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Big Ten power rankings ahead of 2022 college football season

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The 2022 college football season is here, and that means it's time for the final preseason power rankings for each conference around the country.

Michigan is the defending Big Ten champion after thrashing Iowa in Indy and earning a No. 2 national ranking en route to its first-ever College Football Playoff.

And with the return of Jim Harbaugh in 2022, expectations are high the Wolverines can repeat their success and stay relevant coming into this year's national title race.

That is, unless Ohio State has anything to say about it. Losing to their arch rival for the first time in eight years last season, the Buckeyes have revenge on their mind and are looking to get back into the semifinal, too.

Where do things stand in the conference for the 2022 season? Scroll through to see the latest power rankings in the Big Ten, from worst to first.

Big Ten power rankings for 2022 college football season

14. Northwestern Wildcats

pat fitzgerald northwestern football

2021 record: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)

Where Northwestern is right now: Pat Fitzgerald has been the definition of average while coaching his alma mater, winning 55% of his games and going .500 in bowls. Last season was decidedly not average, as the Wildcats stumbled through a three-win disaster that included a single Big Ten win, against league cellar-dweller Rutgers.

Northwestern needs major answers at wide receiver and safety (and dramatically improved quarterback play) after posting just under 17 points per game last fall. Ryan Hilinski threw three TDs in nine games and didn't score in seven outings. Defensively, the Wildcats slid from first to 12th in the Big Ten in points allowed and has adjustments to make just about everywhere.

13. Indiana Hoosiers

indiana football

2021 record: 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten)

Where Indiana is right now: What a difference a year made for the Hoosiers, who went from a 12th ranked, 6-2 team to a two-win afterthought in a forgettable 2021 campaign.

IU was good for just 17 points per game last fall and lost starting quarterback Michael Penix and lead receiver Ty Fryfogle. But it gains Missouri transfer quarterback Conner Bazelak, a 2,500-yard passer a year ago, something for first-year coordinator Walt Bell to work with.

Indiana put up under 11 ppg in Big Ten games and allowed over 35, not a formula for success, but pulled in a half dozen defensive transfers from Power 5 schools with a mixture of experience and athleticism.

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

rutgers football noah vedral

2021 record: 5-8 (2-7 Big Ten)

Where Rutgers is right now: The third-worst scoring offense in the Big Ten was good for just about 19 points each time out last fall, while giving up almost 25 per game to opponents. But those averages conceal some pretty ugly losses: 52-13 to Ohio State, 52-3 to Wisconsin, 40-16 to Maryland, and 28-0 to Penn State

Noah Vedral is the likely option at quarterback here, but watch for freshman Gavin Wimsatt, a talented and athletic recruit, to give him some real pressure.

It's a tough ask going against Big Ten East opposition, but both lines of scrimmage also need repair if the Knights want to out-physical its division rivals. Rutgers has to replace four of its top tacklers from last fall and need to carve out a plan for moving the ball on the ground with more consistency.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini

chase brown illinois football

2021 record: 5-7 (4-5 Big Ten)

Where Illinois is right now: This was one of four conference teams that failed to score more than 20 points per game a year ago, and was the league's third-worst scoring offense. That, despite fielding a pretty solid 1-2 punch on the ground behind Chase Brown and Joshua McCray, who together combined for seven rushing TDs.

This offense acquired transfer quarterback Tommy DeVito, limited to three games last season, but who brings a good deep ball that should help set up lead receiver Isaiah Williams. Illinois improved defensively from 2020, allowing 20 points or fewer seven times, and was about average in conference standings, but needs to get after the quarterback better.

10. Maryland Terrapins

Maryland Terrapins college football team schedule, rankings

2021 record: 7-6 (3-6 Big Ten)

Where Maryland is right now: Maryland should put up some good numbers along the way after posting the fourth-best offense in the Big Ten a year ago, good for over 440 yards per game and scored a shade under 30 points each week.

Taulia Tagovailoa returns at quarterback, and he has a pair of stellar targets in Dontay Demus, who averaged over 101 yards per game, and transfer Jacob Copeland, who led Florida in receiving last fall. Maryland returns the bulk of its experience front line, too, which should help this attack find and keep its footing.

But expect some slipshod defense again, though, after the Terps placed second-worst in the league allowing almost 33 points per game.

9. Purdue Boilermakers

aidan o'connell purdue football

2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)

Where Purdue is right now: The "Spoilermakers" beat a pair of top 5 teams a year ago, but lose two key game-changers in edge rusher George Karlaftis and receiver David Bell and brings back the sole Big Ten rushing attack that failed to average 100 yards per game.

Aidan O'Connell is back under center as one of the two or three most solid quarterbacks in the Big Ten, last season a 72 percent passer who didn't have a turnover in seven games, but he may have lost receiver Milton Wright, who led the team with seven touchdown catches last season, after he was reportedly ruled academically ineligible.

8. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska Cornhuskers college football team schedule, rankings

2021 record: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)

Where Nebraska is right now: It's been four long years at Nebraska under Scott Frost, who hasn't won more than five games in a season and is coming off a nine-loss disaster in which his team lost every game by single digits.

That was enough to buy him one more year in Lincoln, but he's working on a short leash. Hence all the major changes Frost has already made, like bringing on Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and landing Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson, who led the Big 12 in scoring last year. It's now or never for Nebraska, who need to see tangible gains, or else.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota Golden Gophers college football team schedule, rankings

2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)

Where Minnesota is right now: This was still a nine-win team last season despite not having lead back Mohamed Ibrahim on the field. Now, he comes back into the fold alongside veteran quarterback Tanner Morgan and offensive play-caller Kirk Ciarrocca is back, too. If the Gophers can patch up their protection up front, they can get some solid returns out of their skill players, who boast some deceptive speed on the perimeters.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa Hawkeyes college football team schedule, rankings

2021 record: 10-4 (7-2 Big Ten)

Where Iowa is right now: Iowa often has the defense to take it places — like last season when the Hawkeyes were in the top 5 of the AP poll and seemingly destined for the College Football Playoff — but patching together a consistently threatening downfield offense still evades this team.

Spencer Petras returns as the likely starter, but needs to find some answers after he completed just 57.3% of his passes with 1,880 passing yards with 10 touchdowns against nine interceptions a year ago. Petras is 13-6 as Iowa's starting quarterback and helped put this team in the Big Ten title game, but also didn't score in six games.

5. Penn State Nittany Lions

sean clifford penn state

2021 record: 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten)

Where Penn State is right now: Getting Sean Clifford back at quarterback is a definite plus, but this team needs to patch together a receiving depth chart that doesn't include Jahan Dotson real quick to keep pace with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan.

Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith will help on that score, as will Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley, who had 1,402 yards and 14 TDs last year catching passes from record-breaker Bailey Zappe. Running the ball, Penn State ranked 118th in total rushing yards and 117th in rushing touchdowns and just lost Noah Cain to LSU.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin is a perennial Big Ten West contender, but is still looking for its first College Football Playoff berth.

2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)

Where Wisconsin is right now: Most of this defense — a unit that ranked No. 1 ahead of Georgia in the nation in yards allowed and was second in points surrendered — won't come back in 2022, but with the coaching and depth on offer here, the unit should still be among the best in the nation.

But what can the Badgers get out of quarterback Graham Mertz? He was a sub-2,000 yard passer last season with 10 scores and 11 picks. Any rebuilding project there will depend on how well Wisconsin re-supplies at receiver. Good thing Wisconsin gets lead rusher Braelon Allen back — the youngster carried for 1,268 yards last season with 12 touchdowns and a nearly 7 ypc average and is running behind a line made of solid oak.

3. Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State Spartans college football team schedule, rankings

2021 record: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten)

Where Michigan State is right now: Kenneth Walker was the engine behind Sparty's offense a year ago, but he's not coming back. Payton Thorne is, fresh off a 3,240-yard passing season to go with 27 TDs and 10 INTs, and he'll have Jayden Reed returning at receiver after going for over 1,000 yards with 10 scores and averaging almost 18 yards per catch last fall.

But the question for second-year coach Mel Tucker, fresh off inking a $95 million contract, remains: what about this back seven rotation? It was far and away the Big Ten's worst, allowing more than 337 passing yards per game. No other B1G team surrendered more than 260, and the unit overall ranked No. 111 in the nation.

2. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan wide receiver Andrel Anthony looks to help get the Wolverines back to the College Football Playoff.

2021 record: 12-2 (8-1 Big Ten)

Where Michigan is right now: Jim Harbaugh finally got over the hump last year, beating Ohio State, taking the conference, and making the College Football Playoff. But getting kicked around by Georgia showed the gap that still exists between this roster and the teams that are winning national championships.

Cade McNamara returns at quarterback and he has one of college football's best backups in J.J. McCarthy, who is bound to get some reps this fall. Blake Corum will lead the ground attack after running for almost 1,000 yards last fall with 11 touchdowns. UM might take a step back owing to the changeover, but this team is still well in position to win 10 games and make a run for the Big Ten.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson on a rushing attempt during a college football game in the Big Ten.

2021 record: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)

Where Ohio State is right now: The common denominator in OSU's two losses last fall was subpar defense, which Ryan Day thinks he fixed by bringing on former Oklahoma State DC Jim Knowles. Under his watch last fall, the Cowboys posted the No. 3 overall D and led the nation in TFLs and sacks.

If he can repeat that success with these players, expect Ohio State's reigning No. 1 ranked offense to do the rest. Heisman finalist quarterback CJ Stroud returns after posting a 4,435 yard outing with 44 TDs and six turnovers.

TreVeyon Henderson is back after rumbling for 1,248 yards with a nearly 7 ypc average and 15 scores as OSU's lead back, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba is coming off a 1,600 yard receiving campaign as the presumptive No. 1 in a room full of blue-chip receivers.

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