Ohio State highlights 3 teams ready to challenge Michigan for 2022 Big Ten crown
The Michigan Wolverines finally shed their demons last season. Jim Harbaugh’s team brought home the Big Ten crown on the way to its first-ever College Football Playoff berth. It was the Wolverines’ first conference championship since 2004, and first outright since 1997.
Michigan will be a force in the Big Ten once again in 2022. However, challengers for the title will give the Wolverines their best shot in every game. They’ll need to be ready, as these three teams are knocking on the door of the Big Ten champs.
Big Ten teams ready to challenge Michigan football in 2022
3. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin doesn’t have the star power of some of the other teams in the conference, but the Badgers always do more with less. They’ve made four appearances in the Big Ten Championship Game over the last decade, despite only pulling in one top-20 recruiting class in that time. Paul Chryst’s team will look to get over the hump in 2022.
Wisconsin fielded the nation’s top total defense in 2021 with 240.8 yards per game, ahead of even Georgia. The Badgers defended the run exceptionally well with just 65.2 yards allowed per game, and they finished in the top 10 in pass defense too. However, they return just three starters from last year’s squad, so the newcomers have some big shoes to fill.
The Badgers’ run game powered their offense in 2021, and both of their top running backs return. Braylon Allen racked up 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Chez Mellusi complemented him with 815 yards and five scores. These two backs should be the key to Wisconsin’s rushing attack again in 2022.
The key to Wisconsin becoming a true Big Ten contender is at quarterback. Graham Mertz struggled throughout last season, completing less than 60% of his passes with 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns. He’ll need to improve for the Badgers to make noise this season.
Wisconsin has its work cut out for it with a brutal schedule. The Badgers play road games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa in 2022. They don’t play the Wolverines, who defeated the Badgers 38-17 in Madison last season.
2. Penn State Nittany Lions
At the midway point of last season, Penn State looked like a true Big Ten and College Football Playoff contender. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 5-0 start, including ranked wins over Wisconsin and Auburn. They faded down the stretch, though, going just 2-6 in the rest of the season.
Penn State retains six starters from last year on each side of the ball, more than many conference foes. The Nittany Lions finished in the top 10 in scoring defense in 2021, despite placing in the middle of the conference in yards allowed. They also retain quarterback Sean Clifford, who should improve with another season under offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.
The schedule is difficult, but it’s manageable for the Nittany Lions. They’ll play their usual division foes, as well as Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota in cross-division and Auburn in non-conference. They’ll get their shot at Michigan in Ann Arbor on Oct. 15.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes won four straight Big Ten titles before the Wolverines finally upended them and won the title themselves. Coming into 2022, Ohio State will be out for revenge against its archrival.
Ohio State’s offense was the best in the nation in 2021. The Buckeyes led the country in yards per game with 561.2, and points per game with 45.7. Led by stars C.J. Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the Buckeyes’ offense could be even better in 2022.
Where Ohio State will look to improve is on defense. The Buckeyes finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten with 366.6 yards allowed per game. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they retain seven starters from last year, including leading tackler Ronnie Hickman.
Ohio State faces a tough schedule in 2022, starting with a prime-time showdown with Notre Dame. The Buckeyes then play their share of conference foes, including key games against Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State. They wrap up the regular season by hosting Michigan in Columbus, a game which will likely decide the Big Ten East.