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2022 Big Ten football conference preview

Maryland will have to face off against some of the best teams in the country this season.

Photo courtesy of Zach Bland/Maryland Terrapins.

The Big Ten figures to be one of the strongest football conferences once again in 2022, and Maryland is looking to make its mark and take the next step by competing with the league’s top programs.

The Big Ten East, though, very well may the toughest division in all of college football. Despite the talent on the Terps’ roster, this season’s schedule is a grueling slate featuring some of the best teams in the country. If they’re going to have a breakthrough, it’ll be earned, not given.

Here’s a look at what to expect from the Big Ten this season.

The favorite

As is seemingly the case every year, Ohio State enters the 2022 season as a heavy favorite to win the Big Ten as the No. 2 team in the preseason AP Top 25. Last season was the first time since 2016 that the Buckeyes didn’t win the conference, but they look primed for another run at the Big Ten crown. According to DraftKings SportsBook, they have by far the best odds to win the Big Ten (-215).

Led by quarterback CJ Stroud, Ohio State’s offense will be one of the most dynamic in the country. The wide receiver room is headlined by junior Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and sophomore running back TreVeyon Henderson will be one of the nation’s best playmakers this fall.

Ohio State’s defense is under new leadership with the hire of Jim Knowles as the unit’s coordinator, and he has plenty of talent to work with.

The Buckeyes will travel to College Park for the first time since 2018 on Nov. 19. That year, Maryland fell just short in overtime after a potential game-winning pass sailed wide of a wide-open Jeshaun Jones. Even so, Ohio State presents a unique depth of talent that almost no team in the nation can match and will likely be a significant favorite against the Terps. The Buckeyes have legitimate aspirations of an undefeated regular season, although chances are they will drop at least one game during the grind of a Big Ten schedule.

The challengers

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Maryland will have to play road games against the three teams not named Ohio State that have the best chance to win the conference title: Michigan (+600), Wisconsin (+1100) and Penn State (+1500).

Michigan is coming off its most successful season in over a decade. The Wolverines won the Big Ten and made the College Football Playoff for the first time in the event’s history.

The most glaring losses for Michigan came on the defensive end, losing elite pass-rushers in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, both of whom are now in the NFL. The Wolverines will have to reload, but they are able to consistently send out high-level talent at most every position and should still have one of the best rosters in the conference. They were ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP Top 25.

On the offensive side of the ball, much of the preseason conversation has centered around the quarterback battle between Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy. McNamara saw the majority of snaps in 2021, but McCarthy, a former five-star recruit, is believed to have the higher upside and will likely overtake the starting role at some point in his career. Whether that comes this season or later remains to be seen, as McNamara has been very effective in a starting role throughout his career.

Unlike Michigan, Penn State’s quarterback situation is set in stone — at least to start the season — as Sean Clifford returns for a sixth season. He still has to prove that he can be one of the league’s top signal-callers, and after two disappointing seasons in a row, Nittany Lions fans will be vocal if he is unable to, especially with highly-touted freshmen behind him on the depth chart.

Regardless of that and inexperience on defense, Penn State is still one of the most talented teams in the conference and could push for double-digit wins. Maryland travels to Happy Valley on Nov. 12 in what figures to be a challenging test, considering that the Terps have only ever left State College victorious twice, and one of those wins was in front of an empty stadium in 2020.

Wisconsin, ranked as the No. 18 team in the country in the preseason AP Top 25, opens as favorites to win the Big Ten West (+190, per DraftKings), and for good reason. Camp Randall Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the conference, especially during the colder months of the year. Unfortunately for Maryland, a trip to Madison is on the docket for Nov. 5 for what is sure to be a difficult, physical game that will be decided in the trenches.

The Badgers always have one of the nation’s best offensive lines, and that is no different in 2022, with at least two linemen that will likely play in the NFL one day in Joe Tippmann and Jack Nelson. They will be the lead blockers for running backs Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, a duo that is considered by some to be the best one-two punch out of the backfield in the nation.

Even with losses at the linebacker position, Wisconsin will once again have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. Newcomers lead the secondary — a potential glimpse of hope for Maryland’s offense — but the Badgers’ pass rush will provide some cover.

Head coach Mel Tucker had a season for the ages with Michigan State last year, winning 11 games. That being said, a case can easily be made that the success Tucker and the Spartans saw in 2021 isn’t likely to be repeated this fall.

Michigan State had one of the nation’s worst pass defenses and was by most metrics the worst overall defense in the Big Ten last year. They forced an unusual number of turnovers in the red zone and put the “bend don’t break” mentality to the test. That will probably improve this year, but a jump to becoming one of the league’s best defenses isn’t in the cards, barring a miracle. Like is the case with Wisconsin, Maryland’s best shot at a victory is exposing the Spartans’ vulnerable secondary and passing the ball effectively in the teams’ Oct. 1 matchup.

