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2021 College Football Power 5 Previews: Big Ten Conference
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2021 College Football Power 5 Previews: Big Ten Conference

by Akshay KumbarAugust 3, 2021

August is here, students are returning back to campuses, and we are just over a month away from the start of the 2021 College Football Season. After one of the most controversial seasons in 2020, we are finally back to a FULL schedule and we can have a level playing ground for all teams.

2021 College Football Power 5 Previews

This week I will be diving deep into 2021 college football power 5 previews, and taking a look at each team and what to expect from them going into the 2021 season. Today we start off with the Big Ten conference.

2020 Recap

Obviously, with COVID, the conference decided to change the look of their schedule compared to the other power 5 conferences. They were one of the few conferences to only allow in conference play, to reduce the spread of COVID, and reduce travel distances.

As many people expected, Ohio State repeated at the Conference Champions winning their 4th straight. It was a very unique season that showed us that there were other surprise teams that were really building up their reputation and could contend with Ohio State for the conference titles.

Big Ten West

Illinois Fighting Illini –

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +10000 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten West – +5000 (via Fanduel)

One of the worst teams in the Big Ten last season, and the past few seasons. Under Lovie Smith, they have yet to get a winning season. Finishing 2nd to last in recruiting rankings via 24/7 Sports, they do not have any upgrades to help them compete in a full season this year.

2021 College Football Power 5 Previews Illinois Fighting Illini

Rightfully so they are longshots to win the conference and even win the division. I expect Lovie Smith to most likely be fired at the end of this season due to his poor performance.

Purdue Boilermakers –

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +4000 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten West – +3000 (via Fanduel)

In 2017, Purdue was able to upset then ranked No. 2 Ohio State in a blowout, 49-20, and derailed the Buckeyes from making the College Football Playoffs. Since that game, it has been all downhill for the Boilermakers as they finished the last 3 seasons under .500.

The Boilermakers have some incredible threats on the offensive end that will be able to put some points on the board for them. Their defense was god awful in 2020 as they let up 29.8 points per game and also were the worst team against the pass.

Things aren’t looking so great for Purdue going into this season, but at least they’ll do better than Illinois right?

Northwestern Wildcats –

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +1500 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten West – +1600 (via Fanduel)

Northwestern has surprised a lot of people by making the Big Ten conference championship twice in the past 4 years, in 2018 and 2020. They have consistently been underrated every season and have overachieved almost every time, continuing to give competition in the West Division.

They will only have 7 returners coming back from last year’s team and do not have experienced offensive threats to help them. They do pride themselves on defense and they have a strong returning cast to help bolster that defense. Some new recruits will definitely make some noise for the Wildcats this season and be able to build up their names.

Nebraska Cornhuskers –

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +1500 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten West – +1400 (via Fanduel)

A history of long success for the Cornhuskers, it has not been a great past couple of years for Huskers nation. Scott Frost has essentially downgraded every season since his debut in 2018.

Adrian Martinez will be making his return under center for his fourth season as well. He was great in his first year for Nebraska as they averaged just over 30 points per game in 2018. But since then and including last year, has been terrible at keeping possession of the ball throughout the game.

Their schedule does give them some hope before they face off against Oklahoma in week 4, hopefully, this team can make the right strides going into the future. They should be able to get enough wins this season to make a bowl game, their first since 2016

Minnesota Golden Gophers –

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +1600 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten West – +1000 (via Fanduel)

This team had a very trying 2020 season as they were only able to win three games out of seven. But there were a few opportunities that they squandered that would have gotten them a bowl game.

2021 College Football Power 5 Previews Minnesota Golden Gophers

The good news for Minnesota fans is that Tanner Morgan will be making his return under center as well as a majority of the offensive line to help the offense keep up production. They will have to find an answer for replacing WR Rashod Bateman who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens this past draft.

In 2020 the Golden Gophers defense was not the best, but with recent transfer Nyles Pinckney they could definitely make some improvements towards the defensive end.

Iowa Hawkeyes –

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +900 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten West – +175 (via Fanduel)

Iowa had a very disappointing start to the season as they found themselves already 0-2 with quick losses to Purdue and Northwestern, but they were able to withstand and win 6 straight games and granted themselves a shot at a bowl game. Unfortunately, Missouri was forced to withdraw from the Music City Bowl because of COVID problems.

The Hawkeyes have some key players returning on offense that should be able to take big strides going into this season and really break out onto the scene. They are self-proclaimed as “Tight End U” and although Sam LaPorta has big shoes to fill, what we saw in 2020 proves that he could fill them well.

The defense in 2020 was absolutely great and one of the best in the conference. They have a very strong secondary and rock-solid linebackers core, the only problem they have right now is the thin defensive line.

The Hawkeyes should have no problem getting a bowl game this year, but will they be able to edge out Wisconsin for the top spot in the West?

Wisconsin Badgers –

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +750 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten West – -125 (via Fanduel)

It was a rollercoaster season for the Badgers last year as they were never really able to keep a good stretch of games going. They did start off 2-0, but were then shut down until the very end of the season where they took down rivals Minnesota and then won the Dukes Mayo Bowl Game against Wake Forest.

