Big 10 Preseason Power Rankings: Fans think Ohio State and Penn State will be the strongest in the East, but will face pressure from Michigan and Michigan State. Wisconsin is the only contender for the West.

What you need to know about this research

When was this fielded?: June 26-27, 2018
Number of respondents: 1,828
Research technique: Online quantitative survey using the MaxDiff Market Research Technique
Who is in this research?: Most (76%) of the respondents in this research are Big Ten fans. While this is unsurprising for the obvious reason that Big Ten fans are going to be the group most interested in participating in Big Ten research, it’s also unsurprising because The Big Ten has three of the biggest fanbases in college football. My experience fielding college football polls as well as Nate Silver’s 2011 estimates of fanbase sizes, both suggest Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State have the three largest fanbases in college football.
To remove the homer bias created by the heavier participation of the larger fanbases, I weighted the data so that each Big Ten fanbase is represented equally in the results, regardless of how many respondents from each fanbase participated. In addition, because I wanted an equal mix of opinions from Big Ten fans and fans of other conferences, the results have been weighted to reflect 50% Big Ten fans, and 50% non Big Ten fans. In other words, after weighting the data, each of the Big Ten’s fourteen fanbase represent about 3.5% of the total sample, while the remaining non Big Ten fans collectively account for 50% of the sample.

Interpreting The Results

The MaxDiff scores for each team are indexed at 100. For example, Michigan’s MaxDiff score of 225 means that team was ranked 125% higher than the average team in the exercise. It is important to note that these scores should not be interpreted as “votes.” See our explanation of MaxDiff if you would like more information.

FanJuicer’s Take On The Results

Unlike what we saw in our Big 12 Preseason Power Rankings where fans felt Oklahoma was the clear team to beat in that conference, these results largely reflect a lack of consensus around who will be the top dog in The Big Ten. These results largely suggest that fans currently feel that it will be a toss-up between Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Additionally, the two teams in Tier II – the two Michigan schools – are only slightly slightly behind Tier I in the minds of fans. Considering the relatively small distance between Tier I and Tier II, these results suggest that if you had the ability to take a time machine into the future to watch this upcoming season’s Big Ten Championship game right now, you could report back that any of the top five in this poll were the victor of that game and it would not shock the average fan.

While most Big Ten fans will know this already, these results serve as a good illustration of the disparity between the Big Ten East and Big Ten West. Considering that four of the five top teams are in the Big Ten East and that Wisconsin is the only Big Ten West school that is currently seen as a credible contender for the Big Ten title, the gap between the two divisions in the minds of fans should be obvious. Fans feel that Wisconsin is most likely to be challenged by Iowa and Northwestern, but with a clear preference for Iowa as the team more likely to have the ability to knock off the Badgers.

Research Participants Give Their Outlook For Each Big Ten Team

#14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • “Rutgers will probably be fighting for the bottom with Illinois, who will probably fire Lovie Smith by the end of the year.” – u/fabulousmanatee
  • “Rutgers looks to improve on its results from last year. A 5-1 start is attainable by sweeping the non conference games and beating Indiana and Illinois at home, with only a loss to Ohio State. The back half of the schedule is much tougher, with the final four games being against Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State. The games at Maryland and at home against Northwestern will determine if Rutgers goes bowling.” – u/ScarletFever333
  • “I think that Rutgers is once again in a “rebuilding” year. Last year’s 4-8 record is actually considered a success in my eyes. They were able to put up a fight and get a victory out of Purdue, a dangerous team. However, this year Rutgers loses a lot of key players. While their recruiting class was decent, there wasn’t anyone that looks to make a huge impact on day one. As a Nebraska fan, I’m always pulling for Rutgers to pull out an upset against anyone (except us), but I just don’t think that that is going to be possible this year. Rutgers gets Wisconsin and Northwestern out of the West, avoiding Nebraska, Iowa, and Purdue, who is sure to be an even more dangerous team this year. I can’t see Rutgers getting more than 4 wins, with 4 even being a bit of a stretch depending on how good Texas State and Buffalo are this year. I’m predicting a 3-9 season out of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.” – “JPro


