2013-08-14

FBS - Preview - Big 10

I'm not sure if this whole season with the Big 10 will be a two-team show ... but must previews I saw are expecting it that way.

Yes, there are 12 teams in the conference (which does put the conference name in a very strange ball park) but does anyone really think there will be more contenders for the conference title than the two BIG ones?
OK, I don't want to get cryptic, so let's start.

Big Ten Conference
The Big Ten Conference was since the nineties a Big 11 conference and when Nebraska did join in 2011 (from the supposed to be more attractive Big 12!) they were with 12 teams and big enough to host a championship games.
The most surprising part of the past few years is, that the realignments did basically passed the Big 10 without much damage.
They were even able to get Nebraska and in 2014 they will get Maryland (from the ACC) and Rutgers (from the American).
Some genius did also did a review on the Legends and Legends naming of the divisions and did (oh wonder) suggested a renaming (to East and West) and a realignment of the teams according to the naming in 2014.
Maybe we will also see a renaming to Big 14?? Probably not .... BIG 10 is a brand now.

So the Big 10 is not only established and stable, it is expending in the future and does its homework.

Teams added 2013:
NONE

Teams lost 2013:
NONE

So, the last year of the Legends and Legends sorting.

The 12 teams are:

Legends Division:
University of Iowa Hawkeyes
University of Michigan Wolverines
Michigan State University Spartans
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
University of Nebraskaâ€"Lincoln (Nebraska) Cornhuskers
Northwestern University Wildcats

Leaders Division:
University of Illinois at Urbanaâ€"Champaign (Illinois) Fighting Illini
Indiana University Hoosiers
Ohio State University Buckeyes
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) Nittany Lions
Purdue University Boilermakers
University of Wisconsinâ€"Madison (Wisconsin) Badgers

Now let's get a bit into the details:
Legends Division
Iowa Hawkeyes
Since 15 years is Kirk Ferentz head coach of the Hawkeyes and it might be that he is now on a hot seat.
Last season was a disaster for such a proud program.
With 4 wins only it was the worst result since the 2000 season, Ferentz second season with the team (in rebuilding mode).
Last season he not only did lose 8 times, no, he lost the 6 last games in a row, even against Indiana and Purdue.
So this season he has to rebound or the AD might look for a new face. Maybe.
The Hawkeyes are not known for quick coaching changes, so he might still have some time left.

Non-Conference games are against: Northern Illinois, Missouri State (FCS), @Iowa State and Western Michigan.
This might give him some breathing room. Toughest games will be Northern Illinios and of cause the Cy-Hawk Trophy-game against rival Iowa State, where ISU is cruising on a 2 game winning streak.
I can see them win 2 or 3 games out of these non-conference games, I'm sure they will drop one (either the NIU or the Iowa State game).

The conference schedule is a bit worse than last season with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue from the Leaders Division.
I don't think it will make much of a difference, where the home and away games inside the division are, all of them will be tough.

It looks like the Hawkeyes will battle for the bottom of the division, since I can't see a single team more primed for that position.
Iowa looks like the weakest team in the Legends Division and so I pick them last, even if I know for sure they will not go down without a fight and for sure will upset one or two teams.

Michigan Wolverines
For Michigan only winning is acceptable.
When Rich Rodriguez was hired they thought to have a winner on board, but he did not deliver the results wanted. I still think he could have done it in a season or two, but the fans were demanding a change and the AD did what was expected.
Brady Hoke, a former Michigan assistant, was hired after he went head coach with Ball State and San Diego State. He was one of the leading candidates, once the Rodriguez situation became a problem.
Hoke is now in his 3rd year and this is now his team for sure.

Denard Robinson, last year’s QB, is gone and with him the one dimensional offense.
Everyone is expecting a dominant Wolverine team which has to battle Ohio State in the Conference Championship game.

Non-Conference games are against: Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Akron and @UConn
Beside the Notre Dame game, this will all be wins. The Notre Dame game is always special and will probably come down to the last few plays and a margin of a few points.
But 3-1 is a must, 4-0 a wish which might happen.

