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Leistikow: Predicting every Big Ten football team's record for the 2022 season


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INDIANAPOLIS — On Oct. 22 in Columbus, the Iowa and Ohio State football programs will compete for just the second time in 3,290 days.

In a remarkable anomaly of Big Ten Conference scheduling, the lone meeting since 2013 between the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes occurred in 2017 — an unforgettable 55-24 thrashing of then-No. 3 Ohio State at Kinnick Stadium. The teams were supposed to meet in 2020 before COVID-19 implications abbreviated the schedule, thus removing an Iowa visit to the famed Horseshoe that is Ohio Stadium.

But now, after just one meeting in more than nine calendar years … could we witness two Iowa-Ohio State matchups in a span of six weeks?

That is how I see it playing out in 2022 in my annual Big Ten predictions.

The Buckeyes were the overwhelming choice among sportswriters in the Cleveland.com preseason media poll. They not only received all 36 first-place votes to win the Big Ten East, they were a unanimous choice to defeat the West Division winner on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.

Iowa was picked second place in the West by the media, garnering just three first-place votes to Wisconsin’s 31 (and third-place Minnesota’s two). After careful analysis, I cast one of those three pro-Hawkeye votes. Sure, the Hawkeyes have a difficult schedule. But they’re the defending West champs and bring back a vaunted defense, excellent special teams, a deep roster and optimism that the offense will be better. Plus, they get rival Wisconsin at a sold-out Kinnick in November.

That said, I’ve got Ohio State collecting a season sweep against Iowa — getting a double dose of revenge for that 2017 shellacking in Iowa City — on the way to a top-two seed in the College Football Playoff.

Let’s take a look at each of the league’s 14 teams and how their falls might play out. (Important note: East Division teams have five league home games to the West's four this year.)

Big Ten East

1. Ohio State

Crossovers: Wisconsin (home), Iowa (home), Northwestern (road)

Why No. 1?

The Buckeyes' sheer offensive firepower make them a serious national-title contender (their 3:1 odds trail only Alabama’s 7:4). Quarterback C.J. Stroud completed 72% of his passes for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns a year ago; running back TreVeyon Henderson totaled 1,560 yards and 19 touchdowns; and Jaxon Smith-Njigba had more receiving yards (1,606) than top-11 NFL Draft picks Garrett Wilson (1,058) and Chris Olave (936). All three are back, plus four offensive-line starters. Opponents will struggle to keep pace with these Buckeyes.

Potential issues

Coach Ryan Day expects “a top-10 defense” under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who was brought in from Oklahoma State. That’s one thing to say, but another to do. The 2021 Buckeyes were hit with 35 points from Oregon (in a loss), 31 from Purdue (win), 42 from Michigan (loss) and 45 from Utah (narrow Rose Bowl win). A season-opener against Notre Dame and road trips to Michigan State and Penn State plus home games vs. the West's two favorites are all possible stumbling blocks before “The Game” against Michigan. Ohio State usually has one or two flat performances a year.

Leistikow’s record prediction

12-0, 9-0

T-2. Michigan

Crossovers: Iowa (road), Nebraska (home), Illinois (home)

Why tied for No. 2?

Jim Harbaugh went from thin ice following the 2020 season to conquering king in 2021, beating Ohio State and then Iowa to win the Big Ten championship. The Wolverines bring most of their offense back from that title-winning team, including quarterbacks Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy plus six of their top seven wide receivers. Michigan has eight home games, including against Penn State and Michigan State. Michigan will almost certainly be 4-0 entering its first trip to Kinnick Stadium since a 14-13 loss in 2016 — an Oct. 1 showdown at Iowa.

Potential issues

It’s never easy to change one coordinator, let alone two. And that’s the challenge facing Michigan on offense and defense. Most notably, Broyles Award-winning offensive coordinator Josh Gattis — who was credited for Michigan’s creative run game that dominated the Big Ten — departed for Miami of Florida. Michigan’s East-winning odds are 4:1, a sign that No. 2 draft pick Aidan Hutchinson is irreplaceable and mighty Ohio State will be tough to overcome.

Leistikow’s record prediction

10-2, 7-2

T-2. Penn State

Crossovers: Purdue (road), Northwestern (home), Minnesota (home)

Why tied for No. 2?

As usual, James Franklin was breathing optimism at Big Ten Media Days. The deepest team he’s had in years, he said. A tight-ends room that is the best in the country, he surmised. And Sean Clifford is back at quarterback after his 2021 season (and the Nittany Lions’) was derailed by an injury suffered at the hands of Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell in Week 6. Franklin is armed with a new 10-year contract but his 11-11 record over the past two seasons leaves questions about whether the Nittany Lions can jump to the top of the East for the first time since 2016.

