The Big Ten had a rough 2012 campaign. Plain and simple. The problems for the league started before the first kickoff of the season. Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky scandal was a huge black eye on the conference, because not only did it bring humiliation to one of the marquee teams in the Big Ten, but it really seemed to set the tone for the season. There were the disappointing seasons by Michigan St., Wisconsin, and to a certain extent Michigan. All three teams were ranked in the top 15 in the nation, but neither ended up there. Then, there was Ohio St. The Buckeyes finished 12-0, but were on probation and ineligible to play in a bowl game. Northwestern was the only real bright spot in the conference. The Wildcats went 10-3 (5-3 Big Ten). Northwestern should be in line to contend again in the Legends division, but they’ll have 3 other teams (Mich, MSU, and Neb.) to fight against in what should be one of the most hotly contested divisional races in the country.
1. Ohio St. Buckeyes, are coming off one of the least convincing undefeated seasons I’ve ever seen. It’s understandable, though. Head coach, Urban Meyer was in his first year, and Jr. QB-Braxton Miller was in his first year running Meyer’s offense. Overall it was a success, but the Buckeyes had several close calls to teams it should have handled easily. For example, 3-9 teams UAB and Cal out gained Ohio St. and led well into the 2nd half before running out of gas. The offense at times stalled at key points to keep teams in the game. That should change this season. Miller, is my pick to win the Heisman, was the Buckeyes offense in 2012. With more experienced and talented receivers, Miller should flourish in his second season under Meyer. It seems like the Buckeyes season will come down to their date with Michigan in the Big House – 11/30. There’s no reason Ohio St. shouldn’t be undefeated at that point, and have a chance to play for all the marbles in the BCS title game. Wisconsin could cause problems, but that game is in the Horseshoe. Upset alert? at California – 9/14, at Northwestern – 10/5.
2. Wisconsin Badgers, are in transition mode, after former head coach, Bret Bielema shocked Badger Nation by taking the Arkansas job. Replacing him is former Utah State head coach, Gary Andersen. Utah St’s program reached new heights under Andersen, winning a record 11 games last season. Apparently, the Badgers were quite impressed by Andersen and his Utah St. Aggies team after they nearly upset the Badgers in Madison, last season. The 16-14 score in that game was very indicative of how the rest of the Badgers season went. Wisconsin won 8 games, but it easily could have been more. The Badgers played 3 overtime games, and lost all 3. Two of them against Leaders division foes Ohio St., and Penn St. Furthermore, the Badgers lost the other 3 games by 7 points or less, including a 6 point loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl. You would be hard pressed to find another team with a record like that. The Badgers should improve their win total this season, with playing only one contender out of the Legends division. Northwestern. Watch out for the Badgers in 2013.
3. Penn St. Nittany Lions, have to be happy with head coach, Bill O’brien and the way his team handled the circus, that was the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The Nittany Lions, unable to go to a bowl, or play for the conference championship, were able to win 8 games. More than any of the experts, could ever have predicted. To be honest, part of Penn State’s success would probably be due to a down year from the rest of the league. This season, looks to be quite the same. The Nittany Lions return 14 starters (8 offense, 6 defense). So, there is some experience, but someone will have to replace QB Matt McGloin. Expect Penn St. to be good again, but not quite as good, as the sanctions against them start to fully take their toll.
4. Indiana Hoosiers, return 19 starters (10 offense, 9 defense), but that may not be good news on the defensive side of the ball, as the Hoosiers gave up 41 points/game in conference play. Indiana has proven that they can score, but they can’t stop anyone. If, the Hoosiers D comes along, the Hoosiers could be dangerous with the experience they possess on each side of the ball. There are also questions about who will play QB. It looks like will be by committee, with 3 guys taking snaps. I don’t see much changing with Indiana, record wise, even though the Hoosiers will probably be better overall.
5. Purdue Boilermakers, return 13 starters (5 offense 8 defense) to a team that went 6-7 and lost to Oklahoma St in their bowl game. Sr. – Rob Henry, looks to be the starter at QB. Purdue, ended the regular season, by winning their last 3 regular season games before losing to Okie St. Much like Indiana, there were many problems on defense, as the Boilermakers gave up 33 points and over 400 yards per game in conference. With their senior leadership at QB, the Boilers have a chance to improve and could be dangerous to team that has bigger fish to fry.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini, return 12 starters (8 offense, 4 defense) to a team that went without a win in league play, and only won 2 games total. The Illini had rough years on each side of the ball, especially in conference play where they scored just 12 points per game. The defense gave up 35 points/game. Included in the 8 offensive starters coming back, Sr. QB- Nathan Scheelhaase who has started the previous two seasons. Offensive numbers should go up some, but with only 4 returning on defense, it will probably be another long season for head coach, Tim Beckman.
