WhatIfSports 2016 Big Ten preview: Projected standings and game-by-game predictions

Three Storylines

Can Michigan State and/or Iowa Return to the Big Ten Championship?

Wisconsin and Ohio State met in the Big Ten Championship in 2014, but neither program was able to navigate back to Indianapolis last season. Instead, Michigan State and Iowa duked it out in what was essentially a play-in game for the College Football Playoff. Now the Spartans and Hawkeyes will attempt to repeat in their respective divisions.

Jim Harbaugh’s Second Year at Michigan

Michigan’s 10-3 record in 2015 was capped by a 41-7 Citrus Bowl win over the Florida Gators. The season was all the more successful considering the 5-7 campaign that preceded it. If Harbaugh can maintain Michigan’s upward trajectory, it won’t be long before they’re naming streets after him in Ann Arbor.

Is Ohio State Playoff-Worthy?

Despite just one defeat in 2015, a 17-14 loss to Michigan State, the Buckeyes were denied a chance to defend their 2014 College Football Playoff title. The culprit was a non-conference schedule that was highlighted by a 6-6 Virginia Tech squad. Ohio State’s 2016 schedule features a showdown with Oklahoma, the AP’s preseason No. 3 team, in a game that could serve as the Buckeyes’ marquee victory. 

Three Players to Watch

QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

The Buckeyes sent a number of players to the NFL, including quarterback Cardale Jones, running back Ezekiel Elliott and QB-turned-receiver Braxton Miller. The keys of the offense now belong to Barrett, who led the Big Ten in total offense in 2014 before splitting time with Jones last year.

RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

College Football Pick 'Em!

A 1,000-yard season is always an impressive benchmark for a freshman running back, but even more so when it’s accomplished on 182 carries. Barkley averaged 5.9 yards per rush in 2015 as he totaled 1,076 yards and eight total scores. With quarterback Christian Hackenberg now in the NFL, Penn State will turn to Barkley early and often.

RB Justin Jackson, Northwestern

Jackson has rushed for 2,606 yards and 15 touchdowns in two seasons at Northwestern. His 1,418 rushing yards last season ranked second behind Ohio State’s Elliott in the conference. However, after scoring 11 total touchdowns as a freshman, Jackson found the end zone just five times last season.

Three Games to Watch

Ohio State @ Oklahoma: Saturday, September 17

An opponent the caliber of Oklahoma was sorely missing from Ohio State’s 2015 schedule, but a loss to the Sooners won’t do the Buckeyes any favors in their quest to return to the College Football Playoff. The two powerhouse programs have only met twice before, a 29-28 Oklahoma victory in 1977 and a 24-14 Ohio State win in 1983.

Michigan @ Iowa: Saturday, November 12

Iowa has a favorable schedule in 2016. The Hawkeyes avoid Ohio State and Michigan State, while playing Michigan at home. The Wolverines are Iowa’s only opponent ranked in the preseason Top 25. A loss to Michigan won’t make or break Iowa’s season since the schools are in different divisions, but a win would go a long way in qualifying the Hawkeyes for a major bowl.

Michigan @ Ohio State: Saturday, November 26

One of the best rivalries in college football has been dormant for a number of years, as the Buckeyes have won 11 of the last 12 meetings. Under Harbaugh, Michigan finally appears to be awakening from its slumber.  With the game in Columbus, the Wolverines will have a hard time capturing their first win over Ohio State since 2011, but it seems inevitable that the two schools will be trading wins and losses again soon. 

To view a team’s game-by-game predictions, select the school below:

