With basketball season firmly in the rearview mirror (we’re gonna keep writing about Indiana’s teams, deal with it) the eyes of the Midwest and also some schools on the east coast I guess (and maybe the west? fine?) turn toward the Fall and Big Ten football.
There’s storylines aplenty. Will Ryan Day beat Michigan again after two years? Will the Wolverines finally capitalize on momentum and seize a spot as a true national power? Will Brian Ferentz score the points? The mere idea of whatever Mel Tucker is cooking in East Lansing?
Yeah, let’s talk about it.
ILLINOIS: The momentum holds firm
If there’s one thing Bret Bielema has proven in his coaching career it’s that he knows how to win in the Big Ten. He’s already done it at two programs.
Aside from a season opening loss against the Indiana Hoosiers (lol), Bielema’s Illinois went on to have its best season in years despite a bowl loss. We’ve seen that before, this blog, but we think the momentum holds firm in Champaign rather than the program taking that next step up.
There’s just too many variables at play to confidently say they’ll threaten to win the West. And, speaking of the West, this is the last year Illinois can hit its head on the ceiling by winning it.
That’s the ideal scenario for Illinois in 2023, but we think they’ll fall short. Not that that’s bad! There’s good things to come.
INDIANA: Uhhhhhh, six wins?
In case you were (somehow) unaware, this is the indiana blog and we’ve seen our fair share of hoosier football over the years.
And, well, that’s about it. With uncertainty at quarterback and inexperience from whoever ends up starting at the position, this team’s ceiling seems firmly capped at six wins. We’re not sure how they’d get there but... yeah?
IOWA: Brian Ferentz is there to stay
Double edged sword here for the Hawkeyes.
They scored a solid amount of points. Good!
Brian Ferentz is sticking around as a result. Maybe not as good!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that Iowa offensive coordinator and son of head coach Kirk Ferentz, Brian, has to meet a certain points per game total to keep his job in Iowa City.
We like the pieces they’ve added this offseason, including quarterback Cade McNamara, and think the Hawkeyes have everything in place to meet if not exceed that 25 points per game mark. The defense, always tenacious (lol trust me we are AWARE OF THAT), will add in its fair share.
Iowa will compete to win the West in that division’s final, miserable year of existence.
MARYLAND: It’s Terps time, baby
Maryland, at long last, has the quarterback play, talent and coaching to make a bit of noise. Maybe!
Mike Locksley took the Terps to a bowl game and won it last season. Can they do a 2019 Indiana and exceed the six win total earlier than anyone expected? Achieve nine wins much to this blog’s dismay??? I mean, more likely than not? They’ll look good doing it if it happens, with the script unis being elevated.
Anyway, I’m gonna go make some eggs with old bay.
MICHIGAN: They will make the national title game
Michigan’s path to a national title game, forged over multiple decades, would probably be a bit easier if they’d hired Jim Harbaugh years ago and also maybe hadn’t lost to Indiana in 2020 (think that season doesn’t count? too bad!).
It’s important to note that the Wolverines are constantly in the news for other reasons, be it controversy or Harbaugh still thinking about losing the Super Bowl that one time. Not necessarily the attention a contender wants in the offseason.
But yes, Michigan in theory is equipped to at last reach the national title game after two consecutive playoff appearances.
Can they win that game? Probably not but I guess we (might) find out!
MICHIGAN STATE: It gets worse.
This team lost to the 2022 iteration of indiana university hoosiers football. indiana passed the ball seven times in that game. Two of those passes were caught.
Michigan State lost that football game.
Yeah, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better. When Michigan State isn’t doing Mel Tucker NFTs, it’s paying him roughly a gazillion dollars to lose his top talent to the transfer portal and also lose to indiana football.
Can Tucker pull the Spartans out of this mess? Maybe (no probably not)!
