Success is a widely used term across the Big Ten. And it has different meaning at different places.
A successful season for Ohio State would have been another appearance in the College Football Playoff – and winning it all again – but the Buckeyes fell short of lofty expectations despite finishing 12-1 and winning the Fiesta Bowl.
But making the CFP isn’t every team’s chief goal. Illinois, on one hand, might deem a six-win campaign a successful one. Purdue might just be happy to win more than one Big Ten game for the first time since 2012.
There are numerous ways of defining success within the conference. Here’s a gauge of what would be deemed a successful year for each Big Ten program.
The Illini are hoping to put the Tim Beckman era behind them after failing to qualify for a bowl game for the third time in the past four seasons. The man tasked with getting the program back to a respectable level is former NFL head coach Lovie Smith.
Smith brings some NFL pedigree to Champaign and could give the Illini an edge on the recruiting trail. But a roster lacking much talent will be a tough hurdle to overcome during his first season at the helm.
Illinois has a long way to go before it’s a prominent program again. But Illini fans should be loving Lovie if this team gets back to a bowl game.
2016 will be a success for Illinois if: The Illini win six games and get back to a bowl game.
The Hoosiers made it to their first bowl game since 2007 and made only its second bowl appearance since 1993. But after years of mediocrity, Hoosiers fans will certainly take a 6-7 season even if it ended with a loss in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Indiana will have to replace a trio of offensive stars. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld, running back Jordan Howard and offensive tackle Jason Spriggs have all departed.
2016 will be a success for Indiana if: The Hoosiers get back to a bowl game and perhaps even win it this time around.
The Hawkeyes are coming off of a magical 2015 season that will be tough to top, in all honesty. Iowa played a perfect regular season before losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and Stanford in the Rose Bowl. But Iowa’s 12-2 season was one of the best stories in college football and removed coach Kirk Ferentz off the proverbial hot seat.
Much of the talent from last year’s squad is returning, including quarterback C.J. Beathard. With no real contenders in the Big Ten West, Iowa should make it back to the conference championship game.
2016 will be a success for Iowa if: The Hawkeyes win 10 games and get back to the Big Ten title game.
The Terrapins begin a new era with D.J. Durkin at the helm. Maryland returns a decent amount of talent from last year’s 3-9 team.
The Terps actually could start the season 4-0 with non-conference games against Howard, Florida International and UCF before playing Purdue following the bye week. Don’t be surprised if it happens, but Maryland will likely fall back to earth either way during Big Ten play. Maryland’s overall lack of depth won’t be enough to contend, even if Durkin has the program heading in the proper direction.
2016 will be a success for Maryland if: The Terps win a couple of Big Ten games and at least five games overall while showing progress in Durkin’s first year.
Jim Harbaugh has self-imposed incredible expectations for Michigan during his second season. But Harbaugh is also a personality who enjoys putting the pressure on himself, rather than his team.
Michigan returns plenty of members from last year’s elite defense, while Harbaugh will have to develop another quarterback after Jake Rudock departed. Road trips to arch-rivals Michigan State and Ohio State won’t be easy, but the Wolverines also have a good chance of starting the season 7-0.
2016 will be a success for Michigan if: The Wolverines end their losing skid to either Ohio State or Michigan State – although both would be preferred – and win the Big Ten.
Mark Dantonio will be tasked with reloading rapidly yet again, and the Big Ten East isn’t getting any easier. The Spartans will be without the winningest quarterback in program history, Connor Cook, and also lack many proven weapons.
Michigan State’s defense should still be a strength and the Spartans will always bring a physical element to every game.
2016 will be a success for Michigan State if: The Spartans get respectable quarterback play and earn 10 wins for the fourth consecutive season.
The Gophers should be one of the better teams in the Big Ten West in coach Tracy Claeys’ first full season. Minnesota has a good amount of talent returning and will have a lot of explosive, but underrated weapons on offense.
Last season Minnesota snuck into a bowl game despite winning only five regular season games. The Gophers shouldn’t have a problem qualifying for a bowl this year. If quarterback Mitch Leidner shows improvement, Minnesota could be a factor in the Big Ten West.
2016 will be a success for Minnesota if: Minnesota wins eight games for the third time in four seasons and wins its second consecutive bowl game.
Nebraska also could be a factor in the Big Ten West during Mike Riley’s second season. The Huskers qualified for a bowl game with a 5-7 record last season and knocked off an indifferent UCLA team in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is back and the Huskers should have some talented receivers this season. Defining Nebraska’s ceiling as a program is difficult, but Riley will have to do better than 6-7.
2016 will be a success for Nebraska if: The Huskers upset Oregon in Lincoln, win at least eight games and win another bowl game.
Northwestern is a hard program to gauge, because just getting to a bowl game still feels like an overachievement. But coach Pat Fitzgerald has taken a once-dormant program to new heights and the Wildcats won 10 games for the fourth time in school history.
The Wildcats have a stud tailback in Justin Jackson, but will need quarterback Clayton Thorson to elevate his play substantially. Northwestern also faces road trips to Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota this season.
2016 will be a success for Northwestern if: Fitzgerald finds a way to an 8-4 season and the Wildcats upset either the Buckeyes, Spartans or Hawkeyes on the road.
Buckeyes fans probably remain in playoffs-or-bust mode, but achieving that goal will be much harder this season.
Urban Meyer’s squad loses 16 starters from last year’s team, but J.T. Barrett is back to lead the Buckeyes at quarterback. Barrett could be a Heisman Trophy finalist, but he will need to be spectacular to overcome all of these roster losses.
2016 will be a success for Ohio State if: Meyer’s brilliance and Barrett’s talent overcome the roster attrition and get Ohio State back to the Big Ten championship game.
It’s time for Penn State to show some progress under James Franklin. The third-year coach has posted consecutive 7-6 seasons to start his Penn State tenure. With a new offense and plenty of returning pieces, the Nittany Lions will need to take strides in 2016.
Franklin also needs to get a win against the Big Ten East’s best. He’s 0-6 against Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State during his tenure.
2016 will be a success for Penn State if: Franklin gets over the 7-6 hump while knocking off one of the Big Ten East’s best in the process.
It’s likely do or die for Purdue coach Darrell Hazell. But what does Hazell have to do to keep his job?
The Boilermakers have won six combined games during Hazell’s three-year tenure. So would a four win season be enough to preserve Hazell’s job? Maybe.
2016 will be a success for Purdue if: It wins four games. And that still might not be enough for Hazell to keep his job. But, progress is progress.
Rutgers is under new management with coach Chris Ash at the helm and the former Ohio State assistant was an optimal hire for a program looking to return to relevancy.
The problem is the Scarlet Knights don’t have a lot of talent and will need a year or two of good recruiting to really revive the program.
2016 will be a success for Rutgers if: The Scarlet Knights are respectable and flirt with a bowl game in Ash’s first season.
Wisconsin has been the model of consistency in the Big Ten since the start of the millennium and won 10 games once again during Paul Chryst’s first season.
The Badgers have an experienced offensive line and should see an improvement in its usually dominant running game. But the losses of quarterback Joel Stave and leading receiver Alex Erickson will hurt.
Even worse, Wisconsin faces an arduous stretch during Big Ten play and that might be putting it lightly. Wisconsin plays Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern all in a row, with only the Ohio State and Nebraska games at home. That’ll make another 10-win season even more impressive for the Badgers.
2016 will be a success for Wisconsin if: The Badgers survive that beastly Big Ten stretch and win nine games.