The Comprehensive 2018 Big Ten Regular Season Preview

By Nick Polak on August 29, 2018 at 9:30 am
Nov 12, 2016; Madison, WI, USA; Big Ten logos on yardage markers during warmups prior to the game between the Illinois Fighting Illini and Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 48-3.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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The Big Ten slate is set to kick off on Thursday when Minnesota takes on New Mexico State and Northwestern clashes with Purdue. To celebrate the occasion, it's time to bring our Big Ten preview to a close, as we take a look at the entirety of the conference's schedule and predict the outcome of each game (and subsequently the final regular season standings).

If you want to see the full scope of the predictions, you can check them out below. If not, just skip ahead for the specifics!

Illinois Fighting Illini (3-9, 1-8)

Predicted Finish: 6th in the Big Ten West

Biggest Predicted Win:  Home vs. Purdue. Defeating the Boilermakers in a battle between what appears to be the two worst teams in the division wouldn't seem like much of an accomplishment, but for a team desperately in need of stepping stones, taking down one of the conference's coaches on the rise would be a nice achievement.

Worst Predicted Loss: At Maryland. The Terps look like they're in for a rough year, so falling to them, even on the road, would be a tough pill to swallow for the Illini.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: Home vs. Iowa. The Hawkeyes have a chance to challenge Wisconsin for the West in 2018 and losing to the Illini on the road would be an absolute killer.

Indiana Hoosiers (7-5, 4-5)

Predicted Finish: 5th in the Big Ten East

Biggest Predicted Win: At Minnesota. The Gophers are very inexperienced and starting a true freshman, walk-on quarterback. This would be a nice road win for Indiana, and one that could propel them to a bowl berth.

Worst Predicted Loss: Home vs. Iowa. None of the losses we have the Hoosiers taking are bad ones, though failing to capitalize on getting Iowa at home will put them in a few must-win scenarios down the stretch on the quest for six wins.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: At Michigan. Indiana has made a habit of playing Michigan close just long enough to make it seem like they have a real shot before losing steam before the zeroes. What better way to stir the pot than finally following through on their yearly upset bid with the Wolverines surely looking ahead to The Game.

Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4, 6-3)

Predicted Finish: 2nd in the Big Ten West

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Northwestern. I have the Hawkeyes slated for eight wins because, well, that's what Iowa does. Capturing this late-season win over the Wildcats will assure them a second-place Big Ten West finish.

Worst Predicted Loss: Home vs. Iowa State. Losing to a rival is never fun, but losing this bout to the Cyclones would start the season off with a very poor taste for a team that has aspirations of challenging Wisconsin.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: Home vs. Wisconsin. There appears to be very little standing between the Badgers and another Big Ten Championship game berth. If Iowa were to make Paul Chryst's squad the latest victim of the Kinnick House of Horrors, however, the rest of the season would be a thrill ride in the West.

Maryland Terrapins (3-9, 1-8)

Predicted Finish: 7th in the Big Ten East

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Illinois. Spoiler! Maryland is probably in for a rough year. With the turmoil surrounding the coaching staff, particularly D.J. Durkin, what had the chance to be a promising season might not come to fruition. Therefore, beating Illinois is an accomplishment. Yikes.

Worst Predicted Loss: Home vs. Rutgers. Yeah.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: Home vs. Michigan State. Sparty's bye is in week three, meaning this will be their seventh consecutive weekend in a row with a game. They also have a home date with Ohio State the following week. It's a prime spot for a lookahead letdown, especially if things have settled down in College Park by November.

Michigan Wolverines (9-3, 7-2)

Predicted Finish: 3rd in the Big Ten East

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Penn State. The Wolverines will be licking their chops to get a shot at payback against the Nittany Lions in the Big House. Just like Penn State did last year, Michigan will get a bye before this one, setting them up nicely to exact some revenge.

