Cade McNamara has played very well, despite losing his best receiver Ronnie Bell to injury. McNamara has 1,883 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only 2 interceptions on the season. Also, the Wolverines have one of the best running games in the country, led by fantastic running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. Finally, Michigan has developed one of the best defenses in the league, led by  LB Josh Ross and DE Aidan Hutchinson among others. The Wolverines are 6-1 in conference play and 9-1 overall, with a #8 ranking in the poll. They have victories against Western Michigan, Washington, Northern Illinois, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Indiana. Also, they have a tough victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions in University Park. However, they have lost to in-state rival Michigan State and because of this loss, they probably won’t make the conference title game or the College Football Playoffs. One problem with Michigan now and in past years is that they can beat the teams below them, but can’t seem to finish against the teams they are above or on level with, especially Ohio State. The Wolverines should be able to beat Maryland, but they should lose against Ohio State, even if they are one of two teams right now with the best shot to beat Ohio State. Michigan should also earn a very high caliber bowl game.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions have had a good season, but it could have been better. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has played well, with 2,576 yards and 17 touchdowns, along with 6 interceptions. Also, Penn State might have the best receiver in the country with Jahan Dotson, who has 993 yards receiving and 9 touchdowns. The Nittany Lions got off to a great start this season, with wins over Wisconsin, Ball State, Auburn in their white out game, Villanova, and Indiana. Then, as the #4 team in the country, they faced Iowa in Iowa City. Iowa was ranked #3 at the time as well. Things were going well, until QB Sean Clifford was injured during the second quarter. Their backup QB couldn’t do anything, and they ended up losing the game 23-20. This loss started a three game losing streak, including a shocking lost to Illinois at home in 9 OVERTIMES 20-18 and a defeat to the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus. The losing streak ended however, with a victory against Maryland. Finally, they played a very tough game versus the Michigan Wolverines at home, but a late TD from Michigan TE Erick All won the game for the Wolverines. Because of this, Penn State is 3-4 in Big 10 play, 6-4 overall, and unranked in the AP Poll. Penn State probably will beat Rutgers and contend with Michigan State, but they will probably lose against the Spartans. This could lead the Nittany Lions to most likely make a decent bowl game.

Maryland: The Terrapins had a great start to the season, but haven’t played very good ball since a matchup versus Iowa. Maryland actually has an interesting quarterback at the helm being Taulia Tagovailoa, who is the brother of Tua Tagovailoa. Taulia has 3,105 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Maryland was undefeated for a while this season, with victories against West Virginia, Howard, Illinois, and Kentucky State. The season was going great, until the Iowa Hawkeyes rolled into College Park. Iowa beat the Terrapins into the ground, forced 7 turnovers [5 being interceptions from QB Taulia Tagovailoa], and beat them 51-14 in a blowout. Since then, Maryland has lost to Ohio State and Minnesota, but was able to catch a break with a 38-35 win over Indiana. They did however lose the next week to Penn State at home and the Spartans on the road in East Lansing. The Terrapins are currently 2-5 in Big 10 play, 5-5 overall, and unranked. Maryland right now is at risk of losing out on a chance to make a bowl game. Remaining on their schedule, they have a tough game against Michigan in College Park. They do however have a game against Rutgers, but that game could be a close one.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have probably been a little better than their record shows. Rutgers are 2-5 in Big 10 play, 5-5 overall, and very much unranked. They started off the season pretty well at 3-0 with wins against Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware. However, once Big 10 play started, the Scarlet Knights lost 4 straight to Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Northwestern. During these games, Rutgers allowed 124 points and only scored 46 points themselves! Fortunately for them, they were able to defeat Illinois 20-14 on the road, getting their first Big 10 win. The success didn’t last very long, as they would lose horribly to the Wisconsin Badgers 52-3 at home the next week in Piscataway, New Jersey. In the game, the Scarlet Knights couldn’t get anything going and QB Noah Vedral only went 8-16 for 81 yards and no touchdowns, along with 2 interceptions. However, Rutgers were able to defeat Indiana on the road in a huge 38-3 blowout victory. As a result, Rutgers at 5-5 will most likely dedicate the rest of this season to trying to become bowl eligible, but that could be a little difficult with games versus Penn State in University Park and Maryland.

