Last season, the Big Ten had two participants in the College Football Playoff for the first time in the CFP’s prestigious history. Michigan and Ohio State, the two powerhouses of the conference for the past several decades, each clinched a berth in the championship bracket. Even though both teams failed to make the national championship game and bowed out in the national semifinals, there is no doubt that these two programs had spectacular seasons yet again.
But that was 2022. That’s in the past now. That’s in the rearview mirror.
The question now looms: what will the Big Ten bring in 2023? Does Michigan keep its grip on the conference crown? Does Ohio State have enough to dethrone the Wolverines? Does a team like Penn State have the firepower to potentially make a run at the College Football Playoff? Who plays spoiler? Who comes out of nowhere and surprises? Who could falter and disappoint in the standings?
What does each team have on its plate in 2023?
Why not start with the Hoosiers? Last season, Indiana got off to a semi-promising 3-0 start before injuries and a loaded conference slate turned things south in a hurry. This season is all about leaving 2022 in the past and trying to patch up the holes that befell the team both last year and during this past spring.
For starters, not one but two of Indiana’s quarterbacks entered the transfer portal during the offseason, those being Connor Bazelak and Jack Tuttle. And to make matters worse, Dexter Williams II was on a trajectory to possibly become the Hoosiers’ starting quarterback in 2023, but a catastrophic knee injury in November derailed those hopes.
Now, all eyes are on Tennessee transfer Tayven Jackson, who will likely see the snaps under center to start the year. However, he has attempted a total of four passes at the D1 level. So, it’s fair to say the jury is still out.
In the backfield, head coach Tom Allen will lean on sophomore Jaylin Lucas, who showed lots of promise in a disappointing season. Lucas is likely the best playmaker Allen has on this roster, and he will be counted on to take a leap this year after a very promising freshman season.
Wideout Cam Camper is the team’s best playmaker on the outside, and he had a good season last year. He and Lucas are the Hoosiers’ best playmakers on offense, but there is a ton of turnover on defense. Only two starters return, and there are still major questions in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
There is not much being expected out of this team this season. But those same pundits said the same exact thing in 2019 and 2020, and the Hoosiers went out and defied expectations. There is potential for that same defiance to happen again.
The Wolverines won the Big Ten championship last year (and the year before that, by the way!), and for good reason, as they were the best team in the conference last season. They are again this season.
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy returns after what I considered a good-not-great 2022 season, as he threw for 2,719 yards and 22 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Superstar running back Blake Corum returns after a stellar season (before his injury), and he could very well make a push for the Heisman Trophy. Donovan Edwards serves as a fantastic second option in the backfield, and he has the ability to keep the defense on their heels when Corum is sitting.
On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines’ defense is returning seven starters from last year, and last year’s unit limited teams to a mere 16.1 points per game. Standout defensive back Will Johnson, who had a great freshman year for the Wolverines, returns as one of the best young corners in the country. Guys like All-Big Ten linebacker Junior Colson, Kris Jenkins, Mike Sainristil, Rod Moore, and Makari Paige will anchor the defense as well.
The biggest questions for this team deal with the wide receiver position and the depth at cornerback. Besides Johnson, who else will step up? And at wideout, will someone step up and be ‘the guy’ for McCarthy? If so, who? However, regardless of all that, this team remains one of the deepest in the country at practically every position, and head coach Jim Harbaugh has all the ingredients for a run at the national championship.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State nearly took down top-seeded (and eventual national champion) Georgia in the College Football Playoff last season, but they came up one point short. Regardless, it is a new season in Columbus, and this season, they will be without the dynamic quarterback play of C.J. Stroud, who was drafted second overall by the Houston Texans in the NFL Draft this past April.
Now, the offense is likely in the hands of Kyle McCord, a former top recruit who has finally gotten his chance to prove himself. Helping him out is…let’s see here, oh, nothing particularly special, just the undisputed best wide receiver in the country and one of the best players in college football’s recent history in Marvin Harrison Jr. And when you’re throwing the ball to a player of his caliber, things just might go your team’s way.
