There’s a familiarity at the top of the Big Ten power rankings, with the Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Penn State Nittany Lions a constant in the top three. However, is there a potential changing of the guard afoot? And how do the rest of the programs filter in behind the “big three?” Our Big Ten power rankings stack the conference’s teams from worst to first.
Big Ten Power Rankings 2023
Our Big Ten power rankings for the 2023 college football season take into account a number of factors. Overall record is a consideration, but roster talent and depth, coaching staff, strength of schedule, plus offensive and defensive efficiency are taken into consideration in our latest update.
14) Indiana Hoosiers
Preseason Ranking: 12th
The Indiana Hoosiers sink to the bottom of our Big Ten power rankings after a difficult start to the season for Tom Allen’s team. Their schedule has featured difficult assignments against Ohio State, Louisville, and Maryland, and they lost all three. The Hoosiers have yet to score more than 17 points against a Power Five opponent, and are 0-2 in the conference going into a bye.
While losing to three teams that have yet to drop a game is no embarrassment, needing overtime to beat an Akron team that is currently 1-4 is not up to the expected standard. This Indiana team isn’t lacking talent, with a really impressive running back room, but they’ve struggled on offense and the defense hasn’t been able to carry the team. Road games at Michigan and Penn State await.
13) Michigan State Spartans
Preseason Ranking: 11th
When all the best players from a team that went 5-7 a year ago jump into the transfer portal or declare for the NFL Draft, you know difficult times are coming. That was reflected in the Michigan State Spartans’ preseason evaluation and positioning in our initial Big Ten power rankings. That was just the start of their problems in the 2023 college football season.
The now-resolved Mel Tucker situation made for an ugly off-field situation to go alongside a substandard on-field product. The 31-7 scoreline in the season opener against Central Michigan was flattering, and after two non-Power Five victories, they’ve gone 0-3 including — large losses to Washington and Maryland. Noah Kim has struggled to direct the offense since Payton Thorne left.
12) Nebraska Cornhuskers
Preseason Ranking: 10th
Fans were extremely excited about the hire of Matt Rhule and the transformative ability that he’s had at previous college football stops. After enduring the Scott Frost era, the hype of Matt Rhule’s arrival saw some elements suggest that the Nebraska Cornhuskers could contend in the Big Ten West. So far, not so good.
Turns out, there isn’t a magic switch to flick overnight.
They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the season opener against Minnesota in a game that was presumably called by the ghost of Frost. They’ve been soundly beaten by their other Power Five opposition, with a 45-7 defeat to Michigan dropping them to 2-3. Amongst several struggles, the failure of transfer Jeff Sims to ignite the offense is the most substantial.
11) Illinois Fighting Illini
Preseason Ranking: 8th
Our Big Ten power rankings seek to rank the programs from worst to first, but for the Illinois Fighting Illini, they’ve gone from first to worst in terms of defensive ranking. The best scoring defense in the nation last season has been eviscerated by departures — both playing personnel and coaching staff — and now ranks last in the Big Ten and 103rd nationally.
They narrowly defeated the reigning MAC champion Toledo Rockets to open the season, adding a second victory against FAU in Week 4. Defeats to Kansas and Penn State are understandable, but Brett Bielema’s team was torn apart by a Boilermakers team who aren’t exactly at the top of the conference right now. At least they avoid Michigan and Ohio State on their slate.
10) Northwestern Wildcats
Preseason Ranking: 14th
After the events of the offseason, David Braun was in a can’t-lose position as the interim head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats. With little to no preseason expectations — evidenced by their place at the foot of our initial Big Ten power rankings — and following a 1-11 season — anything resembling competence would have been deemed a successful salvaging of their situation.
With Penn State and Duke on their early season slate, the Wildcats have had one of the tougher strengths of schedule in the Big Ten so far. Yet, they’ve managed to grab two wins including one in the conference against Minnesota. Meanwhile, they dealt UTEP their biggest defeat of the year. There are plenty of winnable games left down the stretch of the season.
9) Purdue Boilermakers
Preseason Ranking: 9th
With losses to Fresno State and Syracuse sandwiching an unconvincing win over Virginia Tech, the Ryan Walters era at the Purdue Boilermakers got off to a sluggish start that threatened to see them sink in our Big Ten power rankings. For a defensive-minded head coach, giving up over 30 points in their first four games was somewhat unthinkable.
They enter Week 6 with a 2-3 record but are level pegging at 1-1 after a resounding win over Illinois, fuelled by a third-quarter scoring spree. Purdue has a star in WR Deion Burks, while the versatile Tyrone Tracy Jr. is key to any success going forward. A defense allowing 29.6 points per game needs to embody their head coach’s previous success as a defensive coordinator.
8) Minnesota Golden Gophers
Preseason Ranking: 7th
After offseason allegations leveled at head coach P.J. Fleck dominated the preseason conversation for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the team was looking to let their on-field play do the talking. However, it’s been far from a vintage performance from Fleck’s team, who had to battle from behind to beat Nebraska and have been inconsistent ever since.
