2013 CFN Big Ten Preview
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Posted Jul 25, 2013

2013 CFN Big Ten Preview - After an odd 2012, the Big Ten is improving and changing.

Preview 2013

Big Ten Preview

By Pete Fiutak

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- Illinois Preview
- Indiana Preview
- Ohio State Preview
- Penn State Preview 
- Purdue Preview
- Wisconsin Preview

- Iowa Preview
- Michigan Preview
- Michigan State Preview
- Minnesota Preview
- Nebraska Preview
- Northwestern Preview 

- 2013 Big Ten Preview
- 2013 Big Ten Unit Rankings
- 2013 CFN Schedules & Picks
- 2013 CFN All-Big Ten Team & Top 30 Players
- 2013 Big Ten Leaders Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2013 Big Ten Legends Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
Everything is always going to be a tad bit off for a league of 12 teams that calls itself the Big Ten, but 2012 was just plain odd. It might just take another year or so for things to seem normal.

From the league's best team – Ohio State – not being eligible for anything, to a neutered Penn State, to a Wisconsin team that dropped 70 in the Big Ten championship after sleepwalking through the year, to Northwestern actually winning a bowl game, to Iowa going in the tank, to Jadeveon Clowney's illegal hit on Vincent Smith being the most memorable thing about the Michigan campaign, to Illinois getting an offensive head coach who couldn't produce a lick of offense, to Michigan State receivers who couldn't catch, to a Nebraska defense that went bu-bye in a big way in the team's four losses, again, it all seemed a little bit strange.

And now, just when the average Big Ten fan can get it close to the pin when asked who's in the Leaders and Legends divisions, it's all about to be changed up again, putting the 2013 season in another holding pattern.

Next year, the alignment into East and West divisions will work much, much better, especially geographically, and the biggest of the big teams should be stronger, too. Even though everyone is waiting for the new look, this should still be a wildly entertaining season that should be much better overall. If nothing else, there almost certainly won't be a "yeah, but" about the Big Ten champion this time around, while most of the teams that spent last year retooling should be sharper.

However, there's still going to be a waiting period considering the biggest of the big boys, Ohio State and Michigan, are going to be good, but won't be anywhere near as amazing as they'll be in two years when the phenomenal recruiting classes really start to kick in. The Big Two have gone nuclear on the recruiting trail just in time for the best rivalry in sports to go to another level next season when they're both in the same division. Meanwhile, Rutgers and Maryland are Big Ten teams spending one more season in different leagues, and there's still plenty of rumor and speculation of more expansion shenanigans to come from Commissioner Jim Delany and the boys in the near future.

But for now, it'll be all about schedules – check out the Nebraska slate – the coaches still trying to get comfortable – Pat Fitzgerald is the second most tenured Big Ten coach - and improving overall. The SEC is the best conference in college football, and the Pac-12 has beaten the Big Ten in the last few Rose Bowls, but the Big Ten is getting better and in a much stronger place than it was last year at this time.

But wait for 2014.

Team That'll Surprise
Wisconsin – If it's possible for a program that's coming off of three straight Big Ten titles to be a surprise, this could be it considering Ohio State fans already have their tickets booked to Pasadena for either the Rose Bowl or the BCS championship. The Buckeyes are better than the Badgers, but the theme for this season is schedule, schedule, schedule. The Wisconsin D will be among the league's best, and the offense won't take too much of a step back, if at all, but the big key will be a conference slate with road games at Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota along with winnable games in Camp Randall against Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana and Penn State. Bucky can afford a loss in Columbus on September 28th.

Team That'll Disappoint
Illinois – It's not like anyone is expecting miracles out of Tim Beckman in his second season at the helm, and no one is waiting for a major turnaround after the total disaster of a 2012 campaign, but despite a decent base of talent and a new offensive coordinator, the rebound won't come fast enough. With nasty non-conference home games against Cincinnati and Washington, and a brutal start to the Big Ten season with at Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, at Penn State, at Indiana (yes, at Indiana) and Ohio State before closing out at Purdue and against Northwestern, where are the wins going to come from?

Bold Statements

- Unlike the Big 12, which has only one team – Texas – returning its starting quarterback, it's possible that ten of the 12 Big Ten teams will kick things off with a signal caller who's either the returning starter, has significant experience, or is the better option than last year's main man.

- Western Kentucky's Bobby Petrino will be the star of the 2014 Big Ten media days as the new head coach of the University of Illinois.

- Nebraska's schedule will turn out to be one of the season's biggest stories. If the Huskers beat UCLA in Lincoln, and if they stop fumbling, they'll be 8-0 before going to Michigan. Win that, and it's all there for the taking with Michigan State, at Penn State and Iowa to close. Notice, there's no Wisconsin or Ohio State to face.

- Northwestern will go at least 2-3 against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State. If it goes 3-2, it'll come up with a ten-win season. If it goes 4-1, it'll probably play for the Big Ten championship.

- Indiana won't just go to a bowl; Indiana will be pretty good on its way to a bowl. Kevin Wilson might be "zero fun, sir" has a head coach, but he's exactly what the program needed. His brutal honesty and intolerance for bad college football is slowly building up IU.

