CFB: Predictions for the Big-10 in 2024

By Rory Daniels

The Big-10 looks to be an intriguing conference for 2024. Although the National Champion came from the Big-10, it’s their biggest rivals who are favourites to mount a title charge. Michigan lost a lot of talent, while Ohio State retained and bolstered an already powerful roster. Newbies Oregon and Washington will also have something to say about the final standings. Here’s our prediction for the Big-10 in 2024.

Conference Winner - Ohio State Buckeyes

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After three consecutive losses to their arch-rival Michigan, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day is under intense pressure. So much so that he has pushed all his chips in for the 2024 season. The Buckeyes roster has been boosted by high-profile transfers, a strong recruiting haul and a star-studded returning group. 

It really does feel like a Championship or bust. Michigan has lost a lot of talent, particularly on offense, where they will need to find a solution at quarterback. That should make life easier for Ohio State, but they must be aware of the threat of incoming Pac-12 team Oregon. Despite that, the two-headed monster at running back of Quinshon Judkins and TreVeyon Henderson will anchor the offense, and the addition of Caleb Downs at safety gives them even more talent in a loaded secondary group.

The biggest question mark will be at quarterback, where Will Howard isn’t a slam-dunk prospect. He doesn’t have to be a world-beater, but some stability at the position after Kyle McCord’s inconsistent season is needed. At least they have sufficient talent in the wings, with Devin Brown, Julian Sayin, and Air Noland all waiting to swoop in.

The first hurdle will be Michigan and then a playoff run but barring any high-profile injuries, this is the most talented roster in college football.

Most Valuable Player - Dillon Gabriel, Oregon

As stated above, my confidence in Will Howard is fairly muted. I think he has talent but I’m not sure that he is best placed to be the conference’s most valuable player. A safer bet is Oregon’s Dillon Gabriel. Bo Nix showed last year the wonders leading the Ducks can do for a player’s draft stock and Gabriel has arguably displayed more talent pre-Eugene than Nix did in his Auburn days. 

Size will likely be the biggest sticking point between Gabriel and the NFL. At 6’0, potentially a little less, Gabriel will have to take the Big-10 by storm to rise up draft boards. That said, now in his sixth year, he has plenty of experience and could be one of those guys who thrive as a college signal-caller more than a pro. The Ducks will take advantage of his accuracy and ability to make plays as a runner. That dual threat makes him one of the most exciting storylines of the year. 

Offensive Player of the Year - Donovan Edwards, RB, Michigan

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Michigan will face an uphill battle to retain the National Championship. Two of the most important figures in their success have now departed. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is now in Los Angeles while JJ McCarthy will lead the Vikings in 2024. That means an open battle for the QB spot, one that remains a mystery. That doesn’t mean you should write off their ability to be a competitive team this year. Sherrone Moore will get this offense functioning and will lean heavily on the running game to do so.

Senior Donovan Edwards will carry most of the load having had to share the backfield with Blake Corum last season. He has already enjoyed some off-season limelight as one of the cover stars of the upcoming college football video game. Now it’s time to turn that into reality and recapture some of his 2022 success when he averaged 7.1 yards per carry.

Defensive Player of the Year - Mason Graham, DT, Michigan

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We are going to stay in Ann Arbor for this prediction, and it goes to one of the most disruptive players I have come across since starting summer scouting. Mason Graham had 7.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks during the Wolverines’ title run. He operates as a 3-tech next to the mammoth nose tackle Kenneth Grant, forming one of the most game-wrecking interior duos in the nation. Going into his third year, you can expect Graham to ramp up his production.

On tape, Graham has an elite get-off and amazing lateral agility, allowing him to find gaps along offensive lines easily. He also demonstrates excellent hand-fighting skills to disengage blocks. Michigan lost a lot of talent to the NFL draft, but they have elite prospects like Graham and cornerback Will Johnson, who could make them a tricky opposition should they secure a playoff berth.

Freshman of the Year - Dylan Raiola, QB, Nebraska

Nobody is better positioned in the country to breakout as a freshman than Nebraska quarterback Dylan Raiola. Having surprisingly de-committed from Georgia in favour of his family ties to the Cornhuskers, Raiola goes from being buried on the depth chart to leading a Power 5 program in season 1. He is the figurehead for the Matt Rhule regeneration program and a symbol that an old power like Nebraska still has the ability to mix it with the best on the recruiting trail.

Even at 19, Raiola is built like a grown man with an imposing 6’3, 230lbs stature. He’s no slouch at evading pressure and has the elite arm talent top programs crave. It won’t be easy for Raiola. He takes over a team that went 5-7 last season, including losing their last four games on the bounce. However, the schedule is somewhat favourable, Ohio State being the only team the Huskers will likely be major underdogs against. The first test will come against the heavy media presence Deion Sanders will bring to Lincoln in Week 2. It will be our first real glimpse of Raiola’s potential.

Breakout Player of the Year - Zachariah Branch, WR, USC

The departure of Caleb Williams has robbed USC of their main star power and rather dampened the mood as the Trojans make the transition from Pac-12 to Big-10. Expectations are low for Lincoln Riley without an elite playmaker at QB, despite the decent showing from Miller Moss in the late-season bowl game. One player that will be worth the admission fee on his own is sophomore Zachariah Branch. The diminutive five-star receiver had 31 receptions for 320 yards on offense but special teams was where he had the greatest impact.

He notched up 774 return yards on kicks and punts, including two touchdowns. He showed off his track background (he posted a 10.33 100m time in high school) and that speed will continue to worry defenses in the Big-10. You can expect his workload to rise in 2024, both Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice combined for over 1800 receiving yards and have left for the NFL. That means you can expect plenty of highlight plays from Branch even if USC aren’t challenging for the conference title.

Surprise Team of the Year - Wisconsin Badgers

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You can blame this selection on me having too much faith in Luke Fickell. In his first season with the Badgers they managed only a 7-6 record. Nothing outstanding for a traditional blue blood in Big-10 play however, there are reasons to be optimistic. Tyler Van Dyke arrives from Miami and while he had his struggles in 2023, his arm talent is plain to see. That upgrade should immediately help the offense.

Put it this way Fickell has done more with less in his college football tenure. As head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats, he led the then Group-of-5 school to a national playoff berth, something never to be done before. Remember, his first season for the Bearcats was 4-8 before they went 11-2 in his second year. The Badgers would appreciate a similar second-year bump under Fickell and to be in contention come the end of the year.

Mock Draft

Rory-Joe Daniels

College Football Lead Writer