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Big Ten football 2021 way-too-early power rankings – Buckeyes Wire

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We know you’re still going through Ohio State football withdrawal, but we try to provide a little tonic during the offseason. Buckeye fans are in a little different spot than most college programs because OSU made it all the way to Miami and didn’t end the season until Jan. 11 (cringe). So, we’re still doing some lookaheads to next year after letting our wounds heal a bit after what we saw against Alabama.

On that note, it feels like as good as any time to project out to what the Big Ten will look like next year. I mean, if you get your teeth kicked in, why not go back to the neighborhood where you are the bully, right?

There are so many unknowns with not only Ohio State but all the teams in the conference because we got to see so little football last season as the conference grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. What we think we know, could look totally different when teams have all offseason to prepare and develop.

Still, we’re giving it our best shot, and we’re a little more comfortable with it than Jim Harbaugh discarding khakis and trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans.

So, here it is, a very, very early look at what the power of the Big Ten could look like in 2021.

14
Illinois Fighting Illini

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The outlook

The Illinois football program has been climbing the seemingly insurmountable mountain for years now, and not even Bert (Bart) Bielema can turn this thing around in Year 1. Brandon Peters is back at quarterback, but that’s not exactly going to make the rest of the league start game-planning for an aerial assault in the offseason. There’s a lot to fix, and 2021 probably will be a little uglier than a bruise to the temple.

13
Purdue Boilermakers

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The outlook

I have to admit, I’m really not sure what has happened with the Purdue program. It looked so promising under Jeff Brohm early, but recently the Boilermakers seem to have derailed. They lost their top playmaker, wide receiver Rondale Moore, and there’s a ton of consistency issues on both sides of the ball to address.

12
Michigan State Spartans

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The outlook

I didn’t realize things were so bad in East Lansing until we saw the product on the field last year. Sure, the Spartans pulled off a couple of shockers, but the talent level over the last few years has gone on a significant decline. It’s going to take head coach Mel Tucker a while to build back, and I doubt we see too much progress in 2021.

11
Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Ohio State still hovering in same spot in latest AP Top 25 CFB Poll USA TODAY Sports

The outlook

It really feels like this program is going in the right direction under head coach Greg Schiano. The talent level still needs to get there, but there was clearly buy-in from the team last season with much more competitive games. I expect further improvement in 2021, but there’s still plenty of room for growth.

10
Maryland Terrapins

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The outlook

It seems like every year Maryland surprises teams, then falls flat against subpar competition. Mike Locksley is recruiting at a high level, it’s just a matter of putting it all together and getting buy-in from the team consistently. Taulia Tagovailoa has been a bright spot, and if he can develop even further, the Terps might be able to surprise in 2021.

9
Minnesota Golden Gophers

P.J. Fleck Minnesota Golden Gophers Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The outlook

Minnesota took a big step backward in 2020 even with some skill returning from a team that was one of the best in the Big Ten in 2019. Now, the Gophers will have to replace guys like Rashod Bateman, Tanner Morgan and others. The culture is a good one, so Fleck and company probably will not slip too far, but I wouldn’t expect an upper-division finish.

8
Michigan Wolverines

Ohio State football enemy territory preview: Get to know Michigan Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The outlook

At this point, there’s really no reason to believe Michigan is going to turn things around despite the yearly anticipation of doing so under Jim Harbaugh. A new contract is one thing, but a totally revamped coaching staff, no known bona fide starting quarterback, and a culture that seems broken leaves the Wolverine program in a tough spot. This appears to be a mediocre team at best. Sorry, Michigan fans, but this is who you are at this point.

7
Nebraska Cornhuskers

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The outlook

Now feels like about the time when this Scott Frost experiment starts to pay off a little. The coaching staff has been around a while, quarterback Adrian Martinez is about to embark on his senior season, and there is a collection of talent on offense that should be much more competitive in 2021. Maybe this coming season is a disappointment again, but I think this will at least be a stepping stone season in Lincoln that ends in a bowl game.

6
Northwestern Wildcats

What Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said about Ohio State postgame Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The outlook

It’s always a little dicey trying to predict what the next Northwestern football season will look like. Nobody gets as much out of his players in the Big Ten than Pat Fitzgerald historically has, but it’s going to be hard to contend for another West division crown with the loss of quarterback Petyon Ramsey, and the retirement of longtime veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. The Wildcats will likely do what they normally do and win some games they shouldn’t, and lose games that come off the reservation.

5
Penn State Nittany Lions

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The outlook

Maybe we can chalk up last year’s 0-5 start to the COVID-19 pandemic, but to me, it screams there’s a wee bit of a culture problem. Sean Clifford returns at quarterback, but there were just too many issues early on in the year to think this is the same Penn State program of years past. There’s talent there, but can the Nittany Lions put it all together one year after looking historically bad? We are going to need a little more convincing.

4
Wisconsin Badgers

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The outlook

Wisconsin had all kinds of issues last year and limped to an uncharacteristic 4-3 finish last season. Like many programs, there was a pause due to COVID-19, so it’s hard to really tell what kind of team the Badgers could have been. For once, they have a talented quarterback, Graham Mertz, but he seemed a bit like a toy that didn’t quite fit in the running and physical culture of Wisconsin. The offense struggled mightily last season, and the Badgers have to get back to being what they are and let Mertz be a compliment to that. I say there’s a bounce back, but other teams are getting better too.

3
Iowa Hawkeyes

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The outlook

This looks like one of those every four- or five-year deals when Iowa contends for a division and conference crown. Though far from flashy, quarterback Spence Petras is back to run an efficient Hawkeye attack. That’ll go nicely with a defense that should be lights out and make Iowa a potential league title contender. Then again, it’s Iowa, so who knows what will happen.

2
Indiana Hoosiers

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The outlook

Indiana might be the team best positioned to knock Ohio State from the Big Ten thrown. The Hoosiers get wide receiver Tyler Fryfogle back, and as long as quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. comes back healthy from injury, the offense should be dynamic. The defense will be a relentless attacking one again, and Ohio State has to travel to Bloomington. Tom Allen is a treasure at IU and he’s going to potentially have his best team yet.

 

1
Ohio State Buckeyes

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The outlook

Ohio State does have to retool a bit, losing quarterback Justin Fields, its entire linebacking corps and key offensive lineman, but the Buckeyes have recruited with the best of them and will look to plug and play the next man up again. It’s not like the cupboard is bare. Whoever starts at quarterback will either a high four-star or five-star prospect, and there’s plenty of guys back that played significant minutes last season. It’s Big Ten title, College Football Playoff and national championship or bust in Columbus once again.

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