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 (Legends Division) in the upcoming year.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State is the national title contender that no one is talking about. Why? Well for starters, they return an impressive 19 starters from 2012, and these aren’t middle-of-the-road players either. Junior Andrew Maxwell will start at quarterback after a sophomore campaign in which he tossed for 2600 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Spartans will miss running back Le’Veon Bell from a year ago, but senior back Larry Caper will fill in just fine, along with talented, developing wide receivers such as Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery. The team’s defense, though, will be even better. Senior linebacker Max Bullough will be the undisputed leader of the team, as well as one of the best overall players in the Big Ten. In total, seven starters return to a defense that was ranked top ten in the country last year. There is a lot to like about this Michigan State team, and expect them to overachieve and win the Big Ten Legends Division in 2013.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska, like many of the teams in the Big Ten, has their share of darkhorse Heisman candidates. Quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah are the two headliners, as together they put up a jaw-dropping 5000 yards of offense up last year. Wide receiver Kenny Bell, who put up another 863 yards in 2012, returns and could be one of the receivers in the conference if he plays up to potential. On defense, Nebraska may not supply the big-name defensive talent other Big Ten schools enter the year with, but look for seniors such as defensive lineman Thad Randle and defensive back Ciante Evans to step up big in 2013. The 2013 schedule also favors the team, as the Huskers miss Big Ten powers Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Nebraska will have the firepower to compete with the best in the conference in 2013, and they will be in the running for the Big Ten title.
3. Northwestern Wildcats
Like Nebraska, Northwestern has their pair of elite offensive playmakers in quarterback Kain Coulter and running back Venric Mark, who rushed for over 1300 yards in 2012. The Wildcats are in need of a top receiving threat, but that is the only seeable question mark on the offense, which is also returning eight starters. Seven starters also return to the defense, with elite talent including defensive end Tyler Scott, linebacker Damien Proby, and safety Ibraheim Campbell. The Big Ten title game may be a little out of reach with a very challenging schedule in 2013, but look for Northwestern to have another successful year in 2013.
4. Michigan Wolverines
While they may not get the press that they did in 2012 without Denard Robinson, Michigan will find success in their younger talent in 2013. Senior quarterback Devin Gardner, tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint, and receiver Jeremy Gallon will do just fine on offense, but defense is the wildcard. Six starters return to the overall defense, but aside linebacker Jake Ryan the Wolverines will have their eyes open at a number of freshman and sophomores to have success in 2013. This Michigan team may not be as good as the ones of years past, but they should find themselves in a respectable bowl game by year’s end.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Returning 10 starters to their offense will be something Minnesota coaches will enjoy in 2013, but sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson will have to put on a good show in order for the Golden Gophers to have success in 2013. Running back Donnell Kirkwood will most likely rush for 1000 yards after 926 in 2012, but big-time receiver will also have to step up for the 2013 squad. Minnesota also led their top-50 defense to a bowl game in 2012, but do not look for that trend to continue after losing five major starters. After a moderately successful 2012 campaign, Minnesota could take a step back in the coming year.
6. Iowa Hawkeyes
Finishing last in the Big Ten Legends division, I have the Iowa Hawkeyes. Not because they will field a bad team in 2013, but one that just is not very good. They do return 16 overall starters, but losing quarterback James Vandenberg didn’t help. The Hawkeyes may very well be searching the whole spring for offensive playmakers, and the defense will be the same story. Linebackers James Morris and Anthony Hitchens will be the leaders of the squad, but the secondary will need drastic changes to stop some of the better quarterbacks in the country in 2013.