#13 Illinois Fighting Illini

  • “I’ve heard great things about what Lovie Smith is doing at Illinois, but it’s hard to expect very much out of them after going 0-9 in conference last year.” – Anonymous
  • “I feel that Illinois just hasn’t recruited well enough yet under Lovie. I think Lovie can get Illinois to a +500 team, but it will take a few more years of recruiting. I dont see them beating many B1G teams outside of Rutgers.” – u/Benden010
  • “Illinois will finish last in the Big West. The talent level is the lowest in the conference. They are recruiting better for 2019, and if Lovie survives they might become competitive in the next 3 years.” – “Scott from Chicago”
  • “I see the Illini finishing at 2-10 this season with an honest ceiling of 3-9. My gut says they finish this season winless in the Big Ten with the only possible win coming against Rutgers, but with that game being in Piscataway, I give the edge to Rutgers. The Illini may be looking at replacing Lovie Smith at the end of this year.” – “Zach”
  • “I actually like the Lovie hire more than most people, but it is going to take a couple of years to build something there. Luckily, they are in the West so life is a little easier. That combined with them not playing a P5 school out of conference (which I don’t appreciate) could see them improving to four wins this year.” – /u/carmelsown


#12 Indiana Hoosiers

  • “Indiana plays in a brutal division. I can’t see them beating any of MSU, PSU, OSU, or Michigan. Even though they seemed like they were trending upwards last season, they probably will fight with Maryland for 5th in the Big Ten East.” – /u/eddiecai64
  • “Indiana’s defense and skill players were much improved last year and should continue to give each school on the schedule at least 2-3 quarters of stress until the depth reveals itself.” – u/Whoaabluecar
  • “Indiana is the perennial chaos team: always good enough to scare any team, but not quite good enough to actually beat them. The B1G East is crazy good and Indiana will have another competent year in which they threaten Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State while still having to fight for a bowl game at the end of their season. I predict they’ll make it this year with a 6 – 6 record.” – Anonymous


#11 Maryland Terrapins

  • “Maryland is going to have a rough year. According to S&P +, they have a projected record of 4-7-1 with the push being Minnesota at home. They have talent back on offense and list a very skilled Offensive Coordinator. Whether they can compete for a bowl depends entirely on their health. They will be in a fight for bottom of the Big Ten East” – u/powerelite
  • “Maryland has recruited well in the last few years and has plenty of talent, but they never seem to be able to figure it out and contend for the conference. Maryland seems like a team that could be on the verge of becoming a real threat next year, but I think they’ll be one of the bottom teams in the Big Ten again.” – Anonymous
  • “Improved health at QB and an infusion of recruiting talent (finished #18 overall) will help them be more competitive but won’t improve their record. A tough schedule consisting of five games against the top six in the B1G (with three of those being on the road) plus a neutral site tilt against Texas should result in another 4-8 or 5-7 season with a 5th place finish in the division.” – u/JPalad1ns
  • “Maryland fan here. I think they will be the clear 5th best team in the East, which would place them around 7th or 8th overall in the conference. They will return a strong offensive line and a dynamic backfield with two young, promising QBs who had great success in injury-shortened seasons. Without DJ Moore at wideout, they will need to spread the ball around, but there are some younger players that can step up at WR. Defensively, they should be deeper than last year. The secondary was decent last year, but due to an injury to the primary pass rusher, they were brutalized on key plays. Maryland returns [LINEBACKER] Jesse Aniebonam and adds [AUBURN TRANSFER DEFENSIVE LINEMAN] Byron Cowart to the mix, as well as some young talent coming off redshirt. The front seven will still be a weakness but should be less flawed than last season. – /u/Wicked_UMD


#10 Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • “I personally feel Fleck is a better recruiter than coach. This season will be a little better than last year for them but we won’t see a significant jump in wins until he gets more of his recruits in there.” – “Joe I.”
  • “Year two of the P.J. Fleck era could be another tough one for Minnesota. Having to start a freshman at quarterback could be problematic for the Gophers, and a few injuries here and there could reveal some depth issues that force inexperienced players to see significant playing time. My guess is Minnesota will finish somewhere around 5-7 or 6-6 and in the bottom half of the Big Ten West standings. Expect a lot of close games and anything from 3-9 to 8-4 seems like a possibility.” – u/Our-Gardian-Angel
  • “Minnesota will row the boat across the Mississippi, and promptly get slaughtered by Wisconsin.” – /u/HighOnSharpie
  • “Minnesota did not generate nearly as much buzz or on-field production as Purdue last year, although both teams were coming out of a slump with a first-year head coach. PJ certainly had more buzz going into last season than [PURDUE HEAD COACH JEFF] Brohm, and I expect that this year will really cement Brohm as the better of the two coaches. I can see Minnesota pulling off wins against Nebraska or even Iowa, but I think PJ is going to take a bit longer to get his program going.” – “Ghosty”


