2013 Big Ten Preview

For the Big Ten, 2013 could finally be the year.

B1GFinally, a team from the Big Ten could dethrone the SEC and win a BCS National Championship. The problem is, however, that team must bulldoze their way through the rest of the Big Ten to do so.

There is no question that team is the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are ranked number two and are as strong- on paper- as any team in the country.

So what’s the story with the rest of the conference?

It’s weak.

Try as hard as it may, the Big Ten can’t seem to shed the Big Ten label: “big and slow”. While certain teams will be able to use their size to their advantage and produce a solid season in doing so, the majority of the Big Ten will be as bad as advertised.

All that being said, we’ll go team-by-team and take a look at each team and prognosticate the season that lies ahead.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Projected Record: 13-0

Projected Big Ten Record : 8-0

Braxton Miller
As previously mentioned, Ohio State is by far the strongest team in this B1G conference. Lead by Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes could find themselves averaging 40 points per game on their way to becoming one of the most talented offensive teams in the country.

Defensively, the Buckeyes have question marks- the biggest of which is the defensive line. After losing Jonathan Hankins, John Simon, and Garrett Goebel, the Buckeyes look to replace experience with raw talent, as Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, and Adolphus Washington lead the young d-line class.

Overall, the Buckeyes SHOULD go undefeated as they are the most talented team in the conference, but watch out for their October 5th matchup with the Northwestern Wildcats. After a successful season last year, Northwestern is looking to make a statement and what better way to do so than to beat the Buckeyes in a primetime night game at home on national TV.

 

 

Nebraska CornhuskersTaylor Martinez

Projected Record: 10-2 

Projected Big Ten Record: 7-1

Nebraska is another very strong team in the B1G, especially after returning QB Taylor Martinez and RB Rex Burkhead for the 2013 campaign. Martinez has seemingly improved year after year, regardless of his less-than-stellar mechanics and is certainly ready to finish his Cornhusker career as one of the best Nebraska quarterbacks of all time.

It’s the defense, however, that is questionable and may keep them from a Big Ten Championship. The front seven is a very young and inexperienced group, as they lost five starters last season, and will need to step up should Nebraska be a legitimate contender for a BCS Bowl berth.

The Cornhuskers play one out of conference game that they won’t win, and that’s a battle with the UCLA Bruins in Pasadena. UCLA is one of the most improved teams in college football- much in thanks to Jim Mora Jr.- and may get the best of this young defensive unit. In the Big Ten, however, Nebraska may lose one game and it may be the B1G Championship.

Northwestern WildcatsVenric Mark

Projected Record: 10-2 

Projected Big Ten Record: 6-2

The Wildcats are primed and ready for a HUGE year on the outskirts of Chicago. One of the better dual-threat QBs in the country, Kain Colter is ready to lead a dynamic offense, but will have the help of star running-back Venric Mark and bona-fide passer Trevor Siemian along the way.

Returning seven players on the defensive end, the Wildcats are looking to improve on their 47th ranked defense last season in which they allowed just 4,916 yards and 35 total touchdowns as a unit.

The Wildcats are a very strong team, but not quite strong enough to go undefeated. While the game against the Buckeyes is certainly highlighted, their battle with Wisconsin in Madison and the matchup with Nebraksa are going to be a very tough as well. If they somehow pull out these wins, Northwestern could legitimately run the table.

 

Michigan Wolverines

Projected Record: 10-2

Projected Big Ten Record: 6-2

Michigan may be one of the most intriguing teams in the Big Ten due to their poor performance last season. Coming in, the Wolverines were expected to compete for a Big Ten Championship and instead finished with five losses.

Head Coach Brady Hoke may be out of a job should that happen again, but the real pressure lies on QB Devin Gardner, who was actually more of a WR for most of the season last year.

Devin Gardner

Defensively, the Wolverines sport a tremendously talented group of young and old. Frank Clark is an emerging star on the defensive line, which may be one of the best in the Big Ten. Almost opposite of the Cornhuskers, Michigan’s strength is their defense which can go a long way in the Big Ten.

