We’re just a few days away from the beginning of the college football season, and while no Big Ten teams will be participating until next week, the conference is once again shaping up to have plenty of intriguing storylines and some of the top teams in the nation.
Presented by DraftKings Sportsbook, here are the favorites to win the conference, broken up by division:
Ohio State: +170 (+110 to win division)
Michigan: +175 (+120 to win division)
Penn State: +550 (+450 to win division)
Maryland: +8000 (+5000 to win division)
Michigan State: +15000 (+10000 to win division)
Rutgers: +30000 (+20000 to win division)
Indiana: +50000 (+30000 to win division)
Wisconsin: +750 (+130 to win division)
Iowa: +1200 (+240 to win division)
Illinois: +3000 (+550 to win division)
Minnesota: +4000 (+600 to win division)
Nebraska: +6000 (+1400 to win division)
Purdue: +10000 (+2200 to win division)
Northwestern: +30000 (+10000 to win division)
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on in the Big Ten this season:
Ohio State and Michigan at the top again
As is most often the case, Ohio State and Michigan are the odds-on favorites in the conference to begin the season. In terms of betting odds, they are in a virtual deadlock to win the conference, with the Buckeyes at +170 and the Wolverines at +175, although the slight favorite between the two has flip-flopped a few times. It seems likely that the winner of their Nov. 25 matchup will represent the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff.
The annual matchup between Ohio State and Michigan is always one of the most intense games of the year, but it may have some added motivation for the Buckeyes in 2023. After eight consecutive defeats, the Wolverines have won “The Game” each of the last two years. To call Ohio State obsessed with Michigan would be an understatement, and despite a College Football Playoff appearance and near-victory in the national semifinals last season, head coach Ryan Day’s seat has begun to ever so slightly heat up. Assuming another double-digit win season — anything less is surprising at Ohio State — Day would most likely get another year of leeway regardless of how his team performs in the regular-season finale, but a win against its biggest rival would go a long way.
There has been coaching controversy in Ann Arbor recently too. It was initially reported that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh would be suspended for the first four games of the season after an investigation into alleged recruiting violations, but that penalty was then retracted. On Monday, though, the school self-imposed a three-game suspension for this season. Michigan should have no issue breezing past its first three opponents, but a self-imposed suspension indicates at least some admitted guilt on its end.
No matter what happens with Harbaugh, though, Michigan will be in the mix for a third straight conference championship.
New coaches in the West
The college football coaching carousel made some of its biggest stops in the Big Ten West this offseason. Both Wisconsin and Nebraska made home-run hires after midseason coaching changes, bringing in coaches with winning pedigrees.
The Badgers brought in Luke Fickell, one of the most sought-after coaching prospects over the last few years. In 2021, he led Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff — the only Group of Five team to qualify since the event’s inception. Wisconsin has a long-standing tradition of ground-and-pound football, but Fickell is switching things up. The Badgers may have a formidable aerial attack this season with quarterback Tanner Mordecai transferring in from SMU, and they are the betting favorite to win the division.
Nebraska may not be as turnkey as Wisconsin, but Matt Rhule has been successful at every college program he’s led. While his short-lived NFL tenure with the Carolina Panthers was rocky, his college resume is unquestionable, featuring successful builds at Temple and Baylor. The Cornhuskers consider themselves to be a sleeping giant, and if there’s someone out there with the tools to wake Nebraska up from its slumber, Rhule is probably him. The Cornhuskers could be a sneaky team to watch for this year.
Elsewhere in the division, Purdue hired Ryan Walters after Jeff Brohm left for Louisville, and Northwestern will be led by interim coach David Braun after Pat Fitzgerald was let go in the wake of a hazing scandal.
A breakthrough year for Penn State?
Ohio State and Michigan are clear favorites to win the Big Ten East, but Penn State has been a trendy pick to challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The running back duo of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen is undeniably explosive, but the weight of Penn State’s lofty expectations rests upon the shoulders of quarterback Drew Allar. Formerly ranked as the top quarterback in his class, Allar sat behind Sean Clifford last season and will step into his first year as the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback with excitement abound. Many think Allar could be the type of player to take Penn State to the next level offensively, and when paired with a high-level defense, that could be just what head coach James Franklin needs to have his best season since winning the Big Ten in 2016. Allar will also have the benefit of six weeks of gameplay before traveling to Ohio State on Oct. 21.
Allar is almost entirely unproven, but if he’s the real deal, Penn State will be too.
Northwestern reeling from scandal
Northwestern was rocked this offseason by a hazing scandal within the program that led to the firing of Fitzgerald. The Wildcats fell on hard times on the field over the past two seasons — winning a combined four games — and dropped to even lower lows with the distressing acts described in the reports that emerged in July. Fitzgerald was initially suspended for just two weeks after an internal investigation was completed, but once details emerged about the inappropriate antics taking place in the Wildcats’ locker room, Fitzgerald was fired. The initial mishandling of the situation led to even further scrutiny placed upon the university’s administration.
Off-the-field issues aside, Northwestern projects to be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten once again this year. The Wildcats are runaway favorites to finish last in the Big Ten West, and only Rutgers and Indiana have the same or worse odds in the conference at-large. It’s shaping up to continue being a very tough year in Evanston.
Maryland’s last year with Tagovailoa
Maryland has seen steady progress under Mike Locksley, and 2023 is its best chance yet to put together what can be classified as a breakout year. The Terps have won bowl games in back-to-back years and last season won their most games in a year since 2010, but are still waiting for a breakthrough that will make waves in the national scene.
When Locksley arrived at Maryland in 2019, the program was reeling. Since then, he has changed the perception of the program from a bottom-feeder in the Big Ten to what some consider one of the five teams with the most talent in the conference. The Terps once again have plenty of talent at skill positions on offense, and despite question marks on the other side of the ball, return some key pieces with the upside to have a defense ranked in the top half of the league.
Maryland should consider itself unfortunate that quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa will be gone before the Big Ten scraps divisions and his team escapes annual matchups with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, but Tagovailoa is one of the best — and most experienced — quarterbacks in the conference. As always, it’ll be a difficult challenge for the Terps to knock off one of those three aforementioned teams, but on paper this is likely their best team since Locksley took over.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.