Other conferences have a pretty straightforward policy when it comes to their preseason football polls: 1 person, 1 vote for each program.

For reasons unexplained, the Big Ten does not operate this way.

Unlike other conferences, the B1G does not have an official preseason poll. That task is instead handled by cleveland.com, which conducts an unofficial preseason poll using 1 beat writer for each of the 14 programs plus 23 other voters.

This has been the case since Nebraska joined the league in 2011 and split it into divisions. Perhaps Big Ten higher-ups didn’t think voters from a state with a unicameral legislature could handle the rigors of voting for a bicameral conference.

Maybe things will change in 2024, when those pesky divisions go away and the conference expands to 16 teams. Even college football reporters are capable of counting from 1-16. I think.

Until then, I can only tell you how I would vote in the Big Ten preseason poll. And it will be using the same parameters as the cleveland.com poll: predicted order of finish for each division, plus preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.

Big Ten East predicted order of finish

  1. Ohio State
  2. Michigan
  3. Penn State
  4. Maryland
  5. Michigan State
  6. Rutgers
  7. Indiana

My official prediction is for Ohio State and Michigan to finish tied atop the division at 8-1 in the Big Ten and 11-1 overall with the Buckeyes earning the head-to-head win to close the regular season.

At that point, Ohio State will have had an entire year to ruminate over Michigan’s flag plant at midfield of Ohio Stadium. And I don’t expect the Buckeyes will have a friendly response.

Michigan exploited an overaggressive Buckeye defense last year to the tune of 6 touchdowns of at least 45 yards. One presumes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will have a different approach this time around. I’m also counting on Ohio State to cut down on self-inflicted wounds. The Buckeyes committed 2 turnovers and 9 penalties for 91 yards last year.

If Michigan wins this game, the entire fulcrum of the rivalry swings toward the Wolverines in a way we haven’t seen since John Cooper was on Ohio State’s sidelines. I think it’s more likely that the Harbaugh vs. Day era will be marked by a Schembechler vs. Hayes level of balance.

Third place in the East remains Penn State’s frustrating lot in life. Nittany Lions fans just need to remain patient. The pending roster turnover at Michigan and Ohio State combined with Penn State’s expected returns in 2024 should make that the season to circle in Happy Valley.

Big Ten West predicted order of finish

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Iowa
  3. Illinois
  4. Minnesota
  5. Nebraska
  6. Northwestern
  7. Purdue

Surely the Badgers won’t fail us for a third straight year. Right?

Wisconsin’s failure to live up to preseason expectations the past 2 years explains why Paul Chryst was given the heave-ho in the middle of last season despite a 67-26 overall record at the school. The attitude and schematic adjustments brought in by former Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell should finally allow Wisconsin to meet its potential.

That said, there’s no guarantee a dramatic overhaul is going to work in Year 1. One must keep an eye on Iowa to reach the Big Ten championship game for the 2nd time in 3 years.

Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is under a mandate to average at least 25 points per game. The offensive line is finally more experienced after a couple rough seasons, and new quarterback Cade McNamara should be able to get the offense into the end zone more often.

Illinois and Minnesota are a tier below the frontrunners. The Gophers have the misfortune of drawing both Ohio State and Michigan out of the East while Illinois plays neither, so we’re placing Minnesota fourth.

Given the chaos at Northwestern, having the Wildcats above anybody is a shock. I’ve got Northwestern and Purdue each finishing 1-8 in the B1G with Northwestern’s lone win coming over the Boilers.

That may seem a stunning drop for a team that won the Big Ten West last year. But Purdue gave a pretty good preview of what it has coming back this year in its 63-7 Citrus Bowl loss to LSU: not a whole lot. Rookie coach Ryan Walters has his hands full, but with youth comes the enthusiasm needed to handle the task in the long run.

Big Ten championship game

Ohio State over Wisconsin

The West’s final quest to become the Big Ten’s best will finish just like all the rest — unsuccessfully. Ohio State will put a bow on a decade of domination, improving the Big Ten East champ to a perfect 10-0 all-time in the Big Ten championship game.

However, that does not mean the Badgers are incapable of beating the Buckeyes this season. An Oct. 28 game in Madison stands out as Ohio State’s most likely stumbling block before the Michigan game.

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year

RB Blake Corum, Michigan

Corum finished 7th in Heisman voting last year. That makes him the top returning vote-getter in college football behind incumbent winner Caleb Williams of USC. And that makes him my preseason pick for the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year.

However, this is no open-and-shut case.

Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is going to mount a challenge. And so could a pair of Corum’s Michigan teammates, quarterback JJ McCarthy and fellow running back Donovan Edwards. Or so could some of Harrison’s Ohio State teammates, such as running back TreVeyon Henderson or quarterback Kyle McCord.

Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen is another top candidate, particularly if the Badgers open the offense for more of his explosive gains.

But going into the year, Corum is the clear favorite. So, I’ll treat him as such.

Preseason Defensive Player of the Year

LB Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State

In the B1G, Eichenberg trailed only 2022 Big Ten defensive player of the year Jack Campbell and Michigan State’s Cal Haladay in tackles per game last season. He also led all Big Ten inside linebackers with 12 tackles for loss.

Even though Illinois defensive tackle Johnny Newton may be the first Big Ten defensive player drafted next year, it’s very difficult for an interior lineman to bring home the hardware.

Eichenberg’s primary competition will come from Haladay, Ohio State defensive end JT Tuimoloau, Penn State defensive end Chop Robinson, Penn State cornerback Kalen King and Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean.