It came as no surprise to see Ohio State finish on top the Leaders division with a perfect 8-0 record in 2013, but few expected their to be two undefeated teams inside conference play. Michigan State surprised everyone by going 8-0 after a 3-5 record in 2012. The Spartans weren’t given much of a chance versus Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, but they came out and dominated Ohio State on their way to a 34-24 victory.
Michigan State would go on to defeat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, delivering the conference just their second Rose Bowl title since 2000. However, the rest of the conference didn’t fair so well. The Big Ten managed to go just 2-5 in their 7 bowl games and have now gone three straight seasons without a winning record in bowl play. However, the Big Ten did manage to go 37-11 as a whole in non-conference play, with a respectable 9-7 record against BCS opponents during the regular season. What was once considered by many as the 2nd best conference behind the SEC, has been passed by the Pac-12 and not a whole lot separates them from the Big 12 and ACC.
As many of you are already aware, the Big Ten will be welcoming two new members in 2014. Maryland comes over from the ACC and Rutgers joins out of the American Athletic. With the new additions has also come a change in the makeup of the two divisions and new names for each side. Maryland and Rutgers will join Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan and Indiana in the newly formed Big Ten East, while the remaining seven teams will makeup the Big Ten West.
Here’s a quick look at how I see both division shaping up in 2014, plus my prediction on who will claim the Big Ten title.
% Chance to Win the Big Ten Based on Current Odds
Calculated using Odds to Win the Big Ten from 5Dimes
Big Ten East Standings
Big Ten East Predictions
You can throw out the possibility of a rematch in the Big Ten Championship Game, as Michigan State and Ohio State now must battle it out for the top spot in the East. These are widely considered the two best teams in the entire conference and for good reason. Both teams benefit from a favorable schedule and for me it came down to the fact that the Spartans get to host Ohio State off a bye.
There aren’t going to be many people picking a team other than Ohio State or Michigan State to win the East, but don’t be surprised if Michigan doesn’t surprise. I strongly believe the Wolverines are one of the more underrated teams in the conference heading into 2014 and had they not had to go on the road to face both the Buckeyes and Spartans, I likely would have had them in a 3-way tie at the top.
A couple other teams that could cause problems and play a key role in who wins this division is Penn State, Indiana and Maryland. I know the Nittany Lions lost a great head coach in Bill O’Brien, but they added in one of the most underrated coaches in the country in James Franklin. Indiana has the offensive fire-power to score on any team in the league and I see just enough improvement on defense that they will be headed to their first bowl game since 2007. You also can’t sleep on Maryland, who I only have winning two games because of an absolutely brutal schedule. The Terrapins could certainly exceed my expectations as they were absolutely decimated by injuries last year and have a ton of talent coming back.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, I don’t see their first season as a member of the Big Ten being an enjoyable experience. This is a major step up in competition for the Scarlet Knights and I don’t foresee them winning a single conference game.
Big Ten West Standings
Big Ten West Predictions
Things in the West division look to be wide open at the top. Both Iowa and Wisconsin have cupcake schedules, while Northwestern should be one of the most improved teams in the conference with 17 starters back, including the return of star running back Venric Mark. You could make a strong case for all three of these teams to play in the title game.
Even though the Badgers have to go on the road to face both the Wildcats and Hawkeyes, the rest of their schedule can’t get much easier. I have Wisconsin losing one of those games, but still winning the division with a record of 7-1, with Iowa and Northwestern finishing close behind at 6-2.
I personally am not high on Nebraska and if it wasn’t for an easy home schedule, I would have likely had them finishing with a losing record inside Big Ten play. The most difficult decision I had to make was to pick Minnesota to go just 2-6 in the conference. The Golden Gophers really came on strong at the end of last season and have a ton of experience coming back.
As for the Illinois and Purdue, both teams figure to put out a better product and be a lot more competitive, but I don’t think it will be enough to see improvements in the win column. I have the Boilermakers going winless for a second straight season and Illinois avoiding a losing record thanks to a home game against Purdue.
Big Ten Championship Game: Michigan State Defeats Wisconsin
|Ohio State||Michigan||Michigan State||Penn State|
|ACC||Big 12||American Athletic||Big Ten|
|Conference USA||Independents||MAC||Mountain West|
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