Sports College Football Big Ten Football 2020 Preview

Big Ten Football 2020 Preview

For weeks, fans have been waiting patiently for the return of the greatest conference in college football, so without further ado, BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK BABY. We are breaking down YOUR team in today’s conference preview, and I am going to make my picks to click as well as tell you who I see matching up as part of Champions Week in December.

Projected Standings

Big Ten East2019 RecordBig Ten West2019 Record
Ohio State13-1 (9-0)Minnesota11-2 (7-2)
Penn State11-2 (7-2)Wisconsin10-4 (7-2)
Michigan9-4 (6-3)Iowa10-3 (6-3)
Indiana8-5 (5-4)Nebraska5-7 (3-6)
Michigan State7-6 (4-5)Purdue4-8 (3-6)
Maryland3-9 (1-8)Northwestern3-9 (1-8)
Rutgers2-10 (0-9)Illinois6-7 (4-5)

THE CONTENDERS

Ohio State (2019: Big Ten East Champions, L vs. Clemson in CFP)
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields stepping on Nebraska defender's helmet after scoring a touchdown.
Image by Nati Harnik via AP Photo

My Take:  Even after losing staples such as Chase Young, J.K. Dobbins, and Jeff Okudah to last year’s NFL Draft, anything shy of a Big Ten Championship and return trip to the College Football Playoff will be a disappointment for the Buckeyes in 2020. Justin Fields returns as a Heisman hopeful and near-certain First Round pick next year, and the dual-threat gunslinger has a chance to make a big step forward in his second year in Ryan Day’s offense. Graduate Transfer Trey Sermon (Oklahoma) will share the load with breakout star Master Teague in 2020, while Father Time Chris Olave will still be a deep threat on the outside.

Best Case Scenario: National Champions. This Ohio State team has been itching to play since the Big Ten initially cancelled the football season back in August. Day has shown the ability to pick up right where Urban Meyer left off, and you can bet the Buckeyes would love a repeat chance to take down the Clemson Tigers come playoff time.

Minnesota (2019: 2nd Place in Big Ten West, W vs. Auburn in Outback Bowl)
Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan throwing a pass in a football game against Penn State.
Image by 247 Sports

My Take: Minnesota took a huge step forward in his third year at the helm of the Golden Gophers, and as much as it pains me to say it, I think Minnesota earns a trip to Indy in year four. Tanner Morgan returns to the Twin Cities after guiding what was a strong offense last season, and the R-Junior still has his favorite target in Rashod Bateman in 2020. The Gophers have a huge week one test at home against Michigan, and a cross-over win of that stature certainly would give Pj Fleck’s group a leg up early on. There are some questions on the defensive side of the ball, but the high-powered offense should have what it takes to take the crown in what could be a down year out West.

Best Case Scenario: New Year’s Six Bowl Win. While Minnesota will have their shot against the Buckeyes at the end of the season, I think a reachable and reasonable goal for the Golden Gophers in 2020 is a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game. Minnesota crosses over with Maryland again in Week 2, leaving a strong chance to head into the Big Ten Title game unscathed or with just a lone loss.

Penn State (2019: 2nd Place in Big Ten East, W vs. Memphis in Cotton Bowl)
Penn State head coach James Franklin high fiving team after a touchdown.
Image by Kevin Jairaj via USA TODAY Sports

My Take: The Nittany Lions have played second fiddle to the Buckeyes for the past couple years in their search for a Big Ten title game, and my prediction is that James Franklin’s club comes up just short again in 2020. Sean Clifford and Pat Freiermuth should be one of the conferences best 1-2 punches, but the understandable loss of Micah Parsons certainly leads to some potential holes on the defensive side of the ball. I think the Big Ten East is decided Week 2 in Happy Valley.

Best Case Scenario: Big Ten Champions, College Football Playoff. IF the Nittany Lions can knock off Ohio State in what is one of my favorite college football games each season, they should hold steady and come away with a Big Ten East and overall crown in 2020. The Big Ten Championship would be good enough for the College Football Playoff where they would in all likelihood face off against what looks to be two superpowers again this year in Alabama and Clemson.

Wisconsin (2019: Big Ten West Champions, L vs. Oregon in Rose Bowl)
Wisconsin Badgers defender yelling and celebrating after great defensive play against Michigan State.
Image by USA TODAY SI

My Take: There are some new faces in Madison this year, particularly in a backfield that has to replace record-holder Jonathan Taylor. Graham Mertz will be under center for the first time as a starter after appearing in two games for the Badgers last season. What Mertz can do with the football will be a key to success, as defenses will continue to stack the box against what is nearly always a prolific rushing attack. If the Badgers can win their crossover games against Michigan and Indiana, the path to Indy becomes more manageable with a home game against Minnesota before traveling to Kinnick Stadium to end the regular season.

Best Case Scenario: Big Ten West Champions. New Year’s Six Bowl. As noted, the Badgers will need to replace star Jonathan Taylor in the backfield, though a veteran offensive line should continue to provide big enough holes for whoever gets the bulk of carries between Garrett Groshek and Nakia Watson. The defense will play sound football as always, leaving the Badgers right in the thick of things out West.

Michigan: (2019: 3rd Place in the Big Ten East, L vs. Alabama in Citrus Bowl)
Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh cheering after him team scored a touchdown.
Image by Tony Ding via Associated Press

My Take: Fans in Ann Arbor are still waiting for the long-desired Big Ten Championship under Jim Harbaugh, and I think they will have to keep waiting after everything unfolds in 2020. The loss of Shea Patterson combined with the opt-out of Niko Collins leaves first-year starter Joe Milton in a tough spot. Ronnie Bell will be expected to handle a large workload in the passing game while Zach Charbonnet will look to build on what was an outstanding freshman campaign a season ago.  The defense will continue to look good up until the Ohio State game, but I have the Wolverines finishing 6-3 at the hands of the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions, and Gophers this season.