2016 Illinois Fighting Illini
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Murray State Racers 95.0 44.9-7.4
2 North Carolina Tar Heels 25.7 23.8-32.0
3 Western Michigan Broncos 50.5 29.5-30.4
5 @Nebraska Cornhuskers 42.6 26.6-28.6
6 Purdue Boilermakers 54.5 27.7-26.9
7 @Rutgers Scarlet Knights 53.5 28.6-27.2
8 @Michigan Wolverines 26.7 22.6-30.1
9 Minnesota Golden Gophers 40.6 25.4-27.1
10 Michigan State Spartans 32.7 22.7-28.4
11 @Wisconsin Badgers 36.6 24.1-26.5
12 Iowa Hawkeyes 31.7 23.5-29.5
13 @Northwestern Wildcats 45.5 23.5-26.2
2016 Indiana Hoosiers
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 @FIU Golden Panthers 60.4 29.4-25.8
2 Ball State Cardinals 65.3 33.6-29.8
4 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 47.5 27.7-27.4
5 Michigan State Spartans 23.8 24.5-30.5
6 @Ohio State Buckeyes 37.6 25.9-29.7
7 Nebraska Cornhuskers 30.7 26.0-33.0
8 @Northwestern Wildcats 44.6 25.5-27.3
9 Maryland Terrapins 46.5 27.7-29.7
10 @Rutgers Scarlet Knights 51.5 31.5-28.6
11 Penn State Nittany Lions 47.5 27.6-30.2
12 @Michigan Wolverines 27.7 23.5-32.3
13 Purdue Boilermakers 56.4 30.4-27.5
2016 Iowa Hawkeyes
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Miami (OH) RedHawks 85.1 33.6-20.9
2 Iowa State Cyclones 70.3 29.4-20.7
3 North Dakota State Bison 95.0 47.9-8.9
4 @Rutgers Scarlet Knights 69.3 30.7-23.0
5 Northwestern Wildcats 55.4 24.2-21.9
6 @Minnesota Golden Gophers 62.4 26.8-22.5
7 @Purdue Boilermakers 75.2 31.1-22.5
8 Wisconsin Badgers 48.5 24.5-23.4
10 @Penn State Nittany Lions 57.4 25.6-24.5
11 Michigan Wolverines 36.6 22.8-25.7
12 @Illinois Fighting Illini 68.3 29.5-23.5
13 Nebraska Cornhuskers 52.5 26.5-24.7
2016 Maryland Terrapins
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Howard Bison 95.0 46.0-8.1
2 @FIU Golden Panthers 60.4 30.2-26.3
3 @UCF Knights 69.3 30.1-24.1
5 Purdue Boilermakers 61.4 29.2-26.1
6 @Penn State Nittany Lions 43.6 26.0-27.4
7 Minnesota Golden Gophers 42.6 25.0-26.6
8 Michigan State Spartans 27.7 22.4-27.9
9 @Indiana Hoosiers 53.5 29.7-27.7
10 @Michigan Wolverines 22.8 22.3-31.7
11 Ohio State Buckeyes 31.7 24.1-29.1
12 @Nebraska Cornhuskers 39.6 25.0-29.5
13 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 59.4 28.5-26.2
2016 Michigan Wolverines
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 80.2 34.0-20.2
2 UCF Knights 88.1 35.1-19.1
3 Colorado Buffaloes 75.2 31.2-23.0
4 Penn State Nittany Lions 64.4 28.9-24.1
5 Wisconsin Badgers 64.4 28.2-23.5
6 @Rutgers Scarlet Knights 73.3 32.9-21.3
8 Illinois Fighting Illini 73.3 30.1-22.6
9 @Michigan State Spartans 55.4 26.7-25.3
10 Maryland Terrapins 77.2 31.7-22.3
11 @Iowa Hawkeyes 63.4 25.7-22.8
12 Indiana Hoosiers 72.3 32.3-23.5
13 @Ohio State Buckeyes 43.6 24.2-26.9
2016 Michigan State Spartans
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Furman Paladins 95.0 46.1-8.9
3 @Notre Dame Fighting Irish 52.5 28.5-28.2
4 Wisconsin Badgers 54.5 25.4-23.7
5 @Indiana Hoosiers 74.3 30.5-24.5
6 BYU Cougars 56.4 27.0-25.0
7 Northwestern Wildcats 57.4 24.1-21.3
8 @Maryland Terrapins 70.3 27.9-22.4
9 Michigan Wolverines 44.6 25.3-26.7
10 @Illinois Fighting Illini 67.3 28.4-22.7
11 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 72.3 29.3-21.7
12 Ohio State Buckeyes 51.5 25.3-24.5
13 @Penn State Nittany Lions 64.4 28.3-24.4
2016 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Oregon State Beavers 56.4 26.8-25.6
2 Indiana State Sycamores 95.0 48.3-6.5
4 Colorado State Rams 58.4 30.4-27.1
5 @Penn State Nittany Lions 35.6 26.4-28.8
6 Iowa Hawkeyes 37.6 22.5-26.8
7 @Maryland Terrapins 57.4 26.6-25.0
8 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 63.4 30.5-25.7
9 @Illinois Fighting Illini 59.4 27.1-25.4
10 Purdue Boilermakers 61.4 31.4-27.4
11 @Nebraska Cornhuskers 46.5 25.8-27.9
12 Northwestern Wildcats 49.5 23.1-24.5
