Stewart Mandel’s Big Ten predictions: It’s Ohio State’s conference to lose – The Athletics

Stewart Mandel's Big Ten predictions: It's Ohio State's conference to lose - The Athletics

Michigan took the Big Ten by storm last season, winning its first conference championship since 2004 and advancing to the College Football Playoff. I find it hard to believe Ohio State won’t be picking it up this year. The Buckeyes remain the league’s most talented team, led by Heisman finalist quarterback CJ Stroud, though certainly its offensive line and defensive front seven need to perform at a higher level.

In the East, I’m interested to see if the Wolverines stay ahead of opening rival Michigan State, either Penn State can rebound after two mediocre seasons and whether Maryland and/or Rutgers can pull some surprises. (Poor Indiana sank to the bottom in rapid fashion.)

In the West, I can see any of four teams – Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue or Wisconsin — arriving at Indianapolis, though you’ll see below, I predict the Badgers will go on a mini-slide. As for Nebraska…not seeing it.

Big Ten preview roundtable: Not overthinking Ohio State, where Michigan fits, Scott Frost under pressure

Status of the Programs: Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Maryland | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwest | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Rutgers | Wisconsin

West

TEAM BIG TEN In general

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

Ohio State over Iowa

Five best non-conference games

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

One sneaky-good one

Washington State at Wisconsin (September 10)

Washington State’s offensive coordinator Eric Morris-style offense should be a good test for Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s revamped defense. If the Badgers aren’t ready, they could end up on the wrong side of Cougars quarterback Cam Ward’s national exit party.

Player of the Year

Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. I might be picking the wrong Buckeye, because QB CJ Stroud will inevitably put up even bigger numbers than he did as a Heisman finalist last season. But Smith-Njigba, now the team’s clear No. 1 receiver, could have his own DeVonta Smith Heisman-type season after catching 95 balls for 1,606 yards in 2021.

Runner Up: Stroud

Impact Transfer

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

Runner Up: Rutgers WR Ty Harris (from Syracuse)

Impact Freshman

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 is expected to play a big role in the Nittany Lions’ offense.

Runner Up: Indiana linebacker Dasan McCullough

Coach will most likely be fired

Scott Frost of Nebraska. The best guess here is athletic director Trev Alberts finally rips the Band-Aid midway through what figures to be another mediocre Huskers season.

Effective Assistant

Minnesota OC Kirk Ciarrocca. The play caller for Minnesota’s 11-win team in 2019 is back and reunited with PJ Fleck and Tanner Morgan. His return is the main reason I see the Gophers contending and possibly winning the Big Ten West for the first time.

Does a Big Ten team make the College Football Playoff?

Yes, and I think we all know which team that will be.

Does a Big Ten team win the national championship?

Very possibly. Ohio State is going to score billions of points, so if new DC Jim Knowles can sort out the defense, the Buckeyes have a shot at alabama or Georgia.

(Top photo: Joseph Maiorana / USA Today)

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