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Big Ten football preview - everything you need to know heading into media days this week

Credit: Ohio State athletics

As hard as it is to believe, we are right around 40 days to the start of the college football season. And as such, over the last couple weeks we've given our preseason power rankings in every league.

And most recently, we hit on the Big 12 - which is in the final year of its current 10-team format.

Today, we turn our attention to the Big Ten.

With Big Ten Media Days starting Tuesday, now felt like a good time to revisit this league, where Michigan (yes, Michigan!) is the reigning champ, but Ohio State enters the heavy favorite.

Also, odds to win the league are provided by DraftKings Sportsbook:

Big Ten East

1. Ohio State (-210): The Buckeyes should be back atop of the conference thanks in large part to the return of quarterback, CJ Stroud and running back, TreVeyon Henderson. The biggest offensive weapon the Buckeyes will have been probably Jaxon Smith-Njigba, especially after he ended the 2021 season with a record-breaking performance in the Rose Bowl. The offensive line should be one of the best in the country with Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson Jr. leading the way. Ryan Day’s team needed to improve on defense after last year, and they should do that in a major way after hiring Jim Knowles away from Oklahoma State to be the defensive coordinator. The key will be how the Buckeyes improve in the trenches, because the linebackers with Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers and defensive backs with Denzel Burke and Ronnie Hickman are very talented. Ohio State has a good schedule with Notre Dame at home in the non-conference, and then Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan at home in conference. They also get Michigan State and Penn State on the road. I think Ohio State wins at least 11 games this year and could win more. I also think the Buckeyes represent the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff and win the national title.

2. Michigan (+600): Jim Harbaugh finally got Michigan over the hump last year when the Wolverines beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines need help on defense after losing defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald to the NFL as well as players like Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. They also lost a few key pieces in the defensive backfield, which will be the biggest question mark. Maintaining the high-level of play is a big challenge for new defensive coordinator, Jesse Minter. New offensive coordinators, Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore have a lot of talent to work with. Cade McNamara will return to quarterback the offense, but J.J. McCarthy will get more looks and packages too. The running back tandem of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards will be one of the best backfields in all of college football. Ronnie Bell also leads a wide receiving corps that has a lot of talent after coming back from injury. The offensive line is a bit of a question mark, but Olusegun Oluwatimi should be one of the best centers in the country. Michigan has no one notable in the non-conference, but they have Iowa and Ohio State in conference on the road. They get Penn State and Michigan State at home too. I like the Wolverines to win around 10 games, but they have the talent to win more.

3. Michigan State (+2800): Mel Tucker elevated the Spartans to an 11-2 record last year, but they need to replace Kenneth Walker III at running back after he had a huge year last year. Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard will take up the reigns and will be more than capable of keeping the running backfield steady. Payton Thorne will be asked to do more at quarterback, and he should have help at receiver with Jayden Reed. The defense needs to step up, especially on the pass after being ranked as one of the worst in the Big Ten last year. The secondary is still a bit of a concern but did improve after adding Ameer Speed from Georgia. The linebacking corps should be more than solid, and the defensive line should also be fine with Jeff Pietrowski returning. The schedule for the Spartans sets up well. They get Washington on the road in the non-conference and then Michigan and Penn State on the road in conference. They also get Ohio State and Wisconsin at home in conference. I think the Spartans take a little step back, but still win around nine games overall.

4. Penn State (+1600): This year seems to be a crucial year for Penn State under James Franklin. The last two years have been a mixture of struggle and mediocrity. The improvement starts on offense with Sean Clifford at quarterback needing to be more consistent. The offensive line needs to improve as well because it gave up the most sacks of any team in the Big Ten. It also needs to help the offense establish the run more too. The wide receiving corps and running backs have good playmakers that’ll be able to step up too. Manny Diaz comes in as the defensive coordinator, and has his work cut out for him. The secondary should be the biggest bright spot, and the linebacking corps and the defensive line are question marks, but still have talent that will step up this year too. The schedule is decent with the Nittany Lions getting Auburn on the road in the non-conference and then Purdue and Michigan on the road in conference. They also get Minnesota, Ohio State, and Michigan State at home in conference. I think the Nittany Lions do rebound a bit and win around nine games but finish behind Michigan State due to the tiebreaker.

5. Maryland (+15000): Mike Locksley only won five games during his first two years, but the Terrapins won seven last year and posted their first winning record since 2014. Maryland will need to improve their defense to take the next step, after getting blown out by most of the top of the conference last season. Seven starters return on defense to help new defensive coordinator, Brian Williams, get acclimated. The defensive line seems to be the biggest question mark, while the linebackers and secondary should be better. The offense will carry the Terrapins this year with Taulia Tagovailoa returning at quarterback. He also has an extremely talented receiving corps to throw too with Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus, and Jacob Copeland, and the entire offensive line comes back which will be huge. The biggest question mark is at running back, but it should be fine with freshman Ramon Brown. I think the schedule sets up alright for Maryland because they get SMU at home in the non-conference, and they also get Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State at home in conference. They also get Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State on the road too. I think Maryland wins around seven games and keeps improving.

