Big Ten Football Predictions
The Wisconsin Badgers have won or shared three consecutive Big Ten titles, as they defeated Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game to earn a spot in their third straight Rose Bowl. Their run was aided by the fact that both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for postseason play, as both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions finished ahead of the Badgers in the Leaders Division.
As a whole, the conference has been extremely competitive, but it hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations against other conferences. The Big Ten was just 6-9 against the other BCS conferences last season. What’s really been surprising of late is their inability to play well in bowl games. As a conference they are just 9-16 in postseason play over the last three years and miserable 2-13 on New Year’s Day. Part of the problem last year was the fact that arguably their two strongest teams weren’t eligible.
With Penn State still unable to participate in the postseason, the Leaders Division figures to be a two-way battle between Ohio State and Wisconsin. Things in the Legends Division aren’t so clear-cut. Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan all enter the new season with a realistic shot at playing in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on Dec. 7. Here’s a quick look at how I see both divisions shaping up in 2013. For a more in-depth look at a specific team, just click on their link in the table below.
1. Michigan State – The Spartans will once again have one of the elite defenses in the entire country, as they return seven starters to a stop unit that allowed just 16.3 points per game in 2012. They have big time talent on all three levels of their defense in junior DE Marcus Rush, senior MLB Max Bullough and senior CB Darqueze Dennard. The loss of running back Le’Veon Bell will be difficult to overcome, but I expect big improvements out of senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell.
2. Northwestern – If it wasn’t for a couple of blown leads in the fourth quarter against Nebraska and Michigan, the Wildcats would have been the team representing the Legends in the title game. With 15 starters returning, including all their major skill players on offense, I look for Northwestern to be a threat. While I like the Wildcats chances of beating Michigan State at home, the Spartans should finish with a better conference record due to a much easier schedule.
3. Michigan – I had a difficult time picking the Wolverines this low, but I believe a brutal five-game stretch to end the season will be too much for this team overcome. Michigan will first have to go on the road to face in-state rival Michigan State, they then return home to face Nebraska, go on the road to face both Northwestern and Iowa, before finally hosting Ohio State in the season finale.
4. Nebraska – After watching Nebraska get embarrassed by Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, I’m just not sold on this team being able to defend their Legends title. While the offense returns eight starters and the schedule isn’t all that difficult, I have major concerns with a defense that has just four starters coming back.
5. Iowa – The Hawkeyes will feature one of the best rushing attacks in the conference behind junior running back Mark Weisman and a talented offensive line. Whether or not Iowa surprises and plays a role in the Legends will come down to what they get from the quarterback position. The battle for the starting job figures to be won by either sophomore Jake Rudock or junior college transfer Cody Sokol.
6. Minnesota – The Golden Gophers have shown steady improvement under head coach Jerry Kill, as they returned to a bowl game in 2012 for the first time since 2009. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the schedule makers didn’t do them any favors. This year they avoid both Purdue and Illinois and the only conference game where they figure to be favored is at home against Iowa (lost last year at Iowa 13-31).
1. Ohio State – You have to be impressed with the job Urban Meyer did in his first season in Columbus. Meyer led the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 record, despite the fact that they had nothing to play for. There’s a realistic chance that Ohio State could go undefeated again in 2013, as they return the most talented player in the conference in junior quarterback Braxton Miller.
2. Wisconsin – For the first time in three years the Badgers will return a quarterback with starting experience from the previous season, but I think this team simply doesn’t have the talent to match up with the Buckeyes. Wisconsin must replace arguably their best players on both sides of the football in running back Montee Ball and linebacker Mike Taylor.
3. Penn State – No one expected Penn State to remain relative after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but first year head coach Bill O’Brien rallied his troops to an eight-win season. There are already talks about O’Brien being among one of the top coaches in the country. With the lack of scholarships and a little less to play for in the second year removed from the scandal, I don’t think the Nittany Lions will be able to match last year’s 6-2 conference mark.
4. Purdue – The Boilermakers have been dealt one of the toughest schedules in the country (3rd overall), but I still like their chances of finishing outside of the bottom two in Big Ten play. I’m a big fan of new head coach Darrell Hazell and I’m excited to see what he can do with a defense that returns eight starters. A lot of people are quick to overlook the fact that the Boilermakers went on the road and had both Notre Dame and Ohio State on the ropes.
5. Indiana – There are going to be plenty of experts who will have the Hoosiers much higher in the standings, as they return 19 starters from a season ago. Even with all the talent coming back, I’m not sold on Indiana being remarkably improved. The offense will continue to put up big numbers, but I don’t see enough talent defensively for it to keep them from losing games. There’s potential for the Hoosiers to finish as high as third if the defense plays better.
6. Illinois – The Fighting Illini didn’t do a whole lot of fighting in 2012. Illinois lost their final nine games of the season and for the most part weren’t even competitive in games. Only one of their ten defeats all season came by fewer than 14-points. With just 12 starters returning, there’s little reason to expect much out of this team.
Big Ten Championship Game Prediction – Ohio State defeats Michigan State
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