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2012 CFN Big Ten Preview
Michigan State DE William Gholston
Michigan State DE William Gholston
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 15, 2012


2012 CFN Big Ten Preview - It has been a rough time for the Big Ten. Can the league bounce back?


Preview 2012

Big Ten Preview


LEADERS
- 2012 Illinois Preview | 2012 Indiana Preview
- 2012 Ohio State Preview | 2012 Penn State Preview 
- 2012 Purdue Preview | 2012 Wisconsin Preview

LEGENDS
- 2012 Iowa Preview | 2012 Michigan Preview
- 2012 Michigan State Preview | 2012 Minnesota Preview  
- 2012 Nebraska Preview | 2012 Northwestern Preview  

- 2012 Big Ten Preview
- 2012 Big Ten Unit Rankings
- 2012 CFN Schedules & Picks
- 2012 CFN All-Big Ten Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 Big Ten Leaders Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2012 Big Ten Legends Team Looks & Predicted Finish  

By Pete Fiutak

For a league that had the chutzpah to call its divisions the Leaders and Legends, it has quickly turned into the Complacent and Conventional.

There was a time not all that long ago when the Big Ten was out ahead of the game. The Big Ten Network had a strong gameplan and has turned into a terrific success. Commissioner Jim Delany was the one who spitballed the idea of trying to add Texas to the mix, and the realignment ball really got rolling after Nebraska jumped ship from the Big 12. And then it was Delany and the Big Ten that pushed the playoff ideas further by exploring several options and ideas.

What a difference a year makes.

Now, the SEC and Big 12 have become more active, creative and aggressive in expansion, leaving the Big Ten in the dust – evidenced by the snooze ‘n’ lose approach to Missouri. The SEC had also taken the playoff bull by the horns with its suggestions and plans, while the Big Ten took its foot off the gas going so far to suggest that it would prefer the status quo before the final plan came out. And why not? Each Big Ten team is getting paid like a pro franchise; the ad inventory on the BTN is all but sold out; and as long as there’s a Rose Bowl, the league will almost always get two teams in the biggest of the big games.

But here’s the problem: the league sort of stinks.

Make no mistake about it; the Big Ten is the biggest conference in college athletics. It’s obviously not the best on the football field, but in terms of reach, alumni, academics and history, it’s the gold standard, which is part of the reason why the BTN has been able to find a foothold and rock like it has. But times are quickly changing with the rest of the world evolving to the point of being ready, willing and able for the four-team playoff that’s coming, with the SEC, Big 12, and soon, the Pac-12 appearing to be stronger.

It doesn’t help that the league’s superpower programs – Michigan and Ohio State – are both at the tail end of a rebounding phase, and it really didn’t help the cause when Wisconsin lost two straight Rose Bowls. It’s a good league, and it’s an entertaining league, but Delany and the powers-that-be have made it way too clear that they’re happy to go through the exercise of the regular season, go to the Rose Bowl, and then enjoy all the money that flows in. The league has stopped pushing itself.

The hope is that things are building back up again for 2013, because 2012 has the potential to be very, very mediocre with Wisconsin and Michigan State retooling in a retooling league, Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title and a bowl game, Iowa average, Nebraska without a third option on offense, and Penn State blown out of the water as it tries to find its way out of its all-timer of a hot mess.

Oh sure, the league race will be terrific, but if one of the league’s best teams – Michigan – gets clobbered by Alabama in the opener, then the perception that the Big Ten isn’t anywhere near the level of the SEC and Big 12 might be reality. Even when the Wolverines beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl it wasn’t exactly pretty, with Denard Robinson and the offense getting shut down. Throw in the bowl losses by the Badgers, Huskers and Buckeyes, and whatever the heck that was by Penn State in a we-really-don’t-want-to-be-here game against Houston, and the fat and happy conference needs to start making a bigger statement very, very soon.

Team That'll Surprise
Penn State - Put this in the It's All Relative category. Those thinking the Nittany Lions are going to fall off a cliff right away this year – as in four wins or fewer - might be shocked, but it's certainly not going to be an easy campaign. The passing game will be a disaster again and scoring points will be like pulling teeth, especially with RB Silas Redd off to USC and WR Justin Brown going to Oklahoma, but the defensive front seven will be fantastic led by a linebacking corps that should be among the best in college football. The key will be a schedule with four of the first six games at home and with the biggest Leaders game – Ohio State and Wisconsin – also in Happy Valley. Forget about finishing on top of the division, but considering all the problems, issues and changes, six wins wouldn’t be bad.

Team That'll Disappoint
Nebraska – How is the team going to be any better? 9-4 wasn’t bad last season considering there wasn’t any passing attack and the pass rush was non-existent at times. The schedule is far more difficult this season with defending Conference USA champ Southern Miss and defending Sun Belt champion Arkansas State coming to Lincoln early, wrapped around a road game at UCLA. Going to Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa will be rough, and hosting Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State won’t be a picnic.

Game of the Year Michigan State at Michigan, Nov. 20
There are some terrific Big Ten interdivisional battles like Michigan State at Wisconsin, Wisconsin at Nebraska, and, of course, Michigan at Ohio State, but this is the new world of Big Ten divisions. As last year’s Spartan Hail Mary win over the Badgers proved, all that really matters is winning the division. Since Ohio State isn’t eligible to win the Leaders – or else the Buckeye showdown in Madison against Bucky on November 17th would be the Game of the Year – then it’ll be the nasty neighbor battle between the Spartans and the Wolverines. Nebraska might have something to say about it, but the Legends might be decided in Ann Arbor when the MSU comes to down.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight
1. LB Mike Taylor, Sr. Wisconsin
2. DT Akeem Spence, Jr. Illinois
1. S Ibraheim Campbell, Soph. Northwestern
4. DE Michael Buchanan, Sr. Illinois
5. PK/P Brett Maher, Sr. Nebraska

Coach on the Hot Seat
Bill O’Brien, Penn State – He’s certainly not going to get canned if the record is a disaster after getting hammered by NCAA sanctions, but the spotlight is on. After all the smoke clears and the team has to run out of the tunnel, O’Brien still has to be the first head coach who has to start a season following the Joe Paterno legacy. The Nittany Lions were deep in the hunt for the Big Ten title last season even after the scandal broke, and while no one is expecting anything, a horrible season will show what’s coming next. If this year isn’t any good on the field, don’t expect the results to be any better over the next several seasons.

