College football season is right around the corner and that means it is time to preview the year. The Bat Flip’s 2018 college football preview will feature several different conference previews along with a comprehensive preview looking at the entire season. If the past few seasons are any indication, 2018 should be filled with drama and chaos until the very end when Alabama wins another National Championship.
Check out our full college preview episode of the FlipCast right here.
Oftentimes, the Big Ten is the butt of a lot of jokes across the college football world. The conference has a long standing reputation of being more about playing hard nose, grind it out football than the splashy, fast paced modern version of the game.
For the most part, Big Ten teams have adapted to the modern game where the skill positions are more valuable than ever. On the flip side of that, the conference has done a great job at still holding on to aspects of the game that sets it apart from other conferences. While Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and even Wisconsin (to a point) move forward, there are still teams like Iowa and others who bring that certain charm to Big Ten football.
None of that is a knock on the conference or any of its 14 teams, it’s just a character trait that makes it more endearing to many college football fans and an easy target for its detractors.
Whatever your personal thoughts are on Big Ten football, it provides more than enough excitement to keep fans tuned in and produces perhaps the most difficult division in all of college football. Entering 2018, the Big Ten East will include FOUR teams ranked in the Top 15 of the preseason AP poll and all four could make a case to make the College Football playoff.
In the West division, Wisconsin still looks the favorite to reign supreme but several teams will be improved and licking their chops to knock the Badgers off their pedestal.
This is shaping up to be an incredible season of Big Ten football. You won’t want to miss a second.
Fourteen schools makes up the Big Ten conference with teams being split into two divisions of seven schools a piece. The divisions are as follows:
East: Indiana Hoosiers, Maryland Terrapins, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Rutgers Scarlet Knights
West: Illinois Fighting Illini, Iowa Hawkeyes, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers
Each team will play everyone in its division along with three teams from the opposite division for a total of nine conference games during the 2018 season. Once the regular season ends, the winner of the East division will take on the winner of the West division in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
- Official Name: Indiana University
- Head Coach: Tom Allen (2nd season)
- Location: Bloomington, Indiana
- 2017 Recap: 5-7 (2-7 Big Ten), 6th in Big Ten East
2018 Outlook: Playing in the Big Ten East is not easy for any of the seven teams in the division and it is especially difficult if you are not one of the traditional powers. That’s the case for Indiana but these are not your grandpa’s Hoosiers. Consecutive bowl trips in 2015 and 2016 should have this squad hungry to make another postseason appearance after taking a step back last season.
- Official Name: University of Maryland
- Head Coach: D.J. Durkin (3rd season), Matt Canada (acting head coach)
- Location: College Park, Maryland
- 2017 Recap: 4-8 (2-7 Big Ten), 7th in Big Ten East
2018 Outlook: Maryland was not supposed to be this bad in 2017 but such is life in the Big Ten East. To make matters worse, the Terrapins open the 2018 season in complete disarray. Head coach D.J. Durking is still on administrative leave while the school completes its investigation into the death of a player from earlier in the summer. An upset of Texas was the highlight of last season, but it is difficult to imagine Maryland doing much of anything this year.
Michigan State Spartans
- Official Name: Michigan State University
- Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (12th season)
- Location: East Lansing, Michigan
- 2017 Recap: 10-3 (7-2 Big Ten), 2nd in Big Ten East
2018 Outlook: A disastrous season in 2016 was quickly forgotten by the Spartan faithful thanks to a bounceback 2017 season that saw Sparty win 10 games, including victories over Michigan and Penn State. Now back in the national conversation, Michigan State will be a major factor in the hotly contested Big Ten East division. Anything less than another 10+ wins will be seen as a disappointment for the Spartans, especially with Ohio State and Michigan both traveling to East Lansing.
