Last year I had the Michigan State Spartans winning the Big 10 Conference and they came up just short in losing to the Wisconsin Badgers in the very first Big 10 Championship game. This year they have a tough task at making it back to the Big 10 Title game as both Michigan and Nebraska are poised to take the Legends title from them. In the Leaders Division the Badgers should win it almost by default, with OSU and PSU ineligible and Illinois and Purdue a year or two away. Let’s take a look at how I see the Big 10 shaping up this year.
Big 10 Quick Hits: In 2011 when three Big 10 teams finished the season with 11 wins for the second-straight season. In addition, an NCAA record 10 teams went bowling in 2011. Along the way the league picked up its 3rd BCS bowl win in as many years, second only to the SEC with four… In addition, nine returning starting quarterbacks return, six of whom rushed for 600 or more yards last season including: Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase, Michigan's Denard Robinson, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, Northwestern's Kain Colter, and Ohio State's Braxton Miller. Amazingly, all but Martinez led their team in rushing… The Big 10 is 7-11 in bowls the last 2 years, including 1-9 in New Years Day bowls, but they have gone 4-2 in BCS bowls the last 3 years.
Michigan: The Wolverines went 11-2 last year and beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and they may even be a bit better this year. Their offense will be one of the most potent in the Big 10 with D-Rob back and a rock solid OL. They need a top WR to step up, but still this group should eclipse the 33 ppg they put up last year. Defensively the have hole in their line, but the secondary is top notch and they could equal the 17.4 ppg and 322 ypg they allowed last year. Road dates vs Nebraska and OSU will be tough, but still in the end I expect Michigan to move on to the Big 10 Title game. KEY TREND—5-0 ATS the week before playing Minnesota.
Michigan State: The Spartans are just 1 of three teams to not bring back a starting QB and they have also lost their top 4 pass catchers from last year. They do have a top notch OL and their top RB returns, but still this group will not be able to match last years 31 ppg they put up. They will have to rely on their defense this year and it is a good one. With 8 starters back and the best DL in the Big 10 this group has a chance to be one of the top 5 defenses in the nation. They have road dates at Michigan and Wisconsin in BB weeks, but get Nebraska and OSU at home, while the rest of the schedule is manageable. If they beat either Michigan or Wisconsin and take care of their home games then they will make a return trip to the Big 10 Title game. KEY TREND—11-2 ATS VS .500 or better opposition the last 2 years.
Nebraska: The Huskers are in year two of the Big 10 and are still learning how to play in the big 10. They do have 14 returning starters back this year and have one of the best defenses in the conference, plus an offense that will be potent and average 30+ ppg this year, but their schedule is a concern for the Huskers. They have tough home dates vs Michigan and Wisconsin, plus road dates at Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State and OSU. Also working against the Huskers is the fact that they are just 2-16 SU in their last 18 meetings with a Top 10 team and they could take on a couple of them within the conference this year. Still look for the Huskers to battle the Michigan and Michigan State all year and if they can navigate the tough schedule, this team certainly has the talent to win the division. KEY TREND—7-1 ATS as road faves of less than 10 points.
Iowa: It’s the top three in the Legends and then the rest and Iowa is the best of the rest. Iowa lost its top RB and top WR and with just 2 starters back along the front they have an inexperienced OL. QB Vandenberg had a good year but the talent at the skill positions it pretty thin for him this year so he could struggle some. The defense was hit hard by graduation with just 5 starters back, including 1 along the front, so I fully expect them to struggle on that side of the ball. Iowa has plenty of solid young recruits coming in, but they are still too inexperienced to make a move up in the standings. KEY TRENDS--- Iowa is 11-0 ATS before Indiana, but 1-6 ATS after playing the Hoosiers.
Northwestern: The loss of super QB Dan Persa will really hurt this squad. They do have 3 back along the OL, but lose their top RB and top two WR’s. QB Kain Colter is a dual threat and filled in nicely till Dan Persa came back. He led the team in rushing and hit 67% of his passes with 6 TD’s and 1 INT. Still they will not put up the 470 ypg and 28.9 ppg they did last year. Defensively it was a long year in 2011 and with just 5 starters back and little depth on that side of the ball it will be a long year again. The Cats are rebuilding and while the Offense will keep them competitive, it will be the defense that could keep them out of a bowl game. KEY TREND--- 15-2 ATS before playing Michigan
Minnesota: The Gophers were 3-9 last year and were outgained by 124 ypg in Big 10 play, so they have a lot of ground to make up. The Offense returns 7 starters and will be more effective than last years group that averaged 18 ppg and 310 ypg. Defensively is where this group will struggle again. Last year they allowed 403 ypg and 32 ppg and while 6 starters return they must still replace their top 2 tacklers and 6 of their top 11 overall. The Gophers will be a more competitive team in Jerry Kills second year, but they are still to far behind the rest of the division to move up. KEY TREND--- 1-7-1 ATS the last 9 at Iowa.
Wisconsin: The Badgers got three big breaks this year. One is the fact that the leagues returning rusher, Montee Ball, turned down the NFL to stay with the Badgers. Montee will be running behind one of the best OL’s in the country. Two is the fact that they landed their second straight QB transfer from the ACC. Danny O’Brien is no Wilson Russell, but he did have a solid 2010, before a coaching change had him take step back last year. The Defense for this team is once again one of the best in the Big 10 and could allow less than the 19 ppg they allowed last year. Break number three is the fact that with OSU still on probation, Penn State facing big penalties and Illinois still a year away, then Wisconsin is pretty much guaranteed a return trip to the Big 10 Title game. KEY TREND—0-9 ATS as road faves of more than 10 vs a sub .500 opponent.