5 Non-Conference Games the Big Ten had better take very, very seriously
1. Louisiana Tech at Illinois, Sept. 22
2. Ohio at Penn State, Sept. 1
3. Arkansas State at Nebraska, Sept. 15
4. Utah State at Wisconsin, Sept. 15
5. UCF at Ohio State, Sept. 8

Bold Statements
- Illinois is a machine on the defensive line. Even with Whitney Mercilus leaving for the NFL a year early, the defensive front will be fantastic with Akeem Spence on the inside and Michael Buchanan on the end. It won’t hurt to have do-it-all linebacker Jonathan Brown to clean things up.

- Indiana has a nice blend of youthful experience. There are just enough good talents to build around, and they should be better after being thrown to the wolves last season. RB Stephen Houston and QB Tre Roberson will keep defensive coordinators up at night.

- Iowa will be a mirage. The record will be great with a squishy-soft first half of the season, and Hawkeye fans will be getting louder and louder after a 5-0 September, and then a trip to Michigan State will bring things down a peg. However, with Penn State, at Northwestern, at Indiana and Purdue coming up next, don’t be shocked if the record is 9-1 before going to Michigan. The team isn’t 9-1 good.

- In the 2012 BCS championship, Alabama was fantastic at shutting down LSU cold while coming up with a strong offensive game plan. The Tide coaching staff had six weeks to prepare. Now it’ll have an entire offseason to figure out how to slow down Denard Robinson and the Michigan attack. If Robinson really is a Heisman-worthy candidate, he needs to be the best player on the field no matter what the great Alabama defense is throwing at him.

- Don’t sleep on Michigan State. The preseason polls won’t like the Spartans because of so many losses in the receiving corps and with QB Kirk Cousins done, but Mark Dantonio has built up a machine with a strong defense and great offensive line to rebuild in a hurry. This will be one of the three best teams in the Big Ten.

- Minnesota has to find an identity. Jerry Kill has always been able to get the running game going, but he has to put together an offensive line that can push someone around. The season will come down to QB MarQueis Gray. He has been around long enough and has all the tools to carry the Gophers to a few wins by himself.

- Will Nebraska have a third offensive weapon? QB Taylor Martinez and RB Rex Burkhead are terrific, but there won’t be much of a passing game and it’s asking for too much for those two to hold up for 472 combined carries again.

- Don’t be stunned if QB Kain Colter pushes hard for All-Big Ten honors. How many players in college football history have been the team’s leading returning passer, runner and receiver, and with legitimate numbers? He’ll be one of the league’s best dual threat playmakers, and while he’s not going to stretch the field, he could be every bit as effective as Dan Persa was.

- QB Braxton Miller will get all the attention as he shines in Urban Meyer’s offense, but it will be the improvement on the defensive front that will make the biggest difference right away for Ohio State. The pass rush was mediocre and the run defense was spotty, but John Simon and Johnathan Hankins will be all-stars up front.

- The entire Penn State season depends on whether or not Matt McGloin can keep the interceptions to a minimum. The defense will be good enough to keep the team in the game, but Silas Redd is gone meaning McGloin has to be the ultimate game manager for any success to come.

- Could Purdue be a deep sleeper to have a big year? The offense should be terrific and DT Kawann Short leads a decent defense, but it’s the schedule that will make all the difference with five of the first six games at home; the team doesn’t leave the state of Indiana until October 20th. The payback comes in the second half of the year with four road games in five weeks, but the Boilermakers are good enough to beat Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

- A big part of Wisconsin’s success over the last few years has been the squishy-soft non-conference schedules. This year won’t be any different with Northern Iowa, at Oregon State, Utah State and UTEP to start the season. The Badgers are big on the intimidation factor, and getting to blow away bad teams on a regular basis helps create the aura.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DT Johnathan Hankins, Sr. Ohio State
2. OT Ricky Wagner, Sr. Wisconsin
3. DT Kawann Short, Sr. Purdue
4. CB Johnny Adams, Sr. Michigan State
5. DE William Gholston, Jr. Michigan State

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Wisconsin QB Danny O’Brien for Russell Wilson
2. Illinois DE Michael Buchanan for Whitney Mercilus
3. Penn State DT DaQuan Jones for Devon Still
4. Michigan State QB Andrew Maxwell for Kirk Cousins
5. Iowa OT Brandon Scherff for Reilly Reiff

LEADERS
- 2012 Illinois Preview | 2012 Indiana Preview
- 2012 Ohio State Preview | 2012 Penn State Preview 
- 2012 Purdue Preview | 2012 Wisconsin Preview

LEGENDS
- 2012 Iowa Preview | 2012 Michigan Preview
- 2012 Michigan State Preview | 2012 Minnesota Preview  
- 2012 Nebraska Preview | 2012 Northwestern Preview  

- 2012 Big Ten Preview
- 2012 Big Ten Unit Rankings
- 2012 CFN Schedules & Picks
- 2012 CFN All-Big Ten Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 Big Ten Leaders Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2012 Big Ten Legends Team Looks & Predicted Finish