Week 1 is here. Big Ten football is back. It is the end of an era, the last year of true divisional Big Ten football. It is the last year before the West Coast expansion of the conference, the end of a way of college football that we all knew and loved.
To commemorate such an impactful event, this Week 1 isn’t your typical season opener. Not every team has decided to take the easy route and schedule a cupcake team to start the season.
A couple of teams did, but not everyone. To start out the year, there are some truly intriguing matchups worth changing the channel for.
With the festivities starting on Thursday night with primetime Big Ten action, here is a look at every game the conference has to offer to start the 2023 season.
Nebraska vs. Minnesota
Thursday night lights!
Big Ten football is so back, and to commemorate it, Fox is giving us a heck of a season opener. In week one we have a monumental primetime matchup in the Big Ten West Division between hosts Minnesota and Nebraska.
It will be a new-look offense for P.J. Fleck. This will be the first time in years that Tanner Mordecai does not start the season as Minnesota’s quarterback. Sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis enters the season with a lot of promise, fans hoping his arm can lift the Gophers offense to new heights.
Minnesota has the pleasure of welcoming new Cornhuskers skipper Matt Rhule back to the college football world. Rhule makes his Big Ten debut after a stint as the head coach for the Carolina Panthers. His reputation in the college realm proceeds itself, turning both Temple and Baylor into forces to be reckoned with during his tenure as head coach. Now he looks to do the same for a Nebraska team that hasn’t been bowl eligible since 2016. They have the longest bowl drought out of all Power Five Conference teams.
Michigan State vs. Central Michigan
The Spartans’ opening week contest against in-state opponent Central Michigan is huge. Even in their wins last year, the 5-7 Spartans rarely won convincingly.
While some see a bounce-back for Michigan State, wins could be hard to come by for Mel Tucker’s squad. After a 5-7 season, Michigan State lost a good amount of talent to both the draft and the transfer portal. Their schedule also doesn’t do them any favors, with a game against Washington and trips to Iowa and Minnesota alongside their usual East Division gauntlet.
Michigan State cannot afford a slip up against an opponent they should soundly defeat. This has to be a confidence booster to start the season, who on the Spartans roster will take the opportunity to shine?
Michigan vs. East Carolina
What a Saturday afternoon showcase game for Peacock!
I hope you paid for a subscription folks, because you certainly do not want to miss Michigan against East Carolina!
As part of their always daunting non-conference schedule that also features UNLV and Bowling Green, the Pirates really aren’t a bad team. They are a respectable ACC outfit, going 8-5 last season.
The Wolverines will also be without head coach Jim Harbaugh, but it shouldn’t really matter. This is a team that has national championship aspirations after falling in the semifinals in back-to-back years. The defense is elite and they have arguably the best running back duo in the country in Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards.
Iowa vs. Utah State
Saturday football on FS1 is BACK, and who better to ring in the new year with than Iowa? Network executives better hope that this season opener is better than the Hawkeyes 7-3 win over South Dakota State last year.
It should be too for the Hawkeyes. While it hasn’t been confirmed that Cade McNamara will play, he has practiced all week. Everyone is excited to see how McNamara can elevate a Hawkeyes offense that was amongst the worst in college football last year.
The Hawkeyes will certainly have a great opportunity to show what the offense can do against an Aggies team that had one of the worst defenses in the nation last season. Look for Kaleb Johnson and the run game to try and get out ahead early in week one.
Purdue vs. Fresno State
This is one of the more interesting week one games, and the betting lines reflect that. Bet MGM has Purdue as a slight favorite at 3.5 points.
Both teams will feature new quarterbacks after their star passers moved on to the NFL. The Boilermakers are placing their faith in Texas transfer Hudson Card, while Fresno State has brought in Central Florida quarterback Mikey Keene.
Saturday will be the head coaching debut for Purdue coach Ryan Walters. Walters makes his way to the Boilermakers after a short but successful tenure as Illinois’ defensive coordinator.