Worst Predicted Loss: At Notre Dame. Though Michigan's defense could be enough on its own to win them this game, Shea Patterson will still be working out the kinks of his new offense, and will now do so without expected breakout star wideout Tarik Black.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: At Ohio State. Depending on how else things play out, a Michigan win over the Buckeyes could propel them to a Big Ten East title, or plunge the division's fearsome foursome into a jumbled web of tiebreakers. Weeeeeeee!

Michigan State Spartans (9-3, 6-3)

Predicted Finish: 4th in the Big Ten East

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Michigan. The Spartans continuing their recent dominance of the rival Wolverines (Sparty has won eight of the last ten) would be a great way to rebound from the loss we have them being dealt by Penn State a week before.

Worst Predicted Loss: At Nebraska. Michigan State, while very talented and experienced, took advantage of a lot of close games in 2017 (and some crazy weather). They look to be a very good team, but some regression in those close games is expected. Scott Frost should have his Huskers humming by this point, and Adrian Martinez will have nearly a full season of growth behind him.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: Home vs. Ohio State. Getting the Buckeyes at home is huge, especially now that no one is quite sure what the dynamic is going to be like once Urban Meyer gets back to the sideline.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6, 4-5)

Predicted Finish: 5th in the Big Ten West

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Indiana. We don't have many wins on the schedule for the Gophers. They simply have too many holes, and while the defense should be solid, that's not going to be enough when they have to go up against other solid defenses. We have them getting enough to take down the Hoosiers at home, though.

Worst Predicted Loss: Home vs. Northwestern. Depending on how the rest of the season goes, this game could be huge for Minnesota's bowl chances. They finish the season against Wisconsin, which means this might be their last chance to gain eligibility. We have them getting to six wins, but not winning here.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: At Wisconsin. This is more dependent on whether or not someone else is able to step up in the West to challenge the Badgers, but defeating Wisconsin at their place would surely cause some ripples in the Big Ten and the College Football Playoff rankings.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-5, 4-5)

Predicted Finish: 4th in the Big Ten West

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Michigan State. Scott Frost is an amazing coach- he's proved as much after working with Marcus Mariota at Oregon and leading UCF to a national championship. It may be a rough start to the season with a team that's still lacking in areas and being led by a freshman quarterback, but by this point, they should be ready to pounce on a favored foe. That's Sparty's music!

Worst Predicted Loss: At Northwestern. On paper, Nebraska should be able to beat Northwestern. Unfortunately, the Wildcats will come into this game as the more experienced team and the angrier one after they're likely dealt back-to-back losses to the Michigan schools before this.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: At Michigan. Catching the Wolverines off-guard in their first Big Ten game would be a huge blow to Jim Harbaugh's chances of escaping third place (or worse).

Northwestern Wildcats (7-5, 5-4)

Predicted Finish: 3rd in the Big Ten West

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have been getting all of the press in the West this offseason with the hire of Scott Frost. Taking care of business against Nebraska this year would help remind the rest of the conference that the Wildcats are still a threat to win every week and that it'll take more than hype to overthrow them.

Worst Predicted Loss: At Iowa. Losing to what looks to be a solid Iowa squad isn't a bad loss, but it would likely be a finishing blow to Northwestern's chances at a second place finish in the West, and would certainly damage their hopes at sneaking by the Badgers.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: Home vs. Wisconsin. On the flip side, if they can take down Wisconsin in the middle of the season, the entire tune of their 2018 song changes. If Clayton Thorson is at his best, the Wildcats may be the most likely challenger to the Badgers.

Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2, 8-1)

Predicted Finish: 2nd in the Big Ten East

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs Michigan. Should Ohio State take home yet another edition of The Game, they should be in excellent shape. How much importance this game holds depends more on where Penn State and Michigan State are in the standings, but beating the Wolverines (again) could be the Big Ten East-sealing win.

