The Biggest Questions Surrounding the Big Ten Heading into the 2020 Season

By David Regimbal on June 18, 2020 at 10:10 am
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging on, it remains to be seen whether college football will happen this fall in the capacity we're used to seeing. But the important first step of getting athletes back on campus for workouts is starting to take place, giving hope that we'll see football in some form in 2020.

Nine Big Ten teams went bowling last season with Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State and Minnesota coming away with wins. The league is hoping to build off that momentum, as six Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa) will likely enter the season ranked in the Top 25.

Here are the biggest questions for the league heading into the 2020 season.

Can Michigan Finally Break Through This Year?

Michigan hasn't won a Big Ten title since 2004 and hasn't been to the conference championship game since its inception in 2011. The title drought has been long and tortuous for the Wolverines as divisional rivals Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State have all claimed a conference championship in recent years (with the Buckeyes winning the last three).

Jim Harbaugh's return to Michigan in 2015 was supposed to provide a power shift in the East Division, but he has yet to beat Ohio State and make that December trip to Indianapolis. Will he finally get over the hump in 2020?

(Probably not.)

Will Minnesota Keep Rowing the Boat?

Minnesota has surged under head coach P.J. Fleck, which has steadily increased its win total from five in 2017, seven in 2018 to 11 last fall. 

It's been an impressive climb for a program that's set to compete for the Big Ten West Division title once again in 2020. It fell just one game short of reaching the conference title game last year when it lost to Wisconsin in the final regular season game of the year.

The offense returns nine starters, including quarterback Tanner Morgan, who threw for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior last year. But the unit will have to replace its top wideout in Tyler Johnson and lead running back in Rodney Smith, and the defense needs seven new starters.

Who Will Ignite Wisconsin's Offense?

Wisconsin has reached the conference title game in three of the last four seasons, as its steady, ball-control offense paved the way through the Big Ten West Division.

The path back to Indianapolis will be harder to navigate for the Wolverines after losing a generational talent in Jonathan Taylor at running back, as well as wide receiver Quintez Cephus.

Those names should sound familiar to Ohio State fans, as they were called early and often in the 2019 Big Ten title game. Both were a cornerstone in Wisconsin's offense the last few years, and head coach Paul Chryst has a tough job in replacing both in 2020.

The Badgers will likely turn to Nakia Watson in the backfield, who ran for 331 yards and two touchdowns on 74 carries as a freshman last year.

Will Ryan Day and Ohio State Stand Up to the Expectations?

Expectations are always high at Ohio State, as they were in 2019 despite a new head coach on the sideline in Ryan Day and a new quarterback behind center in Justin Fields.

Day and Fields stood up to those expectations in a huge way, running off arguably the most dominant 13-0 start to a season in program history.

The Buckeyes fell short against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, but with Fields back and Day igniting the roster with a top five recruiting class, its national title or bust once again in Columbus this fall.

Ohio State has a tough schedule to tackle with an early trip to Oregon, mid-season road games against Penn State and Michigan State, and of course, the season-ending matchup against Michigan at home.

If the Buckeyes can find suitable replacements for running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young, a return trip to the college football playoff is certainly on the table.

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