Emeka Egbuka, a talented receiver in his own right who had an excellent season last year, returns as well to flank Harrison Jr. The wide receiver room is filled out with newcomers Brandon Inniss, Noah Rogers, and Carnell Tate. Inniss, a top-40 recruit in the ESPN 300, will look to get some playing time early.
Running back TreVeyon Henderson, who is one of the best backs in the conference but attempting to bounce back from a rollercoaster 2022, returns as the key piece in the backfield. Miyan Williams returns to provide a solid second option on the ground.
The offensive line did lose both Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones to the NFL, so head coach Ryan Day needs to make sure McCord has excellent protection in the pocket throughout the year.
Defensively, Day can lean a little more on second-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, as even though the unit took some losses, they addressed several glaring needs via the transfer portal, and they should be solid on that side of the ball. The headliner for this season, though, is the offense, and how it will look under the presumptive starter McCord. Only time will tell on that front.
If there’s any team that I would consider to be a sleeper going into this year, it’s this Maryland team right here.
Quarterback Tualia Tagovailoa is back for his senior season, and after a 2022 season that saw him throw for 3,008 yards and 18 touchdowns, he is in line to take another step forward in the stats department. Tagovailoa’s top target will be senior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, who is coming off a season during which he caught 44 passes for 557 yards and four touchdowns.
The Terrapins also hit the portal pretty hard this past spring, bringing in Kaden Prather from West Virginia and Tyrese Chambers from FIU to bolster the receiving core. Prather racked up 544 yards and four touchdowns with the Mountaineers last year and Chambers produced 501 yards and three touchdowns with the Panthers. So both of those guys should help add some depth to Maryland’s receiving core.
In the backfield, Roman Hemby returns coming off an excellent 989-yard, 10-touchdown season. He will spearhead the Terrapins’ rushing attack, and sophomore Antwain Littleton II is a solid number two option.
The offensive line remains somewhat of a concern, as the team only returns one starter from last season, and it is up to offensive coordinator Joe Gattis and co-offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin to try and address that.
On defense, senior Donnell Brown remains an anchor along the line, coming off a 30-solo tackle, 6.5-sack season last year. Seniors Fa’Najae Gotay and Gereme Spraggins man the linebacking core, as they are coming off 25-tackle and 20-tackle seasons last year, respectively.
But the star of this defense is defensive back Beau Brade, who had five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two interceptions last year. He is the definition of a pure playmaker, and he easily makes the list of top defensive backs in the Big Ten. This Maryland team is not one to be taken lightly, and it would not surprise me if they improved on their eight-win total from last season.
Michigan State Spartans
The fall from grace for the Spartans between the 2021 and 2022 seasons has been largely cataloged up to this point. They racked up 11 wins and a victory in the Peach Bowl in 2021, and then they sank down to a mere five wins in 2022.
One of the biggest issues that plagued this team last year was that they only managed to put up 19.8 points per game in conference play. Former starting quarterback Payton Thorne, who was expected by most within the program to be back for another year, decided to transfer, where he is now at Auburn. In addition, Keon Coleman, who led the team in receiving yards in 2022, is also gone.
The development of junior quarterback Noah Kim, who had several nice moments when he was on the field last year, will be absolutely paramount if the Spartans want to go anywhere positive this season. In the backfield, junior Jalen Berger is back, coming off a 683-yard, six-touchdown season. He will be the lead back for a team that is trying to flip the script on the ground after they ran for just 113 yards per game last year, which was good for 12th in the conference.
Behind him are sophomore Nathan Carter, who ran for 405 yards and a score, and South Florida transfer Jaren Mangham, who hit paydirt three times last season with the Bulls.
On the outside, there is some talent, primarily in the form of senior Tre Mosley, who is coming off a year where he produced 35 catches for 359 yards and four scores, but they will more than likely sorely miss Coleman. It is up to guys such as Alante Brown, Montorie Foster Jr., and likely some of the many incoming freshmen to try and replace Coleman’s production.
On defense, seniors Cal Haladay and Jacoby Windmon will be consistent presences in the middle of the field, primarily Haladay, who pitched in an excellent 42 solo tackles in 2022. In the secondary, this team’s best playmaker resides in the form of junior Charles Brantley, who produced a whopping 120 total tackles, six pass deflections and an interception last year.