Worst Predicted Loss: At Penn State. We have the Nittany Lions coming out victorious at home in this one. It's not a bad loss, but it would be a painful one for the Buckeye faithful and one that should prove impactful when it comes to the race to win the division.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: "Home" vs. TCU. It wouldn't be chaotic in the traditional sense, but rather that it would send the rest of the conference's coaching staffs into chaos internally. If Ohio State can take care of business in what amounts to a road game against TCU, it could be a signal that they're not going to skip a beat amidst the Urban Meyer suspension.

Penn State Nittany Lions (11-1, 8-1)

Predicted Finish: 1st in the Big Ten East

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Ohio State. Should Penn State walk away from the whiteout bout with the Buckeyes victorious, it could be the sign of a very special season just getting underway.

Worst Predicted Loss: At Michigan. This will be a tough game regardless of how the rest of the season goes. The Lions play Iowa the week before and have Wisconsin the week after. Plus, they'll be facing an elite defense on their home turf, in what may end up being a night game. It's going to be a tough ask.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos): At Michigan. A repeat! If Penn State can beat Michigan (and is unbeaten to that point), they will have a very real opportunity to run the table ahead of them, against a very strong schedule. You can already hear the angry screams of the SEC fans now.

Purdue Boilermakers (3-9, 1-8)

Projected Finish: 7th in the Big Ten West

Biggest Predicted Win: Home vs. Iowa. Why? Because Iowa is probably going to regress, and Purdue is going to have at least one game where they inexplicably blow the doors off someone because Jeff Brohm is too great of a coach not to do that.

Worst Predicted Loss: At Illinois. Call me crazy, but I see Illinois being better than people think in 2018. Combined with the fact that I see regression for Purdue, this has the potential to be an ugly, ugly loss.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: Home vs. Wisconsin. Wisconsin is juuuuust vulnerable enough that they could totally fall victim to an out-of-nowhere Jeff Brohm masterpiece. This would be wild.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-7, 2-7)

Predicted Finish: 6th in the Big Ten East

Biggest Predicted Win: At Maryland. By default, it has to be defeating their fellow Big Ten third cousin. Doing so in this scenario would leave them just a single game away from bowl eligibility.

Worst Predicted Loss: Home vs. Indiana. Indiana loses some key defensive pieces and still has uncertainty on offense. Yet, they still look to have more in the tank than this Rutgers squad, even with a quickly-improving Scarlet Knight defense.

Best (Realistic) Chane to Cause Chaos: At Ohio State. Speaking of that defense, why shouldn't Rutgers fans dream big and hope that a few stops coupled with a missing head coach on the opposite sideline will lead to a huge upset?

Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 7-2)

Predicted Finish: 1st in the Big Ten West

Biggest Predicted Win: At Northwestern. Should the Badgers have designs on repeating as Big Ten West champs, they'll need to take care of business on the road in Evanston. Clayton Thorson and the Wildcats won't be pushovers.

Worst Predicted Loss: At Penn State. Not only would this be a tough loss because it would mean a lost chance at exacting revenge for the 2016 Big Ten Championship game, but it would open the door for another West program to provide a challenge for the crown.

Best (Realistic) Chance to Cause Chaos: At Michigan. Dealing the Wolverines a loss here would be a nightmare start to Michigan's back-to-back-to-back run of the Badgers, Michigan State, and Penn State (though there's a bye before the Penn State game).


Final Predicted Standings

Big Ten East
  1. Penn State (11-1, 8-1)
  2. Ohio State (10-2, 8-1)
  3. Michigan (9-3, 7-2)
  4. Michigan State (9-3, 6-3)
  5. Indiana (7-5, 3-6)
  6. Rutgers (5-7, 2-7)
  7. Maryland (3-9, 1-8)
Big Ten West
  1. Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2)
  2. Iowa (8-4, 6-3)
  3. Northwestern (7-5, 4-5)
  4. Nebraska (7-5, 4-5)
  5. Minnesota (6-6, 4-5)
  6. Illinois (3-9, 1-8)
  7. Purdue (3-9, 1-8)

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments below.

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