2024 Big Ten Football Preview
Posted: 2024-07-09

The question in hugely expanded Big Ten this season is who be the worst team in the 18-team conference division-less league? And speaking of such, it will be interesting to see how Iowa performs in a conference with the West Division no longer in existence.

Michigan State and Purdue each opened up with league-low season win totals of 4.5, although the Boilermakers +30000 to win the Big Ten pales in comparison to the Spartans’ +17000.

The addition of the disassociated Pac-12 relocators added plenty of muscle, which lends credence to the new BIG TEN moniker. In fact, Washington became the first and only Pac-12 team to ever finish a regular season undefeated last year enroute to the national championship game. Yet its first season in the Big Ten will be a far greater grind.

Add in the fact that Oregon seems to have hit a grand slam with the hire of Dan Lanning as its head coach and, just like that, the Big Ten is not only big in size but immense with talent.

The following are excerpts from the 2024 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine, on sale at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, or available directly at PlaybookSports.com.

Illinois – (13 / *6 / 7 • RPR: 71) – ALTERNATOR ISSUES

Before last season, the quarterback position was never one of sustained strength for the Illinois program. They would have one or two years of success. Still, no one would consider Illinois to be “Quarterback U.”  Then Ole Miss transfer Luke Altmeyer showcased his dynamic running and improving passing abilities (1,883 passing and 282 rushing yards) that led to promising results, as they fell one game short of becoming bowl-eligible. However, he also endured growing pains, including throwing five interceptions against Penn State early last season and getting sacked a Big Ten-high 34 times. The good news is Illinois doesn't have to play Ohio State, USC, Washington, Iowa, and Wisconsin. But then again, this team led the nation in scoring defense two seasons ago before falling to No. 96 last yer.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 5.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +15000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Bret Bielema is 2-12 ATS when coming off a SU underdog win and facing a .700 or fewer opponent.

PLAY ON: at Northwestern (11/30)


Indiana – (21 / *10 / 11 • RPR: 59) – LEO HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

So much for former head coach Tom Allen’s LEO (Love Every One) approach to rebuilding Indiana’s morale and galvanizing the fanbase. After a lackluster 33-48 seven-year run with the Hoosiers, Allen’s out, and new head coach Curt Cignetti comes over from James Madison, where he weaved a 52-10 record in six seasons with the Dukes. What he inherits here is a bevy of return starters. If he can mold them into a group that plays anywhere close to the level of his 23-2 SU mark during the first five games of the season that he did at James Madison, the love for football could be back in Bloomington sooner than later.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 5.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +30000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Indiana is 1-10 ATS since 2018 at home with a losing record.

PASS


Iowa (17 / *10 / 7RPR: 30)IN TIM WE TRUST

Former Michigan transfer QB Cade McNamara suffered a season-ending injury after just five starts last season leading the Hawkeyes to 24.25 PPG in those games, nearly 12.5 PPG better than the paltry 11.7 PPG they averaged moving forward. Yet through it all, Kirk Ferentz’s troops somehow made it to the Big Ten championship game. Thus, they become another conference title game partaker from 2023 that ranks near the top of the list for most returning starters, including five of the top six individual tacklers. It’s not the defense that is the concern, though, and Ferentz knows it as he brought in Tim Lester – the former Western Michigan head coach – as his new OC.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 7.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +3500

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Iowa is 27-8 in its last 35 rivalry trophy games versus Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

PLAY AGAINST: at Michigan State (10/19) *Key if favored 


Maryland – (12 / 4 / 8 • RPR: 102) – TAG, YOU’RE IT

For the first time since Taulia Tagovailoa arrived on campus ahead of the 2020 season, the Terps will have someone other than No. 3 under center for their season opener. When MJ Morris transferred to Maryland football last December, he entered an open quarterback competition. Morris stood out in Maryland’s annual Red-White spring game when the NC State transfer was awarded MVP for the game. In addition to a quarterback dilemma, Maryland’s offensive line lost a lot of experience. The front five’s top three leaders in snaps all graduated. It leaves head coach Mike Locksley in a quandary, especially knowing that his team will go toe-to-toe with bowl teams in each of its final seven games of the campaign.  