Best Case Scenario: 2nd Place in the Big Ten East. Ohio State has been the Achilles heel for years under Jim Harbaugh, and the Wolverines will likely struggle with Ryan Day’s group again this year. I think knocking off the Nittany Lions and sweeping those crossover contests is a reasonable hope for this group that will look to reload for a full season and run at the Big Ten crown in 2021.

Iowa: (2019: 3rd Place in the Big Ten West, W vs. Southern Cal in the Holiday Bowl)
Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver #6 making a hand gesture while running into the end zone for a touchdown.
Image by Sean M. Haffey via Getty Images

My Take: As a huge Hawkeye fan myself, there are certainly some question marks and concerns for this Iowa football team in 2020. New quarterback Spencer Petras will be making his first career start in week one against Purdue, though he has been gifted with a wealth of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The rushing attack of Tyler Goodson paired with the passing threats of Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Sam LaPorta, and Tyrone Tracy give this offense plenty of exciting possibilities. The defense will feel the loss of Aj Epenesa up front, but the secondary alongside an always stout offensive line should be a bright spot for the team out of Iowa City.

Best Case Scenario: Big Ten West Champions. The Hawkeyes have manageable crossover games in 2020 with a trip to Happy Valley and Michigan State on the schedule. Winning one of those contests is a must, then this group will have to knock off Minnesota before welcoming the Badgers in the final week of the season. If Spencer Petras can step into the starting role with ease, a historically “Between the Tackles” team could be one of the more prolific offenses in the Big Ten West.

THE REST

Indiana (2019: 4th Place in the Big Ten East, W vs. Nebraska I mean Tennessee in Gator Bowl)

Best Case Scenario: I think a third place finish in the Big Ten East would be a huge step in the right direction for the Hoosiers in 2020. There were signs of life in what has been a dormant program for much of the last decade, but Tom Allen has this program heading in the right direction.

Nebraska (2019: 5th Place in the Big Ten West)

Best Case Scenario: I think the best bet for the Huskers this season is to finish at the .500 mark or better. Scott Frost has been underwhelming since the parade to welcome him home in Lincoln, but the Huskers are starting to recruit better and could finally start their upswing this season.

Michigan State: (2019: 5th Place in the Big Ten East, W vs. Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl)

Best Case Scenario: Michigan State welcomes first-year head coach Mel Tucker to East Lansing with expectations of a quick rebuild. While Tucker had some early success at Colorado, the Spartans should be looking toward the future and should hope for a few wins sprinkled in during the 2020 season.

Purdue (2019: 4th Place in the Big Ten West)

Best Case Scenario: The best scenario here for the Boilermakers in 2020 is a week one win against Iowa and plenty of people tuning in to the Rondale Moore show. Such a dynamic player, Moore has shown the ability to change games with his quickness out of the backfield and in the slot. If Moore can get plenty of touches, the big play ability could allow Purdue to win a handful of games in 2020.

Maryland (2019: 6th Place in the Big Ten East)

Best Case Scenario: While there is much that is still unknown about the Terrapins, things aren’t looking great. Maryland hung around in some games last season; however, they find themselves in a Big Ten East that seems to continuing creating separation from Maryland and Rutgers at the bottom. Best case here is a couple wins, I mean, they have Rutgers on the schedule.

Northwestern (2019: 7th Place in the Big Ten West)

Best Case Scenario: Pat Fitzgerald is an excellent coach, and the Wildcats always seem to surprise people with a great season when least expected; however, I don’t think this is one of those years. We are in rebuild mode in Evanston right now, so don’t be surprised at a 2-3 win campaign again in 2020.

Rutgers (2019: 7th Place in the Big Ten East)

Best Case Scenario: There’s not much to say, Greg Schiano is back.

Illinois (2019: 4th Place in the Big Ten West, L vs. Cal in the Red Box Bowl)

Best Case Scenario: Lovie Smith continues to make the slow climb in Champaign, and while I think the Illini struggle in 2020, there is some potential upside to this group. Ra’Von Bonner opting out is a serious blow for this offense, though Lovie Smith had the boys believing last year.

FanNoise Preseason Honors:

Conference POY: Justin Fields

Coach of the Year: Ryan Day

Preseason All-Conference Team:

QB: Justin Fields (Ohio State)

RB1: Zach Charbonnet (Michigan)

RB2: Elijah Collins (Michigan State)

WR1: Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

WR2: Rondale Moore (Purdue)

WR3: Chris Olave (Ohio State)

TE: Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)

OL: Alaric Jackson (Iowa)

OL: Logan Bruss (Wisconsin)

OL: Matt Allen (Michigan State)

OL:  Wyatt Davis (Ohio State)

OL: Cole Van Lanen (Wisconsin)

DL1: Carlo Kemp (Michigan)

DL2: George Karlaftis (Purdue)

DL3: Jacub Panasiuk (Michigan State)

DL4: Jack Heflin (Iowa)

LB1: Paddy Fisher (Northwestern)

LB2: Jack Sanborn (Wisconsin)

LB3: Micah Parsons (Penn State) *Will Not Play: COVID-19

S1: Daxton Hill (Michigan)

S2: Eric Burrel (Wisconsin)

CB1: Shawn Wade (Ohio State)

CB2: Tiawan Mullen (Indiana)

K: Keith Duncan (Iowa)

P: The Rutgers Punter

KR: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa)

PR: Rondale Moore (Purdue)

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