USA TODAY Sports releases post-spring 2023 Big Ten Power rankings
With the spring football season officially in the history books, it’s time to jump into that next batch of way-too-early Power Rankings.
It’s the post-spring Power Rankings edition from USA TODAY Sports. Paul Myerberg took a crack at where he would rank each Big Ten team now that the spring season is complete.
Here’s his full rankings and thoughts. Plus, our reaction to the rankings below.
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Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
The question: Can this offense and defense get out of the cellar?
Northwestern’s defense ranked 10th nationally in yards per play in 2020, when the Wildcats reached the Big Ten championship game, offsetting an offense that ranked 110th in the same category. The defense plummeted to 106th nationally in 2021 but rebounded to 68th last season. Offensively, Northwestern ranked 120th and 123rd, respectively, the past two years and won four combined games. There’s more to like from the Wildcats’ defense heading into this season but continued concerns over an offense that brings back only a handful of starters and loses one of the nation’s best players in left tackle Peter Skoronski.
My thoughts: Thinking about Northwestern losing Skoronski off another offensively-challenged football team should be scary for any Northwestern fan. Pat Fitzgerald is Northwestern football, but if NU finishes with just one Big Ten win again, is that curtains?
Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK
The question: Can they put the pieces together in the secondary?
A huge influx of transfer talent will support a defense that brings back just two starters — though that may not be a bad thing given the Hoosiers’ recent defensive swoon. After making 17 interceptions to spark a memorable 2020 season, Indiana has given up a combined 54 touchdowns against just 12 picks the past two years. Last year’s group was one of just three nationally in allow 30 or more touchdowns and at least 8 yards per pass attempt.
My thoughts: It’s hard to believe that we’re just two years removed from Indiana being one of the toasts of college football. Think about this: The Hoosiers began the 2021 season ranked No. 17 nationally.
Since then? Indiana has won five games combined over the past two seasons and just two Big Ten games. Meanwhile, Michael Penix Jr. left for Washington and is one of the Heisman Trophy favorites.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
The question: Will increased depth lead to more consistency?
To cite one position, Greg Schiano now believes Rutgers has the depth on the offensive line to run the ball more consistently in conference play; last season, the Scarlet Knights ran for 682 yards on 4.9 yards per carry against non-conference competition and 856 yards on 2.9 yards per carry against the Big Ten. There’s similar optimism at running back and linebacker, where Mohamed Toure and Moses Walker return from injury. There are even some nice pieces at wide receiver, including a very promising youngster in sophomore Rashad Rochelle, though Rutgers does lose its top three at the position.
My thoughts: Yes, the running game needs to improve. But, Rutgers‘ fortunes are equally tied to whether or not they have serviceable quarterback play from Gavin Wimsatt and Evan Simon.
Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
The question: How good is the marriage of OC Graham Harrell and QB Hudson Card?
New Purdue coordinator Graham Harrell takes over an offense that loses three huge pieces in quarterback Aidan O’Connell, wide receiver Charlie Jones and tight end Payne Durham. In comes Texas transfer Hudson Card, who started multiple games the past two seasons with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Early feedback this spring has been positively glowing: Card has been singled out by teammates for his production, command and leadership qualities during the transition to a new staff.
My thoughts: If new Purdue head coach Ryan Walters can replicate the type of defense he built at Illinois, then the Boilermakers might really have something going forward. Purdue was 53rd nationally in total defense last season and 56th nationally in total offense. That was good enough to capture the Big Ten West in 2022.
Minus the aforementioned offensive weapons, it does seem like Purdue is due for a step backwards. Time will tell how far of a step back that is, if it’s a temporary step back and if Walters can actually elevate Purdue beyond where it was at last season.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
The question: How deep is the rotation at running back?
While questions persist about the depth and quality of the offensive line, Nebraska expects to run the football effectively under first-year coach Matt Rhule and running backs coach E.J. Barthel. (This is especially true if Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims is the starting quarterback.) Barring transfers, the Cornhuskers will have four players fighting for snaps in former Florida State transfer Anthony Grant, junior Rahmir Johnson, sophomore Gabe Ervin and redshirt freshman Ajay Allen.
