2013 Conference Previews: Big Ten

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Just wait until Maryland and Rutgers join the conference.

Their best team was on probation. Their Rose Bowl representative lost 6 games. The Michigan schools took big steps back. What a 2012 season! Hey, at least Northwestern won 10 games. The Big Ten, everybody!

Leaders Division

OHIO STATE

Record: 12-0 (8-0)

Returning Starters: 13

It's Urban Meyer in the Big Ten assembling SEC talent. I'm sure everyone has seen their schedule. There could be a loss on the road to end the season against Michigan but where is there another defeat? Facing Wisconsin at home and Northwestern on the road in back-to-back weeks is the only mildly challenging stretch on the schedule and if neither of those teams end up ranked Ohio State won't play another Top 25 team all season. The loss of 7 defensive starters is concerning but not when the new starters are all top national recruits who got decent playing time last season. The Buckeyes should breeze into the Big Ten Championship Game.

WISCONSIN

Record: 8-4 (6-2)

Returning Starters: 14

I'm not sure how Gary Andersen is going to work out in Madison but he's been a quality coach for most of his career. That probably bodes well for Wisconsin. You may look at this record and think I'm underrating the Badgers but they did lose 6 games last year and I'm calling for a 2-game improvement in conference play. They miss Michigan, Nebraska, and Michigan State in league play (gee, isn't playing in a conference great!) and they get both Northwestern and Penn State at home. The offense should be solid with all the quarterbacks returning and James White finally getting starter carries. Although for the first time since roughly 1986 Wisconsin is playing more than one challenging team out of conference and I think they lose to both Arizona State and BYU.

PENN STATE

Record: 7-5 (3-5)

Returning Starters: 14

It may not seem possible but Penn State is really going to miss Matt McGloin who finished last year with over 3,000 yards passing and just 5 interceptions on 446 attempts. For this season the Nittany Lions are either going with a true freshman or a JUCO transfer---neither of whom have seen action in a college game. Combined with a glorified white fullback as a starting running back and I can see Penn State seriously struggling on offense. Obviously the sanctions are going to hurt their depth. The defense was solid last year but lost some quality starters. I feel like 5 wins is a distinct possibility if they get poor QB play and that would mean dropping at least 1 game out of conference (maybe UCF?) and losing to either Indiana on the road or Purdue at home.

INDIANA

Record: 6-6 (3-5)

Returning Starters: 19

Just about everybody is back for the Hoosiers and 6 wins would be a huge deal for them---it's only happened once over the past 19 seasons. They do only have 4 road games except they are against Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State---so there's 4 likely losses. The out of conference slate is pretty tricky too with Navy, Bowling Green (solid MAC team), and Missouri all in a row. If the Hoosiers can go 2-1 during that OOC stretch and take care of business against the weaker league teams (Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue) this team might reach a bowl game.

PURDUE

Record: 4-8 (3-5)

Returning Starters: 13

Summer opponent preview of Purdue can be found HERE. I originally had Purdue at 3 wins overall and just 2-6 in conference play. I guess this is me giving them the benefit of the doubt. The schedule is pretty brutal though with 3 very tough games out of conference (Cincinnati, Notre Dame, and Northern Illinois) and 2 of the top teams (Nebraska and MSU) from the Legends Division. Just looking at their schedule and the Boilers might not have beaten a D-1 team by the time they face Iowa on November 9th. Sign me up for Purdue winning some games down the stretch starting with that Iowa game but still a year full of struggles.

ILLINOIS

Record: 2-10 (0-8)

Returning Starters: 12

They are so lacking in talent. Tons of starters lost on defense. Perhaps the nation's most schizophrenic quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase. Tim Beckman probably isn't long for Champaign. The schedule is brutal too. They'll be big underdogs against Cincinnati and Washington while their easiest league games (Penn State, Indiana, Purdue) are all on the road. I don't think they win a game in the Big Ten for the second straight season.

