The last year of the 14-team Big Ten is upon us with a three-headed monster attempting to take the conference and national landscape by storm. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State sit as unanimous preseason top-10 teams across the AP Top 25, Coaches Poll and CBS Sports 133 with all seemingly having a case to reign atop the Big Ten once the season comes to a conclusion.
However, only one will get a chance to play for the league title out of the Big Ten East as 2023 marks the final season that the Big Ten Championship Game will be contested between opponents from different divisions. With the conference moving to 18 teams in 2024 -- USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington on joining from the Pac-12 -- this certainly feels like something of a series finale for the Big Ten as we know it. Part of that includes not necessarily having the two best teams in the league playing for the conference title in December.
That's not to say the Big Ten West is without talented programs and interesting storylines, particularly with Luke Fickell taking over Wisconsin, Matt Rhule stepping into the top job at Nebraska, Illinois attempting to continue a turnaround under Bret Bielema and Iowa entering the campaign on what seems to be on a first-of-its-kind doomsday clock needing to score 25 points per game for its offensive staff to keep its jobs. (Don't worry, we'll be counting all season.)
As such, our CBS Sports college football experts are here to provide their picks and predictions for the Big Ten ahead of the 2023 campaign. Check them all out below.
Most overrated team
Penn State: Penn State will be good this year. Ten wins is well within the realm of possibility and probably should be the expectation. Drew Allar needs to deliver as a full-time starting quarterback before I can confidently say Penn State is capable of beating Ohio State or Michigan, however. Next year seems more like Penn State's breakthrough season as Allar and other young talent should have a full season of meaningful experience under their belts. -- Will Backus
Iowa: Hawkeyes defensive coordinator Phil Parker is god, and you might as well use a capital "G" because Iowa's defense was the difference in the team being an eyesore and making a bowl last season. Yes, the Hawkeyes somehow won eight games despite an epically bad offense -- so bad that Kirk Ferentz's offensive coordinator son, Brian, is on the hot seat. The offense shouldn't be as bad this year with Michigan transfers Cade McNamara at quarterback and Erick All at tight end. Iowa has always punched above its weight, but this season it will be a borderline top-25 squad. That makes it good enough to win the West, but it's never a healthy thing to be so deficient on one side of the ball. -- Dennis Dodd (Barrett Sallee, Shehan Jeyarajah)
Wisconsin: The Badgers played so well last season they fired their coach during the year and didn't retain the interim who nearly everyone assumed was being groomed for the job. Yet, despite disappointment and turnover, the Badgers are favorites in the West. Hiring Luke Fickell will do that for you, but while I believe the ex-Cincinnati coach will prove a great hire long-term, there's a lot that has to go right in Year 1. Wisconsin is changing its entire identity on both sides of the ball, and while it may be easier to do that in the age of the transfer portal, that doesn't mean it's easy. -- Tom Fornelli
Michigan State: Michigan State came back to Earth last season after going 11-2 in 2021. That got coach Mel Tucker a lucrative contract extension and his team a lot of attention, but last year ended up 5-7 with no bowl appearance. The Spartans are in a lot of preseason bowl projections this year as well, including mine, but I have them in at 5-7 because I do not have enough teams expected to qualify. The schedule isn't favorable, which includes four preseason top-10 teams, three of which are at home. Bowl eligibility for the Spartans will probably depend on a sweep of Nebraska and rising Maryland at home. -- Jerry Palm
Minnesota: The line for Minnesota's regular season win total is set at seven, which seems reasonable when you consider the Gophers won eight regular season games in 2022. But Minnesota didn't have to play Ohio State and Michigan last season. It plays both this season while also swapping out a home game vs. Colorado for a game at North Carolina to highlight the nonconference slate. With significant replacements to make on both lines of scrimmage, plus the departure of star running back Mo Ibrahim, merely reaching bowl eligibility would be a good outcome for the Gophers.-- David Cobb (Chip Patterson)
Most underrated team
Penn State: It seems like it's Michigan, Ohio State and everybody else in the Big Ten. Maybe that'll be the case, but Penn State is going to be the team most likely to wreak havoc on the status quo. The jury is still out on Allar, but we do know that his 1-2 punch at running back -- Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen -- as well as an experienced offensive line will help Allar transition into the No. 1 signal-caller. The Nittany Lions go to Ohio State in late October and host Michigan on Nov. 11, which will be two of the three biggest games in the conference. It's hard to see Penn State having enough juice to make the CFP, but an upset in either one of those games could change the entire landscape. -- Sallee (Dodd, Palm)
Iowa: Iowa's offense is a well-established punchline, but its defense still carried the team to an 8-5 record last season against a schedule that included Michigan and Ohio State. The defense remains stout, the offense has nowhere to go but up and the Wolverines and Buckeyes have dropped off the schedule. With Iowa State in quarterback turmoil amid the state's collegiate athlete betting scandal, the Hawkeyes should also get revenge on the Cyclones in the early season Cy-Hawk rivalry game. Iowa is poised to hit 10 wins for the third time in the last five seasons. -- Cobb
Michigan State: Two years ago, Michigan State won 11 games and the Peach Bowl. Last year, it crashed to Earth in ugly fashion. The real team is somewhere in between. Wide receiver Keon Coleman is a significant loss, but Payton Thorne isn't irreplaceable under center. This team is getting to a bowl game and could easily prove to be the fourth-best team in the East behind The Big Three. -- Fornelli
