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Who’s Positioned To Be Big Ten Football’s Worst In 2021?

Is there actually a clear-cut worst team like so many years prior?

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

So as I was putting this one together, I was reflecting on previous offseason sentiments and it occurred to me that we don’t have a clear-cut consensus worst team in the conference. We’ve had one for quite a few years running. Whether or not that team has turned out to actually be the worst is irrelevant; I’m talking about offseason and preseason sentiment.

2020: Rutgers
2019: Rutgers
2018: Illinois
2017: Rutgers
2016: Purdue
2015: Purdue
2014: Purdue
2013: Illinois
2012: Indiana

These were all pretty uncontroversial considering the circumstances around each program. Rutgers and Purdue were plumbing the depths of how bad a Big Ten program could get; Illinois had bottomed out under a new coach that may or may not be in over his head (twice), and Indiana had taken the crown decisively by not showing signs of life at the end of 2011 like Minnesota.

But here we are in 2021! This podcast covers the bottom 8 teams in the conference, and you could make an argument that any of these teams could end up being the worst of 2021! They’re not all equally valid arguments, but there are at least three vying for the spot!

  • Is it Maryland? Perhaps few programs are as good at putting up awful records with NFL skill players. If it’s Maryland, this will be a fun season, because Maryland’s talent is all concentrated into fun positions.
  • Could it be Minnesota? Okay, probably unlikely if we’re honest, but is this program’s outlook more like 2017 than 2019?
  • Rutgers is always a popular pick! Could they simply fail to improve on a stellar debut for Greg Schiano? Long term, this program is already miles ahead of Chris Ash’s peak, but 2021 is already pretty weird.
  • Is it Purdue? Why did Jeff Brohm hire Bob Diaco? Is Brohm maybe the kind of coach who’s a great tactician, football mind and offensive coordinator but lacks the Big Time Program Manager skills you need to thrive at this level?
  • IS IT MICHIGAN? I mean, is it really that far out of the realm of possibility? Sure, they add some new elite talent, but they ALWAYS add some new elite talent and those players never seem to get better in Ann Arbor. This actually sets up to be a mess of a season for Michigan!
  • Let’s be honest. It’s probably either my team or Andrew’s team. Illinois looked the part for most of last year, and quarterback is now an open question. Is Bart Burlyman gonna start fast? Is this a yard glass speed-chugging event or a case race?
  • Is Michigan State the worst? Well, the Paul Bunyan Trophy is a very important game for this conversation now! The whole damn roster turns over. Year 0 Part 2 incoming?
  • How, in year 4 of the Scott Frost experience, is Nebraska suuuuuure looking like they have one of the stronger cases?