The 2012 season featured a return to the national stage for the Michigan Wolverines and a breakout season from the Northwestern Wildcats. With Penn State and Ohio State both ineligible for 2012 postseason play, Wisconsin, with just four conference wins, found itself in the title game where they put up 70 in a no-doubt win over Nebraska, laying claim to both of the Big 10?s first two championship games.
The Big 10 and the Big 12 tied for the fewest number of draftees in the 2013 draft, totaling just 22 each. The bad got worse as Illinois, who went winless in the Big 10 last season, had a conference high four players selected in the draft. Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State followed with three. Michigan and Nebraska with just two, and Purdue and Iowa with only one player drafted.
While the low total of draft picks might indicate a conference in decline, that?s not the case. Many impact players will return this season and the Big 10 is likely to slot in just behind the SEC as the most formidable conference in the country.
The Big 10 boasts five teams ranked in the top 25, and each have a legitimate shot to run the table and find themselves in the BCS title game. Besides Wisconsin, each of the ranked teams have a dynamic threat at quarterback. Ohio State has Heisman candidate Braxton Miller. Michigan has junior Devin Gardner in his first full season as starter for the Wolverines. Northwestern has the dynamic Kain Coulter in his senior season, Coulter has racked up 1,583 passing yards, 1,691 rushing yards, and 667 yards receiving in his career with the Wildcats. Nebraska is led by three-year starter Taylor Martinez, who set career highs in virtually category in 2012 and could wind up as the best quarterback in the Big 10 come the seasons end.
Most Memorable Game: Ohio State at Northwestern. The Wildcats face their biggest test in their first season following a bowl win in over 50 years, matching up against the Buckeyes on national TV October 5th. Northwestern has one of the more difficult conference schedules but luckily their two biggest matchups, Ohio State and Michigan, come at home. The Wildcats should get a boost from a sold out crowd in one of the biggest games Northwestern has ever played at Ryan Field. Quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark should exploit what is likely Ohio States weakest link, their young front seven. The Wildcats will control the game early and hold on late. 36-29 Northwestern.
Surprise Team: Wisconsin. It?s hard to call the Badgers ? winners of the first two Big 10 title games ? a surprise team, but Wisconsin is considered by most to be the fifth best team in the Big 10 headed into 2013. They will be adjusting to a new coaching staff and the departure of Montee Ball, but the running game should still be one of the nations? best and if the secondary holds up they can make some noise. The Badgers could march to 10 wins with ease as they have the easiest schedule in the Big 10. Their two tests, at Ohio State and home against Northwestern, is all that stands between them and a legitimate shot at the BCS title game.
Biggest Disappointment: Iowa. The Hawkeyes situation is nearly the exact opposite of Wisconsin?s. Iowa should be a better team in 2013 but they are plagued with the most difficult conference schedule in the Big 10, playing all five of the top 25 ranked teams. Their non-conference schedule isn?t a cake walk either, featuring both Iowa State and Northern Illinois. They have a ton of depth at running back to help new starter Jake Rudock, and should be formidable on defense. All that said, it?s going to be tough for the Hawkeyes to manage a single conference win and likely will end up with their worst season since the 90?s.
Ohio State: QB Braxton Miller, RB Jordan Hall, RB Rod Smith, WR Devin Smith, WR Corey Brown, WR Dontre Wilson, OT Jake Mewhort, LB Ryan Shazier, CB Bradley Roby.
Wisconsin: RB James White, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pederson, LB Chris Borland.
Penn State: QB Christian Hackenberg, RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, TE Kyle Carter, G John Urschel, DE Deion Barnes.
Indiana: QB Tre Roberson, QB Cameron Coffman, RB Stephen Houston, WR Kofi Hughes, WR Cody Latimer, WR Shane Wynn, TE Ted Bolser.
Purdue: QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Hunt, RB Brandon Cottom, WR Gary Bush, TE Gabe Holmes.
Illinois: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, WR Ryan Lankford, LB Jonathan Brown.
Nebraska: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah, RB Imani Cross, WR Kenny Bell, G Spencer Long.
Northwestern: QB Kain Colter, QB Trevor Siemian, RB Venric Mark, TE Dan Vitale, DE Tyler Scott.
Michigan: QB Devin Gardner, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, OT Taylor Lewan.
Michigan State: QB Andrew Maxwell, RB Jeremy Langford, RB Nick Hill WR Aaron Burbridge, LB Max Bullough, CB Darqueze Dennard.
Minnesota: QB Philip Nelson, RB Donnell Kirkwood, WR Derrick Engel, DT Ra?Shede Hageman.
Iowa: QB Jake Rudock, RB Mark Weisman, RB Damon Bullock, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Big Ten Championship:
Ohio State 27, Nebraska 23.
