- Sep 30, 2001
A complete breakdown of Big Ten football teams going into spring practice and an early power ranking for 2022.
Spring practice has already started or will soon for all 14 teams in the Big Ten for the 2022 college football season. Although it's tough to get an accurate read on teams from practices in the spring, this is the first set of official workouts and provides some insight into the upcoming year. With quarterback C.J. Stroud and an explosive offense in place, Ohio State takes the top spot in Athlon's spring Big Ten power rankings. However, Michigan isn't too far behind, with Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin headlining the next tier. There's also plenty of depth in the league with Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska and Maryland rounding out the next group of teams.
What are the early storylines to watch and how do the teams stack up in the Big Ten going into '22? Here are Athlon's top things to watch on both sides of the ball for the conference going into spring practice:
Big Ten Football: Spring 2022 Power Rankings1. Ohio State
What to Watch on Offense: The Buckeyes are set at quarterback with C.J. Stroud returning, but the spring is all about continuing to reload at receiver with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson gone to the NFL, along with retooling a line that returns three starters.
What to Watch on Defense: How big of an impact does Jim Knowles make in his first spring as coordinator? Ohio State allowed 5.3 yards per play last season.
Related: Ranking the Big Ten Transfer Classes for 2022
What to Watch on Offense: The skill talent and quarterback room are in good shape. How fast can Michigan reload in the trenches? Virginia transfer Victor Oluwatimi was a crucial addition at center.
What to Watch on Defense: The Wolverines have a new coordinator (Jesse Minter) and return only three starters. Replacing ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo tops the spring priority list.
3. Michigan State
What to Watch on Offense: Quarterback Payton Thorne returns, but the Spartans have to replace running back Kenneth Walker III and three starters on the line.
What to Watch on Defense: Improving a secondary that ranked 85th nationally in pass efficiency defense is a must.
What to Watch on Offense: The Badgers need to spend the spring developing quarterback Graham Mertz, reloading at receiver and work on replacing two starters up front.
What to Watch on Defense: Coordinator Jim Leonhard’s track record suggests this unit won’t miss a beat despite returning only three starters. But there are holes to fill at inside linebacker and in the secondary.
Related: Early Big Ten 2022 QB Preview and Rankings
What to Watch on Offense: Replacing center Tyler Linderbaum and running back Tyler Goodson won’t be easy. Better quarterback play is needed on an offense that averaged only 4.7 yards per play last year.
What to Watch on Defense: The bulk of a standout defense returns, but cornerback Matt Hankins, safety Dante Belton and end Zach VanValkenburg leave big shoes to fill.
6. Penn State
What to Watch on Offense: Improving the offense starts with a more productive ground game in ’22 (3.2 yards per carry last year). Better play is needed from quarterback Sean Clifford, and the Nittany Lions have to replace three starters up front.
What to Watch on Defense: Each level of the defense was hit by key departures, so this spring is all about filling the gaps in the lineup under new coordinator Manny Diaz.
What to Watch on Offense: Can the return of coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca help the passing game get back on track? Four starters need to be replaced up front.
What to Watch on Defense: Coordinator Joe Rossi must replace a couple of key players in the trenches, including edge rusher Boye Mafe. Also, leading tackler Jack Gibbens and cornerback Coney Durr departed.
What to Watch on Offense: Quarterback Aidan O’Connell is back, but coach Jeff Brohm has some retooling to do around his senior signal-caller. The Boilermakers need to run the ball better (2.8 yards per carry last year), replace two starters on the line and restock a receiving corps losing David Bell.
What to Watch on Defense: Can the Boilermakers build on last year’s defensive improvement? New play-caller Ron English lost only three starters, but those departures – end George Karlaftis, linebacker Jaylan Alexander and cornerback Dedrick Mackey – were significant.
What to Watch on Offense: Change. The Cornhuskers have a new play-caller and scheme (Mark Whipple), quarterback (likely Casey Thompson) and question marks residing along the offensive line and with the rushing attack.
What to Watch on Defense: This unit held Big Ten foes to just 5.4 yards per play last year. Building off a solid ’21 season will require coordinator Erik Chinander to retool up front and in the secondary.
Related: Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2022
What to Watch on Offense: The weapons are in place for the Terrapins to rank among the Big Ten’s best on offense. Coach Mike Locksley has to replace running back Tayon Fleet-Davis and continue to improve a line that allowed 23 sacks in Big Ten play last year.
What to Watch on Defense: New play-caller Brian Williams inherits seven starters off a unit that allowed 38.8 points a game in Big Ten play in ’21. There’s a lot of work ahead this spring, as the Terrapins need to get better against the pass and have to hold up better versus the run next fall.
What to Watch on Offense: Chase Brown and Josh McCray headline a strong backfield, but the Fighting Illini bring back just two starters up front and features a quarterback battle this offseason.
What to Watch on Defense: After allowing 34.9 points a game in ’20, coach Bret Bielema’s defense held opponents to 21.9 points a contest last year. Building off that strong improvement will require some retooling at every level, as the defense lost standouts Owen Carney (DE), Jake Hansen (LB) and Kerby Joseph (safety).
Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Coaches for 2021
What to Watch on Offense: The Scarlet Knights need big-time improvement here after averaging only 13.7 points a contest and 4.4 yards per play in Big Ten games last season. Can redshirt freshman Gavin Wimsatt unseat Noah Vedral at quarterback? This offense also has to replace its top two skill players and reload up front.
What to Watch on Defense: New play-caller Joe Harasymiak inherits a front seven that was hit hard by departures. Also, there’s plenty of room to improve after giving up 6.5 yards per play in Big Ten games.
What to Watch on Offense: The Hoosiers averaged 10.4 points in Big Ten games last year, leaving new coordinator Walt Bell with a hefty workload in his first spring. Former Missouri signal-caller Connor Bazelak headlines an intriguing haul of transfers. Standout receiver Ty Fryfogle will be missed.
What to Watch on Defense: Coach Tom Allen will return to calling the defensive signals after Indiana allowed 35.1 points a game in Big Ten matchups last year. Seven starters are back, but linebacker Micah McFadden is a big loss.
What to Watch on Offense: Jumpstarting an offense that averaged 4.4 yards per play in Big Ten games is a priority. Can the Wildcats get steady play out of quarterback Ryan Hilinski?
What to Watch on Defense: One year after leading the Big Ten in scoring defense, Northwestern slipped to 12th in the conference (29 points a game allowed). This unit has holes to fill at every level, with linebacker Chris Bergin and safety Brandon Joseph among the losses.