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2024 Big Ten win totals: Analyzing schedule projections where Ohio State too low, UCLA too high

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton06/04/24


We’ve officially hit the dog days of the college football offseason, as recruiting takes center stage over the next month while teams eagerly (or wearily!) await media days and training camp. 

The transfer portal has mostly been emptied of impact players and most all 2024 signees are on campus by now, too. Overall, we have as good of a read on these teams that we’ll get until August. 

Not too long ago, On3 partner Fan Duel updated its 2024 regular-season win totals.

Yesterday, we kickstarted the series looking at the latest SEC projections

Like the SEC, the Big Ten has two teams with the highest preseason over/under projections in the entire country (Ohio State and Oregon), a couple of schools expected to be in the mix for a College Football Playoff berth (Michigan and Penn State) and then an absolute rock fight for most of the rest of the league just to make a bowl game (eight schools with totals set between 5.5-6.5). 

With the latest information post-portal, post-spring, here’s a little Too High? Too Low? Just Right? with the 2024 Big Ten win total projections. 

Michigan coach Sherrone Moore seems to like his first U-M team. Junfu Han | USA TODAY NETWORK
Michigan coach Sherrone Moore seems to like his first U-M team. Junfu Han | USA TODAY NETWORK

Illinois: 5.5 — Just Right

With former Ole Miss transfer Luke Altmyer back at quarterback for a second season in Champagne, the Fighting Illini are looking to return to bowl eligibility after going 5-7 in 2023. The problem is Illinois’ offense must replace its top playmaker in wideout Isaiah Williams, and a defense that suffered a major slippage in 2023 (from No. 2 nationally in yards per play allowed to 45th) no longer has NFL defensive linemen Johnny Newton and Keith Randolph Jr. around either.

The schedule is gnarly, too, with a non-conference game against Kansas (a preseason Top 25 team), a home date with Michigan and road games at Nebraska, Penn State, Oregon and Rutgers. They do draw several of the other bottom-feeders of the Big Ten (Purdue, Michigan State and Minnesota), but getting to a bowl game still looks like a coin-flip proposition.

Indiana: 5.5 — Just Right

If you believe in Curt Cignetti‘s vision for the Hoosiers’ program and the way he’s upgraded the roster with the likes of Ohio transfer quarterback Kurtis Rourke and a host of defensive starters, then Indiana’s preseason number looks a tad short. 

On the other hand, should the Hoosiers really be a guaranteed bowl team when they haven’t sniffed the postseason since 2020 and have just nine wins total in the last three seasons combined? The Hoosiers should sweep a cake non-conference, so they’ll need to find three conference victories to reach the postseason in Cignetti’s first year.

Iowa: 7.5 — Too Low

The Hawkeyes won 10 games last season despite fielding an offense from the 1960s, and now they’re expected to win fewer than eight regular-season games? Color me skeptical. 

Iowa will be improved offensively in 2024 — because bad would be a step forward for a unit that averaged a measly 3.9 yards per play. They also return one of the top linebacker pairings and secondary units in all of college football. Kirk Ferentz has won at least nine games in four of the last five full seasons, and the floor for the Hawkeyes looks like 8-4 against a very manageable schedule. 

Maryland: 6.5 — Too Low

The Terrapins were one of the few Big Ten teams to see their win-total change since the initial numbers were released before the spring, as Mike Locksley saw Maryland’s projection drop by a full game in the latest update. I think the line should’ve stayed were it was. 

NC State transfer quarterback MJ Morris enters the summer as the heir apparent to Taulia Tagovailoa, but there are concerns along the offensive line (five new starters) and in the secondary. Still, Locksley has the program going in the right direction, eying a third-straight 8-win season. If the Terps are able to win at Virginia in Week 2, they could very conceivably start 6-0. The second-half schedule is tough (vs. USC, road games at Oregon and Penn State) but there’s still a win or two on there. 

Michigan: 9.5 — Just Right

The reigning national champs still have to decide on a quarterback between Alex Orji, senior walk-on Davis Warren and perhaps others, but Sherrone Moore deserves credit for keeping the bulk of the roster intact after the program’s transition from the Jim Harbaugh regime. Not only do the likes of Will Johnson, Kenneth Grant and Mason Graham — all future 1st Round picks — return, but Michigan did some nice work in the spring portal, especially addressing needs in the secondary. 

