Power 5 preview: 5 questions for the Big Ten
The Big Ten looks a lot different than it did last year, and not just because it hopes to play a full schedule.
With some of last season's greats gone to the NFL, theScore examines five questions heading into Big Ten action.
Can Ohio State stay on top?
Justin Fields' time in Columbus means Ohio State can consider itself a legitimate quarterback school again, and its signings have confirmed that the QB room is in good hands.
Ryan Day named CJ Stroud his starter, with backup options in five-star recruit Quinn Ewers (who enrolled early), Jack Miller, and true freshman Kyle McCord. Offensive weapons Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are back on the receiving corps, and Master Teague III will split carries with Miyan Williams. It's no secret that the Big Ten is Ohio State's to lose, and those returning stars on offense help its case - but last year exposed weak spots in the secondary, and the unit needs an overhaul if the Buckeyes are going to return to the College Football Playoff.
Can Harbaugh get the job done?
Check this out: Jim Harbaugh is entering season seven as Michigan head coach and he's still yet to beat Ohio State. Yes, the Wolverines have done a respectable job of recruiting, they have multiple 10-win seasons under Harbaugh, and their 2-4 pandemic season arguably gets a pass. But it's fair to say Michigan hasn't reached the heights it was aiming for when Harbaugh arrived in 2015.
The quarterback carousel comes to a halt courtesy of Cade McNamara, who entered the spotlight last year when he rallied Michigan to a triple-overtime win against Rutgers. McNamara bumped last year's QB1, Joe Milton, to a backup role (and he ultimately transferred to Tennessee). So can Harbaugh finally bring Michigan to the elite level? The losses to Ohio State are understandable, but the losses to Michigan State are almost inexcusable.
Is Indiana a legit contender?
From Indiana's point of view, it's obvious: The Hoosiers should have been in the 2020 Big Ten title game. Despite losing to Ohio State by one touchdown, they finished the short season 5-1, making them one of few teams to meet the six-game requirement.
Against the Buckeyes, Michael Penix Jr. threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns, while Ty Fryfogle nabbed three of them to go with 218 receiving yards, highlighting Indiana's potential for revenge in 2021.
The Hoosiers program has been trending upward under head coach Tom Allen, and with the return of that dangerous duo - never mind just having Penix healthy - Indiana is a rising star in the Big Ten.
Is Penn State's time in the sun over?
Penn State's 0-5 start last season was its worst in program history. The circumstances were certainly unusual, but it's been a rough stretch for a team that made the conference title game four years prior and usually gives Big Ten standouts a hard time. The glory days of Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley are long gone.
Although the program's been elite for much of James Franklin's tenure, letting teams like Maryland win by two touchdowns (no disrespect to emerging star passer Taulia Tagovailoa) is reason for concern. The offense brings back veteran quarterback Sean Clifford, along with wideout Parker Washington, who recorded six touchdowns as a true freshman last year.
The Nittany Lions' defense needs to start strong after giving up 180 points over those disappointing first five games. The unit did build some confidence as the team closed the year 4-0, however, allowing just 69 points in that stretch.
Who will run the Big Ten West?
The Big Ten's East Division tends to draw more attention than the West despite Alex Hornibrook's triumphant years, P.J. Fleck rocking and rowing the boat, and the steady rise of Northwestern, capped by the Wildcats' two title-game appearances in the last three seasons.
The West is unpredictable at best, but you should always watch out for Iowa. One of the top defenses in the conference, the Hawkeyes have sent a slew of DBs and DEs to the NFL in recent years, which fits the Big Ten's reputation for low-scoring thrills.
Wisconsin should be a front-runner. Star tight end Jake Ferguson returns and the Badgers will have Graham Mertz at quarterback. Because of Mertz, they demoted Jack Coan, who's now starting for Notre Dame - and the two teams meet Sept. 25 to settle the argument about who really should have been QB1.