Aug 30, 2023 - Sports

Your guide to 2023 Big Ten football

A Wisconsin Badgers football helmet with the Big Ten logo sits on a case during the Big Ten Conference Media Days in July. Photo: James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big Ten college football season is about to begin.

Why it matters: It's the last season the teams will compete in their existing divisions as the conference is set to expand next year.

Catch up fast: Here is a quick preview from our Axios Local reporters on how their respective teams stack up in 2023.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Photo of a football player on the field
Star wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. at the Ohio Stadium in April. Photo: Ben Jackson/Getty Images

The No. 3 OSU Buckeyes are poised to compete for their first national title since 2015 under fifth-year head coach Ryan Day, writes Axios Columbus' Tyler Buchanan.

  • Mostly, the team is focused on avenging two-straight losses to its maize and blue rival up north.

The intrigue: Kyle McCord will be the Buckeyes' starting quarterback in the first game against Indiana — but Day says Devin Brown will also get some play time.

  • The two players are battling to replace NFL-bound C.J. Stroud.

Michigan Wolverines

Photo of a football player on the field looking at coaches
J.J. McCarthy during the Michigan spring game in April. Photo: Jaime Crawford/Getty Images

Ann Arbor is buzzing with national championship expectations — and with good reason, writes Axios Detroit's Joe Guillen.

The intrigue: Those aspirations hinge on star quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who can be turnover-prone despite his dynamic athleticism.

Yes, but: The early-season cupcake schedule makes coach Jim Harbaugh's three-game suspension a virtual non-issue.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Photo of a football player scoring a touchdown in a packed stadium
Running back Nicholas Singleton (10) after running for an 80-plus-yard touchdown against Utah Utes in the Rose Bowl. Photo: Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Rosy projection or rose-colored glasses? Only time will tell for Penn State, which is coming off an 11-win season and a Rose Bowl win, writes Axios Philadelphia's Isaac Avilucea.

Zoom in: The Nittany Lions have one of the best returning rosters in the Big Ten and are being lauded as potential College Football Playoff contenders.

Yes, but: Penn State must get past Ohio State and Michigan, both ranked in the Top 5 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, to do so.

  • Easier said than done, considering that head coach James Franklin is a combined 4-14 against those teams. Plus, he's never beat both in the same season.

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana University coach Tom Allen during a game last year. Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

IU regrettably starts its season against Ohio State, and even optimistic fans can't say this is ideal, writes Axios' Lindsey Erdody.

State of play: The Hoosiers only won six games during the last two seasons combined, but defensive changes and stronger wide receivers on the roster could make a big difference this year.

  • Yes, but: Coach Tom Allen still hasn't publicly said who the starting quarterback will be.

My prediction: It'll be a rollercoaster, but IU just might eke out six wins to qualify for a bowl game.

Michigan State Spartans

Head coach Mel Tucker of the Michigan State Spartans last November. Photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Coach Mel Tucker is under pressure to right the ship and justify his $95 million contract after the Spartans stumbled to a 5-7 record last season, writes Axios Detroit's Joe Guillen.

What to watch: The starting quarterback is still a mystery with the season opener just days away.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Photo of a football player running on the field
Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterback Gavin Wimsatt runs during a game against Maryland last November. Photo: Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Head coach Greg Schiano is still trying to recapture the magic from his first run at Rutgers (2005-2011), when he led the team to several winning seasons.

  • Since returning in 2019, Schiano and Rutgers have been basement dwellers in the Big Ten East.

What's new: Not a lot, which is a good thing. Several veterans return.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Photo of football players tackling
The Iowa defense surrounds a Nevada running back during a game last year at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Photo: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The offense is going to be low-scoring and the defense will be nasty — just another normal fall in Iowa City, writes Axios' Everett Cook.

Driving the news: ESPN ranks the Hawkeyes defense No. 6 in the country, noting the team is "78-36 since 2014 and 51-23 since 2017, despite having an offense that ranks 91st and 93rd nationally in scoring over the same two spans."

