So much instability and change are flowing through college football and college sports right now. The conference landscape in 2023 is very different from what we will see in 2024. Next year, four new teams will join the Big Ten, and four new teams will join the Big 12. Two teams will leave the Big 12 and move to the SEC. The Pac-12 will cease to exist.
It’s impossible to avoid comparisons of the current Big 12 with next year’s Big 12, with the current SEC and next year’s SEC, this year’s ACC with next year’s ACC, and so on. People who follow college sports are intensely interested in comparing the way things are with the way things will be one year from now.
All of this includes a comparison of this year’s Big Ten with next year’s version of the conference. We will spend the season wondering how USC — also Oregon, Washington, and UCLA — stack up against the Big Ten teams they will join next year.
Let’s begin with a rankings list of the 2024 Big Ten — including the incoming Pac-12 teams — after Week 1 of the college football season:
Northwestern was awful against Rutgers. It will be awful for the rest of the season as the program drifts along after a brutal offseason marked by scandal and the dismissal of previous coach Pat Fitzgerald.
The Boilermakers led Fresno State for much of the day but lost late at home. New coach Ryan Walters has a lot of work to do.
For Nebraska news and coverage, visit Cornhuskers Wire.
Indiana might be worse than Nebraska and Purdue, but since the Hoosiers lost to Ohio State — a top-tier team — they won’t be ranked below the Huskers or Boilermakers this week.
Illinois — in a game which was never comfortable — barely beat Toledo at home. It was a shaky performance by a team which did really well last season and is trying to establish stability.
Maryland won easily, but it played an FCS opponent, so it won’t be highly ranked.
Northwestern is so bad — worse than some MAC teams other Big Ten teams played in Week 1 — that Rutgers’ quality of resume is lower than those other Big Ten teams.
For Rutgers news and coverage, visit Rutgers Wire.
The Badgers struggled for one half against Buffalo before pulling away in the second half. They’re not going to get a very high ranking based on that performance against that opponent.
For Wisconsin news and coverage, visit Badgers Wire.
The Spartans defeated Central Michigan in a decent but entirely unremarkable performance.
For Michigan State news and coverage, visit Spartans Wire.
Iowa got off to a very fast start but then labored through the last three quarters of a ho-hum win over Utah State.
For Iowa news and coverage, visit Hawkeyes Wire.
The Buckeyes might be one of the top two teams in the Big Ten, but weekly rankings are based on resumes and actual results. Beating Indiana — a bad team — doesn’t put Ohio State in the top tier of Big Ten teams after Week 1. This is simply a function and product of how rankings should operate.
For Ohio State news and coverage, visit Buckeyes Wire.
East Carolina isn’t expected to be particularly strong this year, so for now, we can’t put too much stock in a 30-3 win over the Pirates. Michigan’s big tests come later.
For Michigan news and coverage, visit Wolverines Wire.
Coastal Carolina should be better than the teams Ohio State (Indiana), Michigan (East Carolina), Iowa (Utah State), and others defeated in Week 1, but a lot of that is admittedly projection. UCLA handled Coastal, however, so the Bruins land here after Week 1.
Penn State handled West Virginia with relative ease. West Virginia might not be quite as good as Coastal Carolina (though that is a projection), but Penn State beat WVU a lot more convincingly than UCLA defeated Coastal. PSU gets the slight edge over the Bruins.
For Penn State news and coverage, visit Nittany Lions Wire.
Oregon played an FCS team, but the Ducks scored 81 points and won by more than 70. That vaults them higher than the other teams which beat FBS teams but didn’t play nearly as well.
For Oregon news and coverage, visit Ducks Wire.
USC’s wins aren’t hugely impressive, but the Trojans do have two wins instead of one.
Nebraska isn’t a great team, but it is better than most of the other opponents Big Ten teams defeated in Week 1. Minnesota is highly unlikely to be the second-best team in the Big Ten by season’s end, but remember: Rankings are not projections. They are based on what teams have done, not what people think they will do. Minnesota has the second-best win of any 2024 Big Ten team through Week 1 of the 2023 season.
However, one team has a better win.
Beating Boise State is a better win than a win over Nebraska, or East Carolina, or San Jose State, or Indiana, or West Virginia, or Buffalo, or any of the other teams Big Ten schools defeated in Week 1.
Beating Boise State by more than 30? Even better. Washington is No. 1 among 2024 Big Ten schools after Labor Day weekend.