NCAA Football Thoughts – 13-14 BIG 10 Conference Season Preview

Welcome back to day two of Dustin James’ 2012-13 college football predictions! Today, we are previewing the BIG 10 conference. The BIG 10 has been a little down these last few seasons but if my predictions hold up this year, it should be a good year for the conference. So without further adieu, let’s take a look at the “Leaders” and “Legends” of the BIG 10 conference…..

BIG 10
Leaders:
1. Ohio State Buckeyes- 13-1 (9-0)

Last Year’s Record: 12-0

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game due to NCAA sanctions

Toughest Games: Wisconsin (September 28), Penn State (October 26), @ Michigan (November 30)

Key Players: Braxton Miller (QB), Devin Smith (WR), Carlos Hyde (RB), Corey Brown (WR/PR), Andrew Norwell (OL), Jack Mewhort (OL), Corey Linsley (OL), Marcus Hall (OL), Adolphus Washington (DL), Noah Spence (DL), Ryan Shazier (LB), Curtis Grant (LB), Bradley Roby (CB), Christian Bryant (S), CJ Barnett (S), Drew Basil (K)

Conference Championship: vs. Michigan (W)

Bowl Prediction: BCS Championship vs. Alabama (L)

Team Analysis: I’m picking Ohio State to play Alabama in the BCS Championship game at the end of the year, but I don’t feel extremely comfortable about it. Why? Because I honestly don’t think the Ohio State Buckeyes are the second best team in college football. However, they play one of the easiest schedules in football thanks to how shitty the BIG 10 is. Picking Ohio State to get to the National Championship is more about me having faith in Urban Meyer and his ability to bring out the best in his players. Urban Meyer is one of the best head coaches in college football and as long as he’s the head guy running your football program, your team will always be “championship contenders”. Meyer has the pieces to make a run towards a second-straight undefeated season as Ohio State’s head coach. The Buckeyes return 9 starters on offense led by stud QB Braxton Miller. There is plenty of questions on the defensive side of the ball as the Buckeyes only return 4 starters, which likely means this team will be in a lot of shootouts once the season starts. But like I mentioned earlier, the schedule sets itself up nicely for the Buckeyes to make a run at the BCS title for the first time since 2007. The Buckeyes are one of the trendy picks to make it to the BCS title this year and the task of getting to the big game is a lot harder once people expect you there. It’s going to be a fun season this year in Columbus.

2. Wisconsin Badgers – 10-2 (7-1)

Last Year’s Record: 8-6

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Rose Bowl to Stanford

Toughest Games: @ Arizona State (September 14), @ Ohio State (September 28), BYU (November 9), Penn State (November 30)

Key Players: Melvin Gordon (RB), Jared Abbrederis (WR), Jacob Pedersen (TE), Kyle Costigan (OL), Ryan Groy (OL), Beau Allen (DL), Ethan Hemer (DL), Chris Borland (LB), Ethan Armstrong (LB), Dezmen Southward (S), Drew Meyer (P)

Bowl Prediction: Capital One Bowl vs. LSU (L)

Team Analysis: Last year I picked Wisconsin to go like 11-1 or something along those lines. Needless to say, I overrated them a little and I quickly realized that once the Badgers lost to the Oregon State Beavers in week 1. Last year was just one big disappointment for Wisconsin as a team that was supposed to contend for a BIG 10 title ended up going 8-6 and leaving a bad taste in Badger fan’s mouths. This year should be different as Wisconsin returns 8 starters on offense and 6 starters on defense. They have a defensive line that is loaded with seniors and if they can get some good QB play on the offensive side of the ball, the Badgers could surprise people in head coach Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison. The schedule itself is extremely winnable as outside of away games against Ohio State and Arizona State, I could see the Badgers being favored in every other game. Badgers fans are definitely thrilled for this season as they are dying to see what the team can do now that former head coach Bret Bielema is calling the shots at the University of Arkansas. Set your expectations high Badgers fans as you should be playing in yet another decent bowl game come December.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions – 8-4 (4-4)

