Conference breakdown | Expanded Big Ten football tier rankings post-spring practice (2024)

Things have shaken up in the Big Ten, providing a perfect time to find out where teams stack up ahead of the 2024 season.

With Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington joining the conference, an uptick in scoring is expected from the teams hailing from the Pac-12 — a conference notorious for its lack of defense.

The four teams’ offensive prowess could prove too much for the traditional Big Ten squads — though it wasn’t enough for Washington to take down Michigan in last year’s national championship.

Regardless of how it changes things, here’s where teams stand within the conference going into the summer.

Conference breakdown | Expanded Big Ten football tier rankings post-spring practice (1)

Top contenders

Michigan

Despite losing coach Jim Harbaugh to the Los Angeles Chargers, the defending champs remain a top contender.

Along with losing Harbaugh to the NFL, the Wolverines had 13 players selected in the NFL Draft, including quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running back Blake Corum, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and wide receiver Roman Wilson.

Still, new head coach Sherrone Moore has Corum’s partner-in-crime, Donovan Edwards, along with projected first-round picks Will Johnson, Kenneth Grant and Mason Graham returning to the program.

The maize and blue is left with a hole at the most important position, though. It’s likely that junior Alex Orji takes McCarthy’s spot at quarterback, though he’s mainly been used as a runner so far.

Michigan led the nation defensively, allowing just 9.5 points per game. With a dominant defensive line and Johnson still starring at cornerback, that will likely continue.

Oregon

Oregon’s run to the top of college football was nearly axed after Alabama legend Nick Saban retired, but coach Dan Lanning quickly dispelled all departure rumors. The 38-year-old coach took over the Ducks program in 2022, and has completely overhauled the squad with top-notch recruiting and coaching.

Last season, Oregon finished 12-2 and was just three points shy of a College Football Playoff berth, losing to Washington 34-31 in the conference championship.

Its biggest loss also comes at the most important position, with Bo Nix going No. 12 overall to the Broncos. Lanning went portaling though, and with 247 Sports’ No. 3 transfer portal class of the year, he brought in Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel and big-time receiver Evan Stewart.

With Ohio State and Michigan as their biggest matchups of 2024, Oregon could lock in a College Football Playoff spot even if it finished third in the Big Ten standings.

Ohio State

Ryan Day won the offseason in the Big Ten, and it's likely he gets rewarded come the season.

The biggest fish Day and Co. reeled in is SEC Freshman of the Year, safety Caleb Downs, from Alabama. Quarterback Kyle McCord transferred to Syracuse, but Kansas State transfer Will Howard is the projected starter and a clear upgrade, especially under new coordinator Chip Kelly.

Kelly has toys in his backfield, too, with TreVeyon Henderson and Ole Miss transfer Quinshon Judkins set to take handoffs as arguably the top running back duo in the country.

The Buckeyes’ biggest opponents are Oregon, Penn State and Michigan, providing a tough but doable path to Indianapolis.

Close, but work to do

USC

After a year in which an abysmal defense let down coach Lincoln Riley, he lost his biggest offensive playmaker as well.

Heisman-winning quarterback Caleb Williams helped the Trojans hang in games despite giving up 34.4 points per game on the other side, but he went No. 1 overall to the Bears in the NFL draft.

Replacing Williams is likely Miller Moss, who earned Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP after throwing for six touchdowns against Louisville. Defensively, USC cleaned house and added former UCLA coordinator D’Anton Lynn, whose Bruins allowed under 300 yards per game in 2023.

Penn State

At its most important positions, Penn State returns quarterback Drew Allar, running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, and now-defensive end Abdul Carter.

Its secondary also remains deep, with Kevin Winston Jr. and Jaylen Reed among the top returning contributors. In addition, some of the Nittany Lions’ previous top recruits will get a chance to shine, such as Tony Rojas and Dani Dennis-Sutton.

Still, the biggest questions remain in the receiving room, and they’ve only gotten louder with the departure of KeAndre Lambert-Smith to Auburn.

With new coordinators on both sides of the ball, James Franklin’s unit has questions to answer but can be confident in its standing given the depth around the team.

Conference breakdown | Expanded Big Ten football tier rankings post-spring practice (3)

Not quite there

Rutgers

After one of its most successful seasons in memory, Rutgers was blessed with a favorable schedule in 2024.

The Scarlet Knights’ biggest matchup comes against USC, and even with a loss, they could put themselves in the conference title game with an impressive conference record.

