Big 10 football is just the best. The fantastic tailgating, the breathtakingly large stadiums, and the hard-nosed, physical football are just a few of the amenities that the conference can provide. And while the start of the 2013 college football season is just under two months away, here is my preview of Big Ten football (Leaders Division) in the upcoming year.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State’s 2013 squad will provide everything that a college football fanatic could conceivably ask for. They’ve got the Heisman Trophy candidate in junior quarterback Braxton Miller, the soon-to-be-legendary coach in Urban Meyer, and a defense that coaches drool over. It is obvious that the Buckeyes will have no trouble with quarterback Braxton Miller and 1000-yard running back Carlos Hyde on offense, but the team will also field a very nasty defense. Only four starters return, but one of these is linebacker Ryan Shazier, who will prove to be one of the better defensive playmakers in the Big Ten. Ohio State will also have one of the better secondaries in the conference, with defensive backs Christian Bryant and Bradley Roby. With so much confidence coming off an undefeated season and so much developing talent at Ohio State, expect them to reach the Big 10 championship game, and possibly the national championship.
2. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin, the program that has lost three Rose Bowls in the last three years, will have another stab at the game in 2013. They return an impressive 18 starters overall, and although they lose the amazing Montee Ball to the NFL Draft at running back, James White and Melvin Gordon will fill in the role just nicely. But while Wisconsin will again field the best running game in the Big 10, the passing game might be a problem. Sophomore Joel Stave will likely start at quarterback, but he will need to step up big-time in order for the team to compete for a conference title. Senior wideout Jared Abbrederis will be the team’s biggest receiving threat, and with a good offseason, he could blossom into one of the top receivers in the nation. Defense will be a strength of the team, and will look much like that of 2012, after returning seven starters to a squad that was ranked top-20 in the country in 2012. Look for Wisconsin to again be one of the stronger teams in the Big Ten, but I just don’t see them getting to the conference title game in 2013.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions
After the ordeal at Penn State a couple of years back, many see them as one of the bigger programs on the downfall, but I don’t see it. The offense will return eight starters, including tailback Zach Zwinach and receiver Allen Robinson, who combined for over 2000 all-purpose yards last year. This is all good for the Nittany Lions, but the most interesting story for the team will be the quarterback play of Christian Hackenburg, the team’s no. 1 recruit and one of the top quarterback prospects of the latest recruiting class. Defense was a strength last year for the Nittany Lions and it will be in 2013 as well, after returning talented linebackers such as Mike Hull and Glenn Carson. Penn State could struggle in conference play, but look for them to improve on 2012.
4. Indiana Hoosiers
The Hoosiers will be a noticeably improved football team in 2013. After returning a league-best 21 starters (tied for best in country), Indiana could go far in 2013. On offense, quarterback Cameron Coffman, tailback Stephen Houston, and wide receivers Cody Latimer and Shane Wynn all are coming back, and all players who led the team in offensive output in 2012. A defense that was on of the worst a season ago will also be back and much improved, after returning nine starters. Indiana might not have the talent to compete with the upper latter of the Big Ten just yet, but expect them to have a big season in 2013.
5. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue will be a team in 2013 plagued with a tough schedule and not much talent or experience. On offense, the starter at quarterback is just a big question mark, and no one returns who had more than 454 yards of offense from 2012. On defense, Purdue will return eight starters, but without drastic improvement the Boilermakers could find themselves at the cellar of the Big Ten early in the 2013 year.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois, a team that failed to win a conference game in 2012, could again be at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will come back in 2013, but he will be the sole bright spot on an offense that ranked 122nd in the country in points per game a season ago. The bad news is that the defense could actually be worse, as they only return four starters to a 95th ranked defense in 2012. For lack of a better word, Illinois football could really stink in 2013, but on the positive side, crazier things have happened.