1. Nebraska Cornhuskers, in my opinion have a slight advantage in the Legends division, because of Sr. QB-Taylor Martinez (T-Magic). Martinez, is one of the best dual-threat QB’s in the country. It showed last season, as Martinez gained over 1,000 yards rushing and over 2,800 yards through the air. Nebraska will have no problem scoring points. The Huskers problem is defense. The defense wasn’t bad every week. Nebraska gave up 24 points/game in conference play. However, Ohio St. and Wisconsin scored a combined 133 points. Georgia, also ran up 45 against the Husker D in the Capital One Bowl. Improvement will be difficult to achieve with only 4 starters back on D. Never thought I’d see such ineptness from a Bo Pellini coached team. If the Huskers are decent on D, the sky’s the limit. If not, it will be a mediocre season in Lincoln.
2. Michigan Wolverines, has Jr. QB-Devin Gardner taking snaps now. Gardner, took over for Denard Robinson a few games into last season, and the Wolverines offense was much more balanced. Gardner can run, but he’s a much better passer than Robinson was. Look for Michigan to improve even more this season in offensive coordinator, Al Borges’ balanced system. The Wolverines only return 12 starters ( 6 offense, 6 defense), but this past year’s recruiting class was very good, and should be quite productive. Even though, Michigan gets Nebraska in the Big House, I have them finishing 2nd behind the Huskers. I think Michigan beats Nebraska at home, but they also have Northwestern on the road, and Ohio St at home to end the season. The Huskers escape having to play the Buckeyes.
3. Northwestern Wildcats, have been amazing under head coach, Pat Fitzgerald. Who could have ever thought, that Northwestern would be coming off their 5th consecutive bowl appearance. Unless, something crazy happens, there will be a 6th appearance. Could it be the Rose Bowl? The Wildcats return 15 starters (8 offense, 7 defense) including starting Sr. QB- Kain Colter. Fitzgerald’s offense is perfect for Colter, but if he has problems Northwestern returns each of their reserve QB’s ( Trevor Siemian, and Zack Oliver) who each saw time last season. Northwestern, finished in the middle of the pack offensively, and defensively last season. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is improvement on each side of the ball. In league play, Northwestern hosts Ohio St., and the Michigan schools. They travel to Nebraska. The schedule sets up for Northwestern to be right in the thick of the Legends division. Fitzgerald, will have them ready. Bet on that.
4. Michigan St. Spratans, were really disappointing last season. The Spartans were looked upon, as a team that could really surprise, and they did. Unfortunately, there was nothing good about this surprise. Defense is the Spartans claim to fame. Michigan St. ranked at or near the top of the Big 10 almost every defensive category. That shouldn’t change this year. There are 7 returning starters from last year’s team. The Spartan’s offense is the total opposite of their defense. Sr. QB- Andrew Maxwell is back, but his completion percentage was last in the league (52.5%). The Spartans are very capable of winning this division, but numbers like that, obviously have to get much better. Schedule wise, Michigan St. misses Ohio St, plays Michigan at home, but plays Northwestern and Nebraska on the road. The Spartans season will likely come down to those two division games.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes, were the only other team besides Florida St. to beat BCS buster, Northern Illinois in the 2012 season opener. It really didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but it turned out to be the Hawkeyes only marquee win. Northern Illinois, comes for a little revenge to Iowa City for this year’s season opener. Iowa will return 13 starters (6 offense, 7 defense) including Jr. RB- Mark Weisman, who went for over 800 yards in 9 games. Iowa is always strong in the running game, but lately it’s been difficult for them to keep their front line runners healthy. Weisman, who transferred from Air Force, looks like the real deal and he has depth behind him. Junior College QB – Cody Sokol, looks to be the starting QB. Defensively, Iowa was adequate giving up 22.9 points/game. However, the offense was just as inadequate, scoring only 19 point/game. If the Hawkeyes stay healthy, those numbers should go up. Iowa has one of the tougher schedules in the Big 10, so improving on last year’s 4 wins will be tough.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers, return 16 starters of their own, including 10 on offense to a team that went 6-7 last season. The Gophers ended their season with a close loss to Texas Tech in the Car Care Bowl. So. QB- Phillip Nelson returns after starting the last 7 games. Nelson, completed just 49% of his passes, but you would expect him to have better numbers this season. Jr. RB- Donnell Kirkwood gives Minnesota experience at running back (926 yds), so there should be improvement on the 22 points/game from 2012, which was near the bottom of the Big 10. Defensively, 6 starters return from a defense that was adequate giving up 24 points/game. All that said, it’s hard for me seeing Iowa equaling last season’s win total, but stranger things have happened.
Big Ten Title Game: Ohio St. beats Nebraska
Player of the Year: Braxton Miller
Game of the Year: Ohio St. at Michigan
That’s my look at the Big Ten. As always, feel free to comment, if you agree or disagree. Also, please hit the like button if you enjoyed it. Be sure to visit Sports & Swag over the next couple of days as we look at the ACC, SEC, and also BCS busters of 2013.