When we last checked in on the Big Ten, Nebraska was giving up 70 points to a five-loss Wisconsin team in the Big 10 Championship game while undefeated Ohio State sat on the sidelines without any postseason avenues. This season Urban Meyer’s crew is back and is a National Championship contender. How does the entire conference stack up as expansion looms? Today we take a look at the Leaders division.
Roster Breakdown: The Buckeyes bring back nine offensive starters including four out of five from the offensive line. This continuity, coupled in with Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller behind center, bodes well for OSU. Defensively things are a little thin out of the gate. A new d-line could be exposed early but the secondary is fantastic.
Schedule: The new faces on the front seven defensively will have time to gel as Ohio State’s schedule breaks very well for them. San Diego St may hang for a half thanks to their defense but otherwise the non-conference schedule is a cake walk. After their big home game with Wisconsin (which will essentially clinch them a Big Ten Championship game berth), they do travel to Northwestern prior to their first bye. This is a tricky spot and while the Wildcats are talented, OSU should be able to muscle through. After five easy games the Buckeyes close the season at Michigan, in what will be their final test of the regular season.
Better or Worse? Hard to do better than a perfect regular season but I do believe they will repeat, barring an injury to Miller.
Final Thoughts: Urban Meyer has a good hand in front of him this season in Columbus. The schedule is doable and the talent offensively should make things relatively painless until the BCS. Will Urban’s presence change the stigma of past Big Ten Title Game letdowns? Only time will tell.
Roster Breakdown: There’s a nice roster returning in Madison this year which includes starting quarterback Joel Stave. Fourteen starters in all come back with the team missing just ten lettermen from last year. Despite losing Montee Ball, the Badgers have backfield depth (James White is still there!) and enough experience to overcome the big coaching changes.
Schedule: Any time a new coach comes in there is always a learning curve. It doesn’t matter how experienced the team is, it’s new schemes (even with new coordinators) and these take time to smooth out. Wisconsin gets two non-D1 layups to start the year before a critical test out in the desert against Arizona State. Two weeks after that they head to Columbus, with a bye following that game and an easy slate the rest of the way.
Better or Worse? Following what will most likely be a loss against Ohio State, the team’s leadership will be tested. If they pack it in (and I believe they will lose at Arizona St. also) they could lose a couple more games but if the team grows around the new coaching staff, they should be able to run the table and finish with just two losses -an improvement over last year.
Final Thoughts: Gary Andersen comes to Madison from Utah St. and this will be the biggest story for the Badgers all year. If the player’s take to the new staff, they certainly have the schedule and talent to play in a very nice bowl game at the end of the season. Tests early against Arizona St. and Ohio State will be hard to overcome.
Roster Breakdown: The starting crew isn’t half-bad as the Nittany Lions return what looks to be fourteen starters from a solid 8-4 2012 season. The big question is at quarterback and as of publishing, Bill O’Brien has yet to name his starter. Regardless of who he selects – Christian Hackenberg (freshman) or Tyler Ferguson (juco transfer) – the QB will be new and making his first start against Syracuse. Given the punishment from the Sandusky fallout, depth is a big story you’ll hear all year long. The team is down twenty scholarships this year.
Schedule: The Nittany Lions get Michigan and Nebraska from the Legends division but at least they’re both at home. It’s conceivable the Lions will be 5-0 heading into homecoming with Michigan on October 12th but the schedule gets real tough from that point on. Games at Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin (with Nebraska prior to the Badgers) make this a challenging close for PSU.
Better or Worse? I don’t think we’ll see an improvement on 8-4 and really that mark is the best case scenario for the Lions in year two of Bill O’Brien’s stay. 7-5 or 6-6 are more likely, with a lot hinging on the QB play.
Final Thoughts: Hackenberg is a top prospect and could be a fun watch in what will again be a postseason-less campaign for PSU. O’Brien overachieved last year and while there is a lot of talk of regression (which is natural), Penn State isn’t terrible and, assuming health considering their depth, could still match last year’s win total with an upset or two.
Roster Breakdown: The Hoosiers return a super-experienced team that went 4-8 last year. Almost their entire offense returns and nine defensive starters come back as well. Now, they closed out the year with three blowout losses but this is Kevin Wilson’s third season and that type of consistency leads to there being a glimmer of hope in Bloomington.
Schedule: Last year the Hoosiers gave Michigan St and Ohio St a decent run in home games. Their home slate is manageable this year (they play eight games at home) with their four toughest games – Michigan St, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio St – all being on the road. They get both Navy and Missouri at home as part of their nonconference slate and don’t hit the road for the first time until October 12th at Michigan St.
Better or Worse: There’s potential for a 6-6 season here and the experience returning bodes well when they take on similarly tiered teams like Penn St, Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue at home. Looks like a bowl game is a good possiblity here.
Final Thoughts: I always love to target teams with this kind of returning power but one has to temper their expectations when you look at how badly they finished out 2012. The defense was putrid but the offense can put up points, which should help them stay in a couple shootouts this year.
Roster Breakdown: The Boilermakers are in a bit of a rebuild mode this year with very little returning on offense. Rob Henry (a senior) saw some action at quarterback last year (during the stint when Robert Marve went down) and he brins an interesting skill set to the position as he also played some RB and WR. The defense brings back eight starters from a putrid squad. There is a little upside with that kind of experience as they are very senior and junior-laden.
Schedule: Last year Purdue lost every game they should have, but did play two crazy good games against Notre Dame and Ohio State. Otherwise they either got blown out or beat the other dregs to be able to squeak into a bowl at 6-6. While they get Nebraska, Notre Dame and Ohio St at home, they are on the road for Wisconsin and Michigan St, plus they close out with games at Penn State and Indiana (they won’t be favored in either).
Better or Worse: In addition to the brutal schedule, Purdue also brought in a new coaching staff with Darrell Hazell being hired from Kent State. With this time of transition, in addition to the roster limitations and schedule, it would be very optimistic to think the Boilermakers will match their six wins from last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they settle at 4-8 this season.
Final Thoughts: Hazell had some success at Kent State and there will be a rebuilding period at Purdue as the team is built in his mold. Henry is a fun senior QB but it will be a long season in West Lafayette this year.
Roster Breakdown: Tim Beckman’s second season has a solid number of offensive starters returning including senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase. The defense, which was horrific last year (32 ppg given up), returns just four starters and is in for a long season.
Schedule: It’s a good season to be a season ticket holder in Champaign! You get Wisconsin, Michigan St, Ohio St and Northwestern all coming to town. The problem for the Illini is that while it’s a positive their hardest games are at home (although they have no home field advantange), the prevoius “winnable” games against your Indianas and Purdues are all on the road, making them increasingly more difficult.
Better or Worse: 2-10 is pretty bad and while they may get two nonconference wins (Southern Illinois and perhaps Miami OH), they will be challenged in conference play to win a game. I’ll say 3-4 wins tops this year, so an improvement but they’ll still be short of postseason play.
Final Thoughts: It is fair to give Beckman time here and with his experience on offense, the Illini should definitely improve on that aspect from last year. The defense will take time and with a stacked Big Ten schedule, including seven straight games to end the year, the results will not be pretty this season.