Big Ten Football Predictions
The Big Ten Conference reached new heights in 2011 with the addition of Nebraska and the inception of a championship game.
Nebraska showed well in its first season in the league but was not able to represent the Legends division in the title game. Instead, Michigan State, who finished with a 7-1 league record, represented the Legends against Leaders division winner Wisconsin, who posted a 6-2 league mark.
The Spartans were responsible for one of Wisconsin’s conference losses, but the Bangers had their revenge in the championship game. They claimed the Big Ten title with a thrilling 42-39 win.
Big Ten Predictions
1. Wisconsin: The Badgers entered the 2011 season with hopes of winning a national championship. Those hopes came crashing down against Michigan State when they were defeated by a Hail Mary. They ended up 11-3 (their third straight season with at least 10 wins) and won the Big Ten. National title talk doesn’t surround the 2012 team, but Wisconsin is still considered among the favorites to win the Big Ten championship.
2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes aren’t eligible to win a Big Ten championship this season because of NCAA sanctions, but I still expect a quality season in Urban Meyer’s first year on the job. All Meyer does is win (104-23 career record), and he inherits a program that has won at least 10 games in six of the past seven seasons.
3. Illinois: The Fighting Illini finished last season 7-6, capping things off with a bowl win over UCLA. Still, the season was seen as a major disappointment. The Illini started the year 6-0 and then lost their final six regular-season contests. This year, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State will provide stiff tests, but the rest of the games are winnable. The Illini very well could improve on last year’s results.
4. Penn State: Penn State went 9-4 last season, but it may be a while before it sniffs the nine-win mark again after the Jerry Sandusky scandal brought harsh punishment on the team. New coach Bill O’Brien has his work cut out for himself.
5. Purdue: Purdue should be a better football team in 2012, but it may not show up in the win column. That’s because the schedule is a bear. The Boilermakers have road games against Ohio State, Iowa and Illinois, and home games versus Michigan and Wisconsin.
6. Indiana: Indiana should improve on last season’s 1-11 record. A soft non-conference slate gives the Hoosiers a chance to get off to a 3-0 start. However, they will have a tough time picking up any more wins the rest of the way. They were shut out in Big Ten play in 2011 and are in danger of being shut out again.
1. Michigan: Off an 11-2 season, Michigan is among the favorites to win the Big Ten. A challenging non-conference schedule, which includes matchups with Alabama and Notre Dame, could prevent the Wolverines from reaching the BCS championship game, but a Big Ten title and a second straight trip to a BCS bowl is well within reach.
2. Nebraska: Nebraska won nine games in its first year in the Big Ten. It was the program’s fourth straight season with at least nine wins. It will have an opportunity to continue that run this year, but I don’t see it winning the Legends. That’s because a Michigan squad that won last year’s meeting in blowout fashion poses major problems for the Huskers.
3. Michigan State: After winning a share of the Big Ten title in 2010 and winning the Legends division in 2011, I expect the Spartans to take a step back. The defense should rank among the best in the conference, but the offense will suffer from the loss of quarterback Kirk Cousins and several other offensive stars.
4. Iowa: Iowa should improve on last season’s win total (seven) thanks to a very favorable schedule. The Hawkeyes should be 5-0 and could be 9-1 before closing the season with Michigan and Nebraska. A 9-3 campaign isn’t out of the question.
5. Northwestern: Northwestern has been very competitive under Pat Fitzgerald. He has led the program to four straight bowl games. However, he has failed to win any of them. A fifth straight bowl game is a possibility, but the Wildcats will have to take care of business in the first half of the season to make it happen. That’s because they close with Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois. They went down to four of those schools in 2011.
6. Minnesota: Minnesota should win a couple more games this year because it should perform better against its non-conference opponents. However, it will be hard-pressed to improve on last season’s 2-6 Big Ten mark. The Gophers will have an opportunity to win home games against Northwestern and Purdue, but they will have a tough time coming out on top in road contests with Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Nebraska. They also have very tough home games against Michigan and Michigan State.
Conference Championship Game Prediction: Michigan over Wisconsin
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