A home bout with an excellent Washington team early in the season is not ideal for the Spartans, and neither is drawing Ohio State on the road. I don’t see this team improving much on their 5-7 mark from last year, and it wouldn’t really surprise me if they declined to 4-8.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
This team went 4-8 in 2022, and a large part of that has to do with its quarterback play. As it stands right now, the two competitors to start are junior Evan Simon, who threw four touchdowns and six interceptions last year, and fellow junior Gavin Wimsatt, who threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Not exactly inspiring play from the game’s most important position.
If the Scarlet Knights want to improve in any way this year, they’ll need to figure out which one of those guys is going to start consistently, and if it comes to a case where the coaching staff decides neither of them is cut out for it, who will step in and take their place.
Junior Kyle Monagai is coming off a 109-carry, 445-yard, two-score season, and he is a name to watch. I could see him going off for a big year. Junior Al-Shadee Salaam put up 210 yards and two touchdowns in 2022, and he should serve as a nice No. 2 option.
On the outside, senior Naseim Brantley is coming off an excellent 903-yard, nine-touchdown season, and he could also be a name to watch for another productive season, even with the uncertainty at quarterback. Juniors Wesley Bailey and Aaron Lewis are playmakers along the defensive line, and senior linebacker Deion Jennings, who is coming off a 87-tackle season, is also a name to keep an eye on.
Senior Mohamed Toure also racked up 4.5 sacks, and he should remain a threat in the middle of the field. In the secondary, junior Desmond Igbinosun had four pass breakups and a forced fumble in 2022, and he should remain a steady presence defensively. Same goes for juniors Robert Longerbeam and Max Melton, with Melton having logged an impressive nine pass deflections and two interceptions this past year.
An intriguing name to watch is Northern Illinois transfer Eric Rogers, who racked up 18 tackles, four pass deflections, and two interceptions last season with the Huskies. It will be interesting to see how he fits into the rotation, as he is more than capable of making plays happen defensively.
Penn State Nittany Lions
This team is the one that has the best chance to make the College Football Playoff in this conference that’s not named Michigan or Ohio State.
The tale of the tape for the Nittany Lions this year is their defense, which returns a ton of production, and it is spearheaded by star sophomore linebacker Abdul Carter and senior defensive end Adisa Isaac. Carter is coming off a season where he put up a whopping 56 tackles, along with 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Isaac racked up 28 tackles and four sacks in 2022.
This defense has no shortage of talent, as guys like Chop Robinson, Tyler Elsdon, Curtis Jacobs and Kobe King will all contribute once again in a big way. And it doesn’t stop in the secondary, as Penn State has two absolutely excellent defensive backs in Johnny Dixon and Kalen King, who combined for a whopping 23 pass deflections last season.
On offense, the main story on that side of the ball is sophomore quarterback Drew Allar, who stands at a monster 6’5” and 243 pounds and has loads of potential. He should have more of that than former starter Sean Clifford did. Clifford, while he set plenty of records at Penn State, didn’t really take that step up that lots of quarterbacks who are teetering between good and elite do in their final collegiate years. All eyes will be on Allar as he takes the reins for the Nittany Lions at the game’s most important position.
One thing that will help is star offensive tackle Olu Fashanu returning for another season. Fashanu, who will likely be a first-round pick in next April’s NFL Draft, is easily one of the best offensive linemen in the country. Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen are a solid one-two punch in the backfield that can take some of the pressure off Allar.
The wide receiver room is a bit of a work in progress. Most of the spotlight will be on Kent State transfer Dante Cephas, who is coming off a 48-reception, 744-yard, three-score season last year. Will he become Allar’s favorite target early?
Taking a look at their schedule, taking on West Virginia at home on national TV for their first game of the year will be a good way to prove just how good they are to the rest of the country. And one of the best games of the year rests right in the middle of their slate, that being a showdown with Ohio State on Oct. 21 in Columbus. That game, depending on how both teams do to start out the season, could easily make or break the Nittany Lions’ CFP hopes.
Perhaps the most interesting team in the conference this year, the Cornhuskers are coming off a season where they went 4-8 and fired former head coach Scott Frost after a massive upset loss to Georgia Southern at home in Week 3.