The rest looks tough, especially when you have Ohio State and Penn State from the Leaders division, Indiana is then relaxing.
Ohio State at home is a bonus, but Penn State on the road.
Toughest game inside the division is probably the Nebraska game at home.

The Wolverine are for sure the favourites for the Division crown, but it might come down to the Ohio State game, since Nebraska has a bit easier schedule and that game against Ohio State might give Michigan that one additional loss to kick them out of the Division crown race.

Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans had a good run two and three seasons ago, but did fall a bit the last year.
Mark Dantonio, in his 7th season, will try to fix this, but that's not easy.
Biggest question mark will be the offense which does sputter last season and it doesn't look like they will have the answer for that ready.
With Michigan rising and all other teams getting also better (except Iowa), it’s hard for the Spartans to keep up.

Non-Conference games are against: Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State (FCS) and @Notre Dame
Also here, as it is for the Wolverines. All games are must-wins, except the Notre Dame game.
But here the game is at South Bend and the Spartans are not that tough as the Wolverines.
So I'm expecting a loss here for Michigan State.
3-1 is still very nice.

They get Purdue, Illinois and Indiana as Leaders opponents, which will help.
Nebraska on the road and Northwestern on the road might get too much to secure a midfield position.
Looks like a hard year for the Spartans. At the end they will be Bowl eligibly and will get the 4th or 5th place in the division.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Jerry Kill took over a program which did almost hit rock bottom of the conference (thanks to a worse Indiana team they were only 2nd worst).
Now in his 3rd year he has the Gophers already back in the bowl picture and if they will add a view more wins, they will fight for the TOP.
It's not the time for that ambition level this season, but probably we will see a bit progress.

Non-Conference games are against: UNLV, @New Mexico State, Western Illinois (FCS) and San Jose State
San Jose State will be a challenge; the rest will be probably wins.
This can become a 4-0 start for the Gophers.

Penn State, Wisconsin and Indiana are the three Leaders opponents, which could be worse, but will not be easy.
If they aim for a midfield or better position, they have to beat Northwestern and Michigan State, both games are on the road.

So, I doubt a much better winning record for this year.
Midfield Position is possible, but probably only 4th or 5th place.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Cornhuskers were for some years the best program in football.
But that was in the late nineties, since then they program did took a few steps back.
Bo Pelini is now in his 6th season with the Huskers and did so far win only Division titles.
For a program which was used to win Conferences on regular basis and which won back-to-back national championships in the 90s, that's far from being enough.
Pelini is not in trouble (probably not ...) but he for sure will have nice conversations regarding success every day, at least in the papers.
Especially if you lose the championship game 31-70! against a Wisconsin team only eligible for the game because Penn State and Ohio State were not allowed to play.
And especially if you lose the following bowl game against a (granted good) Georgia team.
No Sir, that's not the Huskers way.
We will see, if Pelini has a target on his head, or not.

Non-Conference games are against: Wyoming, Southern Miss, UCLA, South Dakota State (FCS)
Beside the UCLA game, this will all be wins, but UCLA will be tough. I'm expecting big things from the Bruins, but it's a home game for Nebraska ...
They will record 3 or 4 wins, it doesn't matter for the conference and they will be Bowl eligible, so who cares. LOL.

More interesting is the conference schedule.
They got Illinois, Purdue and Penn State (unfortunately that one is on the road) which is one of the softest inter division setups of all teams.
I'm not saying they will win all those, but you don't get much better chances.
Biggest opponent inside the division will be of cause Michigan and that is a game on the road.

So I expect them to be 2nd. But they will contend and might end up in the championship game.

Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern is normally a team in the midfield or lower parts of the Big 10.
With the new 2 division setup of cause it gets harder to NOT being last or almost last in the division, but Northwestern did finish 3rd last season and had an overall record of 10-3.
Thanks to the 4-0 sweep of the non-conference games.
They went to a Bowl and won against Mississippi State so the expectations for this season are high.
Since 2006 is Pat Fitzgerald the Headcoach (so this is his 8th) and he managed to get the Wildcats to a Bowl the past 5 seasons.
For me it's still a big question mark, if they really can challenge Michigan and Nebraska for the TOP or if they have to battle Michigan State and Minnesota for 3rd place.