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 6.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +10000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Terrapins are one of only two ‘Power Four/Five’ teams that have won and covered bowl games each of the past three seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Northwestern (10/12)


Michigan – (7 / 2 / 5) • RPR: 128) – PAYBACK IS A B*TCH

A quick glance at the Wolverines' returning starters and production spoke volumes when "The Jaw" decided it was time to wade back into NFL waters. This season's schedule features four revenge-hungry opponents, each eager to knock the Wolverines down a peg. Topping their "hit list" is a rematch with Washington, the Pac-12's top team. The Huskies were pile-driven by Michigan in the national championship game, where the Wolverines outrushed the sled dogs 303-46. When UM rolls into Seattle for its first road game on October 5th, remember this: Huskies have long memories, and they're itching to settle the score and heal the wound against what will be the most targeted team in the land.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 9.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +600

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolverines are 1-15 SU in their final Big Ten games of the season since 2001 when not favored by more than 5 points.

PLAY AGAINST: at Ohio State (11/30)


Michigan State – (11 / 2 / 9) • RPR: 73) – THE TUCK RULE

Given the fallout of the Mel Tucker era, heading into the 2024 season, most fans and college football aficionados would be hard pressed to hop on the Spartans bandwagon any time soon. Yet first-year head coach Jonathan Smith feels differently, and he’s selling it. The former overhauler at Oregon State, he was largely responsible for a Beavers’ metamorphosis that saw them go 25-14 the past two seasons after 14-46 the previous six years. He’s sold enough quality imports from the Transfer Portal on this team this season to rank No. 11 in the nation, thus dispelling an automatic urge to fade Tucker’s leftovers. Be careful of knee-jerking and fading this group this season.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 4.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +17000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: New MSU head coach Jonathan Smith is 14-5 ATS as a road dog, including 7-1 ATS when coming off a win.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Indiana (11/2)


Minnesota – (16 / *8 / 8) • RPR: 19) – EVEN MORE REEKS OF LEAKS

The Gophers may have extended their bowl skein to three straight games last season, but, truth be known, P.J. Fleck couldn’t wait for the season to end. His 5-win troops were granted a reprieve by the NCAA to help fill enough bowl spots, and they proceeded to “bowl over” Bowling Green, 30-24, in a lackluster win in the Quick Lane Bowl. Not only was it his first non-covid losing season with the Gophers, it was enough to pad the stats of a team that out-yarded only three foes on the season. The good news is that Minnesota tied for tops in Fewest Penalties last season. However, they will face no less than 10 foes who enjoyed a winning season in 2023. Suddenly, the boat appears to have sprung major leaks.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 5.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +17000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Fleck is 7-1 ATS away versus .800 or greater opponents coming off a win of 7 or more points.

PASS


Nebraska – (17 / *9 / 8) • RPR: 3) – ANSWERING THE ALARM CLOCK

It's been a long time since Nebraska football was relevant on college football’s national stage. The Huskers hold the dubious honor of the longest bowl drought in the FBS and haven't cracked the top 5 in the AP poll since 2001. But fear not, for a reversal of fortune may be on the horizon. Some call Nebraska football a 'sleeping giant,' and five-star quarterback recruit Dylan Raiola certainly believes so. Make no mistake: no player has ever had a greater opportunity to awaken this former giant from its slumber. After his impressive spring camp, imagining another freshman having a bigger impact is tough.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 5.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +6000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Matt Rhule was 8-28 SU in his first joint seasons with Temple, Baylor, and Nebraska, but 44-23 SU and 41-22 ATS thereafter with these schools.

PLAY ON: at Iowa (11/29) - *Key as a dog


Northwestern (14 / 6 / 8) • RPR: 6) – DRAWN TO BRAUN

Second-year head coach David Braun stepped in and replaced popular and well-like Pat Fitzgerald, fired after a hazing scandal. Braun was arguably college football’s Rookie Coach of the Year last season after the Wildcats improved 7.5 games, going from a one-win team to a 9-win bowler. In the process, the Wildcats tied with Ole Miss with the Fewest Fumbles Lost (1). At his side again this year will be special assistant Skip Holtz. With Ryan Field under renovation until 2026, Northwestern will play five of its home games at the Lanny and Sharon Martin Athletics Facility near Lake Michigan in Evanston, and their final two at Wrigley Field in Chicago

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 5.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +20000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Northwestern is 0-3 all-time in games at Wrigley Field.