Michigan’s season relies on essentially four games: Notre Dame, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Ohio State. Their record in those four match-ups will determine exactly where they end up when the dust settles in 2013. The good news: the play three out of four of those games at home. The bad news: they’re the third-least talented of those four teams.

Wisconsin Badgers

Projected Record: 9-3

Projected Big Ten Record: 6-2

Almost needless to say, this year is going to be a very transitional one for the Badgers as they try to replace some huge pieces.

The first piece is obviously head coach Bret Bielema, who left Wisconsin suddenly and then confessed that he was always a “closet SEC fan”. He was replaced by Utah State’s Gary Andersen, who is absolutely a tremendous football coach in his own right.

Gary AndersenIf Andersen has a tight grasp on these players and this conference, the Badgers could be well on their way to another B1G Championship. They return 25 seniors in 103, making them one of the most experienced in the entirety of the conference.

This season, however, the Badgers may not get so lucky as to find another “free agent” QB to lead their offense. A three way competition between Joel Stave, Curt Phillips, and Tanner McEvoy may ultimately prove fruitless and the Badgers could be sent searching for answers on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, they’re a rarity in their 3-4 scheme but have questions in their defensive backfield. Only one starter returns for the pass-coverage unit and that could be troublesome in this offensively-dynamic conference.

Wisconsin has three tough games on the schedule and may lose all three. The first is a non-conference battle with Arizona State that may prove to be a tough test. The next is Ohio State’s first night game of the season and that may be too much for them to handle. The final test is home against Northwestern with a chance to prove they belong at the to of this conference. Outside of those three games, however, Wisconsin should have a pretty smooth ride.

Michigan State Spartans

Projected Record: 8-4 

Projected Big Ten Record: 5-3

We all remember the anemic Michigan State offense last season and that offense may be well on it’s way back in 2013. A 7-6 team last year thanks to that lack of offensive production, the Spartans shouldn’t be all that different this year. QB Andrew Maxwell returns for his fifth year with Michigan State, but only his second as a starter.

Andrew Maxwell

This season he won’t have Le’Veon Bell to hand the ball off to and that may force him to make the throws necessary to win his team some games. Ultimately, I think we’ll see a better Andrew Maxwell in year two.

Mark Dantonio has built a defensive juggernaut and that’s the only saving grace for this Michigan State football team. A superbly talented group on defense, the Spartans will fill the holes left by three senior stars with no problem.

Again, that’s the way Dantonio has recruited.

The Spartans season will come down to three straight, very important games near the end of the year. A loss at Notre Dame will leave the Spartans with a 7-1 record going into this stretch: vs. Michigan, @Nebraska, and @Northwestern. If they somehow squeak by in two or three of those three games, the Spartans will be well on their way to a very successful season.

Indiana Hoosiers

Projected Record: 7-5 

Projected Big Ten Record: 4-4

Kevin Wilson is well on his way to completely rebooting a down and out football program in Bloomington, Indiana. With his wide open offensive scheme, Wilson is going to allow the Hoosiers to score points and score points quickly.

Tre Roberson will be back behind center for the Hoosiers in 2013 after a injury-plagued 2012 and will have receiver Shane Wynn as one of his primary targets. A Cleveland-native, Wynn had 68 receptions for 660 yards for an average of 9.7 yards per reception and six touchdowns last season. With Roberson back in the fold, Wynn could be even that much more dangerous in 2013.

Shane Wynn

Defensively Wilson’s group is not as effective. It was Wilson’s job to bring offense to Bloomington and he has done so. The defense will be the next project. Overall not an awful group, the defense is looking to replace seniors lost on the defensive line while making sure to bolster the production of the defensive backfield.