6. Indiana (+30000): This was a toss-up between Rutgers and Indiana, but I like Indiana a little more here. The Hoosiers took a major step back last year when they went 2-10 and lost every game in conference last year too. Head Coach Tom Allen revamped both sides of the ball by hiring two new coordinators and taking control of play-calling on defense. New offensive coordinator, Walt Bell, has a lot to fix thanks to a unit that only averaged 10 points per game. Connor Bazelak comes in at quarterback from Missouri which will help a ton. A lot of other transfers are coming in to help remedy any question marks at the skill positions of wide receiver and running back, especially after losing Tyler Fryfogle. The offensive line is a little bit of a question mark, so it’ll be interesting to see who can step up there. The defense should be in much better shape than the offense, but the linebackers will be a question mark. The line should be fine, but the best area will be in the secondary thanks to Tiawan Mullen coming back at cornerback. I think the schedule is still difficult for the Hoosiers though. They play Cincinnati on the road in the non-conference while also playing Ohio State and Michigan State on the road in conference. They play Michigan, Penn State, and Purdue at home too. I think the Hoosiers improve this year, but not by much. I like Indiana to win around four games and look more competitive than last year.

7. Rutgers (+50000): Greg Schiano has improved the Scarlet Knights since he’s been head coach, but still hasn’t had a winning record yet. He does get credit for that because the Knights only won seven games from 2014-2019. Rutgers struggled on offense last year and has uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position with it either going to Noah Vedral or Gavin Wimsatt. There’s some turnover at the skill positions that leave the receiving corps and backfield as the biggest question marks on the offense. The offensive line was bolstered with a handful of starters, while only two starters return from last year. They also only have five returning starters on defense. They were an okay at best scoring defense but were among the worst against the pass and the run overall in conference. The defensive line and linebacking corps are question marks just because of the turnover, but the secondary will be the strongest aspect as Kessawn Abraham and Avery Young headline the returners. The Scarlet Knights have a very difficult schedule this year with Boston College on the road in the non-conference and then Ohio State, Michigan State, and Maryland on the road in conference. They also get Iowa, Michigan, and Penn State at home in conference too. I think due to the hard schedule and roster turnover, the Scarlet Knights win around four games this year.

Big Ten West

1. Wisconsin (+1100): There’s no clear favorite in the West as compared to the East, but I’m going with the Badgers to win the division. Head coach Paul Chryst is one of the most consistent coaches in the country so there’s little worry here. The Badgers only return eight starters overall, however defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard, should still have one of the best defenses in the conference. The line, linebacking corps, and secondary all need to reload to some extent, but expect them to all have no issues doing that in spades. The defensive line and linebacking corps especially should be fine, because Wisconsin has been churning out talent there for a long time, and this year should be no different. The offense will be led by running back Braelon Allen who’s poised to have a huge year. Graham Mertz needs to improve at quarterback for the offense to take that next step after throwing eight touchdowns and six interceptions last year. The receiving corps has a lot of question marks after some turnover like tight end Jake Ferguson headed to the NFL. The schedule sets up well for Wisconsin with Washington State at home in the non-conference and then Purdue and Minnesota at home in conference. They also get Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa on the road too. I think the Badgers win around 10 games this year because of how good the schedule sets up for them.

2. Purdue (+3000): Last season was the Boilermakers best year under head coach Jeff Brohm since he’s been in West Lafayette. On offense, Aidan O’Connell will be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference after having a breakout year last season. The offensive line is losing two starters and will be a little bit of a question mark because of that. The biggest question mark is with the running game after only averaging 2.8 yards per carry. David Bell departing leaves the wide receiving room unproven but there’s still depth and talent there that it shouldn’t be an issue. Ron English is the new defensive coordinator. The defense will need to reload a bit because of a few departures, mainly George Karlaftis on the defensive line. The defensive line is a question mark, but the linebackers and secondary should be in a little bit of a better spot overall even with their own departures. The schedule sets up well because they miss Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. They go to Syracuse in the non-conference and then also travel to Maryland and Wisconsin in conference. They also get Penn State and Iowa at home too. I like the Boilermakers to win around nine games this year and keep the momentum going under coach Brohm.

3. Iowa (+2000): Kirk Ferentz’s team needs to improve on offense for the Hawkeyes to try and repeat as Big Ten West Champions. The offense struggled all year with generating big plays, third-down offense, and red-zone offense. The running back room is a bit of a question mark but should be fine with Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams taking over the reins. Alex Padilla should be the starting quarterback after getting some reps last year. The offensive line is the biggest question mark because of the loss of Tyler Linderbaum at center. The receivers should also be fine. The defense should return to being one of the best units in all of college football. The linebackers are a very strong unit with Jack Campbell and Sam Benson leading the way. The defensive line should be one of the best in the Big Ten with Logan Lee, Noah Shannon, and Lukas Van Ness being the anchors there. Riley Moss returns at cornerback and should help bolster the secondary too. I think Iowa has a decent schedule. They get Iowa State at home in the non-conference for the Cy-Hawk trophy and then get Michigan and Wisconsin at home in Big Ten play. They also play Ohio State and Purdue on the road too. I like the Hawkeyes to win nine games this year, but Purdue has the tiebreaker.

