If the Big Ten has a familiar feel to it this season, it’s because, well, it is.
Not a lot of turnover in the offseason. Only two new head coaches and just three new coordinators. Yes, there are new quarterbacks and running backs, but otherwise, it’s pretty much the same old, same old in the Big Ten.
And that’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask.
It’s good for Ohio State, which again is predicted to have a stellar season – maybe even an undefeated campaign – in a year where it’s eligible to play for a national title.
It’s good for Michigan, which is looking to get back into the national picture and is once again predicted to contend for a division and conference title.
But it’s not so good when you look at bowl games, where the Big Ten has often fallen quite short of lofty expectations on a regular basis. Last year, the conference went just 2-5 during the bowl season.
And it’s not good for the middle of the pack teams looking for breakthrough seasons. Sorry, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota. It could be a long year again.
Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin will all be good. Penn State, Northwestern and Michigan State will ruffle a few feathers and could move up into the mix.
Other than that? Same old, same old.
IN: Gary Andersen, Darrell Hazell
Only two programs made head coaching changes in the offseason. Andersen, who led Utah State to an 11-2 record last year, takes over at Wisconsin for the departed Bret Bielema, who pulled one of the biggest surprises in the offseason by heading to Arkansas. Meanwhile, Hazell takes charge over at Purdue, after leading Kent State to a school-record 11 wins and a bowl appearance. Hazell was an assistant under former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, so moving to the Big Ten isn’t a huge adjustment.
OUT WAIT, THEY’RE STILL HERE?: Taylor Martinez, Nathan Scheelhasse
It just feels like we’ve been talking about these two quarterbacks forever, doesn’t it? Martinez begins his fourth-year as the starter at Nebraska and looks to overcome the meltdown that was the final two weeks of the 2012 season. Scheelhasse is still under center at Illinois, hoping to overcome what was a very lackluster offensive season last year.
Game of the Year
1. Ohio State and Michigan have played every year since 1918. The series began back in 1897, with Michigan leading 58-44-6. It’s one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports and it looks poised to add another historic moment to the books this season. Heading into the 2013 season, Ohio State and Michigan are the prohibitive favorites in their respective divisions. The two teams will meet in a blockbuster game on Nov. 30. But here’s where it gets interesting. If they each do indeed win their divisions, the two rivals will meet again the very next week in the Big Ten conference title game. In all of the years of this rivalry, Ohio State and Michigan have never played each other twice in the same season, let alone in consecutive games.
2. While the Big Ten hasn’t had a stellar record as of late in bowl appearances, the conference has been consistent in sending a large number of teams to the postseason. Which is why it may come as a bit of a surprise that the team with the longest active bowl appearance streak is Wisconsin – and it dates back just to 2001. (Yes, NCAA sanctions and bowl bans may have played just a bit of a role in this.) [image source]
3. Two of the conference’s top 10 passers will return to their respective teams this season, yet will not start. Indiana’s Cam Coffman was third in the Big Ten last year with 2,734 passing yards, yet he’s listed as the backup on the preseason depth chart to Tre Roberson, who returns after breaking his leg in the second game of the year last season. And Northwestern’s Trevor Sieman, who was 10th in the Big Ten in passing yards with 1,312, splits time under center with dual-threat quarterback Kain Coulter.
4. Penn State’s been called “Linebacker U” for as long as anyone can remember. But head coach Bill O’Brien is doing his darnedest to turn the Nittany Lions into an offensive power. In just one season, it appears to be working. Last season, the previously much-maligned Matt McGloin led the Big Ten in just about every passing statistic, including attempts, completions and yards gained. His leading receiver, Allen Robinson, returns in 2013 for his junior season as the league’s top receiver. In the offseason, Penn State landed the top quarterback prospect in the nation in Christian Hackenberg. And this preseason, Penn State has three players in the Sporting News All-Big Ten Offense – Robinson, lineman John Urschel and tight end Kyle Carter – and just one on defense in defensive end Deion Barnes.
While the specifics may differ, the three preseason magazines that offer bowl predictions agree on one thing when it comes to Ohio State – the Buckeyes will be right in the thick of the national title hunt.
- Athlon: BCS National Championship vs. Alabama
- Sporting News: Rose Bowl vs. Oregon
- Lindy’s: BCS National Championship vs. Alabama
Predicted as the conference runner-up, it looks like Michigan is likely to still play a role in the BCS bowls.
- Athlon: Rose Bowl vs. Oregon
- Sporting News: Fiesta Bowl vs. Oklahoma State
- Lindy’s: Rose Bowl vs. Stanford
Your Guess is as Good as Ours
The Cornhuskers are a team looking to put the final two games of the 2012 season behind them and move forward. But how far the team moves forward is anyone’s guess. USA Today gave Nebraska the highest hopes, projecting the team to win the Legends division with an 11-1 record and one game ahead of Michigan. Athlon projects Nebraska to finish with a 9-3 season and second in the Legends division, with an appearance in the Outback Bowl. The Sporting News has a similar outlook, with a second-place finish in the Legends and a Capitol One Bowl berth.
But then there’s Lindy’s, which puts Nebraska in third in the Legends, behind both Michigan and … wait for it … Michigan State. (For what it’s worth, all three of the other magazines have Michigan State finishing with a 7-5 record and fourth in the division.)
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