The 2021 Big Ten season was filled with surprises based on preseason expectations.
After an upstart 2020 campaign, Indiana fell flat in 2021 as the Hoosiers failed to win a conference game. On the opposite side of the coin, Michigan redeemed themselves after a difficult 2020 season and outlasted Ohio State to take the Big Ten East crown.
Wisconsin had the Big Ten West trophy all but in their hands, yet fell short at Minnesota.
Heading into 2022, there are major questions for just about everybody not named Ohio State. The Buckeyes will get preseason Heisman hopeful CJ Stroud back after an impressive first campaign as a starter and should comfortably be the preseason favorite in the Big Ten East.
Wisconsin should be the preseason favorite out west, but Iowa’s defense and Minnesota’s offense will have legitimate questions to ask.
Here is a look at early team-by-team record predictions for Big Ten squads in 2022:
Northwestern: 3-9, 1-8 BIG
Sep 3, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald reacts after a play against the Michigan State Spartans during the fourth quarter at Ryan Field. Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports
While Wisconsin fans can often count on a game that is too close for comfort when the Badgers meet the Wildcats, this Northwestern team is going to once again have a difficult time generating offense.
The Wildcats have no favors from the Big Ten schedule, as they have to head to Penn State and welcome Ohio State at home.
Ryan Hilinski is the expected starting quarterback, but reports from spring football are that redshirt freshman QB Brendan Sullivan could push him for the job:
Indiana: 6-6, 4-5 BIG
Nov 28, 2020; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen looks on from the sideline in the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
After a brutal 2021 campaign followed a miraculous 2020 season, Tom Allen and the Hoosiers retooled by adding Missouri transfer quarterback Connor Bazelak.
Expect Indiana to find its neutral level after extremes in either direction over the past two seasons. The defense has the potential to be in the upper half of the conference, but solving an offensive that sputtered last season will be the question.
Rutgers: 4-8, 2-7 BIG
Oct 30, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano in the first half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Rutgers was on the wrong end of lopsided losses to the Big Ten’s best a year ago, although the Scarlet Knights found themselves in a last-minute bowl game against Wake Forest.
A QB competition is the highlight of the offseason, as Noah Vedral brings experience while Gavin Wimsatt and Evan Simon await an opportunity. The schedule sees the Scarlet Knights land Minnesota,
Illinois Fighting Illini: 5-7, 2-7 BIG
Oct 2, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Brandon Peters (18) hands the ball off to running back Chase Brown (2) in the second half against the Charlotte 49ers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
It was a strange 2021 campaign for Bret Bielema in his first year at Illinois. The Fighting Illini were led by Chase Brown on the ground and pulled off one of the weirdest wins of the college football season by taking down Penn State in nine, yes nine, overtimes.
They also lost at home to Rutgers and UTSA. Up and down puts it mildly when talking about the 2021 Illini. The questions on offense surround the quarterback position. Will it be Tommy DeVito or Artur Sitkowski under center when Week 1 rolls around?
Maryland Terrapins: 7-5, 4-5 BIG
Dec 29, 2021; New York, NY, USA; Maryland Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (3) runs the ball as Virginia Tech Hokies linebacker Dax Hollifield (4) pursues during the second half of the 2021 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
The keys are still with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa as the Terrapins look to build on a decisive Pinstripe Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in 2021.
Can the defense hold up alongside an offense that put together multiple massive games last season?
Nebraska: 8-4, 6-3 BIG
Aug 28, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Nebraska head coach Scott Frost watches his team in the first quarter with Illinois at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Well, well, well, another year of being high on the Cornhuskers in preseason predictions.
A new-look offense will be headlined by former Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson. Nebraska was the best 3-9 football team in the history of the sport last season. Can they finish some of those close games in 2022? They will have to if Scott Frost wants to stay in Lincoln.
Purdue: 6-6, 4-5 BIG
Oct 16, 2021; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell (16) reacts with fans after a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
After a solid 2021 season, Purdue will be looking to fill massive holes on either end of the football.
The Boilermakers lost their best overall player in defensive end George Karlavtis and wide receiver David Bell to the NFL draft.
Quarterback Aidan O’Connell is back in the fold as the Boilers try and fill holes at receiver.
Minnesota: 8-4, 5-4 BIG
Minnesota head football coach PJ Fleck waves to the University of Iowa ChildrenÕs Hospital after the first quarter against Iowa during the NCAA Big 10 conference football game on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.
Minnesota might rival Illinois for the strangest season in 2021. This is a team that lost to Bowling Green at home yet beat Wisconsin to take the Big Ten West crown away from the Badgers (and give it to Iowa).
Quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim are back in the Twin Cities as the offense will have familiar personnel. The defense improved last season and will have to continue that upward trajectory.
Penn State: 8-4, 6-3 BIG
Sep 4, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Following a tremendous start to 2021 spurred by beating Wisconsin in Week 1, the Nittany Lions faltered down the stretch.
Sean Clifford returns for his fifth season in Happy Valley after he threw 21 touchdowns in 2021. The Nittany Lions lost a lot of talent in the NFL draft, and will have to restructure a defense that was at the bottom third of the conference last season.
Iowa: 10-2, 7-2 BIG
Oct 30, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Nick Herbig (19) strips the ball away from Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras (7) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Padilla and Spencer Petras both got time under center last season as the Iowa offense struggled to find consistency.
The defense, however, was as good as any unit in the country. That defense returns much of the same personnel and will once again be near the top of the Big Ten. Can either Padilla or Petras develop into a consistent starter this season? That’s the question that holds they key to Iowa’s potential in 2022.
Wisconsin: 10-2, 8-2
Dec 30, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) warms up before facing the Arizona State Sun Devils in the 2021 Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
While the defense loses Jack Sanborn, Leo Chenal, and others to the NFL, Wisconsin has shown their ability to reload under defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
The other side of the ball is a question mark. Wisconsin has a new offensive coordinator in Bobby Engram, as Graham Mertz looks to put it all together at quarterback. The running back room will lead the way as Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi return to form a duo with unlimited potential.
Michigan State: 7-5, 5-4 BIG
Dec 30, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne (10) celebrates after a victory against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the second half during the 2021 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Last season was a dream campaign for Mel Tucker and Michigan State. The Spartans defeated their crosstown rivals, won 11 games, and had one of the best running backs in the country in Kenneth Walker III.
With Walker headed to the NFL, quarterback Payton Thorne returns to lead the offense. The defense, however, struggled to defend against the pass. Notably, those struggles came against the top of the conference including CJ Stroud and Ohio State having a field day against the Spartans secondary. It will be difficult to repeat last year’s magic.
Michigan: 9-3, 7-3
Oct 9, 2021; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara (12) hugs head coach Jim Harbaugh after a 32-29 win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
Michigan loses a ton of talent from a team that went to the College Football Playoff last season. Aidan Hutchinson going No. 2 overall to the hometown Detroit Lions headlines the losses in the 2022 NFL draft.
The quarterback controversy will be a fascinating story to follow in the months leading up to the season. Will Cade McNamara comfortably retake his starting job or can former five-star talent JJ McCarthy make a push?
Ohio State: 12-0, 9-0
Apr 17, 2021; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback CJ Stroud (7) during the annual spring game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
It feels like a run the table year for Ohio State in 2022. They get Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin at home, have the best offense in college football, and are coming off of a Rose Bowl victory in 2021.
CJ Stroud will be near the top of preseason Heisman conversations, and despite losing star wide recievers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in the NFL draft, Jaxon Smith-Njigba is back to torture Big Ten defenses.
Ohio State has the makings of a potential national champion in 2022.