The Hoosiers have a pretty tough schedule, but will certainly make do with what is in front of them. Trips to Columbus, Madison, Ann Arbor, and East Lansing, as well as home battles with Navy and Missouri could put this team below .500, but the Hoosiers offense is going to take care of a few games and keep them above that mark.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Projected Record: 6-6

Projected Big Ten Record: 2-6

Regardless of the Gophers’ performance over the last couple of seasons, one thing is for certain: you have to love Jerry Kill. An absolute fighter, the head coach of the Gophers spent most of last season dealing with seizures and other problems that kept him off the sidelines. Each time, however, there was Kill itching to get back to the sidelines he loves.

blg 15 maturi presser.JPGThe Gophers seem to finally be adjusted to Kill’s offensive system and have bought into his program, but the problem lies in the talent pool. There just isn’t that much there. Sure, they have a solid offensive line, but what good is an offensive line if there’s no one to protect or block for?

The problems don’t stop there, however.

The defense was consistently inconsistent last season, but did finish the season ranked number 33 in the nation in terms of total defense. The issue was that when they stopped the run, they couldn’t stop the pass and when they stopped the pass, they couldn’t stop the run. It was a see-saw season that will need not be replicated in 2013 if the Gophers want to finish above .500.

The Gophers have a great non-conference schedule, but run into that brutal Big Ten Legends division almost right away. After starting 5-0, the Gophers could lose their next seven games, but should pull out at least a single victory.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Projected Record: 6-6

Projected Big Ten Record: 5-3

Last season was an inspiring one in Happy Valley, as head coach Bill O’Brien took this Penn State team to where no one thought was possible. After an embarrassing start, the Nittany Lions finished 8-2 to finish the year at 8-4- incredibly successful considering all the adversity they faced.

100612-JP-PSU-gallery.jpg

Even after O’Brien returned after much NFL speculation, last season will be the last good one for quite a while thanks to Jerry Sandusky.

The bottomline for the Penn State offense is that they need to run the ball and run it often. Last season, 1,000-yard rusher Zach Zwinak lead the offense to their their successful season, as the Nittany Lions were 1-3 when he touched the ball less than 12 times. If they want to have any success, they’re going to have to rely on their stud back to get the job done again.

Defensively, there is no replacing Michael Mauti. Mauti was the inspirational leader of this Penn State team last season and his presence will be sorrily missed not only in the locker room, but on the field as well. At “Linebacker U”, senior Glenn Carson and junior Mike Hull will have to step up to mirror the production they got from the position last year.

Penn State’s recruiting is slowly going to decline and it’s already starting to show. The talent pool isn’t nearly what it used to be in Happy Valley and the unfortunate thing is that it’s fault of no one who is currently in the football program.

The out of conference Penn State schedule is sneakily difficult, as Syracuse, UCF, and Kent State could all derail their bid for a good season in State College. It wouldn’t be surprising if one, two, or all three of those teams beat the Nittany Lions, although it also wouldn’t be likely.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Projected Record: 4-8

Projected Big Ten Record: 1-7

A once proud and elite football program, the Hawkeyes and the pink locker room they afford their opponents are no longer intimidating.

Kirk Ferentz- the second longest tenured coach in Iowa history- will hand the reigns to sophomore Jake Rudock, as he tries to restore this program to it’s prior glory. Unfortunately, Ferentz and the very green Rudock will fail to do so in year one of this experiment.

Jake RudockThe strength of this Iowa team, as seemingly always, is their offensive line. Again, just as was the case with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, what good is an offensive line when they are much more talented than the skill players they block for?

While the offense may be nothing to write home about, the defense should actually be a productive group. A solid defensive line will certainly help with the run-stoppage, Iowa did lose one of the Big Ten’s best in cornerback Micah Hyde last season. If they can find another Hyde, which is as unlikely as it seems, their defense may help them to win more than four games this season.

The Hawkeyes narrowly escaped Northern Illinois in their opener last season, but will fail to do so this season as the Huskies are primed for a huge 2013 campaign. Starting at 0-1 wouldn’t be great, but a loss to Iowa State in the third game of the year would be even worse. Iowa’s goal should be to beat their less-than-mighty in-state rival, Purdue, Missouri State, and Western Michigan, while improving with each game of the season.

Purdue Boilermakers

Projected Record: 2-10

Projected Big Ten Record: 1-7

For the Purdue Boilermakers, the future looks bright.

The present? Not so much.

