2013 Big Ten Football Preview

This year’s edition of Big Ten football is being hyped up by the media, and with good reason; five teams are ranked in the AP preseason Top 25. There are a couple players with a legitimate chance of winning the Heisman Trophy and the rivalry games are better than ever. Forget the hype for a second; when it’s time for the Big Ten Championship, which teams are going to be in Indianapolis on December 7? Let’s rank them!

  • 1. Michigan Wolverines. Michigan will lose a couple games in the regular season, including one to the #2 team on this list, but they will win the Legends Division and dispatch of their bitter rivals in the Big Ten title game. Why? Devin Gardner is finally starting to become a leader for this team, and with Denard Robinson gone, this is his team now; he’s been given the reins. While some have criticized his accuracy, his stats from the last five games last year are stellar: 60% completion percentage with 11 touchdowns and just five picks. The defense is a veteran group this year, and Brady Hoke is finally starting to figure out how to coach in game situations, which he has been spotty with in the past. Michigan’s big first test will be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. ND has had them on the ropes in Michigan Stadium in year’s past. Will Michigan defend the Big House again this year?
  • 2. Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes will get on a roll in the conference schedule and will be heavily favored going into Indianapolis against the rival Wolverines. They will beat Michigan when the teams meet on November 30 because Braxton Miller is a better quarterback than Devin Gardner and because of the defensive line’s potential. When Carlos Hyde is on the field, you’re looking at a nightmare for defenses; who are you going to focus on, Hyde or Miller? But when you’re talking about back-to-back games facing each other, it’s going to be hard for Ohio State to beat the maize and blue two games in a row. On paper, Urban Meyer’s group is superior to Michigan. But when the teams go at it in Indy, all bets are off.
  • 3. Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska has the potential to be scary good this year, and I’m a big fan of Taylor Martinez and how he plays the quarterback position. He’s a dual-threat QB who can beat you in the air or on the ground, with 2,871 yards passing with 23 touchdowns through the air along with 1,019 yards and ten touchdowns running the ball. He led the Big Ten in total offense and pass efficiency and his mechanics are now polished and precise. The one question mark is a very young defense that gave up a combined 115 points in the Big Ten title game and Citrus Bowl. To be the class of the conference, they can’t let a team drop 70 on them like Wisconsin did.
  • 4. Northwestern Wildcats. Last year’s Wildcats were 10-3 and won the Gator Bowl. This year’s Wildcats should be about the same as 2012. The core is returning, the offense is still powerful with star running back Venric Mark running the show. A lot of the pressure will be on quarterback Kain Colter, who is probably the biggest question mark for this team. His play will be the difference between another 10-win season or a 6-6 year where Northwestern is fighting to just get into a bowl game.
  • 5. Wisconsin Badgers. Last year’s Big Ten Champions are going to be serious contenders to get back to the Rose Bowl and seek some redemption for the loss to Stanford New Year’s Day. If they are going to get back to Pasadena, new coach Gary Andersen is going to have to make it a smooth transition from the Bret Bielema era. If Andersen’s Badgers are on the same page from Week 1, Chris Borland and the defense will be one of the Big Ten’s best. The offensive line is a question mark, as is the quarterback position. If the offense is in sync with Joel Stave leading the way at signal-caller, Wisconsin may just put up those big numbers on the scoreboard like last year.
  • 6. Michigan State Spartans. Michigan State would be number three or four if they had a stable situation at quarterback. Andrew Maxwell is very inconsistent and Connor Cook is just an interception or fumble away. The running game isn’t particularly impressive, and the offensive line isn’t great either. However, the defense is the best in the Big Ten, with linebacker Max Bullough and safety Isaiah Lewis as the anchors. Coach Mark Dantonio is one of the best, so if he can get the offense on track, look out for MSU.
  • 7. Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana has been ranked pretty low in the preseason previews, but don’t sleep on them. Their offense has a lot of depth, and their offensive line is solid. Cameron Coffman figures to be the starter to start the season, and Tevin Coleman is fast at tailback. The defense is the big question mark, but the starters are mostly juniors or seniors, so the veteran group will be an advantage. There won’t be any BCS in Bloomington, but to write the Hoosiers off completely would be ill-advised.
  • 8. Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State is ineligible for bowl games once again because of the scandal, but coach Bill O’Brien isn’t treating this season as some throwaway year. The Lions have an excellent receiving corps with Allen Robinson, Alex Kenney and freshman Eugene Lewis. QB Tyler Ferguson will have to take advantage of his options. The defense is a question mark, but look out for senior safety Malcolm Willis. The secondary is a veteran-led group, and Willis (who graduated in May) will lead the pack.
  • 9. Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers aren’t the most talented group, but their defense should win them some ballgames. Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and quarterback Philip Nelson are the two best players for Minnesota, they’ll be relied on heavily for the tough three-game stretch in October when they’re  at Michigan, at Northwestern, then home vs Nebraska. If they could win one of those games, they’d consider themselves lucky. In the tough Big Ten, there’s not going to be much chance for the Gophers to get to Indy.
  • 10. Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes struggled mightily last season and this year will not be that much better. Quarterback Jake Rudock and the deep running game will need to exceed expectations for Iowa to make a bowl game appearance and the defense, led by tackle Carl Davis, will be counted on to produce. Don’t expect much out of Kirk Ferentz’s team in the conference, but do expect a Ferentz-led team to compete hard for 60 minutes.
  • 11. Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue has been mediocre in the past few years, and they have the hardest schedule of any Big Ten team, so they’re not ranked highly in any conference preview. However, Rob Henry is a solid signal-caller and Purdue has the chips to bring to the table this year on both offense and defense. Bruce Gaston is the name to watch on the defensive line, the big 310-pound senior tackle will be counted on to be a leader on this defense in 2013.
  • 12. Illinois Fighting Illini. How much fight will the Illini actually have in them this fall? A lot rests on the shoulders of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and running back Josh Ferguson. The Illini need to generate a lot of big plays if they want to survive the horrid stretch of Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. I just don’t see Illinois having a great season this year; they will be 3-9 or 4-8 in the tough Big Ten.

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