Maryland: Playing in the Big Ten East means the Terrapins are likely playing for fourth, at best, but don't undersell the quality of this team. The offense is off-the-charts good, and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has a case as the best passer in the conference. Outside of the Big Three, the Terrapins could be favored in all nine other matchups and could even compete for their first 10-win season since 2003. Adding to the fun, Maryland gets both Michigan and Penn State at home with the matchup against the Wolverines coming one week before The Game. Could the Terrapins shake up the Big Ten title race? It would be a heck of a way for Maryland to close out the Big Ten East era. -- Jeyarajah
Illinois: I think there's an assumption that because it's Illinois, a program that finished with a winning record in Big Ten play and eight or more wins for the first time since 2007 last season, the encore performance will be a regression to the mean. With multiple NFL Draft picks gone, I understand why that might be the case on the surface, but it should not take more than a few minutes of depth chart analysis to see why Illinois can maintain the new standard under Bret Bielema. The Illini have one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten and upgraded the quarterback position from a year ago. This is a team capable of competing with anyone in the division, not a middling squad destined to sweat out bowl eligibility deep into the season. -- Patterson
Minnesota: Here is how P.J. Fleck's Minnesota teams have finished in the Big Ten West over the last four years: 1st, 4th, 2nd, 2nd. Tanner Morgan was at quarterback each of those seasons, but now he's gone. Athan Kaliakmanis got plenty of experience in 2022 while Morgan nursed an injury, however. Kaliakmanis had a 3-2 record under those less-than-ideal circumstances. Minnesota's skill talent is vastly underrated with a deep wide receiver room, solid running back stable and one of the nation's best tight ends in Brevyn Spann-Ford. So, Kaliakmanis has the supporting cast to succeed. Don't be surprised if the Gophers go into Chapel Hill and pull off an early season stunner against North Carolina and ride that momentum while challenging the presumed Big Ten West favorites. -- Backus
- Dennis Dodd: Penn State will split the games vs. Ohio State and Michigan, go 11-1 and qualify for the College Football Playoff. James Franklin will earn national coach of the year honors.
- Tom Fornelli: Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State will all finish 11-1 with all three splitting their games against one another.
- Chip Patterson: Three Big Ten teams finish in the top six of the final CFP Rankings. There's a realistic scenario where Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State all beat each other and create a mind-bending tiebreaker scenario to decide the Big Ten East. I'm not sure if it will actually shake out that way, but the distance between those top three contenders and the rest of the conference is significant while the margins between are minimal. I think that guarantees at least one playoff team, maybe two, and a third team among the top teams left out of the four-team bracket.
- Barrett Sallee: Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord will go to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist after throwing for over 4,000 yards and leading his Buckeyes to a perfect regular season record and win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
- Shehan Jeyarajah: One-loss Ohio State easily knocks off previously undefeated Michigan in the final game of the regular season, crashing the Big Ten title game after winning a tiebreaker against both the Wolverines and one-loss Penn State. The latter pairing finishes No. 5 and 6, respectively, in the final CFP Rankings.
- Jerry Palm: NFL rumors will continue to pepper Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh in the offseason, but he will resist.
- David Cobb: Ohio State's two-year losing streak against Michigan will end as the Buckeyes take another step forward defensively under second-year coordinator Jim Knowles. Opponents will average fewer than 300 yards per game and Ohio State will win the Big Ten Championship Game.
- Will Backus: Nebraska will make a bowl game in Year 1 under Matt Rhule. It will be by a thin margin, though. There are six games on the Cornhuskers' schedule you can call, with varying levels of certainty, "winnable."
Big Ten predicted order of finish
Big Ten champion
Ohio State: This is a big bet on Ryan Day and the QB play, which I long assumed would come from Kyle McCord, though it could be Devin Brown or a combination of the two as the competition rolls along. This is a group primed to snap the skid against Michigan and make a return to the College Football Playoff, which is also a big bet on revenge factor for a team that was one kick away from playing for the national championship a year ago. Year 2 of Knowles as defensive coordinator should lead to more comfort in the system for a group that was up-and-down in the biggest games, and the skill talent on offense provides a high floor for whoever wins the quarterback battle. It's wild to think that I'm having to make a less-than-consensus case for Ohio State to win the Big Ten, but after two straight years of losses to Harbaugh, the Buckeyes are in the unusual position of playing the hunter, not the hunted. -- Patterson (Sallee, Jeyarajah, Cobb)
Michigan: Can we just fast forward ahead to Georgia vs. Michigan in the CFP National Championship? This is Harbaugh's best squad, and it should roll to a third straight Big Ten title (possibly undefeated). Sorry, Buckeyes, but that means a third straight loss to the Wolverines, too. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy and tailback Blake Corum are Heisman candidates, while the offensive line has been named best in the country two years running. Kris Perkins, meanwhile, is the latest defensive line standout. This team is so loaded Harbaugh could miss half the season and his team would still win the Big Ten. As it stands, the NCAA will continue to investigate Harbaugh for misleading investigators, but he has taken a self-imposed three-game suspension by Michigan to kick off the season. -- Dodd (Fornelli, Palm, Backus)