Although his first year at Kent State may seem contrary, Darrell Hazell isn’t going to be able to turn around this Purdue football program around in just one season and it’s not even his fault.

Hazell

The Boilermakers schedule is absolutely brutal this season and it starts nearly right away. After opening up the season away against a good Cincinnati team and at home against Indiana State, the Boilermakers face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Wisconsin Badgers, and Northern Illinois Huskies in back-to-back-to-back weeks.

That stretch could render them with just a single win heading into Big Ten play where, again, they’re overmatched.

There is a sneaking submission, however, that Purdue is going to compete with the Buckeyes when they come to West Lafayette. As was evidenced last season, Ohio State continually struggles with the Boilermakers and Hazell will certainly worsen that problem.

Purdue may only have a single win coming into their final game of the season with the hated Hoosiers and a win there could salvage the entire season.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Projected Record: 2-10

Projected Big Ten Record: 0-8

The 2013 season is going to be more of the same for the Fighting Illini and head coach Tim Beckman. Beckman was brought in to revive this Illinois football program, but when the cupboard was left bare it’s going to take some time.

While the excitement for senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase was abounding just a couple of years ago, the dual-threat athlete has been underwhelming in his three years with the Illini.

His decline can be seen clearly in his numbers and they’re absolutely alarming.

Freshman year: 1,825 yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs.

Sophomore year: 2,110 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs.

Junior year: 1,361 yards, 4 TDs, 8 INTs.

Aaron BaileyPrediction: four-star freshman Aaron Bailey (pictured left) will start almost right away for the Illini.

The experience on offense is certainly not mirrored by the young and exuberant defense, which is looking to turn things around. The growing pains may be abounding- especially on the defensive line- but could be worth it as they learn on the fly in the Big Ten.

With the complete overhaul of this team in it’s nascent stages, it’s hard to see the Illini winning more than one or two games. Of course, Scheelhaase could return to his freshman form or Bailey could become the go-to guy, but more than likely this teams offense is going to be abysmal.

Illinois will beat Southern Illinois to start the season, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. Home games against Cincinnati and Miami (OH), as well as a “home” game with Washington at Soldier Field, are going to be tough and so is their Big Ten schedule which features Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Northwestern.

While the losing and the growing pains may be tough to swallow, for the players, the coaches, and the fans of the Illini it’s going to be all about patience.

Review: How They’ll Finish

Leaders

1. Ohio State Buckeyes 12-0 (8-0)

2. Wisconsin Badgers 9-3 (6-2)

3. Penn State Nittany Lions 6-6 (5-3)

4. Indiana Hoosiers 7-5 (4-4)

5. Purdue Boilermakers 2-10 (1-7)

6. Illinois Fighting Illini 2-10 (0-8)

Legends

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers 11-2 (7-1)

2. Northwestern Wildcats 10-2 (6-2)

3. Michigan Wolverines 10-2 (6-2)

4. Michigan State Spartans 8-4 (5-3)

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers 6-6 (2-6)

6. Iowa Hawkeyes 4-8 (1-7)

Big Ten Championship Game: Ohio State Buckeyes over Nebraska Cornhuskers, 45-28.

Final Notes

  • The teams to look out for in this conference are Ohio State, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Michigan. While they are projected to finish in that order, look out for Michigan to excel or Northwestern to finish in the top ten.
  • If Ohio State doesn’t go undefeated, it’s their own fault. Fans in Columbus should be disappointed in anything outside of a National Championship appearance.
  • Indiana is a surprise team to look out for. Their offense is real and if their defense can hold up, watch out for Kevin Wilson and his team in Bloomington.
  • Michigan State may finish near the bottom of this conference. If Andrew Maxwell isn’t a different Andrew Maxwell this season, things could head south quickly for the Spartans.
  • Michigan is probably better than projected, but it’s hard to tell. We haven’t really seen Devin Gardner at his fullest and no matter how the defense plays, it’s going to be Gardner that guides the ship.
  • Finally, Notre Dame should be in this gosh darn conference. I know they have selfish financial goals, but so many schedules in the Big Ten have Notre Dame on them. It’s ridiculous really.

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