- Official Name: University of Michigan
- Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (4th season)
- Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
- 2017 Recap: 8-5 (5-4 Big Ten), 4th in Big Ten East
2018 Outlook: For all the hype Michigan receives you would expect them to have a few Big Ten titles under their belt. That has not been the case through Jim Harbaugh’s three seasons as head coach and the task is not getting any easier. An opening test against Notre Dame will be a good measuring stick for a team looking to finally break through and win the Big Ten. Should they fall flat once again, a coaching change could be in store for the Wolverines.
Ohio State Buckeyes
- Official Name: The Ohio State University
- Head Coach: Urban Meyer (7th season)
- Location: Columbus, Ohio
- 2017 Recap: 12-2 (8-1 Big Ten), 1st in Big Ten East, Big Ten Champion
2018 Outlook: Ohio State is another Big Ten program under heavy scrutiny as the 2018 season kicks off. Head coach Urban Meyer is suspended the first three games of the season for his involvement in the Zach Smith scandal and once he returns questions will still linger. As always, the Buckeyes have the talent to win a national championship but it remains to be seen how the scandal effects the players going forward.
Penn State Nittany Lions
- Official Name: The Pennsylvania State University
- Head Coach: James Franklin (5th season)
- Location: State College, Pennsylvania
- 2017 Recap: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten), 3rd in Big Ten East
2018 Outlook: Consecutive 11 win seasons have Penn State back in the upper echelon of college football and in the discussion to make the College Football Playoff. Saquon Barkley is gone along with a host of big time playmakers from past years, but Trace McSorley returns with Heisman aspirations. A turnover at the offensive coordinator position has some worried, but there is still enough talent to push the Nittany Lions to another double digit win season.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
- Official Name: Rutgers University
- Head Coach: Chris Ash (3rd season)
- Location: Piscataway, New Jersey
- 2017 Recap: 4-8 (3-6 Big Ten), 5th in Big Ten East
2018 Outlook: Overall, Rutgers finished with a worse record than Indiana but ahead of them in conference. Don’t let that fool you however, Indiana blasted Rutgers 41-0 in their meeting last year and Rutgers was still badly outscored for the whole season. This year’s schedule actually works in their favor to begin the season but turns into a nightmare with the final four games being against Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State. Expect a return to the Big Ten East basement for the Scarlet Knights.
Illinois Fighting Illini
- Official Name: University of Illinois
- Head Coach: Lovie Smith
- Location: Champaign, Illinois
- 2017 Recap: 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten), 7th in Big Ten West
2018 Outlook: The Big Ten West is much less daunting that its counterpart to the east but that won’t matter much for the Illini this year. Bowl-less since the 2014 season, the Illini are still in a full on rebuild under Lovie Smith and appear to be a year away from sniffing the post season once again. It’s a young squad who should improve and even break its conference losing streak.
- Official Name: University of Iowa
- Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (20th season)
- Location: Iowa City, Iowa
- 2017 Recap: 8-5 (4-5 Big Ten), 3rd in Big Ten West
2018 Outlook: There have been few teams as consistent as Iowa over the years but that consistency usually results in between six or eight wins every year. Twelve wins in 2015 sent the Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl but for the most part Kirk Ferentz has delivered slightly above average performances. A relatively favorable schedule means they only face Penn State out of the East and an upset over Wisconsin could put them in the West drivers seat. You can easily conceive a scenario where Iowa wins nine or ten games this season and plays in a New Year’s Day bowl game.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
- Official Name: University of Minnesota
- Head Coach: P.J. Fleck (2nd season)
- Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
- 2017 Recap: 5-7 (2-7 Big Ten), 6th in Big Ten West
2018 Outlook: A 3-0 start last season quickly turned to 3-3 then worse for the Golden Gophers in P.J. Fleck’s first season as head coach. A tough three game stretch in October sees Minnesota play Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska but if they can walk away still in one piece a bowl could be waiting for them in December. Still young in terms of experience, the biggest goal this season will be showing positive improvement from last year.