Non-Conference games are against: @California, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine (FCS).
This could become another sweep with 4-0. Biggest question for me is the Cal games, since it's the season opener as an away game against a Cal team under new Management.
If this Cal team does a turnaround as UCLA did last season ... I would pick a loss.
But nobody knows. I go with a 4-0 sweep here.

Now comes the bad news, they have to play Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders Division (and Illinois to get some breath).
That's tough. But they play Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota at home, so they might get lucky, but I strongly doubt a win against Michigan.
If I have to make a guess, they will lose enough Conference games to NOT stay at the TOP.

They are my pick for the 3rd place and a Bowl.

Leaders Division

Illinois Fighting Illini
Tim Beckman was the Toledo Headcoach for 3 seasons, won a division title in the MAC, did come to Illinois last season for rebuilding and got 2 wins so far.
The Illini are very much under the typical Big 10 level.
In his 2nd season he will get them a bit better, but this won't be enough to get Illinois back on TOP (last Big 10 Championship in 2001).
No, they will suffer at least this season again.

Non-Conference games are against: Southern Illinois (FCS), Cincinnati, Washington and Miami (OH)
To be honest I think they will lose at least 2 games of those. Sure win is only the FCS game, but the Bearcats are not bad, the Huskies can bite and Miami is only a mid-field MAC team, but I'm not that confident regarding this Illini team.
But probably they will win 2 of those games.

Assuming we have a bottom team here I expect them to fight against Purdue and Indiana for the last spot.
Well, bad Karma did give them both games as road trips.
Now add Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State from the Legends division and you can see, why I’m not that confident.
It will be tough for this Fighting Illini team to top those 2 wins from last season.

I'm not doubting the fighting, just the winning.
Bottom team.

Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana is more of a basketball school and did very long haunt the dungeons of the Big 10.
Kevin Wilson took that team over 3 years ago and did get a few wins.
From 1-11 to 4-8 and now he is aiming for a Bowl season.
Last Bowl season was 2007 (not bad, I'm a bit surprise, when I did the research) and the one before that was ... 1993.
That's more the expected result.
They had some coaching changes in the last 10 years and there was not much winning to cheer for, so everybody is hoping for a long and more successful period with Wilson.

Non-Conference games are against: Indiana State (FCS), Navy, Bowling Green and Missouri
Four home games will be a boost. And they might even win 3 of those.
Except the Indiana State game, all will be tough, Mizzou too tough, but they might win against Navy and Bowling Green.
No guarantee. I expect 2 wins in total here.

They get Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota from the Legends division, which will not give them much room for errors.
Only one is home game, the Gophers game.

Inside the division they have Illinois and Purdue at home which might give them the 2 wins to get even with last season record.
But where should the rest of the needed 6 wins come from?
They have Penn State at home as the only potential upset ...

I doubt a Bowl season, but maybe Wilson can surprise me and the rest of the nations.
It will be fun to see, if he will then land a better paid gig, since he showed he can turn things around quickly.
Poor Indiana fans, if that happens.

Ohio State Buckeyes
The former 2 times national championship winner Urban Meyer (with Florida) did come in last season and new Headcoach, with a Bowl ban in place and got a 12-0 record in his first season.
There might have been some nice positive effects in place to accomplish that, but it still was impressive.
Now they are one of the favourites to win it ALL in the NATION.
First step will be to win inside the conference.
All signs do point to a conference championship game against Michigan.
We will see.

Non-Conference games are against: Buffalo, San Diego State, @California, Florida A&M (FCS)
Well, if they stumble here, they are out of the national championship picture early.
Most challenging will be SDSU and Cal, but SDSU is still a MWC team and played at home and Cal is in rebuilding mode.
4-0 should be a must.

They play Wisconsin and Penn State at home and they play from the Legends division Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan.
Only Michigan on the road is speed bump and it might come down to a loss here and a rematch a week later.
Or they win and rematch then.
Only a loss against Wisconsin might bring them down.

Conference title contender and favourite for any title possible.

