Big Ten football begins this week. Just like last year, I’ll be showing up every Monday to sift through the best, worst, and most Iowa of the week. Before Nebraska kicks off the Matt Rhule era on Thursday night at Minnesota, let’s lay out some predictions and things to monitor as another year begins.
Biggest Win of the Offseason - Nebraska Hires Matt Rhule
Speaking of Rhule, his hiring is a significant one. While his college football coaching record is just a few games above .500 and his time in the NFL was an abject failure, there’s still no discounting the quality of rebuild jobs that Rhule has done in the past. Winning at Temple and the reclamation project at Baylor prove why this seems to be a good fit. The thing to watch is that Scott Frost seemed like the right fit, too. Nevertheless, Nebraska will be hoping for instant returns on its investment as they seek their first winning season since…gulp…2016. I clearly know that Wisconsin made a splash hire, too. But Matt is State College’s own!
Biggest Loss of the Offseason - Northwestern
I’m not rehashing this. But there were a lot of embarrassing details from a program that was already coming off a 1-11 trainwreck of a season.
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year - Marvin Harrison, Jr.
Four of the first 11 Biletnikoff Awards went to Big Ten receivers, but none have since 2004 when Michigan’s Braylon Edwards claimed that trophy (bonus points if you remember who won the first ever of these awards). Harrison, of course the son of Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison and a Philadelphia native, is the favorite to do so this year. Last year, Harrison was near uncoverable as he recorded 77 catches for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Marvin Harrison Jr is back in action in 1️⃣0️⃣ days pic.twitter.com/hRt0KEgFrZ— College Football Report (@CFBRep) August 23, 2023
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year - Abdul Carter
Homer pick - and I am most often told I’m not homer enough in this weekly column. Nevertheless, the AP Preseason All-American defense has plenty of Big Ten flavor. But Carter seems to be a little under the radar following his outstanding freshman year. With that experience and more familiarity with Manny Diaz’s defensive system, look for Carter to make a Micah Parsons-esque jump in 2023.
● LB Spotlight ●— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) August 24, 2023
Abdul Carter - Penn State
• Carter is a menace rushing the passer & getting into the backfield. Last season as a Freshman he had 56 Tackles, 10.5 Tackles for Loss, 6.5 Sacks, 4 Pass Breakups and 2 Forced Fumbles. pic.twitter.com/rMyNUSYoIn
Most Intriguing Freshman - Tony Rojas
Can I stay with the homer vibes for one more moment before delving full on into the Big Ten West? I can’t wait to see Rojas on the field as a reserve linebacker who should see his role grow throughout the season and also as a special teams regular. Penn State’s defensive depth is well known, but I do have a feeling that Rojas will break through and make his name known around the league by the end of the year.
AND NOW WE ENTER THE WILD WORLD OF THE BIG TEN WEST…
Most Intriguing Transfer(s) - The West Quarterbacks
They’re everywhere. Six of the seven teams in the West will be featuring starting quarterbacks who were taking snaps someplace else in 2022. Only Minnesota will start a quarterback - Athan Kaliakmanis - who was with his team and he was only a part-time starter behind Tanner Morgan. The division race is certainly intriguing and whatever quarterback most quickly settles into a new spot will go a long way determining who is playing in Indianapolis in December.
Most Iowa Thing of the Offseason - The Brian Ferentz contract
In another well-covered story, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz will be working on a one-year contract that will require that Iowa averages 25 points per game and reaches a bowl game in order for it to be renewed. That’s a lot of safeties.
Most Big Ten West Thing of the Offseason - Wide Open again, but quality is better?
Purdue represented the West last year following an 8-4 (6-3 in Big Ten) season. Preseason prognostications would indicate that once again the West champion would equate to the fourth best East team. But there is some intrigue with a couple West teams, right? At least that seems true if Iowa gets its offense to mediocrity or if the new wide open offense takes at Wisconsin. There are probably still too many “ifs” for a West team to finally claim the Big Ten title, but it ought to be interesting to follow.
Most Intriguing Game of Week One - Nebraska at Minnesota
And with that last point in mind, one team out west will get a jumpstart on everyone else in the standings.
Thing We Are Looking Forward to the Most - Need I say more