Even with so many changes to the coaching staff and offensive depth chart, Michigan should still be able to physically dominate the majority of opponents on its schedule. However, it’s a slog of a slate that includes losable games against Texas, USC, Oregon and Ohio State. Winning double-digit games should be considered a real success for Moore in Year 1. 

Michigan State: 4.5 — Just Right

The Spartans are a program in transition, as new head coach Jonathan Smith was hired to clean up the mess left over by Mel Tucker & Co. Michigan State upgraded at quarterback this offseason (potential star in ex-Oregon State quarterback Aidan Chiles) but the rest of the roster was raided by portal departures — including multiple defensive tackles this spring. 

Still, while Year 1 looks like a reset, this is a team that essentially quit on the 2023 season and still won four games. They schedule is quite similar this fall, too: Super difficult in some spots (Ohio State, at Oregon, at Michigan) with winnable games elsewhere. A Week 4 road trip at Boston College could be the key to flirting with bowl eligibility.

Minnesota: 5.5 — Too High

Coming off a 6-7 season, PJ Fleck enters the fall with the lowest expectations since he took over the program in 2017. The Gophers won just five regular-season games last fall, and with real issues offensively, Fleck moved on from quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis and brought in University of New Hampshire transfer Max Brosmer, who led the FCS in total offense and passing yards in 2023.

The schedule does Minnesota no favors for a rebound season, though. Among the most difficult in the Big Ten this season, the Gophers have a non-conference opener against North Carolina, and then face another six teams with higher preseason win totals (USC, Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa, Michigan, Rutgers). This is a program that’s in real danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2020.

Nebraska: 7.5 — Too Low

The Cornhuskers haven’t gone to the postseason in six years, but they’re expected to cruise to bowl eligibility in Matt Rhule’s second season in Lincoln. Optimism is once again sky-high for the Big Red, as the Cornhuskers return eight starters on a defense that allowed just 18.1 points per game and added 5-star freshman quarterback Dylan Raiola to a roster with improvements at wideout and receiver, too

Nebraska opens the year with four straight home games, and depending on how quickly Raiola acclimates to the speed of the college game, the Cornhuskers could be 7-0 when they play at Ohio State in late October. The program hasn’t won eight games in eight years, but the team’s floor might be 8-4 this season.

Northwestern: 5.5 — Just Right

Through grit, wit and a little luck, David Braun navigated Northwestern out of a tumultuous 2023 summer and somehow won seven regular-season games to earn the full-time promotion to head coach.

But the books clearly believe some pain is coming for the program — just a year later than most expected. The Wildcats lost starting quarterback Brendan Sullivan to Iowa, and due to construction at Ryan Field, they’ll be forced to play their home games at their practice facility. Northwestern does rank No. 1 in defensive returning production, per ESPN, but the schedule features Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa and a non-conference game against a pesky Duke team.

Ohio State: 10.5 — Too Low

Tied with Georgia, Texas and Oregon, the Buckeyes have the highest-preseason win total — and it still looks like the number is a tad short. The Buckeyes are going all-in on the 2024 season, and although there are some questions surrounding Will Howard‘s ceiling at quarterback, the rest of the roster consists of a Top 5 defense and two of the best receiver and running back rooms in the country. 

Ryan Day is under immense pressure to beat Michigan, win the Big Ten and make a deep College Football Playoff run, but he has the team capable of delivering the goods. The schedule isn’t overly daunting, either. Outside of a road game at Oregon, the Buckeyes will be favored in every other matchup this fall.

Oregon: 10.5 — Just Right

While Ohio State were the undisputed 2024 offseason champions, Oregon has a spot on the podium with the work Dan Lanning did in advance of the Ducks’ move to the Big Ten. Not only did Oregon sign another Top 10 recruiting class, but the Ducks added quarterback Dillon Gabriel, wideout Evan Stewart, corner Jabbar Muhammad and defensive tackle Derrick Harmon to the roster, too. 

Oregon misses former Pac-12 rival USC and the Ducks should finally get some revenge on a Washington team that’s had their number the last two seasons, but Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin (in late November) are all on the schedule. Their Week 2 game against Boise State is tricky, too.

Penn State: 9.5 — Just Right

Headlined by linebacker-turned-pass rusher Abdul Carter, the Nittany Lions return the bulk of a top-flight defense that should be among the best in the country in 2023. They upgraded at offensive coordinator, too, plucking Andy Kotelnicki away from Kansas with hopes that he can do similar wonders with Drew Allar as he did with Jalon Daniels.  

