2021 Big Ten College Football Preview and Predictions

August 26, 2021 by Staff

Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith had 12 catches for 215 yards in ten first half, and 3 TD receptions in the second quarter, as Alabama took care of business with a 52-24 win over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Championship game on January 11 in Miami Gardens.

Alabama was the computer's preseason pick to win the crown, but was projected to face Clemson.

The Tide scored touchdowns on 5 of their first 6 possessions in the first half, stopped once when QB Mac Jones was sacked and fumbled at his own 19 yard line. Ohio State converted the miscue into a game-tying TD to make it 14-all with 11:43 to play in the first half. Then, Alabama went on a tear,

Jones needed just five plays to drive 75 yards on the ensuing possession and Alabama went back on top with a 26-yard pass to Najee Harris. Ohio State could only respond with a field goal and Alabama followed that up with another 5-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 5-yard TD pass to Smith. Following a Buckeyes' punt, Jones need just 3 plays to again find Smith for a touchdown - this time on a 42-yard pass and the game was all but over.

Alabama (13-0) put up 621 yards of offense while limiting Ohio State (7-1) to 341.

While it certainly isn't the way that Ohio State wanted the season to end, the Buckeyes managed to climb into the championship game after Covid-19 delayed the start of a campaign that left them with just 6 games to impress the committee enough to earn a Final Four seed. The loss was just the second in an impressive start to the career of Ryan Day who is 20-2 as the official head coach, and 23-2 counting his interim duties in 2018.

2021 could look much different. Could it be the end to four straight titles by the Buckeyes? The computer thinks so.

Practically everyone has a roster that's enhanced by players who didn't lose a year of eligibility under the "Covid rules". Thus, the 130 FBS schools return an averaqe of 74.8% of last year's starters, and 76.4% of letter winners. Fifty-three teams have welcomed back at least 80% of their starters and seventeen of those are returning upwards of 90%.

Last season's Final Four teams in the FBS playoff don't have that luxury. Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame all rank in the bottom 16 of returning productivity.

The Tigers, Tide and Buckeyes usually seem capable of being able to simply reload and move on. We certainly can't say definitively that it won't be the same this year.

However, it can't be ignored that Ohio State loses half of its starters, including QB Justin Fields, RB Trey Sermon, and 6 of the top 7 tacklers. Conversely,  Indiana returns 17 players as does Wisconsin. Minnesota welcomes back 20 of its starting 22 from a year ago.

The Congrove Computer Rankings translate those numbers into a shocking 8-4 season for the Buckeyes, while Indian sweeps to its first title since 1967 when the Hoosiers shared the crown with Purdue and Minnesota. The computer has Indiana opening the season at more than 10 power points ahead of OSU.

Ultimately, the computer has Indiana as a 1.18-point favorite over Wisconsin in the championship game.

The four projected Ohio State losses are at Minnesota by 3.55 in the opener, at home vs. Oregon by 0.27 the following week, at Indiana by 13.22 on October 23, and (gasp!) at Michigan in the season finale by 1.63.

Pardon us humans if we're more than a bit skeptical as history is on the side of Ohio State winning all four of those games. After all, the Buckeyes have taken 26 in-a-row over the Hoosiers, 11 straight over the Gophers, all 9 meetings versus Oregon, and 8 straight over the Wolverines.

We'll agree with Wisconsin in the west, but will gladly bet the computer $100 that Ohio State wins the east and another Big ten title.

For the record:

Every Big Ten team except Illinois returns its head coach from a year ago. Only Michigan State and Rutgers swapped out coaches the year before that, while Maryland and Ohio State did so in 2019.

Brett Bielema comes back to the Big Ten as head coach of the Illini after spending the last three seasons in the NFL. Bielema had a great deal of success at Wisconsin from 2006-2012 where he was 68-24 over-all, 37-19 in the conference, and won back-to-back conference titles in 2011 and 2012. Heads turned when he abruptly left Madison to coach Arkansas in the SEC where we was fired after five seasons produced marks of 29-34 overall and 11-29 in the conference.

Big Ten teams were 3-1 in bowl games last season to rank only behind the Big 12 (5-0) among Power 5 conferences.

2 Indiana 13 0   9 0 91.52 33
38 Ohio State 8 4   6 3 81.30 12
36 Penn State 8 4   5 4 81.61 15
54 Michigan 7 5   5 4 79.93 18
64 Rutgers 6 6   3 6 74.49 39
101 Maryland 3 9   1 8 75.23 23
103 Michigan State 3 9   1 8 71.68 42
12 Wisconsin 11 2   8 1 90.34 11
14 Minnesota 10 2   7 2 87.85 22
16 Iowa 9 3   7 2 86.87 4
55 Nebraska 7 5   5 4 78.17 24
77 Purdue 5 7   3 6 76.97 7
81 Illinois 5 7   3 6 74.46 25
104 Northwestern 3 9   0 9 67.02 40
** - Indiana by 1.18 over Wisconsin