They replaced Frost with former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, and all eyes will be on Rhule as he aims to turn around a program that possesses one of the nation’s most storied histories. There likely won’t be an excess amount of winning during Rhule’s first year, but there is talent here.
Quarterback Jeff Sims, who arrives from Georgia Tech as Casey Thompson’s replacement, is expected to get the starting nod. Senior Anthony Grant is coming off an impressive 2022 where he ran for 915 yards and six touchdowns, so it is expected that he will take another leap in production.
At wide receiver, despite losing star wideout Trey Palmer to the NFL, the outside will be manned by Marcus Washington, Billy Kemp IV and Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda as upperclassmen. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for some of the younger wideouts and incoming freshmen and seeing how they fit into the rotation.
The defense features the likes of senior linebacker Luke Reimer, who is coming off a 38-solo tackle season and looking to increase that production. Other names to watch include Nick Henrich, Marques Buford Jr., Myles Farmer, and Quinton Newsome. Farmer and Buford Jr. combined for 132 tackles last season, while Newsome logged 10 pass deflections on the year.
The biggest thing Rhule has to do this year is get back to playing Nebraska’s brand of football. Cutting down on the turnovers and penalties would be an excellent start, as well as cleaning up the special teams gaffes (which were on display too many times last year) and getting back to that bruising, line-of-scrimmage-dominant style that made the Huskers elite for decades. It could be another long season in Lincoln, but Rhule has this program already trending in the right direction.
Former Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, who engineered the Bearcats’ run to the College Football Playoff a couple of seasons back, is now the man at the helm in Madison. Badgers fans should feel excellent about this hire, as I think he will help this team improve on a 7-6 season last year.
SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai has arrived as the presumptive starting quarterback, and is coming off a season where he threw for 3,524 yards, 33 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions. I, for one, am extremely high on Mordecai, and if he can put up anywhere close to those numbers against Big Ten competition, Wisconsin could very well be a sleeper for the Big Ten title.
And judging by the brand-new scheme that new offensive coordinator Phil Longo plans to implement this year, it seems like something like that could indeed happen. Longo wants to increase tempo and emphasize the passing game in a way that Wisconsin hasn’t seen in a very, very long time. If he can build a solid system around Mordecai but also let him use his pure talent that he had been using at SMU, this team could be one to watch out for.
Elsewhere, running back Braelon Allen returns coming off a monster 1,242-yard, 11-touchdown season. He is easily one of the best backs in the country, however, it will be intriguing to see how he is used in this new Air Raid-like system.
I am particularly interested to see how some of these wideouts will respond to this new system, particularly Chimere Dike, who is coming off a 689-yard, six-score season, and Keontez Lewis, who racked up 313 yards and three scores. Another name I’m intrigued by is Oklahoma State transfer Bryson Green, who put up 584 yards and five touchdowns with the Cowboys last year. They could very well all have massive seasons in this new system.
The defense is stocked with playmakers such as Darian Varner, Maema Njongmeta, Jordan Turner and Jason Maitre. Njongmeta is coming off a season where he finished with a whopping 95 solo tackles. So, this defense is no pushover. If everything goes just right for Longo, Fickell and Mordecai, which is admittedly a big ‘if,’ this team could realistically contend for the Big Ten title.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois had its best season since 2007 last year, and now the task in front of the Illini is building off that success and attempting to return to consistent contending status again.
There are some questions that need to be answered, though, especially with the losses of former starting quarterback Tommy DeVito and former starting running back Chase Brown. Both are now in the NFL, and the offense now will likely rest in the hands of Ole Miss transfer Luke Altmyer, who threw for only 125 yards and two touchdowns last season. Altmyer is currently the projected starter, but could face some competition from senior John Paddock, who threw for 2,719 yards and 18 scores last year at Ball State.
In the backfield, Brown’s replacement comes in the form of Reggie Love III, as he ran for 330 yards and two scores last year. While he was somewhat limited in production behind Brown, he should be fully in the spotlight now and able to showcase his full potential. It is also interesting to see if someone such as sophomore Josh McCray or one of the incoming freshmen could assert themselves as a consistent second option on the ground.
