2023 NCAAF: Big Ten Conference Preview

August 30, 2023

It is hard to argue that there hasn’t been a changing of the guard in the Big Ten.

However, the talent that still exists south of Ann Arbor makes it difficult to make this statement with certainty. Ohio State is still right there, both a conference and national title contender if it figures out its quarterback situation in 2023.

In the West Division, the position of dominant force remains open, but Wisconsin’s new look may close the door on that relatively quickly.

All of this talk about how things are now is put to rest in one year, however, when Southern Cal and UCLA join what will be then known as the first geographically national super-conference in college football. Let’s not act surprised that it’s the Big Ten who got there first.

Teams I Like


Unless you’re situated somewhere in the greater Columbus, Ohio area or otherwise associated with The Ohio State University, it’s hard not to like what the Wolverines bring to the table in 2023. Michigan brings back nearly all its offensive producers from the previous season and should be even better thanks to the maturation of quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who showed in the last two games of 2022 that he is indeed capable of burning a defense through the air.

It is a reasonable assumption that the Wolverines will backfill some of the gaps in the secondary, and with McCarthy’s help should begin to see some more consistency from its wide receiver corps. It feels like Michigan has finally broken through the ceiling that for some time hung over the program since Jim Harbaugh arrived, and nothing less than another College Football Playoff berth will be acceptable in 2023.


The best hire of the offseason award goes to Wisconsin, which grabbed Luke Fickell from Cincinnati and is immediately poised to turn things around in Fickell’s first season at the helm. Fickell got to work quickly, poaching offensive coordinator Phil Longo from North Carolina and grabbing former SMU signal-caller Tanner Mordecai in the transfer portal. The Longo-Mordecai combination should result in something that fans in Madison aren’t used to seeing, and certainly did not see in 2022 – a potent passing game.

The changes made on the offensive end should only help Braelon Allen on the ground, and Fickell is known for his defensive prowess. The Badgers endured a rough campaign last year but optimism is high for good reason; Wisconsin should return to the Big Ten title game for the first time since 2019.

Not High On

Penn State

The hype is through the roof for this Penn State squad, which brings back excellent running backs, an experienced offensive line, a defensive front that was one of the best in the country in 2022 and a sophomore quarterback who has been touted as the next big thing in Happy Valley. It is James Franklin’s best squad since he took over the program.

Apologies in advance for the previous sentence. We’ve heard it before, and in previous cases the Nittany Lions have not delivered results on the field. Penn State is 1-10 against Ohio State and 4-6 against Michigan since 2012. Games against both of those teams weren’t very close in 2022 and the Nittany Lions must travel to Columbus to play the Buckeyes in 2023. Enough of the hype – let’s see some results.

Players to Watch

Blake Corum, Michigan running back

The senior is on the Heisman Trophy shortlist heading into this season, an award that he may have won last year had it not been for an untimely injury last November. Despite the improvements that Michigan has enjoyed in the passing game, Corum will still be a focal point of the Wolverines’ offensive attack in 2023.

One piece of good news for the longevity of Corum – his backup Donovan Edwards proved his worth last season and should play a larger role in relief. This could mean a fresher Corum in the second half of games, which isn’t what defensive coordinators trying to slow him down want to face.

Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State wide receiver

Being the son of a sporting great is often difficult. That difficulty is ramped up significantly when you decide to go into the family business. But for Marvin Harrison, Jr. it hasn’t prevented him from stepping out of a wide shadow cast by his famous father and creating his own legacy. The junior wideout is the best at his craft in college football and the leader of a stacked group that is continuing to assert Ohio State as ‘WR U’.

Had Harrison not been knocked out near the end of the third quarter of last season’s Peach Bowl, we may be talking about a different national champion. Yes, he’s that vital to the Buckeyes’ offense and there will be plenty of moments in 2023 when that is evident.

Tanner Mordecai, Wisconsin quarterback

The Badgers have gone the transfer route with their quarterback in the past with varying degrees of success. This one, paired with an offensive coordinator who is chomping at the bit to instill some modernity into Wisconsin’s offensive attack, feels like it will work out well. In two years at SMU, Mordecai threw for nearly 70 touchdowns and was perhaps best known for a nine-touchdown affair against Houston last season.

Luke Fickell has made it clear that Wisconsin will not entirely abandon its propensity for the run game, especially considering the talent it wields the backfield. But Mordecai is a weapon behind center that the Badgers haven’t had since Russell Wilson was in Madison, and he may be better utilized by a coaching staff that truly understands how to use him.

Games to Watch (Non-Conference)

Illinois at Kansas (September 8, 7:30 PM ET)

Lance Leipold has quickly turned Kansas into a dangerous offensive team, and Bret Bielema will take an Illinois team that enjoyed a resurgence in 2022 thanks to its defense into Lawrence to try to slow down the Jayhawks.

Washington at Michigan State (September 16, 5 PM ET)

East Lansing wasn’t as difficult a place to play in 2022 as it has been in prior years, but this will be a fairly early start for the traveling Huskies and their first road test of the season.

Games to Watch (Conference)

Iowa at Wisconsin (October 14, TBA time)

The Big Ten West division title figures to run through Madison in 2023, setting this game up as one of the biggest on that side of the conference. It is unlikely that Iowa will manage to hold Wisconsin to just 10 points as it did in 2022.

Ohio State at Wisconsin (October 28, TBA time)

One of the most anticipated games on the Big Ten schedule sees Luke Fickell face off against his alma mater (and former employer) in a matchup that should have not only an impact on the conference title but perhaps on the College Football Playoff.

Michigan at Penn State (November 11, 12 PM ET)

The Nittany Lions rolled into the Big House with an unbeaten record in 2022 and were easily dispatched by the Wolverines. For Penn State to exact revenge at home, its run defense needs to show up against Blake Corum & Co.

Ohio State at Michigan (November 25, 12 PM ET)

The last time Michigan hung three straight on Ohio State, Steve Jobs had recently returned to run Apple Computers and Princess Diana had passed away only a few months earlier. Some trivia, just in case Ryan Day didn’t feel any pressure already…



  1. Michigan (12-0, [9-0])
  2. Ohio State (10-2, [7-2])
  3. Penn State (10-2, [7-2])
  4. Maryland (8-4, [5-4])
  5. Michigan State (5-7, [3-6])
  6. Rutgers (5-7, [2-7])
  7. Indiana (2-10, [0-9])


  1. Wisconsin (11-1, [8-1])
  2. Illinois (8-4, [6-3])
  3. Minnesota (7-5, [5-4])
  4. Iowa (8-4, [5-4])
  5. Nebraska (6-6, [4-5])
  6. Purdue (6-6, [3-6])
  7. Northwestern (2-10, [0-9])

Conference Title Game

Michigan vs. Wisconsin

Conference Champion: Michigan

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