Still, that requires coach Greg Schiano to continue elevating this squad, which was made possible with 4-star transfer receiver Dymere Miller and others joining the squad.

Iowa

Iowa finished the season ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll, and it looks like the Hawkeyes get another crack at being ranked in 2024.

Iowa’s biggest losses are cornerback Cooper DeJean and tight end Erick All to the NFL, and the squad only brought one player in via the transfer portal.

In the new-look conference, Iowa’s biggest opponent is Ohio State, with the rest of the teams being multiple tiers below. The Hawkeyes could still find their way in the conference championship game, especially if they pull off the unthinkable.

Washington

Expectations are much lower for Washington following a near-national championship year under now-Atlanta Falcon Michael Penix Jr. and a deep receiving room.

Penix and his playmakers weren’t the only ones to depart — Washington saw 28 players leave via the transfer portal and 10 head off to the draft.

Coach Kalen DeBoer is now at Alabama, and his replacement Jedd Fisch doesn’t have high expectations, though he brought in 21 transfers including record-breaking Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers.

Conference breakdown | Expanded Big Ten football tier rankings post-spring practice (4)

Battling for bowl contention

Wisconsin

Wisconsin hasn’t won a division title since 2019 and hasn’t had much overall success, winning seven games in each of its last two seasons.

With the transfer additions of Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and Michigan State receiver Tyrell Henry, coach Luke Fickell has the Badgers pointed in the right direction. But this year just doesn’t seem like the one.

Maryland

Year after year, Maryland puts itself in a favorable position heading into conference play and squanders it.

With the loss of quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to the NFL and star linebacker Jaishawn Barham to Michigan, Mike Locksley’s squad is hurt on both ends.

Matchups against Oregon, USC, Penn State and Iowa could prove too tall and potentially put Locksley on the hot seat after another failed rebuild in College Park.

UCLA

Headlined by the loss of edge rusher Laiatu Latu to the NFL and Lynn’s move to the Trojans, UCLA’s defense won’t be what it was in 2023.

With DeShaun Foster making his head-coaching debut, the Bruins are in an obvious rebuild but could make a run for bowl contention. Foster brought in a class of 15 transfers and could squeak out six victories.

Nebraska

Nebraska’s rebuild under coach Matt Rhule has been slow but noticeable. He only has a 5-7 record to show for it, but that came with several close losses.

The competition may prove too steep for the Cornhuskers in 2024, but the future is bright with 5-star Dylan Raiola expected to start in the fall, which will put Rhule one step closer to building the program the way he did at his previous stops.

Northwestern

Coach David Braun enters his first season without the interim tag after having it removed late last season while capturing Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Still, Northwestern will be forced to go through Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan if it hopes to capture a Big Ten title.

The overall schedule isn’t too taxing, though, so Braun could easily pull off enough victories to become bowl eligible.

Conference breakdown | Expanded Big Ten football tier rankings post-spring practice (5)

Non-factors

Purdue

Coach Ryan Walters’ first season at the helm wasn’t a beauty, and 2024 doesn’t look too promising either.

Purdue went 4-8 last season and lost 28 players to the portal. Last year, the defense also struggled, surrendering 30.4 points per game.

With matchups against Notre Dame, Oregon State, Oregon, Ohio State and Penn State, the Boilermakers likely won’t make any noise.

Michigan State

The Michigan State program is still a mess following the early-season exit of coach Mel Tucker following sexual harrassment allegations.

After a 4-8 campaign, the Spartans lost 39 players to the transfer portal and are clearly reshaping the program against a rough slate of Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa and Michigan.

Minnesota

Minnesota has been headed in a downward trend, and the new format isn’t helping.

The Golden Gophers won just three conference games last season and lost to bottomfeeders like an early-season Northwestern squad and Illinois.

Illinois

Illinois won just five games last season, and losing Jer’Zhan Newton to the second round of the NFL draft is the icing on the cake for their 2024 campaign.

The Fighting Illini’s top receivers, Isaiah Williams and Casey Washington, also departed for the NFL, leaving Illinois without much to work with in the expanded conference.

Indiana

The Hoosiers won just one conference game last season after boasting a run game in which no player surpassed 400 yards on the ground.

As such, Tom Allen was relieved of his head coaching duties and Indiana brought in coach Curt Cignetti from the 11-1 James Madison squad to start the rebuild.

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