Legends Divison

MICHIGAN

Record: 10-2 (6-2)

Returning Starters: 12

Summer preview of Michigan can be found HERE. By hook or by crook I think the Wolverines will beat Notre Dame and stay unbeaten out of conference. For a program that believes it plays a tough schedule their first 2 months of the season are embarrassing which could easily lead to a 7-0 start. The 5-game finish to the season is quite tough though and I think they won't do any better than 3-2. They do get Nebraska at home which I think gives UM a victory and the division. This should be the first of many seasons in which Michigan loses to Ohio State to end the regular season and then faces the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Title Game.

NEBRASKA

Record: 10-2 (6-2)

Returning Starters: 12

I originally had the Cornhuskers at 11-1 with a division title. To be fair, their schedule absolutely makes that record possible. Like Michigan they have a very easy start and instead of playing Notre Dame they host UCLA. I think Nebraska gets revenge on a Bruin team that surprised them early last season but won't be quite as good in 2013. Pelini has only lost 6 games at home in 5 years with just 1 loss in Lincoln over the past 2 years. The defense is a big worry (just 4 returning starters) and that's basically why I dropped them. They just aren't recruiting at a high enough level for me to feel good that they'll replace a bunch of starters on defense and come through with Pelini's best record ever. The offense should be one of the B1G's best with Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah, and all three top receivers back. Will it be enough? I'm not sure I trust Martinez not to derp up at least one game on the schedule. With no Ohio State or Wisconsin to face this should be a BCS team and I really want to predict that but I'm not.

MICHIGAN STATE

Record: 8-4 (5-3)

Returning Starters: 15

Summer preview of Michigan State can be found HERE. I really respect the Spartans defense and they should be very good again. I just can't trust a Dantonio offense with poor line play, unproven running backs, and a shaky quarterback. State fans will undoubtedly say that the offensive line needs to stay healthy but their top 5 linemen aren't very good when in the lineup anyway. I can see why some think MSU will challenge for the division title with the corps of a great defense back and no Ohio State or Wisconsin on the schedule. Still, I don't have them beating Michigan or going into Lincoln and winning. I bet their offense lets them down in another conference loss as well.

NORTHWESTERN

Record: 8-4 (4-4)

Returning Starters: 15

Yes, Northwestern won 10 games last year but they did finish 3rd in their division at 5-3 so let's not act like the Wildcats are suddenly a rising power bound to get back to double-digit wins again. This is still a dangerous team though. Cal and Syracuse offer some mild competition to open the season and they'd better hope not to trip up out of conference. Northwestern is simply unlucky to draw a tough conference slate including road games at Wisconsin and Nebraska while hosting Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. Another 10-win season would mean going 3-2 in those games and I'm honestly not sure when the last time was that they beat that many quality teams in one season. Last year they went 1-2 against Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State. Yes, they won 10 games without beating a ranked team. I think 1-4 against the above teams is most likely.

MINNESOTA

Record: 4-8 (1-7)

Returning Starters: 16

Doesn't it seem like 30 years ago that Minnesota won 10 games in a season? They did achieve that back in 2003 which wasn't that long ago. Jerry Kill has done a nice job so far in Minneapolis going from 3 to 6 wins last season, but they still won the same amount (2) of games in conference. If the improvement is not losing to New Mexico State and North Dakota State and going 4-0 out of conference last year then so be it. Their last 4 conference wins have been against Iowa, Purdue, and Illinois twice. The Illini are not on the schedule this year, San Jose State is a tough non-league game and Iowa might be the only winnable game in the Big Ten. That's life at Minnesota, I guess.

IOWA

Record: 3-9 (1-7)

Returning Starters: 13

Only 6 more years to go on that Kirk Ferentz $41 million contract! Okay, Ferentz should probably get a couple more wins than I'm projecting but he did hire Greg Davis last year which led to just 310 yards per game of offense. I doubt things will improve while they break in a new quarterback. And it's not like Iowa is setting the world on fire in recruiting. Heck, Indiana is probably bringing in better talent now. The schedule isn't very friendly either. They open up against Northern Illinois (Iowa was the only team to beat NIU during the regular season a year, so they have that going for them) and the Hawkeyes should be underdogs there. They also play at Iowa State and they've lost 2 straight in that series. In conference their two easiest games (Purdue and Minnesota) are both on the road. The rest of their league games are against Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska. I don't see many wins out there.

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