  • And, sure, the offense averaged just under 18 points per game last season, but Iowa gets to avoid both Michigan and Ohio State in conference play this year. A trip back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game might be in the cards.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Photo of football players tackling on field
Jer'Zhan Newton (4 )and Calvin Hart Jr. (5 )of the Illinois Fighting Illini sack Payton Thorneof the Michigan State Spartans in November. Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Illini were a breath of fresh air last season under new head coach Bret Bielema, winning eight games and making a bowl game for the first time since 2019, writes Axios Chicago's Justin Kaufmann.

Yes, but: The team lost several stars to the NFL draft, including running back Chase Brown and cornerback Devon Witherspoon.

The intrigue: The Illini still have several returning players on the defense, which led the nation in scoring last season.

Purdue Boilermakers

Photo of man speaking into microphone at podium
Purdue Boilermakers head coach Ryan Walters during the Big Ten Conference Media Days in July at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Photo: James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Purdue has a new head coach this year, with Ryan Walters taking over after spending the last two years as defensive coordinator at Illinois, writes Axios' Lindsey Erdody.

State of play: The Boilermakers had a great season last year, going 8-6 overall, winning the Big Ten West division and playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Yes, but: The team lost five players to the NFL, including quarterback Aidan O'Connell.

My prediction: Purdue will still be good — not as good, but good enough to make it their third bowl game in a row.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Photo of football player on the field
Minnesota wide receiver Le'Meke Brockington during the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl last December. Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Gophers are coming off a 9-4 season, but graduated two All-Americans — center John Michael Schmitz and running back Mohamed Ibrahim, writes Axios Twin Cities' Nick Halter.

  • While there's still some promising talent on the roster, a much tougher schedule this year has lowered expectations for the program.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Photo of cheerleaders waving Go Big Red flags on football field
Nebraska Cornhuskers cheerleaders at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Photo: Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The Cornhuskers invested big in the head coach, bringing in Matt Rhule, formerly of the Carolina Panthers.

  • The Nebraska faithful are hoping Rhule can turn around what was a rough 2022 and get them back to a bowl game, especially with new quarterback Jeff Sims, who transferred from Georgia Tech.

Wisconsin Badgers

Photo of a football player on the field.
Maema Njongmeta of the Wisconsin Badgers rushes the quarterback against the Maryland Terrapins in November. Photo: John Fisher/Getty Images

The Badgers begin a new era with first-year head coach Luke Fickell.

Zoom in: The coaching staff is implementing new systems on both sides of the ball, which may change the run-first mentality at Camp Randall.

  • Look for the Badgers to air it out.

The other side: Maema Njongmeta returns at linebacker to anchor what could be a much-improved defense.

The bottom line: A weak Big Ten West schedule could bring the Badgers back.

Northwestern Wildcats

Photo of a man walking with his head down
Northwestern Wildcats interim head coach David Braun after speaking to the media during the Big Ten Conference Media Days. Photo: James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It's been an ugly offseason for the Cats, writes Axios Chicago's Justin Kaufmann.

What's happening: A hazing scandal engulfed the football team and led to the firing of head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

  • The team promoted new defensive coordinator David Braun to interim head coach.

Zoom in: Northwestern lost several starters from last season, including offensive lineman Peter Skoronski, who was selected by the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Yes, but: Maybe losing players from last year won't hurt, since the team went 1-11.

  • The current players have rallied around the new head coach and the football program, but even winning games may not remove the stain of this continuing scandal.

Maryland Terrapins

Photo of football player running with a ball.
Taulia Tagovailoa looks to pass in the Duke's Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium in December. Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Terrapins are hoping that offseason continuity will translate into more wins this season.

Zoom in: Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is the school's all-time passing leader as he enters his senior year.

The other side: The defensive line could be better after using the transfer portal to collect more talent up front.

Yes, but: Maryland has to face Big Ten East powerhouses Penn State and Michigan this year.

Go deeper