Ohio State: There is no Post season for the Buckeyes this year, so Urban Meyer’s biggest task may be trying to keep his team focused. Still Urban is in a great situation here as he has 15 starters back and low expectations after last year’s losing season. Behind Denard Robinson (Michigan), Braxton Miller is one of the more exciting QB’s in the league in should thrive in Urban’s high octane offense, but they need a go-to WR to step up as the most receptions anyone had last year was 14. Urban has some great defenses at Florida and with 9 starters back he should be fielding one of the top 3 Units in the Big 10. They may not be bowling at the end of the year, but they will still push the Badgers for the Leaders Title. KEY TREND—10-0 ATS when seeking revenge.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini are still a year or two away from serious contention in the Big 10, but with Penn State reeling from all the distractions and Purdue being down, Illinois should finish solidly in third place. Tim Beckman takes over for the Illini and he does have some talent to work with on offense. Nathan Scheelhaase returns at QB and has a solid running game (172 ypg LY) to back him up, but they must replace a first round WR and have a couple of holes on the OL. Defensively they could match or better last year’s 19.6 ppg they allowed, especially with 7 starters back and 11 of their top 15 Tacklers. OSU and Wisconsin are just too good to move up in the standings, but they still should get back to a bowl game and improve on the 2-6 mark they had in the Big 10 last year. KEY TREND—3-12 ATS off a SU loss and facing an opponent that’s seeking revenge.
Purdue: Last year Purdue was 4-4 in the Big 10 and this year they look to have a stronger team than last year’s edition. 8 Starters return to an offense that ws pretty good last year, putting up 26.9 ppg and 377 ypg. Both Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush return at QB and both are capable but the OL has plenty of holes and could hold this unit back some, especially in the early going. The Skill positions have returning talent with their top 5 ballcarriers back and 4 of their top 5 WR’s back. Defensively they struggled last year, but should be improved this year with 7 starters back, including quite possibly the best DT in the nation in Kawann Short. The Schedule is pretty tough and while they are improved I do not see them matching last years 4-4 mark in the Big 10, but they should find a way to get into a bowl game. KEY TREND—7-1 ATS before playing Illinois.
Penn State: The Lions have a lot of problems and at the time of this writing I am unsure of the penalties that will be handed down against them. Making it harder on this team anyway this year is the fact that they return just 9 starters overall. They do bring back QB Matt McGloin, top RB Silas Redd (1242 yards, 7 TD’s), and 4 of their top 5 WR’s, but just 16 lettermen return overall on offense and just 1 starter returns to their OL. It could be hard for them to top last year’s 19.3 ppg they put up. Defensively the Lions will struggle as they bring back just 3 of their top 10 tacklers and just 4 starters overall. They will not allow just 16.8 ppg that they did last year. PSU will not be eligible for a bowl this year and are in clear rebuilding mode and that has me expecting a 5th place finish for them here. KEY TREND— 7-1 ATS off a spread win of 14 or more.
Indiana: Last year the Hoosiers were 1-11 (0-8 in the Big 10) and they were outgained by a whopping 160.9 ypg in Big 10 play so they have a lot of ground to make up. This year 15 starters and 50 lettermen overall return so this will be an improved team. On defense all three ruturn to the line and their whole secondary returns as well, so look for them to put a big dent in the 37.3 ppg they allowed last year. Offensively they have a solid running game with their top 5 ball carriers back and 3 of 5 OL, plus QB Tre Roberson also returns. They should improve on the 21.4 ppg they put up last year. Their winnable games are on the road in the Big 10, while they Face OSU, Mich State, Wisconsin and Iowa at home, so they could be looking at another 0-8 showing in the big 10. KEY TREND— 2-13 ATS before playing Purdue.
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Great work Jeff!!!
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Not going to find a bigger Michigan Man than me, but I think Wisconsin is going to win the conference again. I think Michigan can and should reach the title game, but I really like Wisconsin's team this year.
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Yeah Brandon. In the Google Articles I put down that I Expect a Michigan/ Wisconsin Final, but the Badgers should take the Big 10 crown. I forgot to put that part above. LOL
Great Work Jeff!
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Good stuff Jeff..very nice read....value your opinions in this conference....and FYI from a Husker Alum...we are a 4 loss team this year. Martinez is a liability, not an asset.
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Nice write ups Jeff, was wondering if you had a certain Big 10 team (or teams) that you follow more closely than other? Thanks for the Work.
I disagree with Tony. True Martinez had the Sophomore blues last season, but the kid worked real hard this summer with His footwork to help improve His throwing motion. His running ability speaks for it self. Also as Ive mentioned before I believe NUs defense is going to Be a little slow to start out with. Main reason the departure of 2 All Americans Linebacker and all world Lamonte David and DB Alfonso Denard to the NFL, and both were defensive game breakers. So We cant be fooled by the number of returning starters NU has. Anyway I hope this helps info helps You a little. Awesome work as usual Jeff.
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Thanks very much guys. Appreciate the Insight. Should be a fun year in the Big 10.
Duffer, I pretty much follow, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nichigan State. Sorry took so long to get back to ya.