Early 2016 Win-Loss Record Projections for Every Big Ten Football Team
The Big Ten has put a team in the College Football Playoff in each of the first two installments of the new postseason, with Ohio State claiming it all in 2014 and Michigan State falling short in the semifinal a year later.
Both the Buckeyes and the Spartans lost loads of talent after the 2015-16 season but will try to piece a playoff run together. But it's the chief rival for each team—Michigan—that has the pieces in place to contend, with nine starters returning on offense and six on defense.
Those three teams will battle for Big Ten East Division supremacy, while Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern will try to unseat reigning West Division champion Iowa.
How will the conference hierarchy unfold in 2016? Here's an early record prediction for each Big Ten team.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois will have a solid first year under new head coach Lovie Smith, but it'll fall one game short of bowl eligibility.
The Fighting Illini will go 2-1 in nonconference play, notching wins over Murray State and a surprisingly strong Western Michigan team, but it’ll fall to North Carolina in Week 2. Quarterback Wes Lunt will guide Illinois to a similar 2-1 start in the Big Ten, but that’s when things will turn.
The Illini will slip into a five-game losing streak, with big losses to Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa. They’ll end the season on a high note, though, beating rival Northwestern on the road in Evanston, Illinois.
Indiana lost a lot of offensive firepower from a season ago, namely quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard, but head coach Kevin Wilson will have enough talent on hand to be bowl-eligible.
Zander Diamont will take over at quarterback, and he has one of the Big Ten’s most lethal wide receivers in Simmie Cobbs Jr. That pair will guide Indiana unscathed through the nonconference slate, but the Hoosiers will drop their first four conference games to Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Northwestern.
But wins down the stretch against Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue will get Indiana into the postseason.
Iowa will win the Big Ten West Division for the second straight year.
The Hawkeyes will cruise through a nonconference slate of Miami, Iowa State and North Dakota State, although they’ll get a stiff test from the Bison in Week 3.
Four straight wins over Rutgers, Northwestern, Minnesota and Purdue will get the team rolling, but it’ll drop one at home to Wisconsin in Week 8 and another two weeks later against Penn State. The loss will sharpen the Hawkeyes' focus for the biggest game of the year—a huge home win over the Michigan Wolverines.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz's squad will get a big win over Illinois before squeaking out a close win over Nebraska to clinch the West Division and a spot in the Big Ten title game.
Maryland will have a tough go of things in the Big Ten this year.
In the first year under head coach D.J. Durkin, the Terrapins will be much tougher on defense, guiding them to victories over Howard, Florida International and Central Florida. But life in the Big Ten East will be tough for a new coach, especially with road games at Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska and home games against Michigan State and Ohio State.
The Terrapins will lose their first eight conference games, lowlighted by a league-opening upset loss to Purdue, but they'll enter the offseason with some momentum with an upset victory over Rutgers in the season finale.
Michigan will start the season 9-0 and ascend to the No. 2 ranking before its playoff run falls apart.
After an easy nonconference slate with no legitimate challenges (Hawaii, UCF and Colorado), head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines will flex their muscles in wins over Wisconsin and Penn State. A warm-up road game against Rutgers and a home bout with Illinois will be no problem, and Michigan will invade East Lansing with a ton of confidence.
That confidence will show in a solid 27-20 victory over the Spartans.
November will be Michigan's undoing, though, as it'll drop both of its tough road games against Iowa and Ohio State. The game against the Buckeyes will be much closer than last year's 42-13 blowout, but the Wolverines will again fall short 34-31 in overtime.
Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State will have a rough start to its 2016 campaign.
With the blowout loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff still lingering, the Spartans will win their gimme game against Furman in the season opener before a blowout 38-16 loss on the road at Notre Dame. Things will get worse back at home in Spartan Stadium when Wisconsin comes to town and bulldozes its way to a 17-point win.
That’s when things will turn for the Spartans. A road win over Indiana will spark a four-game winning streak that will end with a close loss at home against Michigan.
Head coach Mark Dantonio’s squad will rally, though, closing out the regular season on another four-game winning streak, highlighted by a shootout win over Ohio State at home.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota will kick off its 2016 campaign facing an unfamiliar foe in Oregon State, but the scheme and feel of the game will be familiar, with former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen guiding the Beavers.
The Gophers will get a big win to open the season, then they’ll easily dispatch Indiana State and Colorado State before league play. That’s when things will get dicey for Minnesota, which will drop three of its four conference games to Penn State, Iowa and Rutgers.