13 @Wisconsin Badgers 37.6 22.8-26.1
2016 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Fresno State Bulldogs 68.3 32.5-26.2
2 Wyoming Cowboys 73.3 33.5-24.7
3 Oregon Ducks 43.6 29.2-31.5
4 @Northwestern Wildcats 59.4 26.3-23.1
5 Illinois Fighting Illini 57.4 28.6-26.6
7 @Indiana Hoosiers 69.3 33.0-26.0
8 Purdue Boilermakers 74.3 32.5-23.9
9 @Wisconsin Badgers 51.5 24.8-25.9
10 @Ohio State Buckeyes 41.6 25.7-28.6
11 Minnesota Golden Gophers 53.5 27.9-25.8
12 Maryland Terrapins 60.4 29.5-25.0
13 @Iowa Hawkeyes 47.5 24.7-26.5
2016 Northwestern Wildcats
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Western Michigan Broncos 50.5 27.0-25.4
2 Illinois State Redbirds 95.0 46.0-7.8
3 Duke Blue Devils 58.4 25.1-22.3
4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 40.6 23.1-26.3
5 @Iowa Hawkeyes 44.6 21.9-24.2
7 @Michigan State Spartans 42.6 21.3-24.1
8 Indiana Hoosiers 55.4 27.3-25.5
9 @Ohio State Buckeyes 35.6 21.2-26.2
10 Wisconsin Badgers 30.7 20.3-23.7
11 @Purdue Boilermakers 67.3 28.2-22.0
12 @Minnesota Golden Gophers 50.5 24.5-23.1
13 Illinois Fighting Illini 54.5 26.2-23.5
2016 Ohio State Buckeyes
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Bowling Green Falcons 71.3 32.0-23.4
2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane 69.3 29.7-23.5
3 @Oklahoma Sooners 41.6 27.2-27.7
5 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 68.3 29.5-22.8
6 Indiana Hoosiers 62.4 29.7-25.9
7 @Wisconsin Badgers 57.4 26.5-22.9
8 @Penn State Nittany Lions 60.4 26.9-24.9
9 Northwestern Wildcats 63.4 26.2-21.2
10 Nebraska Cornhuskers 58.4 28.6-25.7
11 @Maryland Terrapins 68.3 29.1-24.1
12 @Michigan State Spartans 48.5 24.5-25.3
13 Michigan Wolverines 56.4 26.9-24.2
2016 Penn State Nittany Lions
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Kent State Golden Flashes 72.3 30.4-21.8
2 @Pittsburgh Panthers 42.6 25.9-26.4
3 Temple Owls 58.4 27.5-25.1
4 @Michigan Wolverines 35.6 24.1-28.9
5 Minnesota Golden Gophers 64.4 28.8-26.4
6 Maryland Terrapins 56.4 27.4-26.0
8 Ohio State Buckeyes 39.6 24.9-26.9
9 @Purdue Boilermakers 68.3 31.9-24.6
10 Iowa Hawkeyes 42.6 24.5-25.6
11 @Indiana Hoosiers 52.5 30.2-27.6
12 @Rutgers Scarlet Knights 58.4 28.9-25.8
13 Michigan State Spartans 35.6 24.4-28.3
2016 Purdue Boilermakers
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 Eastern Kentucky Colonels 95.0 45.1-8.2
2 Cincinnati Bearcats 29.7 27.2-33.4
4 Nevada Wolf Pack 36.6 26.8-30.5
5 @Maryland Terrapins 38.6 26.1-29.2
6 @Illinois Fighting Illini 45.5 26.9-27.7
7 Iowa Hawkeyes 24.8 22.5-31.1
8 @Nebraska Cornhuskers 25.7 23.9-32.5
9 Penn State Nittany Lions 31.7 24.6-31.9
10 @Minnesota Golden Gophers 38.6 27.4-31.4
11 Northwestern Wildcats 32.7 22.0-28.2
12 Wisconsin Badgers 34.7 22.2-29.4
13 @Indiana Hoosiers 43.6 27.5-30.4
2016 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 @Washington Huskies 21.8 23.8-33.3
2 Howard Bison 95.0 44.7-8.2
3 New Mexico Lobos 50.5 28.2-28.3
4 Iowa Hawkeyes 30.7 23.0-30.7
5 @Ohio State Buckeyes 31.7 22.8-29.5
6 Michigan Wolverines 26.7 21.3-32.9
7 Illinois Fighting Illini 46.5 27.2-28.6
8 @Minnesota Golden Gophers 36.6 25.7-30.5
10 Indiana Hoosiers 48.5 28.6-31.5
11 @Michigan State Spartans 27.7 21.7-29.3
12 Penn State Nittany Lions 41.6 25.8-28.9
13 @Maryland Terrapins 40.6 26.2-28.5
2016 Wisconsin Badgers
Week Opponent Win% Avg Score
1 LSU Tigers 40.6 23.8-27.7
2 Akron Zips 66.3 26.4-20.6
3 Georgia State Panthers 73.3 29.6-22.5
4 @Michigan State Spartans 45.5 23.7-25.4
5 @Michigan Wolverines 35.6 23.5-28.2
7 Ohio State Buckeyes 42.6 22.9-26.5
8 @Iowa Hawkeyes 51.5 23.4-24.5
9 Nebraska Cornhuskers 48.5 25.9-24.8
10 @Northwestern Wildcats 69.3 23.7-20.3
11 Illinois Fighting Illini 63.4 26.5-24.1
12 @Purdue Boilermakers 65.3 29.4-22.2
13 Minnesota Golden Gophers 62.4 26.1-22.8