- Official Name: University of Nebraska
- Head Coach: Scott Frost
- Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
- 2017 Recap: 4-8 (3-6 Big Ten), 5th in Big Ten West
2018 Outlook: A once proud program, Nebraska has gone through some lean years since joining the conference but looked poised for a rebirth under new head coach Scott Frost. An immediate turnaround may be a little too much to ask (schedule features Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State) but fans will just be looking for any hope that the future is as bright as its past once was. Simply returning to bowl play should be the target for Frost and Co. this season.
- Official Name: Northwestern University
- Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (13th season)
- Location: Evanston, Illinois
- 2017 Recap: 10-3 (7-2 Big Ten), 2nd in Big Ten West
2018 Outlook: Northwestern ended 2017 on an eight game winning streak* that featured victories over No. 16 Michigan State and SEC foe Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. This also marked the second time in three seasons that Northwestern won 10 games in a season, quite a feat for the former basement dwelling side. The schedule will not be easy but the Wildcats are an experienced team and could be a real threat to win the West division.
*Northwestern defeated Purdue 31-27 on Thursday night to extend its winning streak to nine games.
- Official Name: Purdue University
- Head Coach: Jeff Brohm (2nd season)
- Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
- 2017 Recap: 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten), 4th in Big Ten West
2018 Outlook: Back in the postseason after four years away, Purdue exceeded expectations under first year coach Jeff Brohm in 2017. They may find the road back to the postseason a little more difficult in 2018 with a difficult schedule but most major matchups will on their home turf. If the Boilermakers can pull a few upsets like last season, a second straight bowl trip may be on the horizon.
- Official Name: University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Head Coach: Paul Chryst (4th season)
- Location: Madison, Wisconsin
- 2017 Recap: 13-1 (9-0 Big Ten), 1st in Big Ten West, Big Ten runner-up
2018 Outlook: No team better encapsulates Big Ten football than the Wisconsin Badgers and they make it work in a way that produces results. A loss in the Big Ten Championship game kept them out of the playoff but they took their frustrations out on Miami in the Orange Bowl. The schedule is a little more difficult for the Badgers this season but they are a safe bet to notch a fifth consecutive double-digit win season and book a return trip to Indianapolis for the third time in four years.
All schedules courtesy fbschedules.com
Five Games to Watch
Michigan v. Notre Dame (September 1st): If Michigan wants to be considered a national contender then they will need to make a statement on opening weekend with a victory in primetime against the Fighting Irish.
Penn State v. Ohio State (September 29th): A game that could very well decide the Big Ten East division and it will be a White Out night in Happy Valley. This will mark Urban Meyer’s first road game/Big Ten game following his three game suspension.
Michigan State v. Michigan (October 20th): This game is always a fun inter-state rivalry but it carries more importance than ever given the national implications at play. This matchup is a sandwich game between a showdown with Penn State for both sides.
Penn State v. Wisconsin (November 10th): By the time this game rolls around, the Big Ten picture should be taking shape. Depending on how things fall as the season progresses, this showdown could very well be a preview of the Big Ten Championship scheduled to take place just three weeks later.
Ohio State v. Michigan (November 24th): Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany would love nothing more than for this game to have conference and national implications riding on it. One of the biggest rivalries in all of college football could decide much more than just bragging rights.
2018 Big Ten Predictions
It would not be a preview post without making some season predictions that will surely be wrong before the calendar hits October. Here is the Bat Flip’s official 2018 Big Ten football predictions.
Projected Order of Finish
East: Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers
West: Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois
Big Ten Championship Game
Penn State def. Wisconsin, 38-30
Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year: Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: Nick Bosa, DL, Ohio State
Big Ten Coach of the Year: James Franklin, Penn State
That’s a wrap on our 2018 Big Ten football preview. Stay tuned for more college football coverage throughout the 2018 season and you can check out our full college football preview episode of the FlipCast right here.