4. Minnesota (+2800): P. J. Fleck’s team will absolutely be in the mix with the top three teams in the division. Kirk Ciarrocca comes back as the offensive coordinator to try and ignite a spark for an offense that needs it after last year. Ciarrocca’s return should also help quarterback Tanner Morgan after he threw for 30 touchdowns the last time he was in Minnesota. The key will be on the ground with Mohamed Ibrahim coming back from a torn Achilles, which will immediately make the Golden Gophers one of the best rushing teams in the Big Ten. Minnesota’s best options at receiver are all coming back too. John Michael Schmitz comes back at center and will be one of the best interior offensive linemen in the country, but he’s the only returning starter up front. The defensive line is the biggest question mark on defense with a lot of departures. The linebackers should be fine with Mariano Sori-Marin coming back and then the secondary too should also be a strength too. The secondary has Justin Walley coming back at cornerback and then Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden at safeties. The Gophers need to reload a little bit but should be fine on defense with this foundation in place. I think the schedule for Minnesota is fine overall with the Gophers getting Colorado at home in the non-conference and then Purdue and Iowa at home in Big Ten play. They also get Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin on the road in conference too. I like the Golden Gophers to win around eight games and get back in the winning column after last year.

5. Nebraska (+2200): This is a make-or-break year for head coach Scott Frost at Nebraska. He has yet to have a winning record and the Cornhuskers only won three games a year ago. Major changes were made and that’s including the hiring of a new offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple. Whipple has some talent to work with, mainly new transfer quarterback from Texas, Casey Thompson. The weapons he’s got in the receiving corps are headlined by Omar Manning and Trey Palmer. The running back position should also be fine, but it will be by committee. The biggest weakness will be on the offensive line which struggled last year and is still questionable this year. The defense will be led by the linebackers with Garrett Nelson and Luke Reimer. The defensive line needs to be rebuilt, but they have help on the way with a few transfers that will start immediately. The biggest question mark on defense is in the secondary, so defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has some work to do on that end. I think the schedule sets up well for Nebraska to finally get to a bowl game. They get Oklahoma at home in the non-conference schedule and then Minnesota and Wisconsin at home in conference. They also get Purdue, Michigan, and Iowa on the road in Big Ten play. I like the Cornhuskers to win around six games and finally earn a spot in a bowl game under Scott Frost, but I don’t know if it will be enough for him to save his job still.

6. Illinois (+15000): The Fighting Illini surprised a lot of people last year and just missed out on a bowl game in Bret Bielema’s first season as head coach. The offense will need to be better for Illinois to improve, and Bielema hired Barry Lunney Jr. as the new offensive coordinator to help the offense be more balanced. Syracuse transfer quarterback, Tommy DeVito, will be the expected starter, after having an up-and-down career at Syracuse. The strength of the team will be the running game by Chase Brown and Josh McCray, and the receivers should be solid as well. The defense was a bright spot last year and has six returning starters. There are some questions surrounding the turnover on the defensive line and the secondary, but there’s some talent there still. The linebackers should be the strength of the defense, especially with Calvin Hart Jr. coming back. The Illinois schedule is difficult, and they get Virginia at home in the non-conference, while also getting Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Purdue at home in Big Ten play. They also play Wisconsin, and Michigan on the road. I think Illinois just misses out on a bowl game and wins around five games this year.

7. Northwestern (+40000): Northwestern needs to improve a lot after only winning three games last year. The biggest improvement is needed on offense, where the Wildcats struggled a ton on that end. The biggest strength the offense has will be on the ground with running backs Evan Hull and Cam Porter, and parts of the offensive line like Peter Skoronski at left tackle. There are major questions surrounding the quarterback position with the Wildcats only having 10 passing touchdowns in conference play. Ryan Hilinski will be the quarterback under center, but questions remain on how long of a leash he’ll have. The defense hasn’t been the same since Mike Hankwitz retired. The linebackers are a bit of a question, but the defensive line should be a little underrated. The secondary should be the strength with both Cameron Mitchell and A.J. Hampton back at cornerback. The schedule is difficult for the Wildcats. They get Duke at home in the non-conference and then Wisconsin and Ohio State at home in conference. They also get Penn State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Purdue on the road in Big Ten play. I think the Wildcats improve a bit on last year, but win around five games this year.

To read our mid-summer SEC preview click here

To read our mid-summer Pac-12 preview, click here

To read our mid-summer Big 12 preview click here

And for full Big Ten odds via DraftKings, click here

Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus


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