#9 Purdue Boiler Makers

  • “This should be the best season for Purdue in a long time. I’m very surprised Jeff Brohm didn’t get hired away. He’s making progress with a Purdue team that has been bottom of the pack for a while. With some solid quarterback play and defense, I can see Brohm coaching Purdue to 7 wins and a bowl victory.” – Anonymous
  • “With two QBs returning from injuries, it’ll be interesting to see who Purdue chooses. Luckily, they play in the B1G West, but unfortunately they don’t avoid Ohio State and have to travel to Michigan State. I think they’re a year away from really competing with other teams for 2nd place in the West.” – u/chuckwood2
  • “I think Purdue will push Iowa as the main contender to Wisconsin in the West. I think the offense will continue to improve and the quarterback play will be good, but they will have some problems with the defense. I think they will be better than the bottom half of the East after the big 4.” – “Grant”
  • “Purdue is definitely Pur-DUE for some on the field success and they have the offense to beat anybody, but they also have an overall lack of depth, which could result in a loss to any P5 team. I could even see Purdue being undefeated going into their matchup against OSU [IN WEEK 7] – maybe even pulling the upset – but then losing two of the next four physical matchups against Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Overall, I predict 8-10 wins and for Purdue to be set up well for a huge 2019 season.” – “Bill”


#8 Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • “I think Scott Frost is the right coach for Nebraska, but I don’t expect the first year to bear imediate fruit. The defense needs to improve. Martinez could be the answer at quarterback.” – u/Blartifast
  • “Nebraska will reach whatever their ceiling is as a program under Scott Frost – just not yet. With practically no proven playmakers on defense and a probable freshman QB, this year’s goal should be bowl eligibility.” – u/goblue10
  • “I think Nebraska will come out inspired under their new coach, and finish 3rd in the BIG West. After Wisconsin, that division is pretty open. Wisconsin is going to run away with the division, and Iowa has a much easier crossover schedule due to Nebraska playing Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Quarterback and defense are still big question marks for Nebraska and that will hold them back this year.” – u/robbyt003
  • “Out of the fourteen teams in the B1G, Nebraska should end up around the middle. 6-6 is hopeful for them in their first year with a new coach. Hype says they may return to their old 9-3 form, but that’s very unlikely with their schedule.” – u/Naku_NA


#7 Northwestern Wildcats

  • “I think they will be towards the middle of the pack in the B1G West below Wisconsin and Iowa. They return most of their wide receivers, but have a good running back to replace. I think they will make a bowl.” – u/zw3lls
  • “Northwestern has the players and coaching to give Wisconsin a run for its money in the B1G West but will likely come up a win or two short. Clayton Thorson is one of the most underrated QBs in the nation and [RB JEREMY] Larkin could be in for a big year as the heir apparent to Justin Jackson. Defensively, Paddy Fischer is one of the most talented LBs in the conference and is poised to have a massive year statistically.” – u/ArtificialBadger
  • “After winning 10 games twice in the past three seasons, another 10 win season may be unlikely considering the Wildcats have one of the most daunting schedules in the B1G West, which includes crossover games against Michigan and Michigan State plus tough out-of-conference matchups against Duke and Notre Dame. Their defense should be able to keep them competitive; however, their lack of proven depth could hurt them if injuries become a problem. This looks like a bowl team with an 8-4 ceiling. However, 7-5 or even 6-6, with a lower-middle finish in the B1G West look like possible outcomes.” – u/smhwhales


