See where Big Ten football media think IU, Purdue will finish in 2021

Zach Osterman
Indianapolis Star

BLOOMINGTON – Fall's first flicker, Big Ten football media days, has arrived. 

The conference will hold its kickoff showpiece in Indianapolis this year, at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Big Ten title game has been played since its inception and where the national championship game will be played this winter. 

For some years now, Ohio State media have conducted an informal but entirely professional poll of conference media, asking for a projected division finish, a projected title game winner and preseason offensive and defensive players of the year. This summer, the estimable Nathan Baird asked me to participate, with the results landing for public consumption this morning. 

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Here's how things shook out:

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State (34 first-place votes) 238

2. Penn State 192

3. Indiana 169

4. Michigan 144

5. Maryland 79

6. Rutgers 77.5

7. Michigan State 52.5

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin (29 first-place votes) 233 points

2. Iowa (5 first-place votes) 202 points

3. Northwestern 160

4. Minnesota 146

5. Nebraska 91.5

6. Purdue 72.5

7. Illinois 47

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Ohio State over Wisconsin (28)

Ohio State over Iowa (5)

Wisconsin over Ohio State (1)

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Chris Olave caught seven touchdowns in seven games last season, including two in a College Football Playoff semifinal win over Clemson.

1. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (11 first-place votes) -- 58 pts

2. Michael Penix, QB, Indiana (8) -- 44.5

3. Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota (4) -- 36

4. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa (1) -- 13

5. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State (1) -- 12

6. David Bell, WR, Purdue (2) -- 10

7. (tie) CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State (2) -- 6

7. (tie) Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State (1) -- 6

7. (tie) Graham Mertz, QB, Wisconsin (1) -- 6

10. Tyler Goodson, RB, Iowa (1) -- 5

11. Ty Fryfogle, WR, Indiana (1) -- 4

12. Tanner Morgan, QB, Minnesota (1) -- 3.5

Yes, all 12 players received a first-place vote. 

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Northwestern defensive back Brandon Joseph celebrates after intercepting a pass in the end zone during the first half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game against Ohio State, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Indianapolis. Joseph was selected to The Associated Press All-America first-team defense, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

1. Brandon Joseph, S, Northwestern (11 first-place votes) -- 49

2. George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue (8) -- 33

3. Haskell Garrett, DT, Ohio State (5) -- 30.5

4. Micah McFadden, LB, Indiana (6) -- 28

5. Olakunle Fatukasi, LB, Rutgers (3) -- 18

6. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan -- 11

7. (tie) Jack Sanborn, LB, Wisconsin -- 7

7. (tie) Tiawan Mullen, CB, Indiana (1) -- 7

9. Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State -- 3.5

10. (tie) Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State -- 3

10. (tie) Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State -- 3

12. (tie) Boye Mafe, DE, Minnesota -- 2

12. (tie) Chris Bergin, LB, Northwestern -- 2

12. (tie) Cam Taylor-Britt, CB, Nebraska -- 2

12. (tie) Jake Hansen, LB, Illinois -- 2

16. (tie) JoJo Domann, S/LB, Nebraska -- 1

16. (tie) Tyshon Fogg, LB, Rutgers -- 1

16. (tie) Owen Carney, LB, Illinois -- 1

For the sake of transparency, Zach's personal ballot: 

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State

2. Penn State

3. Michigan

4. Indiana

5. Maryland

6. Michigan State

7. Rutgers

The offseason talent drain in Columbus feels more pronounced than usual, but the gap remains so wide to the rest of the league that it feels hard to pick against the Buckeyes winning the East again. 

After that, throw a blanket, for me, over IU, Michigan and Penn State. I'd gladly consider shuffling that order based on various arguments. Indiana having what's likely the most difficult schedule of the three is what pushed the Hoosiers into fourth in my ballot. 

Maryland feels a cut above Rutgers and Michigan State (and Sparty's quarterback uncertainty means I might regret even voting them sixth), but again, I'm willing to shuffle those next three. 

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin

2. Minnesota

3. Iowa

4. Northwestern

5. Purdue

6. Nebraska

7. Illinois

Again, Wisconsin — wherever you fall on Graham Mertz — feels a class above the field. I'm high on Minnesota, and think the Gophers and Hawkeyes are probably co-second best here.

Not sure how much separates 4-6, but I think all three are probably ahead of Illinois in Bret Bielema's first year.

TITLE GAME WINNER

Ohio State (narrowly) over Wisconsin

At some point the West will beat the East. But not this year.

OFFENSIVE PLAYERS

1. David Bell (OPOY)

2. Chris Olave

3. Michael Penix

As with all receivers, Bell's success is going to depend upon Purdue's wider offensive structure. But he is, for me, the most purely talented player in the league, the player with the most jaw-dropping, did-he-just-do-that moments. I'll plant my flag on him as a first-round pick next spring, and there's nothing you can do about it. 

Penix has a very real shot at this award if he can stay healthy. He's the best quarterback in the league when he's full strength, probably by some distance. The health is just a big question mark, but if he can play 12 games this fall, I think we're going to see a new level from him. 

DEFENSIVE PLAYERS

1. Tiawan Mullen (DPOY)

2. Ryan Sanborn

3. Micah McFadden

I believe I was the only media member who put Mullen anywhere on this list. I also voted Mullen defensive player of the year at the end of last season, so at least I'm consistent.

As with Bell, he plays a position from which it's generally hard to win awards like this. But, like Bell, he's the most purely talented defender I've seen in the league in the last 12 months. So here we are.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.