Athlon's spring Big 10 power rankings

Digger1

HR Heisman
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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 Rankings​

1. 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

2. Michigan
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.

4. Wisconsin
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

5. Iowa
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.

7. Minnesota
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.

8. Purdue
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.

9. Nebraska
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

10. Maryland
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.

11. Illinois
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

12. Rutgers
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.

13. Indiana
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.

14. Northwestern
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.
 

Quintana

HR MVP
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Over the Hills and Far Away
Danny Bolton. Son of Michael. He gone!
michael-bolton-disgust.gif
 

Hawk_4shur

HR Legend
Jan 2, 2009
15,358
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Boy, has Wisconsin gotten some respect here - probably deserved - but c'mon. Problems at QB, receiver and 2 new starters in the OL. Only 3 starters on D return. #4?


4. Wisconsin
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.
 

kceasthawk

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Nov 5, 2016
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Boy, has Wisconsin gotten some respect here - probably deserved - but c'mon. Problems at QB, receiver and 2 new starters in the OL. Only 3 starters on D return. #4?


4. Wisconsin
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.
You get that kind of respect when you find a way every year. Football, basketball whatever. SOB's seem to have it figured out. Don't like Bucky, BUT sure as hell respect them. I tell you what I'd be more surprised to see Michigan stay up there at #2. They lost a TON on defense, and a bunch of super seniors who came back to get that east trophy. Mission accomplished. Now we'll see how good of a coach Harbough really is......
 

Hawk_4shur

HR Legend
Jan 2, 2009
15,358
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You get that kind of respect when you find a way every year. Football, basketball whatever. SOB's seem to have it figured out. Don't like Bucky, BUT sure as hell respect them. I tell you what I'd be more surprised to see Michigan stay up there at #2. They lost a TON on defense, and a bunch of super seniors who came back to get that east trophy. Mission accomplished. Now we'll see how good of a coach Harbough really is......
Yes, Bucky does find a way. 🤷‍♂️

Amazing that QB is an issue - Mertz was highly ranked out of HS I believe, and here is the headline from his first game as a Badger.

Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz completed his first 17 passes en route to 248 passing yards and five touchdowns as the No. 14 Badgers defeated Illinois 45-7 at Camp Randall Stadium.

I imagine he will find the touch again this fall. 😡
 
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Hwk-I-St8

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Boy, has Wisconsin gotten some respect here - probably deserved - but c'mon. Problems at QB, receiver and 2 new starters in the OL. Only 3 starters on D return. #4?


4. Wisconsin
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.
That ranking isn't much more than a listing of average success over the last decade or so with a little name recognition sprinkled in. Dante Belton? It's obvious he knows the B1G.
 
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Digger1

HR Heisman
Sep 30, 2001
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Forgive him the misprint. Steven Lassen knows his stuff. 2-3 years ago Phil Steele had UFC on his Southeast cover instead of UCF. It happens.
 
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elway

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Dec 10, 2002
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Scottsdale, AZ

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 Rankings​

1. 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

2. Michigan
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.

4. Wisconsin
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

5. Iowa
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.

7. Minnesota
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.

8. Purdue
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.

9. Nebraska
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

10. Maryland
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.

11. Illinois
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

12. Rutgers
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.

13. Indiana
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.

14. Northwestern
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.
Northwestern won’t be last in the conference.
 
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hawkisak

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Boy, has Wisconsin gotten some respect here - probably deserved - but c'mon. Problems at QB, receiver and 2 new starters in the OL. Only 3 starters on D return. #4?


4. Wisconsin
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.
So based on this, if the Badgers don't win the West, it's a failure. Seems to me they have all the pressure since they are obviously perfect! Sure, it's respect for consistent performance, but do any of these national hacks really know what's going in any program beyond returning starters etc? It's really going out on a limb to choose OSU and Michigan 1/2...set the time machine back to 1970 lol.
 

rrdd2021

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To be fair OSU is 1 and you could take the next 4-5 teams and shake them up and put in a different order every time.
Agree 100%. I think you could take the next 4 or 5 teams and swap them out for positions 2 through 6 or 7.