Potential issues

The defense at Penn State is always good, but the loss of defensive coordinator Brent Pry to Virginia Tech is a big one. The offensive line has been a sore spot for the program. Franklin thinks this is the year that group takes a big step forward, but fans in Happy Valley need to see it. A Thursday,-night (Sept. 1) opener at Purdue could be tricky … and a lot of fun.

Leistikow’s record prediction

10-2, 7-2

T-4. Michigan State

Crossovers: Minnesota (home), Wisconsin (home), Illinois (road)

Why tied for No. 4?

Michigan State’s 11-2 campaign last season helped coach Mel Tucker secure a 10-year, $95 million contract. One reason Tucker got such a rich reward was the pickup of transfer Kenneth Walker III; but now the best running back in the country a year ago is gone. Quarterback Payton Thorne (27 touchdown passes) and wide receiver Jayden Reed (59 catches, 1,026 yards) are the returning stars. Tucker has eight new arrivals via the NCAA transfer portal.

Potential issues

Offensive line is a question mark, and Michigan State had the nation’s worst pass defense a year ago. Road trips to Penn State and Michigan plus a home matchup vs. Ohio State feel like three automatic losses. Two of the Big Ten West’s top teams, Wisconsin and Minnesota, come to Spartan Stadium as well, and an early-season trip to Washington will be no picnic.

Leistikow’s record prediction

6-6, 4-5

T-4. Maryland

Crossovers: Purdue (home), Northwestern (home), Wisconsin (road)

Why tied for No. 4?

A 54-10 rout of Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl provided an offseason boost for Mike Locksley’s squad. He’s recruited well in College Park and now leans on the return of third-year quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and fantastic receivers Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus Jr. (all with NFL pedigree). The Terps also bring back their entire offensive line. While playing in a stacked division, Maryland has the talent to be competitive with the big boys.

Potential issues

Maryland is 19-47 in conference play since joining the Big Ten, so a real breakthrough (such as an eight-win season) seems like a distant possibility.

Leistikow’s record prediction

6-6, 4-5

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Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

6. Rutgers

Crossovers: Iowa (home), Nebraska (home), Minnesota (road)

Why No. 6?

The way Greg Schiano is building the Rutgers program is almost identical to the Kirk Ferentz blueprint at Iowa. Schiano emphasizes effort, discipline and special-teams play. Punter Adam Korsak is a true star. Schiano is overhauling the offensive line, but that isn’t a quick fix (seven freshmen and four transfers are joining the room).

Potential issues

Sixth-year senior Noah Vedral (formerly of Nebraska) has been an average quarterback. A new defensive staff means a new defense and that could be slow to learn. Rutgers lacks a strong home-field advantage and has experienced seven straight losing seasons.

Leistikow’s record prediction

5-7, 2-7

7. Indiana

Crossovers: Illinois (home), Nebraska (road), Purdue (home)

Why No. 7?

It’s hard to get excited about this Indiana roster, especially after last season’s 2-10 campaign and 0-9 Big Ten mark. The Hoosiers seemed to lack the necessary effort to be competitive a year ago. That said, head coach Tom Allen is a determined guy. He will take over the defensive play-calling, perhaps a desperate move to save his job.

Potential issues

There was some bad luck a year ago, with 20 season-ending injuries. But the Hoosiers' offense was abysmal; 54.5% of their possessions ended without a first down. Allen is gambling with 13 transfer-portal additions (including former Missouri starting quarterback Connor Bazelak) and five new coaches. 

Leistikow’s record prediction

2-10, 0-9

Big Ten West

1. Iowa

Crossovers: Rutgers (road), Michigan (home), Ohio State (road)

Why No. 1?

The Hawkeyes are deep at almost every position, particularly where they have stars — like linebacker (Jack Campbell), cornerback (Riley Moss) and tight end (Sam LaPorta). That’s a good way to navigate a tough schedule and potential injuries. At Big Ten Media Days, Ferentz expressed an unusual confidence in his offense — including quarterback and offensive line, two of the team’s biggest question marks. If a star can emerge on a deep and experienced defensive line (maybe Lukas Van Ness?), this could be the best defense yet under tremendous coordinator Phil Parker.

Potential issues

The Hawkeyes have the toughest crossover slate in the West and can’t repeat the offensive struggles of a year ago (121st out of 130 FBS teams) and expect another 10-win season. A challenging November schedule (at nemesis Purdue then three trophy games vs. Wisconsin, at Minnesota, vs. Nebraska) will determine their West fate.

Leistikow’s record prediction

9-3, 6-3

2. Wisconsin

Crossovers: Ohio State (road), Michigan State (road), Maryland (home)

Why No. 2?

The Badgers’ steady formula of great defense, stellar offensive-line play and elite running backs should continue. Running back Braelon Allen looked a lot like a young Jonathan Taylor as a freshman, and now he’s a year older (at 18). A new offensive coordinator in Bobby Engram from the Baltimore Ravens adds intrigue. Wisconsin must replace eight starters off a defense that led the country against the run and in total yardage.

