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Big Ten Football: 2021 SB Nation Pre-Season Media Predictions

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We polled our Big Ten brethren to get predictions on everything from conference championship winner to the league’s top punter.

2021 Big Ten Football Media Day
The media is in on Ohio State for 2021.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

All week, we’ve been taking a look at the upcoming 2021 football season, providing bold predictions, season-long expectations and a look at what the computers are saying for the Hawkeyes. On Wednesday, we expanded that scope to look at the Black Heart Gold Pants staff’s views on the entire Big Ten conference for this season.

Today, we’re expanding a bit further to look at how the rest of the media in the Big Ten footprint is expecting things to shake out in 2021. We asked all the SB Nation Big Ten sites to make their predictions on a slew of things ranging from division winners to top performers at individual positions.

As with our internal staff predictions, Ohio State is well represented. Wisconsin is also getting the benefit of the doubt amongst our brethren in the conference. However, there is a bit of love for our Hawkeyes and a few other surprises along the way.

Here’s a look at the Big Ten in 2021, as predicted by the media here at SB Nation.

East Division Winner: Ohio State

Since the Big Ten ditched the Legends and Leaders in 2014, the Ohio State Buckeyes have won the East all but twice. In 2015, Hawkeye fans will recall the Michigan State Spartans emerged victorious while in the following season, Penn State finished atop the East.

In 2021, the SBN voters are again predicting Ohio State to own their division. All 14 votes cast in our poll were for the Buckeyes to win their fifth consecutive division title and their 7th overall.

West Division Winner: Wisconsin

It’s not a major surprise, but the consensus among the SBN media is Wisconsin is yet again poised to win the West. After a downturn in 2020, the Badgers return plenty of talent and are projected just about everywhere, including by most of the staff her at The Pants, to return to form in 2021.

While Wisconsin was the leader in the clubhouse by a long shot, receiving 11 of the 14 total votes cast, they weren’t the only program picked to win. Minnesota, Nebraska and yes, Iowa all received one vote each to win the West in 2021. No, it was not BHGP that voted for the Hawkeyes.

Big Ten Champion: Ohio State

While the media seems up on Wisconsin for this season, the optimism ends with a West Division title. As with the East, all 14 of the votes cast in the SBN poll were for the Ohio State Buckeyes to win the Big Ten Championship. That would mark the fifth straight year OSU has won the conference and the sixth time since the advent of the Conference Championship Game in 2011.

Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin
Can Ryan Day and Ohio State make if 5 straight? Survey says yes!
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Coach of the Year: Ryan Day, Ohio State

As you might expect from a crowd that unanimously voted for the Ohio State Buckeyes to win the conference championship, voters in the SBN poll are also on OSU coach Ryan Day to win coach of the year.

However, this one was much closer with Day receiving just three total votes for the award. The remaining votes were split pretty evenly with Penn State’s James Franklin, Minnesota’s PJ Fleck, Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst and Indiana’s Tom Allen all receiving two votes. Maryland’s Mike Locksley, Nebraska’s Scott Frost (this seems like a good time to remind everyone to go read our preview of the Nebraska game) and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz all received one vote each. The vote for Ferentz was not submitted by BHGP.

Offensive Player of the Year: CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State

As with the Coach of the Year, it should come as little surprise that the media is expecting big things out of the Buckeye offense. In 2021, they’ll be led by redshirt freshman QB CJ Stroud and our voters are expecting big things.

Stroud came to OSU as a 5-star and the #2 QB prospect in the country in 2019. During his true freshman season, Stroud saw action in three games, including the CFP semifinal against Clemson. He didn’t attempt any passes, but did run for a 48-yard touchdown on his lone rush during a redshirt season.

Stroud received four of the 14 votes cast in our poll. He was followed closely by Indiana’s Michael Penix, who received three votes. Stroud’s teammate and likely top target Chris Olave received two votes, as did Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Another OSU receiver, Garrett Wilson, as well as Purdue WR David Bell and Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa each received one vote for offensive player of the year.