Penn State Nittany Lions
There are rumours the Lions will lose their Headcoach Bill O'Brien very soon to the NFL.
Bill O'Brien took over last season, when the whole child-sex-abuse-scandals were in every paper.
Paterno is dead, he name tarnished and the program of Penn State hammered by NCAA sanctions.
O'Brien came from the New England Patriots (former OC) and did what a coach can do.
He went in and made the students focus on the field, and the students did play like there will be no tomorrow.
They had growing pains in the first few games, but did win 5 straight after 2 losses and at the end they had 8 wins in 12 games.
This season will be different.
No pity from other teams, no disrespect and in addition a looming coaching change.
Bill O'Brien does say he will stay (and if he really does, it would be great) but the american reality normally works different.
We will see.

Non-Conference games are against: Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, UCF and Kent State
I'm not convinced this will be a 4-0 campaign, but it will be close.
The biggest question mark will be Syracuse and UCF.
Both do have the potential to upset the Lions, but I think they won't.

They have to play Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska from the Legends which might be the toughest inter divisional schedule a Big 10 team has this year.
Michigan and Nebraska are games at home, which might pamper it a bit.

Ohio State and Wisconsin on the road sets the tone inside the division.
No sir, even if they would be eligible for a championship run (which they are not, also no Bowl) they wouldn't even come close to the championship game.

They do also have fewer scholarships for some years, but if O'Brien stays, I think they will be able to compensate this very well.

The Lions will find themself in the middle of the division.

Purdue Boilermakers
For two years Darrell Hazell was the head coach of Kent State, a program from the MAC, and first he was not very successful.
In his first year he took that 5-7 team and recorded a 5-7 season ...
In his second season, he took that 5-7 team and recorded a 11-3 division championship season and took the gig with the Boilermakers.
Purdue was not that bad last season; they went into a Bowl and lost, so it was a 6-7 season.
Normally Purdue is not very much known for playing much better, not in football, not with all the other big guns in the conference.
Still, the Boilermakers want to be more successful, so they did the coaching change.
Hazell will have a tough year.

Non-Conference games are against: @Cincinnati, Indiana State (FCS), Notre Dame and Northern Illinois
Looks like 2-2 start or even 1-3. Cincinnati is not a pushover and might be the second weakest team in that list.
Indiana State should be a win, but Notre Dame and NIU will be too much.
So worst case a 1-3 start?

They are lucky they have Iowa at home from the Legends division, but they have also Michigan State on the road and Nebraska at home.
There might go a few more win down the toilet. If they would have the Spartans hat home, they might have a chance, but on the road?

And then there is the rest of the own division.
I give them Illinois, but for the rest I see no win, sorry.

I expect them to be at the bottom, with fighting it out with Illinois for the last place.

Wisconsin Badgers
Last season was a very strange one for the Badgers.
Imagine to have a 4-4 record inside the conference and an 8-4 overall.
You lost against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Nebraska.
You are still in the conference championship game, because Ohio State and Penn State are banned for that game.
You play against Nebraska to whom you lost before and win ... no ... WIN 70-31!
That coach (Bret Bielema) left for a better paid SEC team (Arkansas) and a new one (Gary Andersen) comes in from a WAC team (Utah State, now in the MWC).
So, what comes this year for the defending champion?
If they want to get back into the Rose Bowl (which they lost last season) a 4th time in the row, they have to beat Ohio State and a few more.

Non-Conference games are against: UMass, Tennessee Tech (FCS), @Arizona State and BYU
That Sun Devil game in Arizona will be a hard nut to crack, still a win is possible.
BYU should be OK at home.
But even if they get a 4-0 record here, it doesn't count for the conference.

Ohio State on the road is a major bump, but they have Penn State at home and also Indiana and Purdue.
Nice to play.

They have only Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota from the Legends division, so all parameters are better than for most other competing teams, except Ohio State.
So better win against the Buckeyes or settle for a Non-BCS-Bowl.

I doubt a first place year but expect them to be 2nd.

So my TIP is:

Legends Division:
Michigan Wolverines
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Northwestern Wildcats
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Michigan State Spartans
Iowa Hawkeyes

Leaders Division:
Ohio State Buckeyes
Wisconsin Badgers
Penn State Nittany Lions
Indiana Hoosiers
Purdue Boilermakers
Illinois Fighting Illini

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