My thoughts: Matt Rhule was highly successful in turning Baylor around following the mess that surrounded the end of Art Briles’ tenure in Waco. The roster rebuild is still priority No. 1 in Lincoln. Last season’s starting quarterback Casey Thompson just hit the transfer portal, so the Huskers will have a new face at the game’s most important position in Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims. How quickly can Sims and Rhule combine to make Nebraska competitive? It’s going to happen under Rhule, but is it in 2023?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The question: What’s up in the secondary?
Illinois’ defense brings back seven starters from one of the nation’s top units but will have a new coordinator in Aaron Henry, who was promoted from his role with the defensive backs to replace new Purdue coach Ryan Walters. But the losses in the secondary may be hard to overcome. Illinois has to find a way to match the production of former starters Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown, two of the nation’s very best in 2022.
My thoughts: I love Bret Bielema and respect what he did at Wisconsin as much as anyone. With that being said, I need to see at Illinois that he can stack back-to-back good seasons on top of one another and reload this defense minus the aforementioned stars and without its defensive coordinator in new-Purdue head football coach Ryan Walters. For now, Illinois is a Big Ten team I view as a serious fall from grace candidate.
Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports
The question: Can the freshmen get to the quarterback?
The Spartans will try to reboot the defensive line with several impressive newcomers. This includes Florida State transfer Jarrett Jackson and Liberty transfer Dre Butler, who will contribute on the interior. It’s on the edge that Michigan State is leaning on freshmen to beef up a pass rush that finished sixth in the Big Ten last season with 29 sacks. Four-star signees Bai Jobe and Andrew Depaepe are already on campus; Jalen Thompson will arrive this summer. Ken Talley is eligible after redshirting last season following his transfer from Penn State. The biggest addition is Texas A&M transfer Tunmise Adeleye, who has the frame and athleticism to earn all-conference honors.
My thoughts: Mel Tucker is recruiting well, reeling in the nation’s No. 26 and No. 22 classes in the 2022 and 2023 cycles, respectively. This No. 8 post-spring Power Ranking is a far cry from where analysts projected the Spartans to begin last season. That’s the greatest indication of how Michigan State has fallen away from the top of the East and powers Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The question: Could both lines be Maryland’s downfall?
There are reasons to highlight the Terrapins as a possible breakout team in 2023, including of the Big Ten’s top collections of skill talent headlined by veteran quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. The issue could be line play: Maryland has to rebuild up front on both sides of the ball, with the defense taking another hit this spring with the transfer of projected starter Tank Booker.
My thoughts: Maryland finished 8-5 (4-5 Big Ten) last season. Like Myerberg, I’m expecting more of the same. They return Tagovailoa, which is a great place to start. This No. 7 ranking is about right. They won’t be one of the best teams in the Big Ten, but, because of Tagovailoa, they shouldn’t be in the bottom third either. Perfectly average.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The question: Can Minnesota get more at receiver?
Chris Autman-Bell is expected to return this summer after suffering a season-ending leg injury last September. Minnesota also brings back Daniel Jackson after his strong close to 2022, which included 159 receiving yards and three touchdowns in wins against Wisconsin and Syracuse to end the season. But the Gophers need much more from the position to balance out the offense. Look for transfers Corey Crooms (Western Michigan) and Elijah Spencer (Charlotte) to contribute from the start, with Crooms on track to grab the starting role in the slot.
My thoughts: Getting Autman-Bell back into the fold and his 500-plus receiving yards and six touchdowns from 2021 is good news for Gopher fans. The big question for Minnesota is how good is the trigger man getting Autman-Bell and others the football? Athan Kaliakmanis passed for 946 yards and three touchdowns against four interceptions. He made five starts last season.
Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
The question: Will the Badgers go all-in on the Air Raid?
After years of success relying on an old-school approach, Wisconsin will embrace an offense with Air Raid concepts under new coach Luke Fickell and coordinator Phil Longo. There’s obvious interest in seeing how Fickell, Longo and the Badgers marry this new approach with the physicality that has defined the program for three decades. But will there even be a blending of styles, or will Wisconsin run an undiluted version of Longo’s scheme? Indications from the spring suggests there will be drastic departure from the norm.