#6 Iowa Hawkeyes

  • “If Iowa can pull off the same Kinnick Voodoo that they used to crush Ohio State this past season, they could be a potential Big 10 West contender.” – u/dualipasfather
  • “It seems to me the Big Ten West is a year away from taking off. Wisconsin is clearly the class of the division. Purdue, Minnesota, and Nebraska have all made strong hires, but are in the early years of their new regimes. They will need another year to put it together. That leaves Northwestern and Iowa as the West’s challengers. Iowa’s profile last year was of a weak offense and strong defense. Only Wisconsin and Iowa State managed to really crack the Iowa defense. The LB corp is starting over and the loss of CB Josh Jackson cannot be overstated, but this should still be a strong defensive unit. The DL should be the best in the West. Hesse, Nelson, and the still-developing Epenesa may be able to offset the losses in the back seven. The offense’s struggles resulted in several close losses last season. Nate Stanley [QB] was only okay in his first year as a starter, but showed promise. He should be expected to be an above average starter this year. The skill positions are losing some talent (Akrum Wadley, Matt VandeBerg), but those returning should be good enough. TE is especially a strength. The OL is the real question. Even with James Daniels and Sean Welsh last year, the line struggled to move opponents off the ball in the run game, and now those two are gone. Compared to run blocking, the line was decent at pass protection, which probably forced the coaches to move away from their bread-and-butter run game and pass more than they would have liked, especially with a new QB and inexperienced receiving corp. The OL will have to improve this year if the offense is going to move forward. If the offense can step up from bad to merely average, their schedule sets up Iowa for a big year. They get fellow West contenders Wisconsin and Northwestern at home, and Kinnick is a place of unending nightmares and pain. Iowa State and Nebraska also have to come to Kinnick, which makes Iowa’s road schedule pretty light. The Hawkeyes miss Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State from the East. The only looming game is a trip to Penn State, and Iowa took them to the wire last year. Every other game looks very winnable.” – u/TheGuyFromThePlace


#5 Michigan Wolverines

  • “The East is incredibly difficult to win. For the last few seasons it has been a round robin competition between Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. To say that it’s anyone’s guess this season is an understatement. There’s definitely a “sleeping giant” aspect to Michigan that garners a necessary level of respect, but recent history shows that they still just can’t quite make the leap back into the national spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, I think Harbaugh is the right guy for the job, and that if given a little more time, he will get things done, but it’s difficult to say when that will actually happen. I think it’s fair to project a second, third, or fourth place finish in the East.” – u/Blasstoys
  • “Michigan seems to have all the talent to be contending for the B1G title but have thus far under Harbaugh have not been able to overcome Ohio State and the other tops guys. Their new transfer QB [SHEA PATTERSON] will determine a lot for them as they have so much talent on defense. Ultimately, I think they finish around third in the B1G East. A strong year for their QB could even mean an appearance in the title game, but the consensus is that OSU or either MSU or PSU [WILL WIN THE BIG TEN EAST]. Michigan would need some luck to go their way, as I don’t see them beating all three of those teams.” – “Milton”
  • “I think Michigan is likely to challenge Penn State for second in the Big Ten East, but Ohio State is the pick until I get some real evidence otherwise. Harbaugh has done a solid job, and his junior and sophomore classes have the talent to take the next step. I would put Michigan as a contender in The East, but with uncertainty at quarterback and Harbaugh’s less-than-stellar record against rival Ohio State, I will a lean towards third place.” – “Zach”
  • “The defense will be great again, but I think that the offense will be improved enough to make them an East contender. I expect the Ohio State game to decide the division, with Michigan potentially being a playoff team. The schedule is difficult though, so Michigan’s range could be anywhere from four conference losses to undefeated.” – u/GeneParmPrivateEye


#4 Michigan State Spartans

  • “Michigan State has so much of its offensive production returning with LJ Scott, Lewerke and Felton Davis. Coupling that with some of State’s toughest divisional matchups being played in East Lansing and a defense that has only matured in the offseason, leads me to think Sparty can reallly make some noise this year. I expect a top three finish in the B1G.” – “Blake”
  • “Michigan State will likely end up 2nd or 3rd in the Big Ten East. They have a strong team that is bringing back nearly all their starters and a schedule that is very favorable. A 10-win season is well within reach, but I think Ohio State will remain the leader in the East and that MSU will fight with PSU for second.” – u/Apprehensive_Clock
  • “This feels like a very typical MSU squad under Mark Dantonio. Defensively they’ll be great; on offense they’ll be above average. Their system isn’t one that is ever going to be elite. This is a brutally difficult team to predict, particularly because they are the best in the B1G at winning ugly. I have them going 9-3, but wouldn’t be surprised at 7-5 or even 11-1.” – /u/hakunamatrotta