Last Year’s Record: 8-4

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game due to NCAA sanctions

Toughest Games: Michigan (October 12), @ Ohio State (October 26), Nebraska (November 23), @ Wisconsin (November 30)

Key Players: Zach Zwinak (RB), Allen Robinson (WR), Kyle Carter (TE), John Urschel (OL), Deion Barnes (DL), DaQuan Jones (DL), Austin Johnson (DL), Glenn Carson (LB), Mike Hull (LB), Adrian Amos (CB), Malcolm Willis (S), Jesse Della Valle (PR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game this year due to more NCAA sanctions

Team Analysis: Penn State actually fields a good football team this year and their head coach Bill O’Brien is one of the best head coaches in college football and is quickly becoming one of the hottest coaching candidates to make a potential jump to the NFL. Unfortunately for Penn State fans, the stink of the Jerry Sandusky situation is still surrounding the program and will continue to do so over the course of the next few seasons. It doesn’t matter what Penn State does this year, because the team is still on probation for trying to cover up despicable acts made by the old coaching staff. I know it sucks, but what are you gonna do? There’s just no reason to talk about a team that doesn’t even have a goal for this season other than trying to play spoiler and crush the dream’s of other BIG 10 teams.

4. Indiana Hoosiers- 6-6 (3-5)

Last Year’s Record: 4-8

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: Missouri (September 21), Penn State (October 5), @ Michigan State (October 12), @ Michigan (October 19), @ Wisconsin (November 16), @ Ohio State (November 23)

Key Players: Cody Latimer (WR), Shane Wynn (WR), Ted Bolser (WR), Dan Feeney (OL), Greg Heban (S), Tevin Coleman (KR)

Bowl Prediction: Texas Bowl vs. Kansas State (L)

Team Analysis: I think Indiana could surprise some people this season. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I think the Hoosiers are good enough to potentially contend for the BIG 10 title, but they should be good enough to reach their first bowl game since 2007. The Hoosiers return a crap ton of talent on both sides of the ball as 10 starters return on offense and 9 starters return on defense. Even though the Hoosiers aren’t exactly screaming with talent as a whole, the starters should be good enough to get them into bowl contention. I know it’s not much, but when your football team hasn’t won a bowl game since 1991 (Indiana beat Baylor 24-0 in the Copper Bowl), you kind of take what you can get.

5. Purdue Boilermakers- 3-9 (2-6)

Last Year’s Record: 6-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Heart of Dallas Bowl to Oklahoma State

Toughest Games: @ Cincinnati (August 31), Notre Dame (September 14), @ Wisconsin (September 21), Northern Illinois (September 28), Nebraska (October 12), @ Michigan State (October 19), Ohio State (November 2), @ Penn State (November 16)

Key Players: Bruce Gaston (DL), Ricardo Allen (CB), Cody Webster (P), Akeem Hunt (KR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: The Boiler Makers haven’t been good since Drew Brees was the quarterback in the late 90’s and early-2000’s and this year will likely be no different. Even though Purdue has a senior QB behind center, they don’t have much offensive talent to work with overall. The team only returns 5 starters on offense which likely means this is going to be a long first season for new head coach Darrell Hazell in West Lafayette. Last year the Boilermakers were good enough to sneak into a bowl game (where they ended up getting boat raced by Oklahoma State), but this year will likely be different. That’s what happens when you have to play Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, & Penn State. It’s going to be a rough one this year for Purdue. Buckle up.

6. Illinois Fighting Illini- 2-10 (0-8)

Last Year’s Record: 2-10

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: Cincinnati (September 7), Washington (September 14), @ Nebraska (October 5), Wisconsin (October 19), Michigan State (October 26), @ Penn State (November 2), Ohio State (November 16)

Key Players: Jonathan Brown (LB), Mason Monheim (LB), Justin DuVernois (P)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Sorry Illinois fans. The schedule this year is just too difficult (the team draws Cincinnati and Washington in their non-conference schedule in back-to-back weeks) and the talent isn’t there on the defensive side of the ball for the team to make any kind of noise in the BIG 10. It’s going to be another difficult season in Champaign for Illini fans and head coach Tim Beckman could potentially find himself on the hot seat as Illinois continues to look for a head coach to lead them back to the promised land of college football.

