2020 Big Ten expert picks: Most overrated and underrated teams, order of finish, bold predictions


The college football world has been forced to wait longer than usual for it — and for a while there, it wasn’t even going to happen — but the 2020 Big Ten season officially starts this weekend. The Big Ten will be the fourth Power Five conference to begin play this season, following the ACC, SEC and the Big 12. But what can we expect from college football’s oldest conference in 2020?

With such strange circumstances for its season — an eight-game conference-only schedule with no bye weeks and an additional game during championship week — it’s not easy to predict what’s going to happen, but don’t worry, we’ve got all the experts you need here at CBS Sports to figure it out.

Ohio State is your obvious favorite in the conference, but is there anybody else that can challenge the Buckeyes for a Big Ten title? Are any of us willing to go out on a limb for one of them? And what about the Big Ten West? Who is the best team there, and can any of them challenge the East champion as the West looks for its first Big Ten title since the conference went to the geographical divisions in 2014?

Our CBS Sports college football experts have gathered to answer all of these questions ahead of the season.

Most overrated team

Michigan: It is always the talk of the Big Ten East, as in, “Will this be the year Jim Harbaugh finally does the one thing he was hired to do — beat Ohio State?” Maybe this will be the year, but there is no real basis for optimism. It’s a lot of talk for a team that has only finished as high as second in the division one time in coach Harbaugh’s tenure. With a tough cross-division schedule, even that may be a lot to ask of the Wolverines this season. — Palm (also Fornelli, Sallee, Kercheval)

Iowa: This is your annual reminder that Iowa has finished ranked three times in the last decade.  The Hawkeyes have finished above third place in their division/league twice since 2004. Throw in a player revolt involving race and a $20 million lawsuit, and this looks like it may be Kirk Ferentz’s final season. I mean, there must be a different standard in Iowa for what is expected for $4.9 million per year. — Dodd

Nebraska: There’s a certain trajectory you look for when predicting a breakthrough for programs. On the surface “Year 3 with Scott Frost” and “three-year starter Adrian Martinez” seems like the recipe for success, but I look to how Nebraska has fared against the best teams in the conference as the indicator for a return to Big Ten title competition. The Cornhuskers lost 48-7 to Ohio State and 37-21 to Wisconsin in 2019 with a 56-10 defeat to Michigan and 41-24 loss against the Badgers in 2018. The closest thing to a “signature win” in Big Ten play under Frost is the close loss to Ohio State in Year 1, so until the wins are there I’m going to wait on the Huskers hype. — Patterson

Michigan State: The Spartans are just 9-9 in Big Ten play over the past two seasons. They’re also adjusting to a new coach in Mel Tucker while returning no more than three starters on either side of the ball. Given all the transition and the fact that there is no appealing option at quarterback, this team could challenge the 2016 and 2006 teams for the title of worst of the century at Michigan State. A 3-5 record in the regular season should be considered a success for these Spartans, but don’t be surprised if they also struggle in winnable games against Rutgers, Maryland and Northwestern. — Cobb


Most underrated team

Indiana: The Hoosiers’ biggest problem is one of geography. Indiana went 8-4 during the regular season last year, but three of those four losses came to Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. The three Big Ten East powerhouses it has to play every year. The Hoosiers were 8-1 against everybody else and 3-0 in three games against Big Ten West teams. In other words, if the Hoosiers were in the Big Ten West, we’d be going into the 2020 season considering them a dark horse to compete with Wisconsin and Minnesota for a division title. Instead, we’re looking at another fourth-place finish at best. — Fornelli (also Patterson, Palm, Cobb)

Minnesota: It was a cute little story last year when the Golden Gophers entered rivalry weekend with the College Football Playoff in their sights. They should enter the truncated 2020 season with much more than just surface-level hype. Tanner Morgan is one of the top quarterbacks in the game, the return of wide receiver Rashod Bateman was one of the biggest stories of the offseason, running back Mohamed Ibrahim is one of the better running backs that you’ve never heard of and the offensive line will return intact. That’s one heck of an offensive foundation that should be even more effective than normal given the odd offseason. There are plenty of holes on defense … but the Gophers should be able to force most teams into offensive shootouts, which is exactly the style that they want to play. — Sallee (also Dodd)

Purdue: The Boilermakers were hit hard by the injury bug in 2019. Among those lost were star wide receiver Rondale Moore, quarterbacks Elijah Sindelar and Jack Plummer, guard DJ Washington and defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal. The results were predictable. Purdue finished 4-8 without any real wins of consequence. But last year’s injuries mean Purdue gets most of those stars back while fielding a more experienced roster overall. Most importantly, Moore has chosen to opt back into the season after initially opting out. The schedule is mostly favorable, too, with zero difficult cross-division games. The hardest games — against Wisconsin and Minnesota — are on the road, but that also means the Boilermakers presumably get their more winnable games at home. With Moore back, a healthier Boilermaker team should pick off one or two favorites their not supposed to. — Kercheval


Bold predictions

  • Dennis Dodd: The Big Ten will get left out of the playoff because either Ohio State will suffer some unforeseen upset and/or COVID-19 will have a significant impact on the league trying to play nine straight weeks. In other words, it will be tough to judge a champion that has potentially only played six games. 
  • Chip Patterson: Ohio State will lose a game. The Buckeyes have one of the most talented teams in program history and a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback. The defense is deep and has no shortage of pass rushers to step into the void left by Chase Young. Ohio State should win every game by double digits. I’m feeling frisky and saying it won’t. 
  • Tom Fornelli: Nobody will escape the Big Ten West without at least three losses.
  • Barrett Sallee: The Big Ten will enter mid-December with Minnesota and Wisconsin squarely in the mix. The winner of the West will be 60 good minutes of football in the Big Ten Championship Game away from making the CFP.
  • Ben Kercheval: The Big Ten will have three teams — Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota — finish in the top 10 at the end of the year. 
  • Jerry Palm: Big Ten teams are scheduled to play nine games. Most will not play more than seven.
  • David Cobb: This will be Jim Harbaugh’s final season as Michigan’s coach. The trajectory of his tenure has “mutual parting of ways” written all over it.

Big Ten predicted order of finish

Big Ten champion

Ohio State: Honestly, who else can you pick in this spot while pretending you’re serious and not just hoping to look like a genius later? Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten and has been for years. It has a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in Justin Fields and the most talented roster in the conference. None of which is to say that the Buckeyes are a sure thing — this isn’t the ACC, there are other contenders — but there isn’t any other reasonable choice here. — Fornelli (also everyone else)





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