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2024 post-spring, post-portal Big Ten Power Rankings: Ohio State edges out Oregon, while Nebraska cracks Top 5

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton05/21/24


With spring football and the second transfer portal window (essentially) in the rearview mirror, we’re officially entered the doldrums of the college football offseason. 

Or have we?

Although the spring transfer window wasn’t the dizzying carousel many anticipated, so much has changed since the Early Signing Period in December now is the perfect time to asses where teams stand entering the summer before the 2024 season. Yesterday I released my updated 2024 SEC Power Rankings.

The Big Ten has the reigning national champion Michigan in its conference, and is the league even deeper and better in 2024 with Ohio State loading the barrel and Oregon, Penn State and USC all hoping to compete for a conference title. 

Can they?

Here’s how I think the league stacks up exiting the spring with the 2024 post-spring, post-portal Big Ten Power Rankings: 

Will Howard | Dillon Gabriel
Will Howard April 13, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Will Howard (18) thorws a pass while playing for the scarlet team during the first half of the LifeSports spring football game at Ohio Stadium on Saturday. | Dillon Gabriel Oregon quarterback Dillon Gabriel throws during warmups ahead of the Oregon Ducks’ Spring Game Saturday, April 27. 2024 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

1. Ohio State

The Buckeyes are the undisputed 2024 off-season champions, but that won’t mean anything if Ryan Day can’t capitalize on an all-in season this fall. Ohio State is loaded after returning every standout off a Top 5 defense, plus adding the likes of All-American safety Caleb Downs and All-SEC tailback Quinshon Judkins. Interestingly, Day decided not to name Will Howard the team’s starter exiting spring practice, and while the Kansas State transfer remains the likeliest option, Devin Brown and Alabama transfer Julian Sayin will continue to compete at the start of fall camp.

2. Oregon 

In advance of the program’s move to the Big Ten, the Ducks have had an excellent offseason. Dan Lanning inked another Top 10 recruiting class and signed a bevy of impact transfers, including quarterback Dillon Gabriel, wideout Evan Stewart and corner Jabbar Muhammad. Oregon grabbed one of the top defensive tackles on a thin market this spring (Michigan State’s Derrick Harmon) and plucked former fringe 5-star safety Peyton Woodyard away from Alabama.

3. Michigan 

The Wolverines exited the spring with an ongoing quarterback battle with as many as four players still nominally competing for the job. And yet, Sherrone Moore’s program was one of the spring window winners because Michigan held onto star players like Will Johnson, Kenneth Grant and Mason Graham — all future 1st Round picks — and adding four key pieces to the secondary including UNLV safety Ricky Johnson.

4. Penn State

The Nittany Lions spent the spring breaking in new coordinators on offense (Kansas’ Andy Kotelnicki) and defense (former Indiana head coach Tom Allen). James Franklin’s team should boast one of the saltier defenses in the country again this fall, and the hope is Drew Allar will make a leap playing in Kotelnicki’s system and throwing to the likes of Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming. Penn State did not add a single player in the second window, but they did see top returning wideout KeAndre Lambert-Smith (Auburn) and promising safety King Mack (Alabama) transfer.

5. Nebraska 

Is the Cornhusker hype too much again this offseason? I don’t think so. Matt Rhule was able to keep his defensive staff together while upgrading the offensive assistants. Freshman quarterback Dylan Raiola looked the part of a 5-star recruit during the spring, and portal upgrades at receiver, tailback and linebacker look like hits. It’s tough to bank on a freshman at QB, but Raiola raises Nebraska’s ceiling — which gives the Cornhuskers the slight edge over a group of teams that all could make cases for rounding out the Top 5 entering the summer. 

6. Iowa

The Hawkeyes made one of the sneakier moves of the spring portal window bringing in Northwestern transfer quarterback Brendan Sullivan. Although Cade McNamara is back in 2024, the Michigan transfer did not look healthy in the spring and Sullivan might represent an upgrade, anyways. Phil Parker’s defense stands to be fantastic once again (especially at linebacker, corner and safety), so if new OC Tim Lester can at least awaken Iowa’s moribund offense then Kirk Ferentz could find his way to another 9-10 win season. 

7. USC

Lincoln Riley got off to a hot start in the 2024 offseason, but the spring ended without much-needed sizzle along the offensive and defensive lines. The Trojans most failed to address key holes in the trenches, which stands to be problematic in Year 1 in the Big Ten. Miller Moss wasn’t overly impressive in the spring game, either, but USC does at least have options with UNLV transfer Jayden Maiava. The improvements on the defensive staff showed immediate signs this spring, but barring some late movement, the overall roster still isn’t where it needs to be for the Trojans to compete for a conference title this fall.  

8. Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights were handed a posh schedule in 2024 (no Ohio State, Oregon, Michigan or Penn State), so if Minnesota transfer Athan Kaliakmanis is the answer at quarterback then this is a team that could definitely finish in the top half (or better) of the Big Ten this fall. This spring, Kaliakmanis beat out incumbent Gavin Wimsatt, who transferred to Kentucky after losing the job. The defense returns the bulk of its starters off a Top 20 unit in 2023.