Potential issues

Just like at Iowa, there is a question mark at quarterback with Graham Mertz. He was shaky last season but has five-star talent. Also like Iowa, Wisconsin is thin at wide receiver, which could allow teams to load the box. I’ve got the Badgers losing in Iowa City Nov. 12 and thus the head-to-head divisional tiebreaker in the West.

Leistikow’s record prediction

9-3, 6-3

3. Purdue

Crossovers: Penn State (home), Maryland (road), Indiana (road)

Why No. 3?

There is unmistakable momentum in West Lafayette. The program is coming off its first nine-win season since 2003. Season-ticket sales at Ross-Ade Stadium are soaring. And the Boilermakers have the best quarterback in the West Division in Aidan O’Connell, a sixth-year senior who threw for 3,712 yards last season despite not making his first start until October. The lack of a running game leads to inconsistency, but coach Jeff Brohm’s offensive innovation makes the Boilermakers a weekly threat against anyone they play.

Potential issues

While the defense took a big step forward last season (22.4 points per game allowed), replacing first-round draft pick George Karlaftis is a challenge. The offense also lost its best player in receiver David Bell. Purdue’s 15-game losing streak against Wisconsin is a sore spot. The Boilers need to stay healthy; for whatever reason, they have had a lot of injury trouble under Brohm's watch.

Leistikow’s record prediction

8-4, 5-4

4. Minnesota

Crossovers: Michigan State (road), Penn State (road), Rutgers (home)

Why No. 4?

Minnesota is building around its “Encore Four” (their term) on offense. Quarterback Tanner Morgan, running back Mo Ibrahim, receiver Chris Autman-Bell and center John Michael Schmitz chose to exercise their available COVID-19 season to return as sixth-year seniors. Coach P.J. Fleck said Ibrahim, a dynamic player, is at full strength after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 1 last year vs. Ohio State. The return of Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator (who led the Gophers’ terrific 2019 offense) is a big deal. The Gophers were No. 8 nationally in rush defense a year ago, and that’s something to build on.

Potential issues

The Gophers struggled to throw the ball downfield a year ago and were heavily dependent on the run (46.2 attempts a game last year, tops in Power Five) and now must replace the majority of their offensive line.

Leistikow’s record prediction

7-5, 4-5

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Trev Alberts addresses state of Nebraska football entering 2022 season
Nebraska athletics director Trev Alberts discusses Scott Frost and a team looking to rebound from a 3-9 season.
Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

5. Nebraska

Crossovers: Indiana (home), Rutgers (road), Michigan (road)

Why No. 5?

A 15-29 record in four seasons under Scott Frost doesn’t inspire confidence, but there’s still hope in Big Red country that a breakthrough is near after a 3-9 season with nine single-digit-margin losses. Frost is going heavy on transfers, including at quarterback with Casey Thompson from Texas. At Big Ten Media Days, there was talk about this being the closest Nebraska team yet under Frost. Let’s see if that shows up positively in close games.

Potential issues

Special teams are a constant problem in Lincoln. We’ll find out a lot right away, as the Huskers travel to Ireland for an Aug. 27 game vs. Northwestern and then host Oklahoma three weeks later. Nebraska has yet to find the necessary offensive-line play needed to win consistently in the rugged West Division.

Leistikow’s record prediction

6-6, 4-5

6. Illinois

Crossovers: Indiana (road), Michigan State (home), Michigan (road)

Why No. 6?

There were positive signs in Year 1 under former Hawkeye Bret Bielema, particularly a nine-overtime win at Penn State. Despite a 5-7 record, four of those losses were by one score … and another was by 10 points at Iowa. Running back Chase Brown is one of the Big Ten's most dynamic players. There are new arrivals at quarterback (Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito) and offensive coordinator (Barry Lunney Jr., who ran a fast pace at UTSA).

Potential issues

Despite the Big Ten West's lack of a great national reputation, upward mobility is tough with steady programs like Iowa and Wisconsin at the top. One of Illinois’ calling cards a year ago was on special teams, but it lost its terrific kicker, punter and long snapper.

Leistikow’s record prediction

6-6, 3-6

7. Northwestern

Crossovers: Penn State (road), Maryland (road), Ohio State (home)

Why No. 7?

It feels foolish to pick Pat Fitzgerald’s team to finish last, considering the Wildcats have been strong in even years (winning West titles in 2018 and 2020). Peter Skoronski might be the best left tackle in the country. Quarterback play, though, is an ongoing issue. It looks like South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski will get another shot.

Potential issues

Fitzgerald lamented Northwestern’s inexperience last year vs. a division full of veteran returnees after the COVID-19 year. That imbalance hasn’t changed much. Bowl eligibility would be a success for the Wildcats.

Leistikow’s record prediction

5-7, 2-7

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.