It’ll also end the season on a three-game losing streak against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin, but conference wins over Maryland, Illinois and Purdue will make Minnesota bowl-eligible.
The 2016 season will be head coach Mike Riley’s breakthrough year at Nebraska after last year’s disappointing 6-7 campaign that ended with a surprising victory over UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.
A win at home over a young Oregon team will cap a perfect nonconference slate and catapult the Cornhuskers into conference play and a 7-0 start. The road won’t be kind to Nebraska down the stretch, though, as losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa away from Memorial Stadium will knock the Cornhuskers out of the West Division race.
A three-game winning streak that is followed by a three-game losing streak to start the season will signify the up-and-down nature of 2016 for Northwestern.
The Wildcats are coming off their second 10-win season in the last four years, but just like the 2013 season, they’ll see a big drop-off from the previous year. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team will look sloppy in a home loss to Nebraska and outclassed on the road against Iowa and Michigan State.
Paired with its three nonconference wins, Northwestern will run over Big Ten bottom feeders Indiana and Purdue and get close victories over Minnesota and Wisconsin to become bowl-eligible, but it’ll limp into the postseason after a season-ending home loss to Illinois.
Ohio State Buckeyes
For all that head coach Urban Meyer has accomplished during his tenure in Columbus, Ohio, it’s bizarre to think he and the Buckeyes have only won the Big Ten one time since 2012.
The Buckeyes, however, will get back to the conference title game despite boasting one of the youngest teams in the country.
Like 2014, Ohio State will stumble early when it hits the road for a titanic showdown with playoff contender Oklahoma. But in a similar fashion to that 2014 season, the Buckeyes will gain steam after the loss and build an identity around quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Big wins on the road over Wisconsin and Penn State will vault them to a 9-1 record, but unlike 2014, Ohio State won’t be able to conquer Michigan State on the road, falling short in a 31-27 slugfest.
It’ll bounce back a week later in Columbus, dashing Michigan’s College Football Playoff hopes with a 34-31 overtime victory that will send the Buckeyes to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.
Penn State Nittany Lions
As a breakout freshman in 2013, quarterback Christian Hackenberg looked like the guy who was going to drag Penn State out from the crippling sanctions that the NCAA levied against the program in 2012.
That never materialized after the departure of former head coach Bill O’Brien and the arrival of current head coach James Franklin. The new staff tried to fit a square peg in a round hole, adapting the pocket passer Hackenberg into a spread system.
With Hackenberg’s departure, Franklin will be able to fully implement his spread system with a quarterback who’s suited to run it. The Nittany Lions will operate at a much higher level offensively, losing only to the division heavyweights, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State.
A November 5 upset over Iowa at home will be the defining moment of the season and Franklin’s tenure in State College to date.
It’s a make-or-break year for head coach Darrell Hazell, but unfortunately, Purdue won’t be able to get over the hump.
After last year’s 2-10 debacle that was only marginally salvaged by a stunning 55-45 upset of Nebraska, the Boilermakers will make slight improvements in 2016, winning two of their three nonconference games (losing to Cincinnati).
But the conference slate will be unkind to Purdue. After getting the best of Maryland on the road, the Boilermakers will drop their final eight games of the season, although they will put a scare in Penn State and Wisconsin down the stretch at home.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Chris Ash era at Rutgers will kick off with a hard-fought and surprisingly close loss on the road against Washington.
Back home, the Scarlet Knights will showcase their defensive improvements in convincing wins over Howard and New Mexico State, but life in the Big Ten East Division will slowly wear the team down. League play will kick off in brutal fashion, with games against Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan.
A trip to Michigan State and a home game against Penn State anchor a tough November slate, and Rutgers will only secure two Big Ten wins over Minnesota and Maryland.
The return of a healthy Corey Clement will help Wisconsin navigate one of the most daunting schedules in college football this season.
The 2016 campaign will kick off at Lambeau Field in what will likely be a primetime showdown against LSU. The home-field advantage will help the Badgers keep close with a loaded Tigers team, but star running back Leonard Fournette will help LSU rally in the fourth quarter.
Conference play will open with Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa, and the Badgers will drop three of the four, beating the Spartans but falling to the Wolverines, Buckeyes and Hawkeyes.
After losing to Iowa in Week 8, though, head coach Paul Chryst’s team will close out the season winning four of its last five, with its lone loss coming on the road against Northwestern.