PLAY AGAINST: at Purdue (11/2) - *Key


Ohio State – (16 / *7 / 9) • RPR: 70) – DAY AND NIGHT MAKEOVER

After consecutive 11-0 starts that resulted in disappointing 11-2 seasons, and despite losing quarterback Kyle McCord to the portal, the Buckeyes went on the offensive, snagging veteran signal caller Will Howard from Kansas State to stabilize the position. Alongside two-time SEC leading rusher Quinshon Judkins from Ole Miss, it was part of Ryan Day’s makeover following last season's disappointing 0-2 finish—after a promising 11-0 start—as he scooped up the 8th ranked class in the Transfer Portal this season. New OC Chip Kelly swapped the sun of Southern California for the, well, less sunny beaches of Columbus, Ohio. He noted that NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) benefits trump good weather any day. Kelly will be reunited with Day, one of his former players at the University of New Hampshire.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 10.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +165

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ryan Day is 37-1 SU against .900 or fewer opponents, and 55-3 SU when OSU wins the stats.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Michigan (11/30)


Oregon – (14 / *8 / 6) • RPR: 28) – NEXT MAN UP

As expected, Oregon was hit hard, losing eight players in the NFL draft. The most impactful departure is quarterback and Heisman finalist Bo Nix, who the Denver Broncos drafted 12th overall. But Oregon did a number on its quarterback room by securing veteran gunslinger Dillon Gabriel and five-star youngster Dante Moore as his probable successor. The receiving corps seems to have bounced back as slot receiver Tez Johnson returns for the 2024 season to pick up where he left off, and top portal prospect Evan Stewart suits up with the Ducks for the first time. It’s ‘next man up’ for the Ducks this season. 

 

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 10.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +200

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Ducks are 13-1 SU and 12-2 ATS with rest versus opponents coming off a double-digit loss.

PLAY ON: vs. Washington (11/30) - *Key


Penn State – (14 / *7 / 7) • RPR: 37) – I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW

It was clear as day last season against Ohio State and Michigan: the Nittany Lions lacked the offensive firepower to compete with the Big Ten elite. Coach James Franklin addressed this by hiring Andy Kotelnicki from Kansas to coordinate the offense. The return of QB Drew Allar – though still living up to his five-star billing despite being the top five-star-rated and second-ranked pocket passers in the 2022 recruiting class – shows promise. Signs of progress were evident in the spring, and the arrival of WR Julian Fleming from Ohio State eases some concerns. With Edge Abdul Carter, a surefire first-round pick in next year’s draft, anchoring the defense, the Nittany Lions should keep their defensive prowess intact.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 9.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +550

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: PSU is 15-0 SU and 11-2 ATS during the first five games of the season the last three years.

PLAY AGAINST: at USC (10/12)


Purdue – (13 / *7 / 6) • RPR: 96) – SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS

Purdue lost twice as many games as they won under first-year head coach Ryan Walters last season. However, they led the Big Ten with 2,029 rushing yards and, along with promising QB Houston Card, the Boilers return four starters on the offensive line. In case you were wondering and didn’t know, Purdue’s team nickname came about from their series against state rival Wabash when, after Purdue crushed them 44-0, the headline in the Crawfordsville Daily Argus News on October 26, 1891 read: "Slaughter of Innocents: Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue.” The next year, Purdue sports teams were officially known as the Boilermakers. And now you know the rest of the story.


SEASON WIN TOTAL: 4.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +30000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: For the 3rd straight year, Purdue won both trophy games in 2023, beating Illinois (Cannon Trophy) and Indiana (Old Oaken Bucket).