Ohio State vs. Indiana
What a way to start off the season for the Hoosiers. Back-to-back bad season with Tom Allen’s butt firmly on the hottest seat in college football, surely sounds like a great idea to start off against Ohio State.
Whenever you can start off a make-or-break season against the fourth-ranked team, you just have to do it.
Kyle McCord is the starter for the Buckeyes. While unproven, he inherits a heck of a supporting cast. Marvin Harrison Jr. is the best wide receiver in the nation, and Emeka Egbuka is not far behind. The Buckeyes also have a great one-two-punch at running back in TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams.
Indiana, meanwhile looks to complete one of the biggest upsets of the season right away. We don’t know who the starting quarterback will be for the Hoosiers yet, Tom Allen is not telling.
Wisconsin vs. Buffalo
This has the makings of a fantastic showcase for just what Wisconsin can do this season.
Change is not something we associate with Badgers football. They’ve been the same team for years, an old school style squad that dominates both lines of scrimmage and keeps you out of the end zone. Things look to be slightly different now though.
While new head coach Luke Fickell will, of course, look to maintain that offensive integrity, he will attempt to completely upheave the sleepy Badgers offense. With the aid of offensive coordinator Phil Longo from Notre Dame, Wisconsin will look to employ the “Dairy Raid” offense.
Air raid specialist Tanner Mordecai is in from Southern Methodist to command the offense. It will be interesting to see just how running back Braelon Allen fits in with this new system as well. Buffalo is the perfect tune-up game for the new Wisconsin offense.
Maryland vs. Towson
Maryland takes on Towson for the first time since 2017. They won that contest 63-17, and it’s hard to imagine a much different result this time around.
The Terps offense returns a good amount of weapons, led by experienced quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa has gone from a talented question mark, to one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. He is joined talented FIU transfer Tyrese Chambers at receiver, alongside Roman Hemby at running back.
Starting out against an FCS opponent, look for Maryland to set off some fireworks in week one.
Penn State vs. West Virginia
The Nittany Lions enter this game with high expectations. Ranked seventh in the USA Today Coaches Poll, Penn State is expected to make a run at the College Football Playoffs.
The Nittany Lions have always had a really good team as a whole, minus the weird covid season. They always seemed to be just a quarterback away. While Sean Clifford certainly wasn’t the worst passer, he simply wasn’t enough to elevate Penn State to that next level.
James Franklin is hoping that sophomore quarterback Drew Allar can lead his team to greatness. Allar played sparingly last season, immediately impressing with his arm talent. West Virginia will be our first real look at Allar as the starter.
He has a ton of talent surrounding him, highlighted by the running back position. Both Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen have star-level abilities. The defense, coached by Manny Diaz in his second season, figures to be as strong as ever.
Illinois vs. Toledo
Illinois is one of the more intriguing teams to watch in week one. They surprised everyone by going 8-5 last season, nearly making it to the Big Ten Championship game. They lost a lot though. Gone is most of their fantastic secondary, as well as work-horse running back Chase Brown. They also need to replace starting quarterback Tommy Devito as well.
Luke Altmyer finally gets his chance to start in 2023. Transferring to the Illini after two seasons at Mississippi, the sophomore quarterback has a lot of people excited with his downfield passing ability. It will be interesting to see how he works with budding star wide receiver Isaiah Williams. Also intriguing is the Illinois backfield as they try and replace Brown. Both Reggie Love III and Josh McCray are capable backs.
With how much they lost in the secondary, three players drafted, we will see just how the new-look Illinois defense plays. Given head coach Bret Bielema’s track record, they will still be up to the task against a strong Jason Candle-coached Toledo squad.
Rutgers vs. Northwestern
What a way to end the week!
To try and fill the gap of the last Sunday without professional football, the Big Ten was gracious enough to give us Rutgers and Northwestern.
Two bottom-dwellers of the Big Ten, this is a must-win for either side if they hope to become bowl eligible this season.
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