Football

Ranking returning production vs. rest of Big Ten

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The Ohio State football program is a monster in recruiting, but that’s not always the most important thing when you look at the prospects of the next season once it’s time to turn the page. Sometimes it has more to do with what’s leftover in the cupboard that has a bigger bearing on winning shiny objects and trinkets that sit in trophy cases for years to come.

ESPN has looked at returning production for all teams in the FBS (subscription required), and since we’re more interested in what happens in the neighborhood OSU has been the bully on the block for quite some time — the Big Ten — we’re giving you a peek ahead with all fourteen teams in the conference.

We must remember that returning talent doesn’t always equate to a better team or one that can contend (see Michigan), but it can often be an indicator of improvement and stability.

Here’s how things shake out with all of the Big Ten football teams when it comes to returning talent according to the worldwide leader in sports programming.

14
Northwestern Wildcats – No. 125 overall)

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The lowdown

Not only does Northwestern lose its veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, but it must replace multiple starters, including most on that side of the ball. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald still remains, but only BYU loses more production in the country than the Wildcats.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
34% 29% 127th 39% 125th

 

13
Ohio State Buckeyes – No. 121 overall

Ohio State football: Ranking returning production vs. rest of Big Ten Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

You’d normally be concerned when a team returns as little production as what Ohio State does, but the Buckeyes have shown that they reload with the best of them. Still, if you are the rest of the Big Ten, this might be the year you can catch OSU early before all those four and five-star recruits start to get their sea legs, especially on defense.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
50% 55% 99th 44% 119th

 

12
Rutgers Scarlet Knights – No. 82 overall

Justin Fields will 'probably win the Heisman' says Greg Schiano Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

Rutgers took a big competitive step last season under Greg Schiano, and he’s got some players back to build around. The problem is that the rest of the Big Ten does too. We’ll see if the program takes the next step and starts to win at a higher clip in 2021.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
64% 67% 74th 61% 96th

 

11
Michigan State Spartans – No. 64 overall

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The lowdown

The Spartans are still unsettled at quarterback, but there’s a lot to work with otherwise on offense. The problem comes on the defensive side of the ball where there’s a ton to retool. Not a good problem to have for a team that’s looking to turn the corner under second-year head coach Mel Tucker.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
69% 80% 37th 59% 99th

 

10
Illinois Fighting Illini – No. 62 overall

Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

Were not sure yet whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that new head coach Bret (Bart) Bielema has a so-so roster coming back. On one hand, a complete turnover in culture might be good, but on the other, having some returning guys to work with might not be bad to build upon. Quarterback Brando Peters and most of the offensive production returns, so I guess we’ll wait and see.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
70% 80% 38th 61% 94th

 

9
Nebraska Cornhuskers – No. 60 overall

Ohio State vs. Nebraska enemy territory preview. Scouting the Huskers. (Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)

The lowdown

Nebraska will have to get better in a hurry for senior quarterback Adrian Martinez, but the defense returns almost everyone. For an offensive-minded coach like Scott Frost, that’s probably the inverse of what he’d like to have, but the culture of old school Nebraska says that might be what’s needed to finally turn this thing around in Lincoln.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
72% 56% 96th 88% 9th

 

8
Iowa Hawkeyes – No. 57 overall

Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

Iowa was playing the best of any team not named Ohio State at the end of the 2020 campaign, and there’s enough back on both sides of the ball to expect the Hawkeyes to continue that trend in 2021. America needs farmers, and Iowa usually needs a great defense to contend for a league title. That looks to be the case next season.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
72% 69% 70th 76% 48th

 

7
Michigan Wolverines – No. 49 overall

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

The lowdown

We’re running out of jokes and punchlines for where this Michigan program is, but if you’re a Wolverine fan, at least there’s some pretty good production coming back for returning savior Jim Harbaugh. The good news is that there’s not a rebuild on either side of the ball. The bad news is that there’s not a rebuild on either side of the ball.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
73% 77% 46th 70% 69th

 

6
Purdue Boilermakers – No. 38 overall

Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

Looks can be deceiving here. Purdue returns a lot on the offensive end but is unsettled at quarterback, and losing all-everything receiver Rondale Moore is a big hit. Still, there are guys that know what they are doing, so maybe the fortunes of a limp to the finish line in 2020 will turn around in 2021.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
78% 85% 17th 70% 68th

 

5
Penn State Nittany Lions – No. 37 overall

Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

I am almost ready to chalk up last season as a COVID-19 anomaly for the Nittany Lions, but even if not, there’s a lot coming back in Happy Valley. Look for a big improvement with quarterback Sean Clifford this fall with plenty of weapons around him, and a defense that’s much better with so many pieces coming back.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
78% 74% 58th 82% 24th

 

4
Minnesota Golden Gophers – No. 25 overall

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

The lowdown

Again, a bit deceiving. Minnesota loses starting quarterback Tanner Morgan and one of the best receivers in the country in Rashod Bateman on offense. Those are huge shoes to fill. Look for P.J. Fleck to try and lean on a defense that knows what it’s doing and should be an improved one.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
80% 75% 53rd 84% 18th

 

3
Indiana Hoosiers – No. 24 overall

Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

Indiana made huge strides in 2020 and played Ohio State closer than any other team in the league. Tom Allen has this program on the upswing and has plenty in the cupboard this fall. If quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. can come back fully healthy, the Hoosiers might be the greatest threat to dethroning the Buckeyes this fall.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
80% 80% 39th 81% 26th

 

2
Wisconsin Badgers – No. 14 overall

Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

It was a weird year for Wisconsin, even more so than other teams in a COVID-19 world. The Badgers seemed to have enough talent but couldn’t put it all together. Expect UW to rebound in 2021 with all the returning production on both sides of the ball, including five-star quarterback Graham Mertz who should have learned from an inconsistent season this year.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
83% 84% 24th 82% 22nd

 

1
Maryland Terrapins – No. 10 overall

Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The lowdown

If this is the year for Maryland to stop its inconsistent ways, this might be it. The recruiting has been good and with all that’s back on both sides of the ball, the Terrapins might be ready to go toe-to-toe with some of the big boys in the league. Look for quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to be a difference-maker.

The Rankings according to ESPN

Overall Offense Rank Defense Rank
85% 86% 14th 85% 17th

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