At wide receiver, the Illini have two very solid contributors in Isaiah Williams and Pat Bryant, who had 715 and 453 receiving yards last season, respectively. They will be complemented nicely by senior wideout Casey Washington.
Defensively, it hurts to lose All-Big Ten corner Devon Witherspoon, who is now a member of the Seattle Seahawks, but the core should be stabilized by guys such as Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph Jr. Newton, who had 5.5 sacks a year ago, is looking to have another productive year. Witherspoon’s departure should at least in part be filled by rising star sophomore Demetrius Hill, who logged three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception last year.
Taking a look at their schedule, a game I have my eye on early is a non-conference road test against a Kansas team that I think will be better than lots of people think. That could be an early-season challenge for the Illini. And the next week, they gear up for a showdown with Penn State at home, which will be momentous and could set the tone for how the season is going to go. Not having to play Michigan or Ohio State should help out, but Brett Bielema and company might have their work cut out for them starting early in the season.
Purdue made an appearance in the Big Ten title game at the end of last season, where it ended up losing to a clearly better Michigan team, then proceeded to get absolutely smoked by LSU in the Citrus Bowl and then lose its head coach to Louisville on top of that.
It was certainly a whirlwind of a few months for the Boilermakers, but new lead skipper Ryan Walters heads into his first year in West Lafayette in an interesting position. Gone is Aidan O’Connell, the team’s former starting quarterback who had one of the best careers ever in a Boilermaker uniform. His replacement should be former Texas Longhorn Hudson Card, who arrives in West Lafayette after three seasons in Austin.
Card threw for 928 yards and six scores with just one interception in somewhat limited action last year, and the pressure will be on to see if he can succeed as a starter once again, this time in new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s system that places a heavy emphasis on the passing attack.
In the backfield, Devin Mockobee had an outstanding freshman season, finishing with 968 yards and nine touchdowns, and he could very well ascend into the tier of elite running backs in the conference.
The wide receiving core should be manned primarily by sophomore Jahmal Edrine and senior TJ Sheffield. Erdine is coming off a 570-yard, six-touchdown freshman season, and he will look to make an even bigger jump this year. It will be interesting to see how a player such as sophomore Deion Burks, who caught 15 passes for 149 yards last year, could fit into the rotation.
On defense, Cam Allen is the star of the show, as he logged 49 tackles along with six pass deflections and three picks last year. He is one of the most underrated defensive backs in the conference, and he will be looking to showcase his play again this year.
It would not surprise me if this team improved on its record from last year, but its schedule isn’t doing a lot of favors. For one, their second non-conference game against a plucky Virginia Tech team on the road could be an early challenge. Having to face Nebraska and Michigan on the road in back-to-back weeks doesn’t really help things, either.
Again, the Boilers could surprise me in this spot, but I don’t see them winning eight games again this year.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
I’m pretty high on this team entering the 2023 season, and as long as P.J. Fleck is on the sidelines, this team should be in competition for a bowl game. They just might be a dark horse contender for the Big Ten title.
At quarterback, the Golden Gophers are led by redshirt sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis, who did only throw three touchdowns as opposed to four interceptions in 11 games last season. I am of the opinion that he will improve those numbers this year, as keep in mind that he did redshirt his first season and still has gobs of potential.
In the backfield, Sean Tyler arrives from Western Michigan and is coming off a 1,027-yard, seven-touchdown season last year for the Broncos. The spotlight will be on him as he looks to replace departed starter Mo Ibrahim, who set all kinds of records in a Minnesota uniform but is now a member of the Detroit Lions.
Super senior wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, back for his seventh season in the Twin Cities, looks to rebound from a maddeningly frustrating 2022 that saw him only tally 214 yards and a score before tearing his ACL in September. Corey Crooms Jr. stepped up big-time in his absence, as the Western Michigan transfer put up an impressive 814 yards and five scores. Autman-Bell and Crooms Jr. should form one of the premier wideout duos in the conference. And not to mention, senior Daniel Jackson returns coming off a 557-yard, five-touchdown season. The Gophers have no shortage of talent and experience at that position.
The progress of the offensive line will be something to monitor, as All-American center John Michael Schmitz and three other starters are gone. It will be interesting to see how Fleck replaces that production.
