As Penn State approaches its bye week, it seemed like a good time for a quick peak around the Big Ten. These ratings are the completely unscientific musings of my expectations for each team heading into the season, and what they’ve shown us through the first five weeks of 2023.
It looked as though the Hoosiers were turning the corner ever so slightly thanks to an improved defense. While they gave Ohio State a battle in week one, it’s looking like many more wins will be hard to come by. Indiana slipped past Akron in week four thanks to the Zips missing a potentially game-winning chip shot field goal, and now the schedule will really toughen up.
The Terps are 5-0 and averaging 38.6 points per game behind quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Even if Maryland loses to Ohio State on Saturday, they should be 7-1 by the time they play Penn State on Nov. 4.
STOCK (ever so slightly) UP
The Wolverines defense is proving to be one of the very best in the nation, and have been downright stingy thus far. The offense hasn’t been exactly lighting up scoreboards, but have been doing what is needed as they build towards more challenges on the upcoming schedule.
STOCK WAY DOWN
Things are not well in Spartyland. We’ll leave it at that. They’re at 2-2, and a 2-10 finish is absolutlely in play.
The Buckeyes have a trend when breaking in new quarterbacks. Things look iffy at first, and gradually improve until they’re firing on all cylinders and one of the most explosive units in the nation. The Buckeyes are getting there on offense, and the defense has been phenomenol thus far.
The Scarlet Knights are 4-1 and the offense is looking much, much more competent under quarterback Gavin Wimsatt. Greg Schiano is starting to get things moving in his second stint in Piscataway, and Rutgers will be heading for a bowl game if they can at least get past Michigan State and Indiana.
Illinois lost some major talent to the NFL after coming close to winning the West in 2023, but I was expecting more progress under Bret Bielema. While I have never been a fan, he knows how to win and seemed to have been humbled from his tenure at Arkansas. The Illinois offense is a mess in need of a new quarterback, and they are not nearly as strong on both lines as expected.
We all knew the Hawkeyes would have a terrible offense and find ways to win with big plays on defense and special teams. That’s exactly what we have after five weeks, as Iowa holds a 4-1 record and will be a contender to win the West despite having an offense that would struggle to move the ball against 11 gnome statues.
The Gophers managed to squeak past Nebraska thanks to a few gift turnovers late in the game, were blown out by North Carolina, and lost to Northwestern with an embarassing fourth quarter collapse. They may struggle to make a bowl with the upcoming schedule. This will not go down as one of the better seasons under P.J. Fleck.
The Huskers have a recent history of giving teams a tough game but finding ways to lose. You can probably expect many games where they won’t even sniff victory with an offense that can’t stop turning the ball over and struggles to put points on the board.
The Wildcats are showing signs of life on offense and have doubled their win total after a 1-11 season, despite losing longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald abruptly in the summer. The Wildcats should be 3-3 after playing Howard on Saturday, and have a solid shot at reaching six wins and a bowl - possibly even winning the West Division with a few lucky bounces.
The Boilermakers won the West Division last season, but my expectations were low after losing many key players and a head coaching change. A 2-3 start comes as no surprise, although there’s some optimism that the offense may have turned a corner following a 44-13 victory over Illinois on Saturday.
STOCK SLIGHTLY UP
My expectations were for a good, but not great season for the Badgers. They stand at 3-1, with the loss at Washington State not looking quite as bad now that the Cougers have proven to be a PAC 12 contender. If they can prove to be better than Rutgers and Iowa in the next two weeks, a 10-win season is absolutely in the cards for the Badgers.
BONUS - FUTURE BIG TEN SQUADS
There’s an argument to be made for Oregon to be ranked atop the polls after the first month. They are an incredibly physical team on both sides of the ball. However, they also barely escaped a 2-3 Texas Tech squad, and have five games against teams currently ranked #18 or higher.
The Bruins are 3-1 and appear to be a few steps behind the contenders in the PAC 12. After suffering a 14-7 loss to a banged up Utah squad, they could be heading into a three game losing streak with Oregon State and Washington State coming the next two weeks. However, the schedule eases up after that so we’re probably looking at an underwhelming 7 or 8 win season.
STOCK SLIGHTLY DOWN
Caleb Williams and the Trojans offense have been absolutely phenomenal. The problem is the defense continues to have so many holes that it triggers viewers trypophobia. There was hope that the USC defense would see a stark turnaround after landing several new players in the portal this offseason, but it doesn’t look like it will make a difference. It will cost them with some heavyweights coming up on the schedule.
STOCK WAY UP
The only thing that is keeping me from stating that the Huskies deserve to be ranked #1 at this point in the season is a seven-point victory against Arizona on Saturday. Outside of that, they’ve punched everyone in the jaw and have a quarterback that may want to clear off some shelf space for the Heisman. The schedule is brutal here on out, starting with a showdown with Oregon on Oct. 14, but the Huskies may have the ability on both sides of the ball for a championship season.