2013 Pre-Preseason Big Ten Legends Rankings
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Posted Jan 24, 2013

The too early look at how good the Big Ten Legends should be in 2013.

CFN 2013 First Look Rankings

Big Ten Legends

2012 CFN Final Season Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-29 | Rankings 30-48 | Rankings 49-67
- Rankings 68-86Rankings 87-105The Bottom 19

FINAL 2012 Rankings By Conference
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- Based On Opinion ... CFN 2012 FINAL Rankings, Top  25
- CFN 2012 Pre-Preseason Big Ten Leaders Rankings
- CFN 2012 Pre-Preseason Big Ten Legends Rankings

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It might seem way too early, but considering the returning starters and the teams coming back, where does everyone stand before Signing Day and spring ball? Here's CFN's first look at all the teams for 2013 based on how good they appear to be at the moment.

- CFN 2013 Pre-Preseason Big Ten Leaders Rankings
1. Michigan State (7-6)

Let's try this again. The Spartans had all the pieces in place to finally get over the hump and get to the Rose Bowl, but close loss after close loss – losing five games by four points or fewer – it might not take a whole bunch of tweaking to be the team it was supposed to be last year. Everyone will be talking about Ohio State and Michigan, but MSU has every reason to believe it can win the conference title.

Running back Le'Veon Bell and tight end Dion Sims each left early for the NFL, and guard Chris McDonald is gone, but everyone else is back. Now the experience has to translate into production with quarterback Andrew Maxwell needing to be far more efficient – MSU finished last in the conference in passing efficiency – and he needs his receivers to be able to hang on to the ball. The big key will be replacing Bell, needing Nick Hill and/or Jeremy Langford to stand up and shine this offseason.

The defense loses William Gholston early to the NFL, and despite a few inconsistencies, corner Johnny Adams will be tough to replace. However, eight starters are back on the Big Ten's leader in total defense, scoring defense, run defense and pass efficiency defense – there won't be a drop-off, if any. Kicker Dan Conroy is a loss, but punter Mike Sadler will be a major positive for a team that could be the big storyline of the Big Ten season.

2. Michigan (8-5)

It seems like the Wolverines have been a year away for a while now, and they might be a year away once again. Brady Hoke has done a whale of a job recruiting, and he could end up with the No. 1 class of 2013, but for this year, there are massive holes that need to be filled on both sides of the ball.

The emergence of Devin Gardner as the starting quarterback late in the year answers what looked like might be a huge question mark early in the season, but he needs more playmakers to work with. Receiver Jeremy Gallon is a start, but running back Fitzgerald Toussaint needs to be healthy and back to form. The coaching staff is going heavy on top linemen in the recruiting class, but the interior of the front five needs an overhaul. On the plus side, the Wolverines caught a gigantic break when Taylor Lewan chose to return for one more year.

The defense that became such a rock against the pass loses end Craig Roh and tackle Will Campbell, but three starters return to the secondary and Jake Ryan will be on the linebacker All-America short list. Hoke has built up the depth and there are decent options across the board, but more playmakers have to fill in around Ryan.

3. Nebraska (10-4)

Just forget about the last two games. The embarrassment against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship and the loss to Georgia in the bowl shouldn't overshadow the tremendous things the Huskers did in a thrilling season. The problem is that the program doesn't seem to be getting back to the days of being dominant on a national scale, but getting back to the Big Ten championship might be enough.

The offense that found a passing game with the improvement of Taylor Martinez should keep on rolling with nine starters potentially returning depending on the formation. Rex Burkhead is gone, but Ameer Abdullah proved last season that he could handle the work when needed. Four starters are back on the offensive front, and Kenny Bell is growing into one of the Big Ten's more dangerous receivers.

The defense has to do a ton of hole patching with seven starters gone from a group that finished fourth in the nation against the pass. Safeties Damion Stafford and P.J. Smith are gone, but all the corners are back. The linebacking corps is the biggest problem with the entire trio of starters is gone. Chase Rome found a bigger role late in the season at tackle and Jason Ankrah has to shine on one end. One of the team's biggest losses, though, is do-it-all kicker Brett Maher.

4. Northwestern (10-3)

The Wildcats won ten games and finally came up with a bowl victory, but the season was even better than that. There but for two big pass plays against Nebraska and Michigan went a possible shot at the Big Ten championship, but still, it really was a great year for a program that keeps finding ways to produce under Pat Fitzgerald. The talent is there to potentially do even more.

Eight starters are back on offense, highlighted by the combination of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Venric Mark never quite got his due as a jack-of-all-trades running back, but that should change this year as he becomes the likely signature star of a rising team. All the receivers are back, and all the top runners return, including Colter, but the line needs some retooling with three starters gone.

The defense needs more from the secondary, and that should come with Ibraheim Campbell a lock for all-star honors at safety and both corners Daniel Jones and Nick VanHoose coming back. The pass rush could stand to be a little bit better up front with Quentin Williams gone on the end. Damien Proby is a big tackling force in the middle, while Chi Chi Ariguzo is a promising strongside defender who should once again be one of the team's leaders in tackles for loss. Kicker Jeff Budzeim is a rock.

5. Minnesota (6-7)

Jerry Kill has been slowly building the Gophers back up to respectability, and getting off to a 4-0 start and going bowling was a huge move forward. But can they start to compete with the bigger boys? The two Big Ten wins came against Purdue and Illinois, getting blown out by Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Depending on the formation, ten starters are back losing quarterback/receiver MarQueis Gray and fullback John Rabe, but everyone else of note returns. With Max Shortell transferring and MarQuies Gray gone, the quarterback situation will is now all about Phillip Nelson, and running back Donnell Kirkwood needs to build off a good year as the main man for the ground game. Finding more explosiveness in the passing game is a must from an experienced receiving corps. The line gets all five starters back and should be one of the team's biggest positives.

The defense finished 33rd in the nation and was 12th against the pass has to replace corners Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire, and it'll be tough to replace end D.L. Wilhite and linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper, but the line gets back three starts including big tackles Ra'Shede Hageman and Cameron Botticelli, who should be among the Big Ten's better interior pass rushers.

6. Iowa (4-8)

After a disastrous 4-8 season with a second half collapse, the pressure is on head coach Kirk Ferentz to come up with a big year. While he's not going to be fired if he has another down season, the six game losing streak set the tone for a program that needs to at least get back to a bowl game and become a player in the Legends race.

The offense that was so miserable and so inefficient gets six starters back with three starters back up front and, hopefully and finally, the running back situation will be healthy and settled. Pounder Mark Weisman is back to be the workhorse, but the passing game that was so painfully inefficient needs production out of Jake Rudock or another option to take over for James Vandenberg. Kevonte Martin-Manley will be the No. 1 target and C.J. Fiedorowicz should be among the nation's top tight ends.

While there are question marks about the O, the defense should be terrific with nine returning starters led by great tackling linebackers Anthony Hitchens and James Morris. The non-existent pass rush that finished last in the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for loss needs more out of Dominic Alvis and the ends. Micah Hyde is gone, but the rest of the secondary is back.

- CFN 2013 Pre-Preseason Big Ten Leaders Rankings