MINNESOTA: They find a Tanner Morgan successor, I guess
Tanner Morgan, who had seemingly quarterbacked the Golden Gophers since John Heisman first introduced the forward pass, has moved on. There are a few dudes lined up to replace him.
Will the frontrunner, Athan Kaliakmanis, finally be The One to lead the Gophers to the Big Ten title game in the last year where that is a realistic possibility after many seasons of hope?
NEBRASKA: Matt Rhule does something, anything
After four years of gross incompetence in Lincoln, Nebraska finally started taking itself a bit seriously as a football program and replaced a program legend and guy-who-lost-to-indiana-after-asking-to-play-them-more with a known program builder in Matt Rhule.
That change probably (I mean, definitely, right?) came too late for the Huskers to ever win the Big Ten West, something even Purdue and Northwestern did, but it did come just in time for the new era of Big Ten football.
Nebraska should probably challenge to make a bowl game now that someone who knows what they’re doing is in charge.... right?
NORTHWESTERN: One more win??
Speaking of Scott Frost, it was incredibly fitting that his swan song to coaching Big Ten football was giving Northwestern the “1” in “1-11” last year.
Things were bleak and it gave fans of other programs in the conference (hahaha, right guys?) a “well at least we’re not them” to turn to when things looked grim.
I don’t really see the vision for any sort of meaningful jump here, now or later, so I’m gonna go with an incredible leap: winning two games instead of one. That’s more!
OHIO STATE: Ryan Day gets his revenge
Yeah remember how we had Michigan in the title game? There’s a reason.
There’s been a roughly M-shaped elephant in the room in Columbus for two years now. Ryan Day simply isn’t beating “that team up north” the way his predecessors did. Aside from lacking a championship, it’s the biggest blemish on his resume by far.
That’s enough though. He finally gets his this year in Ann Arbor with a team he built. That loss, which honestly could ruin this whole little hypothetical because Michigan only plays like two games anyway, could fuel the Wolverines to finally get to a title game.
Will they meet Day again there? Maybe.... and he’d probably win there too *ducks* if it happens as Ohio State fans become the most smug group of humans on the planet.
PENN STATE: They play Michigan/Ohio State close?
Aside from the past few years, Penn State has usually been the third best program in the conference on a yearly basis. But there’s no trophy for third place Penn State, which has had to exist as a good team in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan for so long now.
The Nittany Lions have the talent to make more noise than they have in years with ideal timing now that it’ll be an easier ask to get to Indianapolis in 2024 and after.
But this year? They still have to deal with those heavyweights. The pure best case scenario I can see there is Penn State plays either of them close as I don’t think a win is in the cards.
It could happen! I just don’t necessarily think it will. Sorry! Better days ahead!
PURDUE: The Ryan Walters era begins with hope
The last time this blog saw Ryan Walters it was watching his defense get torn to shreds on a fateful final drive by Walt Bell and Connor Bazelak to get the season-opening win for Indiana.
What could that mean? Maybe something very, very bad, but... maybe good?
Purdue is taking spending on football seriously between the Ross-Ade Stadium renovations and hiring Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator, so they’re setting up Walters to succeed at a school much more known for its basketball programs.
They probably have enough talent to make another bowl game and help Walters out that much more. They’re not gonna be better than Iowa or Wisconsin, but they didn’t beat either of them last year soooooo.
WISCONSIN: Luke Fickell wins the West
Wisconsin finally decided to start taking itself seriously as a football program, going out and hiring one of the best coaches in the country to lead the Badgers into the future.
As a guy who has seen Fickell’s teams up close twice now, he’s absolutely the real deal. Not that you need convincing that the guy who took a Group of Five program to the College Football Playoff can in fact coach.
This is the last year for the West and Fickell’s first in it. In his only try, he’ll win it thanks in no small part to all the moves he’s made since he arrived.
The portal has fast-tracked that process in Madison. The new era of Badgers football will begin with a Big Ten championship game berth. Wisconsin is not elite, but they should be good!