#3 Penn State Nittany Lions

  • “Penn State gains more talent than it loses and will surprise some people this year. Despite losing significant individual talents in Barkley and Gesicki, the increased depth across the board as a result of exceptional recruiting makes me think they will be a contender late in the season. If they succeed, it will be based on team success rather than individual fireworks. While I don’t think they win the east this year, I think they come away with ten wins on the season and finish 2nd or 3rd.” – u/timeandwatch
  • “As a Buckeyes fan, the one team that gives me pause during the season is Penn State. Sure, That Team up North [MICHIGAN] is always a tough game, but the Nittany Lions have proven to be far more dangerous over the last few seasons. The loss of top talents like Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki will be a blow to Penn State, but they still have QB Trace McSorely, and he will be ready when Ohio State travels to Happy Valley next season. I believe the Buckeyes will get the job done, but it won’t be easy. Penn State will probably finish no worse than 3rd in the Big Ten East.” – “Scott F.”
  • “Despite losing Saquon Barkley, Penn State emerges as a serious contender in the B1G East. Trace McSorley has shown he can be the reason PSU wins games, and while no one can really replace Barkley, Miles Sanders looked very good in limited time last year. The defense may take a small step back due to replacing some key parts, but getting Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin at home sets Penn State up to challenge for the B1G East Division. The only real road test is at Michigan. I see Penn State finishing second in the B1G East, going 10-2 or 9-3 at worst.” – u/MochasAway


#2 Wisconsin Badgers

  • “I consider Wisconsin among the very best teams in the country because of a stout defense that keeps replenishing itself, an offense led by an experienced, above-average quarterback, an always strong line, and a terrifying running back. Getting Michigan and Penn State from the Big Ten East on the schedule is rough, but the Badgers are much better than anyone else in the West and will make the conference title game. I think they’re more likely to lose the title game, assuming Ohio State or Michigan comes out of the East, but it’s close.” – “Chandler”
  • “Wisconsin is going to be an almost unanimous selection to win the West and challenge for the B1G title. They have a lot of good pieces coming back, such as an amazing RB and decent QB. They also have a great track record of developing diamonds in the rough.” – u/b1gassfan
  • “Wisconsin in the closest thing to an elite team the B1G West has to offer this year. Strong line performance on both sides of the ball, and what seems like a stud in Alex Hornibrook will keep them competitive in every game. The talent gap between them and the top of the East is still real, and I don’t see them beating PSU or Michigan on the road. I would, however, be terrified of having to play them at Camp Randall this year, and they are all but assured a spot once again in the B1G championship in Indy.” – “David S.”
  • “Wisconsin and Coach Chryst have shown to be Top 10 contenders in FBS. Some may think this recognition is excessive given the weakness of the division, but the division is making strong improvements. Wisconsin is far more capable than people give them credit for.” – u/Officer_Warr


#1 Ohio State Buckeyes

  • “If Ohio State can beat Michigan this year, they should win it all. They have the coach and the players – that’s not in doubt. Still, I can’t help but think that Michigan might just pull off an upset this year and ruin Ohio State’s season.” – “Patrick”
  • “I think Ohio State will finish at the top of the Big 10 again. The biggest question is how Dwayne Haskins will adjust to being the full time starter at QB. He looked solid in minimal minutes last season, and even led the come back against Michigan. The other question is if the receiving corps will bounce back after a pretty mediocre year. They won’t have to lean on the passing game, as they have two of The Big Ten’s best RBs in JK Dobbins and Mike Weber. The defense should be one of the best in conference, although inexperienced in the secondary.” – u/mjlewis002
  • “Ohio state has finished at or near the top of the Big Ten East consistently during Meyer’s time as head coach. Based on that and recent recruiting classes, I have a hard time seeing that trend not continuing.” – “A tortured Maryland fan”
  • “Head Coach Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes should be favored to win the B1G Ten and contend for another College Football Playoff berth in ’18/’19. Key games on the schedule include a neutral site battle with TCU in Jerry World, at Penn State, at Michigan State, and of course The Game, in which they’ll face hated rival Michigan at home in the Horseshoe. Led by QB Dwayne Haskins and DE Nick Bosa, the Buckeyes simply have too much talent on the roster after posting three consecutive top five recruiting classes (according to ESPN). I fully expect Ohio State to be favored in every game this season. Meyer is still one of the premier coaches in the country, and after narrowly missing out on the playoff last season, he will have his Buckeyes motivated to take care of unfinished business.” – u/nothing_is_left


How did the fanbases of the Big Ten’s Tier I and Tier II teams see things?


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