Legends:

1. Michigan Wolverines- 10-3 (7-2)

Last Year’s Record: 8-5

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Outback Bowl to South Carolina

Toughest Games: Notre Dame (September 7), @ Penn State (October 12), @ Michigan State (November 2), Nebraska (November 9), Ohio State (November 30)

Conference Championship: vs. Ohio State (L)

Bowl Prediction: Rose Bowl vs. Oregon (L)

Team Analysis: I’m high on Michigan this year for numerous reasons. For one, I love head coach Brady Hoke and I think he’s going to be the guy that finally brings Michigan football back to the ranks of the elite in college football. I’m also a fan of junior QB Devin Gardner as I definitely think he’s talented enough to keep Michigan in the running for the BIG 10 title this season. The talent is there and the head coach is capable of making it all work and if that wasn’t already enough, the schedule itself sets up nicely for Michigan to potentially make a lot of noise this season. Michigan could find themselves the favorite in every game they play this year (outside of maybe an away game against Michigan State on November 2 and a home game against Ohio State on November 30) and as long as there are no slip-ups, Hoke and company should be playing in the BIG 10 conference title game in December. It’s been a long time since the Michigan Wolverines and their fan base have fielded a potential National Championship team, but this could be the year that things in Ann Arbor start to get a little hectic. College football is better when the Michigan Wolverines are near the top and that’s exactly where they should fall this season.

2. Nebraska Cornhuskers- 10-3 (7-1)

Last Year’s Record: 10-4

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Captial One Bowl to Georgia

Toughest Games: UCLA (September 14), @ Michgian (November 9), Michigan State (November 16), @ Penn State (November 23)

Key Players: Taylor Martinez (QB), Ameer Abdullah (RB), Kenny Bell (WR), Quincy Enunwa (WR), Spencer Long (OL), Jeremiah Sirles (OL), Jason Ankrah (DL), Ciante Evans (CB), Andrew Green (CB)

Bowl Prediction: Outback Bowl vs. Ole Miss (W)

Team Analysis: Much like the Michigan Wolverines, college football is better when the Nebraska Cornhuskers are on top. Unfortunately for Nebraska fans, they really haven’t been on the top of the college football world in over 10 years. The last time the Nebraska Cornhuskers finished in the top 10 of college football, was in 2001. That’s unacceptable for a team that has an entire state cheering for them. This year is a banner year for Nebraska. They are one of those teams who could end up being really good, or they could see everything blow up in their faces. Head coach Bo Pelini is entering his 6th year as head coach of Nebraska and considering he was hired to get the Huskers back to the top of the college football rankings, if he doesn’t succeed with that goal this season, he could find himself unemployed at the end of the year. The schedule is winnable as outside of games against UCLA and Michigan, the Cornhuskers should be the favorites in almost every single game. The success of Nebraska football this year will really all depend on what Pelini is able to get out of his defense. They only return 4 starters on that side of the ball, but the offense should be able to even things out a bit and keep them in games. Will we be looking for a new head coach come January in Lincoln, Nebraska or will Bo Pelini finally be able to return the Cornhuskers to the top of the college football world? We’ll soon find out.

3. Michigan State Spartans- 10-3 (7-1)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to TCU

Toughest Games: @ Notre Dame (September 21), Michigan (November 2), @ Nebraska (November 16)

Key Players: Aaron Burbridge (WR), Travis Jackson (OL), Jack Allen (OL), Fou Fonoti (OL), Marcus Rush (DL), Lawrence Thomas (DL), Max Bullough (LB), Denicos Allen (LB), Darqueze Dennard (CB), Isaiah Lewis (S), Mike Sadler (K)

Bowl Prediction: Gator Bowl vs. Florida (L)