The Spartans — ranked No. 15 in the in the preseason AP Top 25 — do return quarterback Payton Thorne, though, who was very solid last season. They lose star running back Kenneth Walker and are longshots to win the conference title (+2800, according to DraftKings Sportsbook), but if Michigan State can recoup some of Walker’s lost production, it could be one of the Big Ten’s better teams once again.

The Terps don’t have to play Iowa this year, and after last season’s 51-14 defeat, they will consider themselves lucky. The Hawkeyes’ blueprint for victory in that game will be their blueprint this year as well.

Iowa’s offense was hard to watch at times a year ago, as it ranked 98th in rushing yards per game (123.8) and 109th in passing yards per game (180.1). Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, their defense was incredible, racking up a whopping 25 interceptions and consistently stifling opponents. The defense should be fantastic again, but some improvements need to be made on offense if Iowa is to return to the conference title game.

Those looking for a breakthrough

Minnesota struggled to put together a formidable passing attack last season, ranking 118th nationally in passing yards per game. The Golden Gophers only passed for 125 yards against the Terps last season, but ran right over Maryland’s defense, riding a stunning 326 rushing yards to a 34-16 win.

Head coach PJ Fleck and crew could row the boat to contention in the Big Ten West if the defense plays up to its standard from a year ago. Key losses on the defensive line may hinder them, however, and it’s likely that the Gophers will hover around DraftKings’ projected win total of 7.5.

Nebraska fans have been eagerly awaiting head coach Scott Frost’s breakout season with the Cornhuskers, and in his fifth season, he will need to win some more games or he risks losing his job. His team is a 13-point favorite (per DraftKings) against Northwestern in their season opener in Dublin this Saturday, which bodes well for their ability to start the season with a victory. If they don’t, Frost’s seat will heat up very quickly.

The Huskers were one of the most competitive 3-9 teams in recent memory last year, losing eight of those nine games by just one score, including five against ranked opponents. If that luck reverses, it could be a quick turnaround from last season. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Nebraska actually has the second-best odds to win the Big Ten West (+360).

Purdue had been quietly building a solid foundation under head coach Jeff Brohm, and the hard work came to fruition last season with a 9-4 record, including ranked wins over Iowa and Michigan State. The problem is, the Boilermakers lose some of their most impactful players from a year ago. Top wide receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis left for the NFL.

Despite these losses, Purdue still has the potential to put together another solid season. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell returns for his sixth season and is arguably the second-best quarterback in the Big Ten behind Stroud. Even without Bell, the Boilermakers should be able to move the ball via the air attack this season. When they come to College Park on Oct. 8, it should be an exciting, pass-heavy game.

As a program, Maryland has consistently been trending upward under head coach Michael Locksley. The Terps have one foot out of the door of the basement of the conference, but will need another trip to a bowl game and perhaps a win against a conference title contender to solidify their position.

If Maryland was in the Big Ten West, things might be different and its 2022 roster may be good enough to make some serious noise. But until divisions are removed in the Big Ten the Terps will be underdogs in at least half of their conference games.

The bottom

Indiana is looking to bounce back after an abysmal 2021 season. The Hoosiers entered last season with legitimate buzz, but now start the 2022 season with an expected win total of just four games, according to DraftKings SportsBook.

In an attempt to reverse their fortunes, Indiana underwent a complete overhaul in the offseason. Head coach Tom Allen is virtually the only holdover from last year, as the Hoosiers hired five new coaches and brought in double-digit transfers. They’ll be underdogs in most every game this season and will need to outperform expectations to become bowl-eligible. Maryland does have to travel to Bloomington this year, but should be favored regardless.

Northwestern also has an expected win total of four. The Wildcats have made the Big Ten championship game in two of the past four seasons, but finished 3-9 in the two years where they didn’t. The latter seems more likely than the former this season unless quarterback Ryan Hilinski and the defense can drastically improve on their disappointing 2021 seasons. They’ll travel to play Maryland on Oct. 22, a homecoming game that the home fans will be expecting to leave with a win.

Led by head coach Bret Bielema, Illinois could make a push toward bowl eligibility this season. The defense was relatively solid a year ago and should be tough again. The offense will certainly need to be more consistent, and improved quarterback play from Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito along with a decent running game could be just enough to do so. If everything falls into place and the Illini beat who they are supposed to, five or six wins is not an unreasonable expectation.

Improvement at Rutgers has been steady under head coach Greg Schiano — the talent level is slowly progressing — but Rutgers simply isn’t up to the level of their Big Ten East peers just yet. Six wins and a bowl appearance would be a success for the Scarlet Knights this year, making them probably among the strongest teams in the lowest tier of the Big Ten. A matchup against Maryland in the final week of the season could be an opportunity, like last year, to reach that threshold.

Maryland is hoping to avoid waiting until that game to reach six wins and should be a home favorite. A loss against Rutgers and a missed opportunity at a bowl appearance could have Maryland right back down in the bottom level of the Big Ten perception-wise.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.