The Gophers are 3-2 and 1-1 in the Big Ten, still very much within a shout of the West but with plenty of questions still to be answered. Safety Tyler Nubin has been the standout of a defense that gave up 30+ points in consecutive losses. Meanwhile, freshman running back Darius Taylor has been the spearhead of an offense that has struggled to put up points with consistency.
7) Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Preseason Ranking: 13th
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are the biggest mover and shaker in our Big Ten power rankings after an impressive start to the season for Greg Schiano’s team. The originators of college football are 4-1 for the first time since 2014, the last time they had a winning record overall and were legitimately bowl-eligible.
It’s easy to assume that an easy schedule has facilitated that record, but there are certainly lesser strengths of schedule in the conference plus the Scarlet Knights have comfortable wins in both the Big Ten (Northwestern) and an additional Power Five victory (Virginia Tech). Their defense is talented and has been one of the stingiest in the nation.
6) Iowa Hawkeyes
Preseason Ranking: 6th
“For as much as things change in college football, some things invariably stay the same. The Iowa Hawkeyes are a perfect example of that.
While the college landscape swirls around them, they’ll invariably be a contender for the Big Ten West on a diet of defensive dominance, offensive disappointment, and special teams dynamism. That’s been the blueprint of the program in recent years with Kirk and Brian Ferentz at the wheel, and it doesn’t look like changing in 2023.”
Just like the Hawkeyes abhor change, so do our Big Ten power rankings. Our preseason writeup for the Big Ten West contender has rung true through five games and a 4-1 record for Iowa.
5) Wisconsin Badgers
Preseason Ranking: 4th
Wisconsin hasn’t represented the West in the conference title game since 2019, but the Badgers are currently the front-runner in the division and in our Big Ten power rankings. Luke Fickell’s team might not have been as impressive as pre-season expectations, but they’re 3-1 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten, and their only loss came on the road at ascending Washington State.
With the transfer addition of Tanner Mordecai, there was much anticipation of a change of offensive direction in Madison, but they’ve once again been at their very best when hitting opponents in the mouth on the ground. The Oct. 14 clash with Iowa will go a long way to defining who finishes the year highest in our power rankings and gets beat in the Big Ten title game.
4) Maryland Terrapins
Preseason Ranking: 5th
Head coach Mike Locksley earned a contract extension ahead of the 2023 college football season, with the team coming off an impressive campaign and trending in the right direction under his leadership. That trajectory transfers to our Big Ten power rankings, with the Maryland Terrapins establishing themselves as the best of the rest behind the established conference powers.
Their schedule hasn’t been the most terrifying, with wins over two teams ranked right near the bottom of our Big Ten Power Rankings. Although there were some struggles against AAC opponent Charlotte, they’ve otherwise been dominant in each win, with Taulia Tagovailoa impressing as the leader of a talented offense. A sterling defensive effort gets a major test in Week 6.
3) Ohio State Buckeyes
Preseason Ranking: 2nd
This Ohio State defense is the best it’s been for years. The Buckeyes currently rank second nationally for points per game and total touchdowns allowed, while allowing the sixth-fewest total yards per game. An area that has been weak in recent years is definitely a strength of this team as they seek to return to the College Football Playoff at the end of the season.
Arguably, they’ve got the best résumé to do so of any Big Ten team right now. They’re 4-0, 1-0 in the conference, but the win over a Notre Dame team ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll is a major boost. However, as C.J. Stroud and Paris Johnson Jr. do business as rookies in the NFL, the jury is still out on Kyle McCord and the offensive line that lost so much talent from last year.
2) Penn State Nittany Lions
Preseason Ranking: 3rd
Although the Penn State Nittany Lions came in behind their two divisional foes in our preseason Big Ten power rankings, we said the program was set to pounce and James Franklin’s team has done that early in this 2023 college football season. They overtake the Buckeyes in our latest update, with very few apparent flaws in their on-field performances so far this season.
Penn State is 5-0 with three Big Ten wins already under their belt, with a shutout win over Iowa giving them a ranked win. West Virginia hasn’t lost since facing the Nittany Lions in Week 1, adding value to that win. A dominant running back duo, the best LT in the country, a developing superstar in Drew Allar, and a defense packed with playmakers make them a dangerous force.
1) Michigan Wolverines
Preseason Ranking: 1st
With or without head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sideline, the Michigan Wolverines have been the model of consistency through five games of the 2023 college football season. The reigning Big Ten champions have conceded less than 10 points in every game they’ve played this year while putting up no less than 30 points in every one of their five victories so far.
Without a ranked win on their résumé, Michigan has had their detractors early in this campaign but there’s no doubting that the statistics back up their dominance. J.J. McCarthy looks like the best QB in the conference, Blake Corum is back to his productive best, and while the defense hasn’t faced what you’d call a legitimate threat, there aren’t many units in college as talented.