PLAY ON: at Wisconsin (10/5)


Rutgers – (16 / *8 / 8) • RPR- 8) – SCHIANO 2.0

Welcome to life in the Big Ten, Rutgers. In the last seven years, the athletic department has borrowed more than $100 million from the school’s general fund, collected more than $80 million in student-fee subsidies, asked the state of New Jersey for another $15 million, and took two separate loans totaling $48 million from the Big Ten. Money issues aside, they have a 1,000-yard rusher last season returning in Kyle Monangai. In addition, the Knights allowed just 14 sacks, the lowest in the Big Ten. With five offensive linemen who started five or more games last season back this season, expect the Greg Schiano second-term rebuild to continue this season.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 6.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +10000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rutgers is 18-4-1 ATS as a non-conference pick or dog.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 9.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +600

PASS


UCLA – (12 / *7 / 5) • RPR: 95) – CALIMONY BLUES

UCLA wants to be Ohio State. Chip Kelly wants to be Ohio State. The question is whether they’ll end up more like Rutgers, which in the last seven years has hocked its athletic department into bankruptcy hell (see Rutgers write-up analysis on page 189). Now that the Bruins have to fork over $10M a year to California through 2030 with UCLA’s move to the Big Ten as part of their "Calimony" payment, it's a $60 million hit to a university that justified blowing up 108 years of history by announcing it was operating at a financial disadvantage in the Pac-12. Despite the hire of Eric Bienemy as its new offensive coordinator, expect reality to bite the Bruins harder than a Midwestern winter.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 5.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +15000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bruins are 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS away versus losing foes the past three seasons.

PLAY ON: vs. USC (11/23)


USC – (14 / 5 / 9) • RPR: 99) – A HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR

It was thought that after an 11-win season in Lincoln Riley’s first season at USC in 2022 that adding OC Kliff Kingsbury to a second stint at USC to an imposing, powerful 500-yard offense, spearheaded by defending Heisman Trophy-winning QB Caleb Williams, would key this juggernaut to its first-ever CFB Playoff appearance. It didn’t happen. Instead, after a 6-0 start out of the gate, Trojan horses went 1-5 SUATS out and settled instead on a visit to the Holiday Bowl, no thanks to a defense that has allowed 421 YPG since Riely’s arrival. The hire of former UCLA defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn gives USC far greater upside in the physical Big Ten. Thus, it’s safe to say that Lincoln Riley is facing an important year after failing to meet expectations in his second season at USC in 2023. What goes around comes around.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 7.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +2200

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Trojans will face 11 teams that played in a bowl game last season, including each of their first nine games.

PLAY ON: vs. Notre Dame (11/30)


Washington – (3 / 2 / 1) • RPR: 125 – THE HOODED ONES

Yikes! The Grim Reaper paid a visit to Seattle this offseason and literally gutted the Huskies. The team that lost to Michigan in the College Football title game last season welcomes a scant three starters back this year, with a skeleton of last year’s coaching staff, which left largely together when Kalen DeBoer bolted for Alabama. The saving grace is that new Washington head coach Jedd Fisch cracked the Top 10 in this year’s Portal Transfer wars. Thus, UDub is one of five teams that will enter the Big Ten conference’s new era with new leadership. One thing is for certain: They can’t afford to duplicate finishing with the second-most penalties in the nation this season.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 7.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +5500

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Huskies head coach Jedd Fisch is 11-4 ATS versus .700 or greater foes, including 9-0 ATS in the last nine games

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Washington State (9/14)


Wisconsin – (15 / *7 / 8) • RPR: 20) WINNING WAYS

Head coach Luke Fickell has quietly strung together a 61-15 record since 2018. It is the fifth most wins over that span among active FBS coaches. And speaking of winning, here’s a bar bet you’ll win every time you pose it: Since 2002, Wisconsin has posted 22 consecutive winning seasons in a row – the most in the FBS over that span. In the process, they have gone bowling 22 straight seasons – the longest in the Big Ten and third-longest in the FBS. And, after the Wisconsin offense posted program records for completions (281) and attempts (469) in Year One under OC Phil Longo, the Badgers will welcome transfer QB Tyler Van Dyke (Miami) to challenge sophomore Braedyn Locke.

SEASON WIN TOTAL: 6.5 • ODDS TO WIN BIG TEN: +8000

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Wisconsin has made six appearances in the Big Ten Championship Game. That is tied with Ohio State for the most in the Big Ten.

PLAY ON: at Iowa (11/2)