 Indiana: The Hoosiers have had a super down year compared to last season. Previous fantastic QB Michael Penix has played horrible this season, with stats of only 939 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 7 INTERCEPTIONS! Penix is also injured again. Along with this, the running game has been pretty much nonexistent and WR Ty Fryfogle has had a rough season compared to last year. The bright spot of the Indiana offense has probably been TE Peyton Hendershot, who has 492 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. The Hoosiers are 0-7 in conference play, 2-8 overall, and no where near where they were at the beginning of this season. Indiana actually started off the season with high expectations at #17 in the nation, but got blown out in the first game at Iowa 34-6. Indiana QB Michael Penix threw three interceptions in the game. After this, they rebounded with a good game against Idaho. Then, they played a great first half against the highly ranked Cincinnati Bearcats, but lost all momentum in the second half after defensive leader Micah McFadden was ejected late into the second quarter. This resulted in a 38-24 loss. They would go on to beat Western Kentucky in a close game, but lose the next 7 straight in Big 10 play. They lost to Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan, and Rutgers. As a result, I think this season is a lost cause for the Hoosiers because they are most likely already eliminated from bowl contention. Indiana finishes the season against Minnesota and Purdue.

 Big 10 West

 Wisconsin: The Badgers started off this season super rough, but have really turned it around in recent weeks. Wisconsin started off the season with good expectations, after a pretty disappointing 2020 season. This year, they were optimistic about the production of QB Graham Mertz and excited about transfer running back Chez Mellusi. However, the Badgers started the season off on a bad note, losing as the #12 team in the nation to Penn State 16-10 in Madison. The running game for Wisconsin was pretty good, with Mellusi getting 121 yards on the ground along with a touchdown. The negative for the game was the performance of Graham Mertz, who threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter and cost them the game. They would rebound against Eastern Michigan, but lose a matchup the next week to at the time #12 Notre Dame in Chicago. This loss dropped Wisconsin out of the rankings, and a loss to Michigan the next week at home 38-17 didn’t help at all. Fortunately for the team and their fans, the Badgers have won 6 straight games against Illinois, Army, Purdue, Iowa, Rutgers, and Northwestern. This gives Wisconsin a 5-2 record in Big 10 play, an overall record of 7-3, and a pretty great shot to get into a bowl game, as long as they can beat pretty decent opponents in Nebraska and Minnesota. They are also in the running for a spot in the Big 10 championship because they actually lead the Big 10 West.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have been a very surprising team this season, especially in the Big 10 West. Minnesota this season wasn’t really expected to do anything big after a very disappointing 2020 season. In Week 1, the Golden Gophers were unranked and started out their season at home against Ohio State. They were able to hang in the game for a good while because of a 163 yard rushing and 2 touchdown performance from RB Mohamed Ibrahim, but eventually the Buckeyes pulled away and won 45-31. The next couple of weeks, they performed well and got two wins against Miami [OH] and Colorado. However, the next week Minnesota lost a game in Minneapolis to Bowling Green 14-10. Coming into the game, the Golden Gophers were a 30.5 point favorite, but 2 interceptions by Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan won the game for the Falcons. Then, Minnesota reached a breakthrough in Big 10 play, with victories versus Purdue, Nebraska, Maryland, and Northwestern. These wins got them to first place in the Big 10 West and ranked in the first edition of the CFP rankings as #20. Then, with those expectations placed upon them, the Golden Gophers laid a goose egg against Illinois at home and lost 14-6. Tanner Morgan once again threw two interceptions in the loss. After dropping out of the rankings, they lost the next week to Iowa 27-22. This season, the running game has really been the bright spot for Minnesota, while the passing game is costing them games. The Golden Gophers are 4-3 in conference play, 6-4 overall, and currently unranked. Also, Minnesota is in third place in the Big 10 West behind Wisconsin and Iowa, but right in front of Purdue. In my opinion, I think that the Golden Gophers in their remaining schedule will beat Indiana, but lose to Wisconsin. As a result, they probably won’t win the division, but they could earn a decent bowl game.

