By Peter Mann

Realignment means that the Big-10 has forced itself into being one of the two true powerhouse conferences in College Football. So it’s only right we give them the limelight heading into Week 1. Here, Peter Mann dives into the opening slate of games.

Defending Big-10 conference champions, the Michigan Wolverines open the season with a home contest against East Carolina Pirates this weekend. That comes after the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to the  Minnesota Golden Gophers tonight, Thursday. Elsewhere the Michigan State Spartans renew rivalries with the Central Michigan Chippewas on Friday.

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In Minnesota, week one will kick off with the visit of the Cornhuskers, see our full preview here. The Golden Gophers will look to better last season’s 9-4 (5-4 B1G Ten) record. One which saw them finish middle of the West Division, but ahead of their opening-day rivals. 

The Cornhuskers laboured to a 4-8 (3-6 B1G Ten) losing record last year, something they’ll not want to repeat under Matt Rhule. Whereas for the Golden Gophers, with head coach PJ Fleck Jnr (74-49 overall) leading them for a seventh season, continuity is key. 

Minnesota, particularly at their Huntington Bank home, will rely on Illinois-born sophomore quarterback, Athan Kaliakmanis. He is widely expected to be a top-five Big-10 quarterback this season and heir to Tanner Morgan’s 50+ game tenure. 

Kaliakmanis ended their Pinstripe Bowl victory against Syracuse last season with a suspected lower-body injury, but returns ready to take Morgan’s mantle. The quarterback is well supported by the likes of Chris Autman-Bell and Brevyn Spann-Ford, alongside transfer running back Sean Tyler.

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Over in Michigan, the Spartans welcome the Chippewas to Spartan Stadium as they, like the Golden Gophers, look to better their mid-table finish. They ended with a losing, 3-6 (5-7 record) in the East division. Being overran by rivals. 

Head coach Mel Tucker will lead the Spartans for a fourth season, having played for their college program as a defensive back in the early 1990s. He then embarked upon a coaching career that would see a ten-year tenure in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Chicago Bears. 

New Jersey-born running back, Jalen Berger, will certainly look to impress, having previously been with the Wisconsin Badgers. After transferring in 2021, he spent last season splitting snaps with Jarek Broussard.

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The #2 and #3 seeds will certainly take centre-stage on Saturday with defending Big-10 champions, the Michigan Wolverines, who fell in the playoff semi-finals last season, hosting East Carolina. The Wolverines racked up an impressive 13-1 (9-0 B1G-Ten) record in 2022. 

Quarterback JJ McCarthy (2,719 yards, 22 TDs) and All-American junior running back Blake Corum (1,463 yards, 18 TDs) saw the Wolverines roar to glory, the former replacing Cade McNamara early doors (week two against Hawaii) and never looked back, posting a 12-1 winning record. 

Corum meanwhile, had a season to remember,  running the conference ragged enough to bring home a number of accolades – Chicago Tribune Solver Football MVP, the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year (awarded to now NFL-star, Saquon Barkley, then of Penn State, back-to-back in 2016-17), (unanimous) All-American, and named in the All-Big Ten first team. 

The afore-mentioned Hawaii Rainbow Warriors game,  saw wide receiver Roman Wilson face his home-town team, proceeding to register a pair of TDs. Whilst teammate Cornelius Johnson is approaching fifty outings for the Wolverines. 

From the front though, the Michigan giants are led by the erstwhile, master technician Jim Harbaugh. A former NFL QB with the likes of the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers between 1987 and 2001. Followed by a head coaching stint with the Niners (2011-14) prior to joining his alma mater where he boasts a record of 132-52 going into his ninth season.

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The Ohio State Buckeyes, who finished second in the East, to the Wolverines with an 11-2 (8-1 B1G Ten) record, will aim to challenge again with last season’s MVP, Marvin Harrison Jnr looking to build on personal success last time around. 

They will be led by quarterback Kyle McCord who was finally announced as starter following a camp battle with Devin Brown. The two were neck-and-neck throughout, with McCord’s edge seemingly being slightly more experience. 

There’s plenty for the Buckeyes faithful to be excited about as they open the season at the Indiana Hoosiers. They have a host of intriguing prospects including TE Cade Stover, WRs Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka adding to Harrison Jnr’s prowess, and RBs Miyan Williams and Treyveon Henderson. 

After recovering from a loss to Michigan, their season finished in heartbreak as well. They faced the #1 seed Georgia Bulldogs in the CFB Playoff Semi-Final. Having been 38-24 behind heading into the final quarter, the Buckeyes rallied to register eighteen points, but failed at the last when Noah Ruggles hooked a 50-yard field goal attempt wide left, on the stroke of midnight, the Bulldogs taking a 42-41 win.

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Penn State Nittany Lions are also on the road, travelling to the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Lions finished third in the Big-10 East last time out with an 11-2 (7-2 B1G-Ten) record. The #7 seeds nationally are coached by James Franklin in what’ll be his tenth season at the helm, heading towards two decades overall (102-51 record). 

Drew Allar will be expected to fill the QB void after last seasons’ starter, Sean Clifford, was picked up by the Green Bay Packers. He has good support from a selection of WRs and RBs. Dante Cephas’ transfer from Kent State to Penn State will be one to keep an eye on, and the pair of Nicholas Singleton and Kayton Allen at running back aim to excite. 

Elsewhere on opening weekend the Iowa Hawkeyes host Utah State Aggies, Purdue Boilermakers host Fresno State Bulldogs, Wisconsin Badgers are at Buffalo Bulls, Maryland Terrapins travel to Towson Tigers, and the Illinois Fighting Illini are at Toledo Rockets, all on Saturday.

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The opening weekend of the new season sees an East versus West clash when Rutgers Scarlet Knights face the Northwestern Wildcats. Rutgers finished bottom of the East in 2022 with a 4-8 (1-8 B1G-Ten) losing record, while Northwestern were bottom of the West after a 1-11 (1-8 B1G-Ten) season. That takes place at the SHI Stadium, on Sunday. 

A stalwart Head Coach in the Big-10 Conference, Greg Schiano continues to lead the Scarlet Knights in what is his second spell at the helm (2001-11, 2020-present, 80-89 record). Meanwhile the Wildcats have David Braun stepping into the breach following Pat Fitzgerald’s controversial dismissal. It’ll be Braun’s first HC post following a couple of years as defensive coordinator at North Dakota State.