Big Ten Tour: Six Predictions for 2013
Devin Gardner
Posted Jan 28, 2013

The games may be played in the fall and early winter, but there's plenty of pigskin talk to fill up a column year round. Phil Harrison brings you the weekly news, notes, and opinion you crave during the offseason of Big Ten football. This time, we're looking ahead to next year with some very early bold predictions for 2013.

By Phil Harrison
Follow me@PhilHarrisonCFN

Six Way Too Early Big Ten Predictions for 2013

Michigan will be better without Denard Robinson
Yeah, yeah, Denard Robinson was a supremely-gifted athlete. Yeah he had more highlights than a hair-dyeing convention, but plugging him into Brady Hoke's plans felt a little like trying to squeeze a sumo wrestler into spandex. You get the picture, it just didn't fit no matter how you forced it.

Now that the toy that you just had to tinker with has graduated, the Wolverines can get back to playing the type of football that will result in even more winning. Usher in Devin Gardner who showed promise at the end of last year. He'll likely get the first shake at running a more pro-style attack that Brady Hoke will employ in 2013.

That means the offense won't run and stall on the exploits of one guy, but rather a balanced team- approach with Gardner, Toussaint, and a host of others. The Wolverines will likely lose some big play ability, but they'll still score with an efficient approach that won't put the defense in precarious positions. To the Victors go the spoils as the changing of the guard could very easily result in a better record next year than what we witnessed in 2012.

Michigan State will struggle to go bowling again
And the slide continues. Many laughed at some of the predictions we threw out last year, and we certainly don't hit on a lot, but perhaps none were more scoffed at than the claim that the Spartans would lose at least five games in 2012. But nobody's laughing now. The reality was that Sparty's offense simply wasn't efficient enough to hold its weight in gold to go along with a very, very good defense.

The wholesale losses on offense were too much to replace as Andrew Maxwell never fully grasped things. There was only one tried and true missile with Le'Veon Bell and too many firecrackers surrounding him to keep opposing defenses honest. And now the potential of 2013 looms.

Mark Dantonio faces the prospects of breaking in yet another quarterback if Maxwell can't get things together (Connor Cook is in the stable), he loses some key talent (albeit few) on defense, and three of the Spartans best players (Bell, Gholston, and Sims) decided to try the whole NFL thing early. The schedule is not all that tough, most notably in the early part of the season, but things will fall off at the end, and the Spartans will be looking at the prospects of sitting at home for the holidays.

Indiana will go bowling
The Hoosiers flirted with bowl talk last year and then became Indiana again. Still, there were some glimpses of promise, especially on the offensive side of the ball. And the team was young. As we look towards 2013, that means those key players will have a chance to mature in Kevin Wilson's system that is sure to put up even bigger numbers on a consistent basis than last year.

The schedule is also somewhat favorable. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch by any means to see Indiana win all of its non-conference games that consist of Indiana State, Navy, Bowling Green, and Missouri all at home. If that holds true, or even if three of those are victories, that just leaves the cream and crimson in the need for two to three wins in Big Ten play. And with games against the likes of Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue, and a rebuilding Michigan State, that's a very reasonable goal. Now about that defense...

Tim Beckman will be looking for employment after the season
It's rare to see a new head coach only get two years to make a name for himself, but it's also rare to see a coach have such a poor first-year showing as the one that Tim Beckman just endured in Champaign.

Quite simply put, the Illini were the worst team in the conference in 2012--by a long shot. Beckman's crew looked like a team with no identity, no desire, and no clue despite having enough talent to at least be competitive in a down Big Ten. You knew things had to be tore down to build the program back up after Zook left things in a heap, but nobody predicted a winless Big Ten campaign by a team with less defense than Switzerland. And the offense? It was way too inconsistent to carry the day.

Now for 2013. We wish we could say things look better, but they don't really. There just aren't many reinforcements coming. It's not like there were a lot of injuries or a stable of great recruits to fortify the many shortcomings the team had last year. There is some talent there, but it's talent that seems to be all going in different directions. The hardest job of all will be reshaping a culture that seems to have careened out of control. And if cleaning house--if that's what it comes to--is the order of the day, then Beckman 2.0 is going to result in a sad, sad, reboot.

The conference will add at least two more teams somewhere during the calendar year
The clock is ticking. We know it, you know it, and Jim Delany knows it. 2014 marks the first year of the four-team playoff. It also marks the year in which the Big Ten will be looking to sign a new television deal. Getting Maryland and Rutgers expands the Big Ten brand to the East, but don't be surprised if Delany--the guy who started all of this expansion talk--doesn't make more moves to bolster the conference's footprint as the college football landscape thaws out from the ice age.

And to allow for all that goes with scheduling, culture, and market build-up (promotion), it has to happen in 2013, or it won't for awhile. Don't be shocked if there is another move, but where and who remains to be seen. Rumors have swirled for teams in the Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest, and almost anyone outside of the SEC might be willing to jump to the conference with the fattest wallet. You can bet wizard behind the curtain is hard at work.

The Big Ten will change the names of the divisions and realign the teams
You don't put something out there if you aren't thinking about doing it. The Big Ten asked fans to comment on the division names and possible realignment shortly after the season, and you can bet both have some legs after the criticism and jokes the quacky division names received over the last two years.

The divisions are already going to look different because of Maryland and Rutgers coming in, but you get the feeling more changes are on the horizon than simply playing a game of Red Rover and dropping a team in each division.

The first order of business will be to get Ohio State and Michigan into the same division. It's likely that the conference suits got a taste for what could happen when they observed Stanford and UCLA play an uninspired prequel this year, and nobody wants that for the league's biggest rivalry. The Game is a showcase in itself, and to take away from a regular-season matchup by having the two play a week later would be a shame. On top of that, there are some geographic and balance of power concerns. Look for the league to address it all in preparation for 2014.

Phil is the lead Big Ten columnist for CFN. Follow him @PhilHarrisonCFN