The 2020 College Football season has been significantly modified from what we have seen in years prior. Games are played without fans, and many of the nation’s top teams have yet to play a game. This weekend, we get the resumption of the Big Ten conference. This is significant for college football as it marks the return of many marquee programs. Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan are just a few of the big names that will return to action this weekend. Here are previews of some of the notable Big ten games coming this week.
Illinois vs No. 14 Wisconsin
Illinois squeaked out a win last year versus Wisconsin, winning 24-23 over the Badgers. Unfortunately, that was one of only six wins for Illinois head coach Lovie Smith, who finished with a 6-7 record. Former Michigan transfer quarterback Brandon Peters returned after a rather unspectacular campaign last season. Peters threw for over 1800 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions last season. It helps that Peters top receiver from last season, Josh Imatorbhebhe, returns along with multiple other productive wide receivers. Imatorbhebhe, a former USC transfer, led Illinois with 634 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
The Badgers offense will look very different when they line up for the first time on Friday. Former standout running back Jonathan Taylor is gone to the NFL. Taylor is a huge hit for the offense as he accounted for over 2,000 of the Badgers total yards on offense last season. Last year starting quarterback, Jack Coan, will also not be under center come Friday. He is out indefinitely as he recovers from foot surgery. Graham Mertz will step in at quarterback for the Badgers.
A player to watch on defense for the Badgers is Isaiah Loudermilk. The 6’7, 293-pound edge rusher is in contention for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year this season as he returns for his senior year.
Nebraska vs No. 5 Ohio State
Nebraska is coming off a disappointing season in which they finished 5-7 under head coach Scott Frost. They turn to quarterback Adrian Martinez who is looking to improve on his numbers from last season. Martinez finished with 1956 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Unfortunately, Nebraska will begin this season without their top receiver from the previous year. Wide receiver JD Spielman, who led the team in receiving yards last season, transferred to TCU last year. The Cornhuskers will return leading rusher Dedrick Mills, for his senior season. Mills finished with 745 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns last season.
Ohio State Preview
Ohio State returned a strong core of players after a trip to the College Football Playoff last season. With that being said, they also lost a lot of players due to the draft. 16 total players from Ohio State’s 2019 roster entered the draft. That includes 9 starters with marquee names like Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, and Damon Arnette, all first-round picks.
However, former Georgia Bulldog Justin Fields is back to lead the offense again for the Buckeyes. Fields was a Heisman contender this past season after throwing for 3273 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Back for his junior year is Fields top target, Chris Olave, who finished with 840 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns last year. Olave is a Heisman contender and excelled in Ryan Day’s offense last season.
The Buckeyes also add highly touted recruit Jaxson Smith-Njiba to bolster their receiving corps.
No. 8 Penn State vs Indiana
Indiana is coming off a strong season in which they finished 8-5 under head coach Tom Allen. They will have a new quarterback stepping in when they face off against the Nittany Lions on Saturday. Gone is last year’s primary quarterback Peyton Ramsey. Ramsey opted to transfer to Northwestern for his senior year after throwing for over 2400 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions last season.
With Ramsey gone, Michael Penix Jr. will step in for the Hoosiers. The redshirt sophomore got some good reps under center last season and threw for 10 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in 6 games. Indiana returns their two largest contributors on offense last season as well. Junior running back Stevie Scott was back after a productive season last year. He amassed over 1000 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns. Top receiver Whop Philyor also returns. He finished 3rd in the Big 10 in receptions last season with 70 along with 1002 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns.
Penn State Preview
Penn State is ranked No.8 in the polls after a strong 11-2 record last season. They return their starting quarterback from last season, Sean Clifford. The redshirt junior threw for 2654 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions last season. However, Clifford will have to deal with some big losses on both sides of the ball if he hopes to lead Penn State back to the top of the Big 10.
Two of Penn States’ biggest contributors on offense will be gone. Top receiver K.J Hamler was drafted into the NFL. The current Denver Bronco led the Lions with 947 scrimmage yards and 8 touchdowns last season. The Lions starting runningback is gone as well. Redshirt junior Journey Brown is expected to miss the entire 2020 season with an undisclosed medical issue. Brown amassed over 1024 scrimmaged yards along with 13 touchdowns last season. NFL draft prospect tight end Pat Friermuth and sophomore running back Noah Cain figure to be two of the primary contributors in the offense this season. The Lions also suffered a huge loss on defense when inside linebacker Micah Parson opted out of the season.
Parsons finished last season with a team-high 107 total tackles. He is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
No. 18 Michigan vs No. 21 Minnesota
Minnesota comes in at #21 after finishing 11-2 and #10 in last year’s AP Poll. They ranked 22nd in the country in points per game under head coach P.J Fleck. Redshirt junior Tanner Morgan will return to the quarterback position for the Golden Gophers. Morgan finished last season with 3253 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. His total passing yards finished only behind Ohio State’s Fields in the Big 10.
Unfortunately for Morgan, he will be without his top target from last year. Tyler Johnson, who led the team in receiving yards, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2020 NFL Draft. However, after initially deciding to opt-out, Rashod Bateman decided to return to Minnesota for his junior season. Bateman finished last season with 1219 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Defensively, the Gophers will struggle to replace defensive back Antonie Winfield Jr.
Like Johnson, Winfield Jr. was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Winfield Jr. finished last season with 83 total tackles and 7 interceptions, good for fourth in the country.
Head coach John Harbaugh will look to build on a 9-4 finish from last season. However, they will have a whole new look going into this 2020 season. On offense, Shea Patterson is out as a quarterback. Since Patterson has no more years of eligibility, the Wolverines will turn to redshirt sophomore Joe Milton. Milton has limited experience, having only attempted 7 passes all of last season. The Wolverines are confident Milton will be able to pick up where Patterson left off.
Michigan lost two of its biggest playmakers from last season in Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins. Peoples-Jones, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the past draft, accounted for 438 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns last season. Collins opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Collins was second on the team in receiving yards last season with 729 and 7 touchdowns to go with.
The Wolverines also lost a few pieces on defense. Khaleke Hudson, the teams leading tackler with 101 total tackles, graduated and has no more years of eligibility. Last season’s team leader in sacks, Josh Uche, is also gone after being drafted by the New England Patriots in the last draft. Michigan also lost Ambry Thomas to opt-out and Lavert Hill to graduation. Hill and Thomas combined for 6 interceptions in the secondary for the Wolverines last season. The defense will be lead by defensive end Kwity Paye, who had 6.5 sacks last season.