There are continued concerns at receiver, and it’s unclear if Allar is truly a 5-star quarterback or just another guy at the position for PSU. The 12-team CFP was seemingly made for James Franklin’s team, but they’ll have to earn their spot in 2024 with a schedule that includes an opener at West Virginia and a three-week stretch in the middle of the season at USC, at Wisconsin and against Ohio State.

Purdue: 4.5 — Too High

Barring a couple of stunning upsets, 2024 is shaping up to be the Year from Hell for Ryan Walters and the Boilermakers. Purdue’s best two players off last season’s team look like stars on new squads, (Wideout Deion Burks (Oklahoma) and edge rusher Nic Scourton (Texas A&M), and the program faces among the most arduous schedules in all of college football this fall. 

Boilermakers won four games in Walters’ first season, but they stand to be underdogs or coin-flip favorites in 11 of 12 games in 2024. They have non-conference matchups against Notre Dame and Oregon State, with Big Ten games against the likes of Nebraska, Wisconsin, Oregon, Ohio State and Penn State.

Rutgers: 6.5 — Just Right

Quarterback play has been a black hole for Scarlett Knights in recent years, but if Greg Schiano can get the most out of former Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, then Rutgers could win seven (or more) regular-season games for the first time since 2014. 

The defense brings back eight starters off a unit that allowed less than 22.0 points per game, and Schiano was blessed by the scheduling Gods. While Week 3 at Virginia Tech is tough, the Knights miss Ohio State, Oregon, Michigan and Penn State on the table this fall. 

UCLA: 5.5 — Too High

UCLA was put in a tough position when Chip Kelly made the stunning decision to leave for the offensive coordinator job at Ohio State, and while DeShaun Foster was an interesting replacement, the beloved alum looks in store for a bumpy 2024 season. 

Not only are the Bruins transitioning conferences with a first-time head coach, but the roster lost several of its best players either to the NFL Draft or to crosstown rival USC (Kamari Ramsey, John Humphrey, Kyle Ford). I haven’t done the exact math, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a team with a worse travel schedule than UCLA. They open at Hawaii, play at LSU in Week 3 and also have road games at Penn State, Rutgers, Nebraska and Washington.

USC: 7.5 — Just Right

Lincoln Riley didn’t come to Los Angeles to go 8-4, but that might be considered a decent season with the Trojans’ continued defensive unknowns and quarterback play that will undoubtedly be worse than Caleb Williams — who managed to go just 7-5 in 2023. Riley made some shrewd moves to his coaching staff (UCLA DC D’Anton Lynn, plus North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz and former Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk) and the personnel is better, too. 

But the spring ended in a thud, as USC whiffed on several high-profile offensive and defensive line targets — that stands to be problematic in Year 1 in the Big Ten. Riley was in the news last week with reports saying he desperately wanted out of USC’s opener against LSU in Las Vegas. The Trojans also play at Michigan, with Wisconsin, Penn State, Nebraska and Notre Dame all on the home slate.

Washington: 7.5 — Too High

Jedd Fisch takes over a team that lost in the national championship in 2023, and yet the Huskies bear no resemblance to Kalen DeBoer’s former squad — with zero offensive starters back and most of the defense gutted, too. 

Former Mississippi State transfer quarterback Will Rogers did opt to stick around, and Fisch brought in valuable contributors from Arizona, Cal, San Jose State, Oklahoma, Miami and Ohio State. Did he plug enough holes for Washington to be competitive in its first season in the Big Ten, though?

The Huskies get to ease into their 2024 schedule, but then it gets really gnarly once the calendar turns to October — with games down the stretch against Michigan, Iowa, USC, Penn State and Oregon, among others. 

Wisconsin: 6.5 — Just Right

The Badgers brought in former Miami transfer Tyler Van Dyke, but the former blue-chip quarterback didn’t win the job exiting the spring, which is a bit concerning for a program looking to make a leap in Year 2 under Luke Fickell. Wisconsin does project to be improved defensively this fall, adding a couple of plug-and-play linebackers and a pair of defensive linemen. 

Unfortunately, the schedule doesn’t call for many reasons to jump for joy, though. The Badgers host Alabama in Week 3, and then play at USC the very next week. The last month of the season features games against Penn State, at Iowa, Oregon and at Nebraska — all potential Top 25 teams. The program has bigger expectations than just making a bowl game, but that might be as good as they can manage in 2024.