QB Graham Mertz will be the main focal point of this 2021 Badgers squad as they look to him to take that essential next step as a passer to help them. Their defense is going to be bringing back 8 starters, however, they were not the best last season so it will be interesting to see what kind of steps these players take going into 2021.

They have a tough challenge in their opener against Penn State, so we’ll see how they can kick off their campaign to make it back to the Big Ten Championship.

Big Ten East

Rutgers Scarlet Knights –

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – N/A
  • Odds to Win Big Ten East – +10000 (via Fanduel)

Rutgers opened up a ton of eyes at the start of last season after beating Michigan State on the road. But they were 0-5 at home last season and just could not get a win when they needed to down the stretch. This team did not really improve in the recruiting process so it will be interesting to see how well they can bounce back from last season.

2021 College Football Power 5 Previews Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Their schedule does them no favors and really puts them as the biggest longshot to win the conference, as they are projected to win only 4 games. If they want to start winning games they need to look at fixing their defense tremendously and patching up the offensive line.

Maryland Terrapins

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +6000 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten East – +5000 (via Fanduel)

Maryland had one of the worst COVID schedules last season. They were only able to play 5 games due to multiple outbreaks within the program. The Terps were blown out in their opener but surprised a ton of people by taking down Minnesota in the next game and beating Penn State after that. Unfortunately, that was the best the Terps could do that season as they had their first COVID outbreak of the season and never really looked the same after.

They should be able to put up some decent wins this season, but they will need to drastically fix their defense. They have some key players returning in Durell Nchami and Nick Cross, but will this be enough to make the necessary changes?

Michigan State Spartans

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +5000 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten East – +5000 (via Fanduel)

2020 was a season to forget for many Spartans fans across the country. They were only able to win just 2 games, but they were against Michigan and an upset of Northwestern so there is some hope.

Michigan State is getting some key transfers in QB Anthony Russo from Temple and RB Kenneth Walker III from Wake Forest. If these offensive skill position players can work together and find good chemistry, this might be the best offensive team that the Spartans have had in quite some time.

The defense was in the middle of the pack last season but could have been better if it weren’t for the offense turning the ball over in their own half of the field. Their schedule looks rough with Northwestern as the opener and Miami in week 3. They are still lightyears away from being contenders again, but they are slowly rebuilding the program.

Michigan Wolverines

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +750 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten East – +1400 (via Fanduel)

Michigan had a very on and off-season during 2020. They started off with a strong win against Minnesota, but after that, it went all downhill. They lost 3 straight games but were able to squeak past Rutgers in 3 overtimes to snap their losing streak. They were supposed to end the season against Ohio State but COVID struck and ended that 102-year long rivalry streak.

2021 College Football Power 5 Previews Michigan Wolverines

The biggest question going into this season yet again for the Big Blue is the QB position. It has always been a question of concern and a problem for quite some time now. If they are able to find their guy early in the season and have a consistent play they should be a top 25 team and find themselves in a bowl game.

Indiana Hoosiers

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +1400 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten East – +1000 (via Fanduel)

Probably one of the biggest surprises in the 2020 season, as they started off to a 4-0 start heading into Columbus to face off against Ohio State. They did end up losing that game but only by one score. They did end their season with a 20-26 loss to Mississippi in the Outback Bowl.

QB Michael Penix Jr suffered a season-ending injury against Maryland last season, but the good news for Hoosiers fans is that he has posted videos of him throwing on the field on social media.

This Indiana team was not a fluke last season, and they will be good yet again this year.

Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – +750 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten East – +600 (via Fanduel)

The 2020 season was a tale of two halves for the Nittany Lions. They started off the season with an abysmal 0-5 record, but were able to win 4 straight and close out their season with some hope. We can expect to see that second half of the season for the Nittany Lions going into 2021.

QB Sean Clifford, WR Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington will be electrifying the offense for the Nittany Lions this season and take the big steps that they need to. They will definitely compete with Ohio State for the Big Ten East but I don’t think they have enough firepower to take down the Big Ten Giants.

Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Odds to Win Big Ten – -138 (via bet365)
  • Odds to Win Big Ten East – -458 (via Fanduel)

What isn’t there to say about Ohio State? They are the best team recruiting-wise and talent-wise in this conference and showed why last season. They got their revenge against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl but were absolutely gassed against Alabama in the National Championship.

QB Justin Fields forgoing his senior season leaves the QB position open, but good news for Buckeyes fans, they have really good replacements. WRs Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are arguably the best duo in the nation and will generate big plays all season long. Their defense is stout as always and should have no problem this season repeating as champions.

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About The Author
Akshay Kumbar
Akshay is a rising senior at the University of Miami. He is studying Marketing with a minor in Sports Administration. He is joining Knup Solutions with hopes of being able to contribute to the team at a high level, with his high attention to detail and perfectionist personality. Has done recreational freelance work for online gaming and sports previously, and is excited to use his skills in the real world.