The defense limited opponents to a mere 13.8 points per game last season, and that unit should be excellent once again. Guys such as Cody Lindenberg, who returns following a 71-tackle season, should be major catalysts in the middle of the field.
The secondary isn’t a slouch, either, as Tyler Nubin and Justin Walley both return while also adding several goodies via the transfer portal, such as Tyler Bride from Georgia Southern, SE Louisiana’s Jack Henderson and Iowa State’s Craig McDonald.
I think if the defense continues to do what it’s been doing for the past few years, and if Kaliakmanis takes a step forward in his development, this Minnesota team could really contend for the Big Ten title. Yeah, that’s right. I said it.
Everyone who follows Big Ten football knows just how atrocious Iowa’s offense was last year, and that its defense did most of the heavy lifting en route to an 8-5 season. However, the hope that the offense can turn things around after a rough 2022 remains in Iowa City.
Michigan transfer Cade McNamara is the man under center this year, and let’s not forget that in 2021, McNamara threw for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns before being replaced by J.J. McCarthy the next year. He is definitely an upgrade at quarterback, but it remains to be seen if he can be the guy to consistently elevate Iowa’s offense.
Running back Kaleb Johnson put up 779 yards and six touchdowns last season and will be looking to have another strong year. Junior Leshon Williams added 413 yards and should be a solid No. 2 option. The wide receiver room has a lot of young talent, but the name that jumps out immediately is Charleston Southern transfer Seth Anderson, who put up 617 yards and seven scores in 2022. Anderson won the Big South Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year last season, and he should be in line for another productive season in what will be his first in Iowa City.
Defensively, Jack Campbell and Riley Moss were the stalwarts of last year’s vaunted unit, but they are now both in the NFL. However, the heart of that defense now resides in the form of star defensive back Cooper DeJean, who put up 75 tackles and five interceptions last season. He is one of the best and most versatile players, period, in the conference, and he should continue to be a nightmare for opposing offenses.
There’s plenty more talent on that defense, as linebackers Deonte Craig (7.5 sacks last year) and Joe Evans (6.5 sacks) are ready to make an even bigger impact with Campbell gone.
The defense should be as strong as ever, but the offense is the massive X-factor. If it plays up to its potential, then the Hawkeyes should be considered a legitimate contender. If not, then there will be some uncomfortable conversations that will need to be had.
Since competing for the Big Ten title in 2020, Northwestern has gone 4-20 over the past two seasons. That is a mark that interim head coach David Braun is desperate to improve, but he will once again have his work cut out for him this year.
The team was mired in a scandal involving intense hazing allegations against former head coach Pat Fitzgerald and the football program in general, and there is a good amount of talent that needs to be replaced. The loss that hurts the most is undoubtedly that of star left tackle Peter Skoronski, who was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft this past April.
However, the Wildcats’ quarterback situation seems to be trending in the right direction with the arrival of Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant, who threw for 2,732 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. He should be given the starting nod over senior Ryan Hilinski, who played well in the team’s season-opening win over Nebraska in Ireland but was very inconsistent from there on out.
Senior running back Cam Porter returns, and he should be handling the starting duties as he replaces Evan Hull. At wide receiver, Bryce Kirtz, Jacob Gill and Calvin Johnson II are all names to keep an eye on. Gill and Johnson II, in particular, have loads of potential and it will be interesting to see what they can put together in terms of production this season, particularly with a little more stability at quarterback.
However, with all that said, attempting to at least partially replace the impact of Skoronski is the most important thing on the agenda for Braun this year if the ‘Cats want to gain some positive momentum. In 2022, the offense averaged a mere 13.8 points per game, and that number has to increase if Northwestern wants to remain competitive in a vaunted conference.
Defensively, Braun has a tall task in front of him, as only five starters return from last year’s unit. A strength, though, is in the linebacking core, where Bryce Gallagher and Xander Mueller both return. Gallagher registered 100 total tackles last season, while Mueller racked up 87 total and added three sacks. The middle of the field should be a strength for them again, but given the talent this team has to work with compared to the rest of the Big Ten as well as their schedule, it could be another long season in Evanston.