On the eve of a Big Ten football season commencing that once looked very doubtful, BuckeyesNow provides our preseason power rankings for the upcoming 2020 campaign. The league slate actually begins tonight with Illinois visiting Wisconsin, while the Buckeyes kick off tomorrow against Nebraska in quest of a fourth-straight Big Ten title.
1. Ohio State
Homer or not, most people with a pulse would agree this Buckeye team is the cream of Kevin Warren’s crop. With Heisman candidate Justin Fields running the show and fellow preseason All-Americans Shaun Wade/Wyatt Davis making Ali’ like returns to the Horseshoe ring, we feel it justified the Buckeyes atop this list. They won ever league game by double digits last fall.
2. Penn State
Even with the “opt out” loss of star linebacker Micah Parsons and uncertainty with Journey Brown, the Nittany Lions should still have pieces to make a conference run. The last Big Ten team to win a title NOT wearing Scarlet and Gray, Penn State looks to replicate that success on Halloween when they host the Buckeyes.
It's tough to take Jim Harbaugh’s group seriously when it seems like they have not won a big game since the Lloyd Carr era, but they do have a talented group in 2020. With the transfer of quarterback Dylan McCaffery, the reigns now belong to sophomore Joe Milton... who has been lauded by coaches for his capability as a playmaker.
The Gophers nearly “rowed the boat” to the Big Ten title game in 2019 before slipping up vs. Wisconsin in the final regular season game. With the loss of all-purpose yardage leader Rodney Smith, the Gophers will be looking for guys to help fill that void when they open with Michigan tomorrow night at home. Rashod Bateman opting back in certainly helps the cause.
The Badgers were the only Big Ten team that outplayed the Buckeyes for a significant period last season, leading Ohio State by two touchdowns heading into halftime of the Big Ten Championship. Wisconsin now looks to replace 2,000-yard rusher Jonathan Taylor. With three backs vying for the starting spot, the Badgers may use an early platoon system behind redshirt freshman Graham Mertz to move the ball towards a possible return trip to Indy. Starting quarterback Jack Coan remains out indefinitely after surgery on his right foot.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. seems confident. While we are not ready to crown the Hoosiers Big Ten West champions, we think they still win some ball games. IU finished 8-5 last year, with one-possession losses at Penn State and to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl.
7. Michigan State
With a first-year head coach in Mel Tucker, it will be hard to expect/project much for the Spartans. However, with their winning pedigree, it's tough to see them not competing in a large portion of games.
Scott Frost and his Huskers like to play football and we respect that. After fighting so hard for a season, Nebraska got exactly what they wanted and will now make the trip to Ohio State for what Vegas expects to be a beatdown (26-point underdogs). Behind quarterback Adrian Martinez, Nebraska looks to improve its 3-6 conference mark from a year ago.
Kirk Ferentz could likely be higher on this list based on past performances, but we are still stinging from the stunning upset three years ago. They also lost three-year starting quarterback Nate Stanley and star offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs.
The Boilermakers went 3-6 in conference last season and expect to rely heavily on playmaker Rondale Moore for… pretty much everything. Well, he is reportedly out this week against Iowa with no additional information available at this time. Head Coach Jeff Brohm will also not be on the sidelines this week due to CoVID.
Our recent simulation series apparently had the Fighting Illini much higher on the list (or Ohio State lower), but we do not see Illinois reliving the glory days of being favored against Ohio State in 2008. A record of 4-5 in the Big Ten last season, we can probably guestimate a similar performance from the Illini this time around.
The Terps and Wildcats are comparable, but we give Maryland the nod after taking Ohio State to the brink two seasons ago at home. Finishing 1-8 last year in conference, it might be another rough go for the Terps in 2020.
In 2019, their offense was ranked 123rd nationally... and the result was an abysmal year. Hopefully for Wildcat fans, they can have more success under new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and promising sophomore running back Drake Anderson.
Greg Schiano is back and will work hard to turn this thing around but, right now, they still are just not very good. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, bad losses could most likely continue for at least one more season until Schiano gets some more time.