Defensive Player of the Year: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue

As with the Offensive Player of the Year, voting for Defensive Player of the Year in the conference was fairly tight with a number of players earnings votes. Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis came out ahead with four total votes - two more than the next closest vote-getter.

Karlaftis was a second team All-Big Ten selection a season ago despite missing significant time due to injury. He recorded a pair of sacks while playing in only two games in 2020. As a freshman in 2019, Karlaftis had 7.5 sacks, two passes defended, a forced fumble and an interception.

The remaining ten votes were split among eight other players. Northwestern safety Brandon Joseph and Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden each earned two votes. The remaining six votes were split with Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn, Ohio State defensive tackle Haskell Garrett, defensive end Tyreke Smith and cornerback Sevyn Banks each getting one vote apiece.

The Rest

Top Quarterback: CJ Stroud, Ohio State (6)

Others receiving votes: Michael Penix, Indiana (5), Graham Mertz, Wisconsin (1), Tanner Morgan, Minnesota (1), Taulia Tagovailoa (1)

Top Running Back: Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota (9)

Others receiving votes: Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State (2), Hasan Haskins, Michigan, (1), Noah Cain, Penn State (1), Tyler Goodson, Iowa (1)

Top Wide Receiver: Chris Olave, Ohio State (8)

Others receiving votes: David Bell, Purdue (5), Garrett Wilson, Ohio State (1)

Top Tight End: Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin (10)

Others receiving votes: Sam LaPorta, Iowa (2), Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State (1)

Top Interior Offensive Lineman: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa (9)

Others receiving votes: Cam Jurgens, Nebraska (1), Doug Kramer, Illinois (1), Logan Bruss, Wisconsin (1), Zak Zinter, Michigan (1)

Top Offensive Tackle: Thayer Munford, Ohio State (7)

Others receiving votes: Peter Skornoski, Northwestern (2), Daniel Faalele, Minnesota (1), Mike Miranda, Penn State (1), Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State (1), Rasheed Walker, Penn State (1), Ryan Hayes, Michigan (1)

Top Interior Defensive Lineman: Haskell Garrett, Ohio State (13)

Others receiving votes: None

Top Edge: George Karlaftis, Purdue (7)

Others receiving votes: Adan Hutchinson, Michigan (2), Tyreke Smith, Ohio State (2), Zach Harrison, Ohio State (2)

Top Linebacker (TIE): Micah McFadden, Indiana, Jojo Domann, Nebraska & Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin (3)

Others receiving votes: Olakunle Fatukasi, Rutgers (2), Jack Campbell, Iowa (1), Jake Hansen, Illinois (1)

Top Defensive Back: Tiawan Mullen, Indiana (6)

Others receiving votes: Brandon Joseph, Northwestern (4), Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska (1), Daxton Hill, Michigan (1), Jaquan Brisker, Penn State (1)

Top Kicker (TIE): Charles Campbell, Indiana & Connor Culp, Nebraska (4)

Others receiving votes: Matthew Trickett, Minnesota (2), Matt Coghlin, Michigan State (2), Mitchell Fineran, Purdue(1)

Top Punter: Tory Taylor, Iowa (12)

Others receiving votes: Adam Korsak, Rutgers (1)

Top Returner: Aron Cruickshank, Rutgers (9)

Others receiving votes: Jahan Dotson, Penn State(2), AJ Henning, Michigan (1), Demario McCall, Ohio State (1), Jayden Reed, Michigan State (1)


So there you have it: SB Nation’s Big Ten blog predictions for the 2021 season. In total, four Hawkeyes made the list. Tyler Linderbaum is picked as the interior lineman of the year while Tory Taylor is your punter (winner) of the year. Tyler Goodson and Sam LaPorta made the short list for their respective positions.

Where do you agree with the media? Where did they get it wrong? Let us know in the comments.