Big Ten Preview

August 20, 2017 by CFP Staff

2017 was a disaster for a Michigan State squad that was expected to compete for the conference title but finished 3-9 after losing 9 of its last 10 games. The only victory in that stretch was a 49-0 whitewashing of a horrible Rutgers team.

Almost as shocking was Penn State capturing the Big Ten title with a 38-31 comeback victory over Wisconsin after trailing 28-7 in the second quarter. After getting blown out 49-10 at Michigan in week 4, the Nittany Lions reeled off 9 straight wins. But despite winning the conference crown, Penn State (11-2) was locked out of the Final 4 playoff in lieu of an 11-1 Ohio State team whose only loss was to PSU.

Ohio State went on to get crushed 31-0 by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl playoff semifinal, and Penn State lost 52-49 to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin was an uninspiring 24-16 winner over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl.

In fact, only 3 of its 10 bowl representatives won their respective games as the Big Ten turned in the worst postseason record among the Power 5 conferences.

The 2017 season looks like the Big Ten will have some solid cream at the top, a fairly decent middle, and a really bad bottom tier. Three teams are in the top 4 of the Congrove Computer Rankings' final regular season projections, while 3 others find a spot in the bottom 13.

At the top, Ohio State will wage a vicious duel with Penn State for the East title, and Wisconsin should hold off Northwestern to win the West. The Buckeyes and Badgers are both expected to conclude the regular season undefeated before Ohio State prevails as mere 0.73-point favorite in the Big Ten Championship game at Indianapolis.

Ultimately, the computer sees Ohio State eliminating Alabama in the final 4 before falling narrowly to Florida State in the College Football Playoff Championship game. The 'Noles are projected to face, and defeat, Oklahoma in the other semifinal.

Michigan is forecasted to go 8-4 after losing a ton of experience from last year's 10-3 team that lost 3 of its last 4 games.

As for the prospects of a dramatic turnaround in East Lansing, all we can say is the computer isn't forecasting it. But last year, the Spartans were a preseason consensus top-12 team before crumbling to 3-9.

Three Big Ten programs - Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue - will start the 2017 season with a different head coach than the one that was in place at the start of the 2016 campaign.

P.J. Fleck makes the jump from the MAC to the Big Ten, replacing Tracy Claeys at Minnesota. Claeys was fired after an ill-advised attempted bowl game boycott by his players and a supportive tweet of the boycott. It all took place after 10 players were suspended in the wake of an ugly sex scandal that had occurred in early September. The administration held steadfast on the suspensions and the head coach's tweet appeared to put him publicly at odds with the administration. The players ultimately backed down when they were assured the suspended athletes would get a fair hearing and the Golden Gophers went on to defeat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. Claeys was 11-8 overall, 2-0 in bowl games, since replacing Jerry Kill in the middle of the 2015 season. But the school simply couldn't risk looking like victories mean more than high moral standards.

Fleck, of course, helped make Western Michigan the story of the year among the Group of Five conferences (American, CUSA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt) as he coached the Broncos to an undefeated regular season and a Cotton Bowl bid. Fleck was 30-22 at WMU.

Another former MAC head coach Darrell Hazell, was fired by Purdue halfway through the season. The move failed to pay dividends on the field as the Boilermakers went from a 3-3 start under Hazell to an 0-6 finish under interim head coach Gerad Parker. Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm was announced as Purdue's new head coach on December 5, just 2 days after WKU won a second consecutive Conference USA championship game.

Indiana and head football coach Kevin Wilson parted ways on December 1 over "philosophical differences" and the school immediately announced that defensive coordinator Tom Allen had been promoted from within. Wilson was 26-47 in 6 seasons with back-to-back bowl appearances in each of the last 2 seasons. The 2015 team lost to Duke in overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl, and the 2016 squad lost 26-24 to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl.

2017 Projected Order of Finish

Big Ten West

  Team W-L CW-CL Rank Power SOS
1 Ohio State 12-0 9-0 2 88.21 37
2 Penn State 11-1 8-1 4 86.93 38
3 Michigan 8-4 6-3 49 71.80 21
4* Michigan State 5-7 3-6 79 68.03 9
5 Indiana 6-6 3-6 67 67.71 67
6 Maryland 4-8 2-7 92 66.13 24
7 Rutgers 2-10 1-8 118 54.26 49

*-Tie-breakers: Michigan State beats Indiana

Big Ten West

  Team W-L CW-CL Rank Power SOS
1 Wisconsin 12-0 9-0 3 87.48 70
2 Northwestern 10-2 7-2 24 76.95 57
3* Iowa 8-4 5-4 41 77.32 32
4 Minnesota 7-5 5-4 60 67.70 60
5 Nebraska 6-6 3-6 65 69.55 30
6* Purdue 1-11 1-8 124 55.38 14
7 Illinois 1-11 1-8 128 52.10 17

*-Tie-breakers: Iowa beats Minnesota; Purdue beats Illinois