Team Analysis: Last year was a disappointing year for Sparty. The team should have been better than the 7-6 record they posted, but the schedule was brutal and Michigan State barely ended up making a bowl game (although they did beat TCU 17-16 to end the season on a good note). The good news for Sparty fans is, the team should be better than they were last season. Head coach Mark D’Antonio only lost 3 starters from last year’s offense and while there is some questions at the QB position, Michigan State should field a team that will be in contention for the BIG 10 title. The schedule is an easy one as the Spartans toughest games are away games against Notre Dame (who I don’t think is that good) and Nebraska and a home game against rival Michigan. I see no reason why the Michigan State Spartans won’t be in contention for a BIG 10 title much less perhaps even a potential dark horse National Title contender. Watch out for this team this year as they have the talent to surprise us and may even be better than I’m giving them credit for.

4. Northwestern Wildcats- 6-7 (2-6)

Last Year’s Record: 10-3

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Gator Bowl over Mississippi State

Toughest Games: Ohio State (October 5), @ Wisconsin (October 12), @ Nebraska (November 2), Michigan (November 16), Michigan State (November 23)

Key Players: Kain Colter (QB), Venric Mark (RB/PR), Brandon Vitabile (C), Tyler Scott (DL), Chi Chi Ariguzo (LB), Damien Proby (LB), Nick VanHoose (CB), Ibraheim Campbell (S), Jeff Budzien (K)

Bowl Prediction: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. TCU (L)

Team Analysis: The Northwestern Wildcats were one of the surprising teams last year when they finished 10-3 with a huge win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Unfortunately for Northwestern fans, I see a huge drop off for the Wildcats this season. The schedule is just way too brutal this year for Northwestern to repeat what they did last season. The Wildcats kick the season off with a road trip to Cal and even though the Golden Bears won’t be very good this season, they always play well in Berkeley. Things don’t get much easier for the Wildcats as they have to face Ohio State on October 5 and follow that game up with a road trip to Madison to face Wisconsin. The end of the schedule also isn’t friendly as they have to play Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State. Even though Northwestern is better than they were last season talent-wise, I can’t see them finishing better than 8-5 due to their schedule.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes- 5-7 (2-6)

Last Year’s Record: 4-8

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: Michigan State (October 5), @ Ohio State (October 19), Wisconsin (November 2), Michigan (November 23), @ Nebraska (November 29)

Key Players: Mark Weisman (RB), CJ Fiedorowicz (TE), Austin Blythe (C), Brandon Scherff (OL), Carl Davis (DL), James Morris (LB), Anthony Hitchens (LB), Christian Kirksey (LB), Mike Meyer (K), Jordan Cotton (KR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Remember when Iowa football was good? It seems like just yesterday the Iowa Hawkeyes were one of the most consistent football programs in college football thanks to head coach Kirk Ferentz. These last few years have not been friendly to Iowa fans though. Not only did the team finish 4-8 last season, but they lost a bunch of games they really shouldn’t have lost. Iowa just has no business losing to teams like Iowa State, Central Michigan, Indiana, and Purdue. The Hawkeyes are historically a great college football team and are better than that. With all that said, I find it really hard to believe that Ferentz and his players can get this thing turned around this year. The schedule is not an easy one and there’s just too many question marks surrounding the talent that the Hawkeyes will put on the field this season. Sorry to say that it’s going to be another long one in Iowa City this season.

6. Minnesota Golden Gophers- 4-8 (0-8)

Last Year’s Record: 6-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Car Care Bowl to Texas Tech

Toughest Games: @ Michigan (October 5), Nebraska (October 26), Penn State (November 9), Wisconsin (November 23), @ Michigan State (November 30)

Key Players: Donnell Kirkwood (RB), Zac Epping (OL), Ra’Shede Hageman (DL), Derrick Wells (CB)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: If you expect the Minnesota Golden Gophers to be good this season you are setting yourself up for some disappointment come December. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see the Golden Gophers start out 4-0 and then lose every single one of their games once they reach their conference schedule. This will be a fun team to watch offensively, just don’t expect them to win many games.

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