Purdue: The Boilermakers in 2021 might be one of the most interesting teams in the entire country. Purdue at QB currently has a pretty good one in Aidan O’Connell, who has thrown for 2,477 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. The Boilermakers started off the season on a good note, with wins against Oregon State and the  UConn Huskies. The next week, they played a game versus struggling Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish were able to dominate in the fourth quarter and win the game 27-13. When conference play began, Purdue started off a little rough, with a close win against Illinois and a loss to Minnesota. However, the Boilermakers earned one of two big wins this season the following week. This game was against the at the time #2 in the nation Iowa Hawkeyes, who had beat #4 Penn State the previous week as the number 3 team in the nation. Purdue didn’t seem to notice Iowa’s ranking, and cruised to a 24-7 victory on the road in Iowa City. They did this behind an astounding performance from quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who went 30-40 and threw 375 yards, along with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Also, the Boilermakers wide receiver David Bell had an amazing game, with 240 yards receiving and 1 touchdown. Finally, the defense for Purdue played very well, intercepting Hawkeyes QB Spencer Petras FOUR TIMES! This win launched them into the AP Poll as the #25 team, but they quickly disappeared with a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers. But, the Boilermakers didn’t give up, as they beat Nebraska the next week 28-23 on the road. Then, a miracle happened, a matchup many people thought would go in Michigan’s State favor, yet didn’t. The Boilermakers in Week 10 of the 2021 season beat the at the time #3 team in the nation Michigan State Spartans, who were coming off of an emotional win against the Michigan Wolverines. Purdue accomplished this because of another great game from QB Aidan O’Connell, who went 40-54 and threw for 536 YARDS AND THREE TOUCHDOWNS! Also, David Bell had another great day receiving against a top 3 team with 217 yards and 1 touchdown. As a result, the Boilermakers once again made their way back into the rankings, this time as #19 in the CFP rankings. However, the next week they looked to avoid disappointment against a huge challenge in the Ohio State Buckeyes. Unfortunately, early mistakes by the Boilermakers and astounding offense by Ohio State handed Purdue a blowout 59-31 loss. The Boilermakers are 4-3 in conference play, 6-4 overall, and in fourth place in the Big 10 West with the same record as Minnesota. I believe that Purdue is great, but I don’t think they’ll win the division because Wisconsin and Minnesota have the tiebreakers over them. However, they should be able to beat Northwestern and Indiana and get into a bowl game.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes were super good this season, until they weren’t. Iowa had a pretty good 2020, but they really started to put it together at the beginning of 2021. They started off the season ranked #18 in the nation, with a matchup against #17 Indiana. The Hawkeyes rolled to a 34-6 victory over the Hoosiers in a game that the defense intercepted Indiana QB Michael Penix 3 times. The next week, Iowa went up 8 spots in the poll to the #10 team in the nation, and had a fantastic matchup ahead of them against the Iowa State Cyclones. This game was also highlighted further by ESPN’S College Gameday going to Ames for the game. Iowa and Iowa State played a tough, defensive game, but the Hawkeyes defense once again forced 3 interceptions from a QB, this time Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy and had the offense had a great day themselves on the ground because of RB Tyler Goodson, who had 55 yards and 1 touchdown on 21 carries. Iowa then beat up on Kentucky State and won a decently close game at home versus Colorado State. The great start had them at #5 in the nation and it would only get higher after a 51-14 domination of the Maryland Terrapins in College Park. In this game, the Hawkeyes forced SEVEN TURNOVERS and had a fantastic performance from QB Spencer Petras, who threw for 259 yards and 3 TDs. However, even after the win over Maryland got them to #3 in the country, they were still at risk of losing that ranking immediately, with a game against at the time #4 in the nation Penn State at home in Iowa City. The Nittany Lions played very well in the first half, but after an injury to QB Sean Clifford in the second quarter, Penn State had to put out backup QB Ta’Quan Roberson, who did not play well in Clifford’s absence. As a result, the Hawkeyes were able to use a great second half to beat the Nittany Lions 23-20. The next week though started the downward spiral of the Hawkeyes. At home as the #2 team in the nation, they put up a stinker against the Purdue Boilermakers. QB Spencer Petras played a horrible game, throwing FOUR INTERCEPTIONS. As a result, Iowa lost their first game of the season and dropped another one the following week versus Wisconsin. With the two losses, Iowa looked to rebound against the Northwestern Wildcats, and they did with a very unconvincing 17-12 victory. Even though this win was a little underwhelming, they got a much better win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers 27-22 without quarterback Spencer Petras. Backup QB Alex Padilla had a decent game in his place, throwing for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Hawkeyes are 5-2 in the Big 10, 8-2 overall, but in second place in the Big 10 West behind Wisconsin because of the tiebreaker that the Badgers have over them. Because of the way Wisconsin has been playing and the way Iowa is playing currently, I believe that the Hawkeyes won’t win the division, but they will get a good bowl game.