- The Hoosiers will be a bit schizophrenic, and while they'll get their doors blown off from time to time, they'll screw up someone big. They'll win one of the four road games at Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin or Ohio State.

- Oh yeah, by the way, Wisconsin has gone to the last three Rose Bowls and won the first two Big Ten championship games.

- However, when you lose three straight Rose Bowls, it's hard to get a whole bunch of respect.

- To keep the heat off early on, Gary Andersen really, really, really needs to come up with a win at Arizona State.

- There's no star power on the 2013 Badgers, but they're rock solid.

- Everyone is underestimating what a big deal it is for Ohio State to lose so much experience and production on the defensive front seven. The Buckeyes have more defensive talent than just about everyone else in the conference, but there will be an adjustment period.

- Ohio State will find it much, much harder now that there are actual expectations following a redshirt season, especially when 10-2 isn't going to be good enough.

- Teams that go 5-0 one year in games decided by seven points or fewer tend to lose those a few of those the next year when they have less experience.

- And teams, like Michigan State, that lose five games by four points or fewer tend to win a few more of those the next year. However, first, the receivers have to catch the ball.

- Remember, Michigan State only averaged 149 rushing yards per game and finished eighth in the league in rushing. Replacing Le'Veon Bell will be hard, but replacing his production with a slew of backs won't be.

- Considering Penn State's season doesn't matter, there's absolutely no reason for Christian Hackenberg to not be the starter against Syracuse.

- Darrell Hazell could turn into an amazing head coach for Purdue, but remember, last year's Kent State team got to 11-3 on smoke, mirrors and turnover margin. It couldn't throw the ball a lick and it couldn't stop anyone from throwing.

- I admit it; I have absolutely no idea what Iowa is going to do. The linebacking corps is fantastic and the running game will be solid, but is there a passing game? The Hawkeyes could start 5-0 (Northern Illinois, Missouri State, at Iowa State, Western Michigan, at Minnesota) and finish 5-7 (Michigan State, at Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, at Purdue, Michigan, at Nebraska). I wouldn't be shocked if they went 8-4 or 4-8.

- Okay, so I'd be shocked if Iowa went 8-4.

- If a steady wide receiver or two emerges, Michigan's Devin Gardner could be the Big Ten's best quarterback.

- The loss of Wolverine star pass rusher Jake Ryan to a torn ACL is a big problem. It's asking a lot for him to be back at 100% by October.

- Unless it's deep in the hunt for the national title, Michigan shouldn't worry so much about the win/loss record. It should worry about how quickly all the fabulous true freshmen develop.

- Minnesota could very, very quietly be dangerous. Jerry Kill might not have a whole bunch of flash, but his team should be more than just competitive.

- The Big Ten is going to be the second best conference in college football, and it'll still lose the Rose Bowl.

Game of the Year
Nebraska at Michigan, Nov. 9 – Wisconsin at Ohio State could determine the Leaders title, and the season could come down to Ohio State's trip to Michigan, but if Nebraska holds serve and doesn't gag at home against Northwestern or on the road at Purdue or Minnesota, the date in Ann Arbor could be the only thing that stands in the way of a Legends championship. At the very least, if the Huskers win, a win will set the tone for the home game against Michigan State the next week. Meanwhile, Michigan will be coming off its always emotional battle with the Spartans and have to go to Northwestern to follow.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight
1. LB Max Bullough, Sr. Michigan State
2. DT Bruce Gaston, Sr. Purdue
3. DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Sr. Minnesota
4. LB Jonathan Brown, Sr. Illinois
5. LB Damien Proby, Sr. Northwestern

Coach on the Hot Seat
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin – Tim Beckman's days at Illinois might be numbered, and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz really, really needs to come up with a huge season, but the spotlight is on Andersen, who inherits a team good enough to win yet another Big Ten championship. It'll be okay if the Badgers finish behind Ohio State in the Leaders, and it'll be fine if it's not a fourth Rose Bowl trip in four years, but with this schedule the Badgers had better be ten-win good and/or win the Big Ten title.

5 Non-Conference Games the Big Ten had better take very, very seriously
1. San Diego State at Ohio State, Sept. 7
2. Bowling Green at Indiana, Sept. 14
3. UCF at Penn State, Sept. 14
4. Western Michigan at Iowa, Sept. 21
5. UNLV at Minnesota, Aug. 31

5 Best Pro Prospects

1. OT Taylor Lewan, Sr. Michigan
2. LB Ryan Shazier, Jr. Ohio State
3. CB Bradley Roby, Jr. Ohio State
4. OG Spencer Long, Sr. Nebraska
5. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Sr. Iowa

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Ohio State DE Adolphus Washington for John Simon
2. Michigan State RB Nick Hill for Le'Veon Bell
3. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg for Matt McGloin
4. Ohio State DT Michael Bennett for Johnathan Hankins
5. Nebraska S Harvey Jackson for Damion Stafford

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

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

- 2013 Big Ten Preview | 2013 Big Ten Unit Rankings
- 2013 CFN Schedules & Picks
- 2013 CFN All-Big Ten Team & Top 30 Players
- 2013 Big Ten Leaders Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2013 Big Ten Legends Team Looks & Predicted Finish