My thoughts: Any chance this offensive staff wants to come to Iowa City? I kid, I kid. But isn’t it exciting to think about how different things might look for the Badgers? Imagine what they can accomplish offensively if they pair good quarterback play with running back Braelon Allen.
(Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
The question: Can the offense average 25 points per game?
That’s the magic number for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, at least, after he agreed to a reworked contract that requires a minimum of 25 points per game in 2023. The mandate makes sense: Iowa has allowed more than 24 points in a game four times in the past two seasons, losing each game. While it’s unlikely that Ferentz and Iowa reinvent the wheel offensively, the Hawkeyes will be boosted by the arrival of Michigan transfer Cade McNamara at quarterback. He should be a major improvement.
My thoughts: I still have lingering concerns about how much better Iowa’s offensive line will be in 2023. The wide receiver group is unproven outside of Nico Ragaini, too. Still, if the offensive line has taken that step forward—or if transfer portal additions Daijon Parker and Rusty Feth make serious contributions—then Iowa will back this post-spring ranking up.
Cade McNamara is a massive upgrade at quarterback, the running game has a budding star in Kaleb Johnson and the defense will remain one of the nation’s best in 2023. Iowa should factor into the Big Ten race and it’s easy to see why Myerberg likes the Hawks to win the West.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Dan Rainville / USA TODAY NETWORK
The question: Is Allar the missing piece?
Allar will be the Nittany Lions’ replacement for Sean Clifford after tossing four touchdowns in reserve duty as a freshman, even if James Franklin might not name an official starter until closer to the season opener. He represents the possible missing piece for an offense and broader program that has made multiple runs at the playoff but been edged out by Ohio State and Michigan.
My thoughts: As Myerberg noted, it’s showtime for the former five-star signee Drew Allar. Even with an experienced longtime starter in Clifford, Michigan beat Penn State soundly in Ann Arbor. The Nittany Lions couldn’t topple Ohio State either.
After a Rose Bowl victory to end last season, it’s clear that Penn State is one of the league’s most talented teams, though. The Nittany Lions are right there. They just have to find a way to topple the league’s two best. Maybe Allar really is the missing link. I tend to agree with the “believe it when I see it” logic. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting Penn State ahead of either Ohio State or Michigan just yet.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Joseph Scheller/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK
The question: Who takes over at kicker?
Two-year starting kicker Noah Ruggles connected on 37 of 41 field goals for the Buckeyes, though his reliability after transferring from North Carolina has been overshadowed by his 50-yard miss in the final seconds of last season’s loss to Georgia. One contender to replace Ruggles has already transferred in Jake Seibert, leaving two options heading into the summer: Parker Lewis, a former Southern California transfer, and walk-on Jayden Fielding.
My thoughts: Really? The kicker? No, the question for Ohio State is how do Ryan Day and the Buckeyes get over the sudden Michigan roadblock? Ohio State also happens to be replacing the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft in soon-to-be Houston Texans starting quarterback C.J. Stroud. How big of a dropoff is either Devin Brown or Kyle McCord for the Buckeyes?
Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK
The question: Will transfers boost the offensive line?
The Wolverines hit a home run last season with the addition of Virginia transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi, one of the nation’s top centers as a junior and senior. This year’s offensive line could have three Power Five transfers in the starting lineup. One is left tackle LaDarius Henderson, though he’s yet to arrive on campus from Arizona State. Stanford transfers Drake Nugent and Myles Hinton are also in the mix, with Nugent the favorite to take over for Oluwatimi at center.
My thoughts: Like many naysayers, I would’ve told you several years ago that Jim Harbaugh and Michigan were going nowhere nationally. I’ll take that plate of crow, please.
J.J. McCarthy needs to take the proper steps forward under center in order for Michigan to capitalize on what is a great opportunity to win the Big Ten for a third consecutive season and to win the program’s first national championship since 1997.
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