As for OSU, yes, I agree, they probably have the most talent but the key to the B1G championship is if they get that sorry defense figured out from 2020 and 2021. If they don't, the door could be open again for another team to win it all. Their offense could possibly be the best in the country.
 
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wolve1972

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Agree 100%. I think you could take the next 4 or 5 teams and swap them out for positions 2 through 6 or 7.

As for OSU, yes, I agree, they probably have the most talent but the key to the B1G championship is if they get that sorry defense figured out from 2020 and 2021. If they don't, the door could be open again for another team to win it all. Their offense could possibly be the best in the country.
I think the West is up for grabs but eventually comes down to Iowa and Wisconsin for the trip to the B1G championship game.

The one ranking i do not agree with is Michigan at no 2. I believe their success last year had more to do - like you mentioned - with the crappy OSU defense than their coaching and talent. OSU knew it and fired their whole defensive staff (minus Larry Johnson). I also don't see MSU at no 3
 
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Packer54

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I believe our defense will be better this coming season. Special teams MAY take a bit of a step back...return game may not be as good and breaking in a new kicker. No dramatic change but maybe not quite as good. The offense WILL be better. I like our backs....like our WRs...will be in good shape at TE....O-Line HAS to be better and QB....well that feels very tied to BF and KF, so while I expect improvement in this position I am just not sure what to expect. I do believe we will be a better running team which will help the QB position out quite a bit.

So, not taking into account injuries, etc., I believe we win the West. Winning a BT Championship Game is a stretch BUT I don't think winning the West is a stretch.

Ok...time for another drink! :)
 

rrdd2021

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So based on this, if the Badgers don't win the West, it's a failure. Seems to me they have all the pressure since they are obviously perfect! Sure, it's respect for consistent performance, but do any of these national hacks really know what's going in any program beyond returning starters etc? It's really going out on a limb to choose OSU and Michigan 1/2...set the time machine back to 1970 lol.
I agree with OSU at #1 but not so sure about Michigan at #2. They had a lot of things fall their way last year and had a few close games they could have very easily lost in 2021. I honestly think Iowa will be right there with Michigan this year.
 
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nbanflfactory

HR Heisman
Aug 22, 2021
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I believe our defense will be better this coming season. Special teams MAY take a bit of a step back...return game may not be as good and breaking in a new kicker. No dramatic change but maybe not quite as good. The offense WILL be better. I like our backs....like our WRs...will be in good shape at TE....O-Line HAS to be better and QB....well that feels very tied to BF and KF, so while I expect improvement in this position I am just not sure what to expect. I do believe we will be a better running team which will help the QB position out quite a bit.

So, not taking into account injuries, etc., I believe we win the West. Winning a BT Championship Game is a stretch BUT I don't think winning the West is a stretch.

Ok...time for another drink! :)
With a much more difficult cover sched, doesn't seem likely. Wiscy appears to finally have RB figured out...
 

WinOneThisCentury II

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Listen, if Leonhard at Wisconsin can field a top 15 defense returning only 3 starters...that will be a huge feat. Sanborn and Chenal would be like if we lost Jewell and Greenway in the same year. You just don't replace that experience and production. Those guys were just incredible players. Chenal at 250lbs ran a 4.53 and had a vertical at the combine of 40.5 inches. Just think about that for a minute. I know they have a few pieces back on defense...Herbig for one...but you are replacing two linebackers and your entire secondary. That's alot.

I think the West title goes through Iowa City. Our defense is going to be salty and keep us is every game and if the offensive line can gel...and we have a few young player step up...just like Richmond and Colby did this year...we are going to be good enough to win the division. It all depends on the o-line improvement. The best news...we don't have to rely on freshmen to get it done. There is a nucleus of players that are in their 2nd - 3rd years on campus that could push for starting positions...they should be ready. You put Richmond and Colby at the tackles...and then get three guys from this group: Volk, Logan Jones, DeJung, Britt, Elsbury, Davidikoff, Plumb, and Myslinski.

Offensively...we have weapons and as long as Petras/Padilla/ or Labas can just make the easy throws...we are going to be able to move the football. I think we are going to be better than people think on offense.
 

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