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Where should Penn State football fall in the preseason Big Ten power rankings?

The 2023 Big Ten Conference Power Rankings are here. But where do the Nittany Lions stack up among the best of the best.



Big Ten, Big Ten Championship
Oct 20, 2018; Bloomington, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Miles Sanders (24) runs the ball in for a touchdown during the first quarter of the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium . Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 season is nearly here. Fall camps are wrapping up and next week will be game week preparations for all 14 conference teams. All eyes are on winning a Big Ten Championship.

Let’s power rank the conference from worst to best before the season gets started. Also, see where the Penn State football team stacks up among the best in the conference.

We’ll update these rankings weekly.

14. Northwestern (Week 1 at Rutgers)

The hazing scandal and coach Pat Fitzgerald’s abrupt dismissal from the program dominated a tumultuous offseason for the Wildcats. Interim head coach David Braun is likely itching to just talk about what is happening on the field.

The problem for Northwestern is they bring back only seven starters from a team that won only one game a year ago. There will need to be a massive improvement on both sides of the ball to avoid the Big Ten basement this fall.

13. Indiana (Week 1 vs. Ohio State)

Seems like forever since the Hoosier’s magical 2020 season where they finished 6-2 and in the top 15 of the final rankings. The Hoosiers have won six games combined in the last two seasons since.

Head coach Tom Allen has brought in a slew of transfer portal players. Will it pay off? The Hoosiers had the Big Ten’s worst defense a year ago so major improvements are a must on that side of the ball.

12. Rutgers (Week 1 vs. Northwestern)

The Scarlet Knight defense a year ago was a strength, ranking in the top 25 nationally in several statistical categories. Seven starters return to keep this unit’s strength in 2023.

Rutgers’ hopes for improvement this season rest on the shoulders of quarterback Gavin Wimsatt and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s return to Piscataway. Ciarrocca was OC for three seasons during Greg Schiano’s first Rutgers stint.

11. Purdue (Week 1 vs. Fresno State)

The Boilermakers were in the Big Ten Championship game a year ago. Unfortunately, they lost a ton, the biggest loss being coach Jeff Brohm heading home to his alma mater Louisville.

New head coach Ryan Walters arrives in West Lafayette after two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Illinois. Walters could certainly give the Boilermaker defense a boost but their fortunes to stay competitive in the Big Ten West will rely on Texas transfer Hudson Card under center.

10. Michigan State (Week 1 vs. Central Michigan)

Mel Tucker’s Spartans finished a disappointing 5-7 a year ago. Then a total of 20 Spartans transferred out including quarterback Payton Thorne and top receiver Keon Coleman.

The defense, especially the secondary, has been highly suspect and outgunned the last couple of seasons. It is up to Tucker and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton to get that turned around before finding themselves on the hot seat.

9. Nebraska (Week 1 at Minnesota)

The Cornhuskers made what appears to be a great hire in Matt Rhule. His turnarounds at Temple and Baylor are a good blueprint and the Huskers may be able to turn it around even faster.

There is solid talent here and on offense, Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims should add a big boost. The defense will look different under a new 3-3-5 base formation. Six wins and bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2016 season is a reasonable expectation.

8. Minnesota (Week 1 vs. Nebraska)

Tanner Morgan and Mohamad Ibrahim are gone from the Gopher backfield. Athan Kaliakmanis and Sean Tyler take over now and will look to lead the offense.

The Gopher defense a year ago was pretty solid, ranking fourth nationally in scoring defense. But there are several key players who need to be replaced. The Gophers have one of the tougher schedules in the conference, getting both Michigan and Ohio State from the Big Ten East.

7. Illinois (Week 1 vs. Toledo)

Last season the Illini held opponents to 12.7 points per game. While there are two new defensive coordinators splitting duties with Ryan Walters at Purdue, there are seven starters returning. The defense has the look to pick up where it left off.

If the offensive unit can gel under Ole Miss quarterback transfer Luke Altmyer, then Illinois should be in the mix once again for a division title.

6. Iowa (Week 1 vs. Utah State)

There is no question about the Hawkeyes’ strength. The defense will once again lead the way. Cornerback Cooper DeJean could be hearing his name for awards by the end of the season.

How far the Hawkeyes go this year will depend on Brian Ferentz’s lackluster offense. Can it improve under transfer quarterback Cade McNamara? Ferentz’s job likely depends on it. If the offense is even just serviceable, the Hawkeyes will be in the hunt for the West division title.

5. Maryland (Week 1 vs. Towson)

The Terps have improved under Mike Locksley, with last season’s eight-win team his best so far. The next step in their progression is to beat one of the big boys in the East, which they have come close to doing so in recent years.

Taulia Tagovailoa is one of the best passers in the conference but the Terps will need to protect him with a revamped offensive line. On defense, their back end looks solid but the defensive front is also a complete rebuild.

4. Wisconsin (Week 1 vs. Buffalo)

This is not your father’s Wisconsin team. The Badgers made a splash hire with Luke Fickell and new offensive coordinator Phil Longo brings the air raid offense to Madison. It won’t be all passing, not with star running back Braelon Allen leading the charge. The Badgers will just look to be more balanced versus their run-first teams of the past.

There will be some bumps along the way, but this Badgers team looks to be the most complete team in the Big Ten West. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to power them to a division title at the end of the year.

3. Penn State (Week 1 vs. West Virginia)

The good guys in Blue and White have the look of a contender and there has been a lot of buzz around the team this offseason. Can the Nittany Lions live up to the hype?

Talent and depth-wise, this appears to be James Franklin’s best team in his ten seasons. Star running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen should lead the offense and ease the transition for first-year most likely starter Drew Allar. Manny Diaz’s defense looks hungry and the secondary could be the best in the Big Ten.

The biggest question left for Penn State is getting over the Ohio State and/or Michigan hump.

2. Ohio State (Week 1 at Indiana)

The Buckeyes are breaking in a new quarterback, either Kyle McCord or Devin Brown. But they have a tremendous backfield with Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson. The receiving corps could be the best in the country, led by future NFL top draft pick Marvin Harrison Jr.

The offensive line returns only two starters and remains a question mark. But there is enough star power on offense and the defense just needs to keep improving under defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Can they get back to beat Michigan for the first time since 2019?

1. Michigan (Week 1 vs. East Carolina)

After back-to-back conference titles and playoff appearances, the Wolverines are loaded once again on both sides of the ball. There is not a glaring weakness on this team. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy continues to develop and Blake Corum is one of the best running backs in the country.

Seven starters return to the defense that ranked sixth nationally last year. The Wolverine front seven is deeper than it was a year ago and while there may be some moving pieces and growing pains early on in the secondary, there is plenty of talent where this should not be a problem.

While Jim Harbaugh is suspended for the Wolverine’s first three games, the non-conference slate is pretty much a cakewalk. The Wolverines have the look to win their third straight Big Ten championship.

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Shane has been a Penn State fan since he attended his first game in Beaver Stadium when he was 8 years old. A Class of 2005 alum, he has been a contributing writer for Victory Bell Rings, Saturday Blitz and now Basic Blues Nation. He also hosts The Nittany and Badger: A Big Ten Football Podcast. Shane lives near Pittsburgh with his wife and son.


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