9. Washington

Following Kalen DeBoer’s departure to Alabama, the Huskies’ roster amassed significant attrition — particularly along the offensive line, secondary and receiving corps. New head coach Jedd Fisch raided his own former Arizona roster for more than a dozen transfers, plus added intriguing options from the likes of Miami, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Michigan during the spring. If Will Rogers can rediscover his groove in Fisch’s offense, the Huskies might’ve reloaded enough to not take a massive step backward (see 2023 TCU) off last year’s title-runner up team that brings back just two starters. 

10. Wisconsin

The Badgers should be better in Year 2 under Luke Fickell, as Phil Longo’s ‘Dairy Raid’ offense has had another offseason to get up to speed. Miami transfer Tyler Van Dyke is a bit of a reclamation project at quarterback, but he has more upside than Tanner Mordecai. Defensively, the Badgers are aiming to be better with a trio of newcomers at linebacker and a pair of new faces on the defensive line. Wisconsin’s biggest issue is a hellish 2024 schedule (Alabama + USC, Penn State, Oregon, Iowa and Nebraska), but they can’t change that during the offseason.

11. Michigan State

The Spartans experienced the gamut of change this offseason, excitedly introducing new head coach Jonathan Smith, as well as potential star ex-Oregon State quarterback Aidan Chiles and All-Pac 12 tight end Jack Velling. At the same time, Michigan State saw a mass exodus of transfers, getting hit really hard this spring along the defensive line, offensive line and secondary. They did add 10 players during the spring window, but this could be a reset season for Smith in Year 1. 

12. Illinois 

The Fighting Illini are really banking on former Ole Miss transfer Luke Altmyer to make a real leap in his second season as the team’s starter, as their offense must carry a team that lost its best two players in NFL defensive linemen Johnny Newton and Keith Randolph Jr. There’s optimism that Illinois may actually have one of the more underrated OLs in the Big Ten in 2024. Bret Bielema was not overly aggressively in the transfer portal, but Texas corner Terrance Brooks and FAMU defensive lineman Gentle Hunt were both solid spring adds.

13. Maryland 

NC State transfer quarterback MJ Morris enters the summer as the presumed starter for the Terps, who will have someone other than Taulia Tagovailoa at quarterback full-time for the first time in five seasons. Morris will be playing behind a completely rebuilt offensive line, including a trio of transfers who participated in spring practice. If Mike Locksley is able to coax a third-straight 8-5 (or better) season out of this squad, he’ll likely earn himself a nice contract extension.

14. Northwestern 

David Braun was the Coach of the Year in 2023, inheriting a program in total turmoil and then leading a 1-11 team to a 8-5 year as an interim head coach. Now fully in charge, Braun has put his stamp on Northwestern this offseason (couple staff changes, some roster attrition), but it’s difficult seeing an encore with the team’s questions at quarterback (Brendan Sullivan now at Iowa) and a brutal schedule (Duke, at Washington, at Iowa, Ohio State, at Michigan). If there’s any hope for the Wildcats it’s that they rank No. 1 in defensive returning production (per ESPN) off a unit that allowed just 22.5 points per game last season.  

15. UCLA

The Bruins look to be in store for a long 2024 season. New conference. First-year head coach. Major staff changes. Star defensive players either off to the NFL or transferring to conference foes. It’s been a rough six months. DeShaun Foster hired an intriguing staff with longtime NFL OC Eric Bieniemy and Ikaika Malloe taking over the defense, but the roster is in rough shape after seeing likely starters like Kamari Ramsey, John Humphrey, Kyle Ford and others transfer out of the program. 

16. Minnesota

Looking to avoid a second-straight losing season, PJ Fleck moved on from Athan Kaliakmanis and brought in University of New Hampshire transfer Max Brosmer to takeover as the Gophers’ starting quarterback. Minnesota ranked 13th in passing in 2023 — second-worst in the Big Ten, so the addition of Brosmer, who led the FCS in total offense, represents an upgrade, and the spring addition of Georgia wideout Tyler Williams should help, too. Will it be enough to get the Gophers back bowling, especially after losing respected DC Joe Rossi to Big Ten rival Michigan State and star safety Tyler Nubin to the NFL?

17. Purdue

Coming off a 4-8 season, Ryan Walters did some major portal’ing this offseason, bringing in 17 newcomers, including some promising players from Georgia, Notre Dame, Kentucky and UCLA. The Boilermakers also saw 2025 5-star corner commit Tarrion Grant reclassify and join the team for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, Purdue also lost its best two players off its 2023 team, as wideout Deion Burks (Oklahoma) and edge rusher Nic Scourton (Texas A&M) looked like some of the best individual players on their new squads this spring. Considering Notre Dame, Oregon and Ohio State are all on schedule, it could be another dismal season in West Lafayette.

18. Indiana 

New head coach Curt Cignetti brought over a slew of players with him from James Madison (including several during the spring window), and nabbed Ohio transfer quarterback Kurtis Rourke to take over the reigns at QB1. Cignetti has won everywhere he’s been, and there’s no doubt Indiana should be more optimistic about its prospects with the former Elon and JMU head coach in charge. But despite Cignetti’s confidence, he took over a team in dire shape —  particularly on the defensive side of the ball (last in the Big Ten in 2023).