Illinois: The Fighting Illini haven’t been a very good team this season, but they have a couple of good wins. Illinois started off this season with good win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a game that they were favored to lose. However, the next week they lost at home to the UTSA Roadrunners, who are currently undefeated and having a fantastic year. They continued the losing streak with losses against Virginia, Maryland, and Purdue until they beat Charlotte 24-14. Then, they got shutout by the Badgers in Champaign 24-0, who were starting to turn their season around. The next week however, the Fighting Illini got their signature win this season versus the Penn State Nittany Lions. This game wasn’t super entertaining in regulation, but the overtimes were fantastic. Both teams went back and forth on scoring drives in OT, until the Fighting Illini put pressure on the beat up QB Sean Clifford and Penn State. Sean Clifford was also coming off of an injury to Iowa a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t 100% healthy. Because of this, Illinois was able to stop the Nittany Lions and beat them 20-18 in a huge upset that took NINE OVERTIMES to happen. Then, they lost the next week to Rutgers, but beat Minnesota 14-6, in a game where they intercepted Golden Gophers QB Tanner Morgan 2 times. The Fighting Illini are 3-4 in conference play, 4-6 overall, and will have to win out if they want a bowl game, but that might not even be guaranteed. They will finish versus Iowa and Northwestern.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have been a pretty disappointing team this year, similar to previous years under head coach Scott Frost. Nebraska started off the year with an ugly loss versus Illinois 30-22. They had a chance to tie up the game, but a turnover on downs led to their downfall. They then beat up on Fordham and Buffalo at home, before losing a close 23-16 game versus the Oklahoma Sooners, who got a highlight play when CB D.J. Graham intercepted Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez with one hand! Heading into Big 10 play, Nebraska lost a close one to the Spartans in overtime because of an interception by Cornhuskers QB Adrian Martinez again, which led to a 21 yard game winning field goal by Michigan State kicker Matt Coghlin. Nebraska then beat up on Northwestern and lost another close one to Michigan because of a 39 yard field goal made by Wolverines kicker Jake Moody. They have also lost close games to Minnesota, Purdue, and Ohio State. The Nebraska Cornhuskers are 1-6 in conference play, 3-7 overall, and most likely out of any chance to earn a bowl game spot. Nebraska will most likely end the season with two more losses because they play Wisconsin and Iowa.

Northwestern: The Wildcats have gone from a great season in 2020, to a horrible 2021 campaign. Part of this could come from losing many vital pieces in the 2021 NFL draft after winning the Big 10 West in 2020. Northwestern lost OT Rashawn Slater and CB Greg Newsome among others. To start the year, Northwestern faced the Michigan State Spartans at home in Evanston, but were quickly taken care of 38-21 because of a 4 touchdown performance from Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker. They then beat Indiana State, but lost a close 30-23 matchup against the Duke Blue Devils the next week. After that, they beat Ohio, but lost to Nebraska 56-7 the following week. However, they were able to win again versus Rutgers and pick up their first Big 10 victory of the season. This would be the Wildcats last win unfortunately because since then they have lost games against Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. As a result, Northwestern is 1-6 in Big 1o play, 3-7 overall, and will probably not make a bowl game. They finish the season with a very tough game against the Purdue Boilermakers, but will face an easier opponent after Purdue in Illinois.