The Big 10 has a number of BCS title contenders, but that?s also part of the problem as none of them have a clear or easy path to the game. It will be hard for any team to survive the season and the Big Ten title game without taking a single loss, but a one-loss Big 10 champion might be enough to make the BCS title game.
Fantasy Impact (Predicted 2013 Totals)
Best QB: Taylor Martinez, Nebraska. (Passing: 3,119 yards, 29 td?s, 9 int?s. Rushing: 908 yards, 11 td?s.)
Martinez has been the starter his entire career at Nebraska, and that will only serve to help him improve on his numbers from last season. He has a solid surrounding cast, returning most of the key pieces on offense from last season. Look for him to lead the Big 10 in passing yardage and total touchdowns.
Sleeper QB: Philip Nelson, Minnesota. (Passing: 1,915 yards, 18 td?s, 9 int?s. Rushing: 221 yards, 1 td.)
Nelson should show significant improvement in his sophomore season, but his biggest hurdle will be the lack of any real impact player at receiver. He has a very good offensive line in front of him and a running game that should help open up the passing game. If Nelson can get rolling during the Gopher?s non-conference schedule he should be in for a solid 2013.
Bust QB: Devin Gardner, Michigan. (Passing 2,215 yards, 20 td?s, 13 int?s. Rushing 149 yards, 4 td?s.)
It was difficult to pick a bust candidate from the Big 10?s group of quarterbacks but I think Gardner is the most likely to fall short of all the hype. The Michigan offense will be less dynamic this season and there?s a good possibility the running game will struggle at times. Gardner should still have a solid season but I think teams will be able to focus more of their attention on him and it could wear on the somewhat inexperienced junior.
Best RB: Venric Mark, Northwestern. (Rushing: 1,472 yards, 18 td?s. Receiving: 29 rec, 264 yards, 2 td?s.)
Even though Northwestern has a tough conference schedule, I still think Mark will easily be the best back in the Big 10?s 2013 season. The 5?8? senior will be able to find more running room as the two-headed monster at quarterback of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian keep defenses on their toes. Expect Northwestern?s running game to be the most consistent aspect of their 2013 season.
Sleeper RB: Zach Zwinak, Penn State. (Rushing: 1,211 yards, 11 td?s. Receiving: 36 rec, 351 yards, 3 td?s.)
The bruising Zwinak should once again top 1,000 yards rushing as highly-touted quarterback Christian Hackenberg and the Big 10?s top WR Allen Robinson prevent defenses from stacking the box against the run. I think Zwinak will see a bit more of a workload this season and should be able to wear down opponents.
Bust RB: Mark Weisman, Iowa. (Rushing: 694 yards, 8 td?s. Receiving: 17 rec, 119 yards, 2 td?s.)
After injuries once again had their way with Iowa running back?s in 2012, Weisman stepped up and delivered a solid 5.1 yards per carry. The junior should still be a solid option for Iowa, but increased depth at running back and a likely weaker passing game will prevent Weisman from improving on his 2012 numbers.
Best WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State. (Receiving: 81 rec, 1,355 yards, 12 td?s.)
There?s a good chance Robinson?s junior year at Penn State is his final one. Big numbers from Robinson in 2013 will help him climb up NFL draft boards and he?ll do just that. At 6?3? and 210 lbs he?s a the prototypical receiver. If top freshman Hackenberg can live up to the hype at quarterback then Robinson should have a huge season.
Sleeper WR: Kofi Hughes, Indiana. (Receiving: 56 rec, 987 yards, 9 td?s.)
Indiana will air it out again this season, regardless of who the starting quarterback is. The 6?2? senior will be a big part of the reason why. Several of the Indiana receivers could fit the role of top sleeper, but Hughes has the build, the experience, and the motivation to put up big numbers in Bloomington.
Bust WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin. (45 rec, 791 yards, 4 td?s.)
The 6?2? senior has been a consistent threat for the Badgers his entire career, but with a new quarterback and a new coaching staff its hard not to expect Abbrederis? numbers to fall. Wisconsin will have another great ground game and with the uncertainty at quarterback, may rely on running the ball even more heavily then they did last season.
Best TE: Devin Funchess, Michigan. (Receiving: 39 rec, 571 yards, 8 td?s.)
The sophomore should be a big part of the passing game as defenses key on Jeremy Gallon and put pressure on quarterback Devin Gardner.
Sleeper TE: Dan Vitale, Northwestern. (Receiving: 43 rec, 491 yards, 6 td?s.)
Vitale could lead Northwestern in receptions, yards and td?s in his sophomore season. He?s a great fit in the Wildcat?s unusual, but potent, offense.
Bust TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa. (Receiving: 41 rec, 401 yards, 2 td?s.)
Underwhelming quarterback play will lead to a slightly down season for the senior.