College

College Football Conference Preview: The Big 10

By: Justin Rockhold - 92.3 The Fan
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(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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They say that home is where the heart is, and so with that phrase in mind we begin our coverage of College Football: The 2013 Edition, with the Big 10. In order to look into the future, we must first look back at the past, and boy a lot sure has happen since the end of the 2012 season.

Here’s a quick recap of everything you may have missed while hibernating since Alabama won yet another title:

– Six teams – Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan St., Penn St., and Wisconsin – changed coordinators on at least one side of the ball.

– Purdue fired former head coach Danny Hope, then hired the new Head Honcho Darrell Hazell (Kent State, WHAT UP?!).

– Brett Bielema shockingly left Wisconsin for the SEC and the great state of Arkansas; the ever-boring Gary Andersen replaced him at the helm of the most ever-boring, always successful program in the conference.

– The scariest player in the country, Denard Robinson, finally graduated from UM. Oh, and Brady Hoke denied rumors of an early-retirement. Donut shops in Ann Arbor rejoiced.

– Ohio State kicked off/suspended/reinstated/suspended Carlos Hyde, nearly lost All-American corner Bradley Robey, and are finally eligible to play in the post-season after going undefeated in Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus.

– Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien furthered proved that he was the right man for the job in Happy Valley by spurning numerous NFL offers and staying at State College.

– Minnesota lost Devin Crawford-Tufts on the fast track.

For everyone else – Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska – the offseason was relatively quiet. So now, with just a mere 29 days until Indiana and Minnesota kick off their season’s on a warm, August evening we must look forward to the last season where the Big 10 has only 12 teams.

Games to Watch

Week 1: Northern Illinois @Iowa, 3:30 P.M, August 31st
 – Week 1 is usually a time for teams in BCS Conferences to get a tune-up before the season. Not Iowa. They get last year’s BCS Cinderella, and this time around the Huskies will be looking to avenge their lone loss of last season, especially with Heisman-hopeful Jordan Lynch back at the helm at NIU. Good luck, Kirk Ferentz. You’ll need it.

Week 2: Notre Dame @Michigan, 8:00 P.M, September 7th
 – In an always must-watch match-up, UM and Devin Gardener see their first real test of the season versus a Notre Dame team that not everyone’s sold on. It’s a show-and-prove game for both squads early on. Circle this date on your calendars.

Week 3: UCLA @ Nebraska, 12:00 P.M, September 14th
 – These two storied programs both enter the season with bad tastes in their mouth after their bowl experiences – UCLA beat by Baylor, Nebraska dropped by Georgia – but this is an early season test for both sqauds you won’t want to miss. Luckily for the Huskers, they get this one in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. Try and catch it before Johnny Football takes on Alabama.

Week 4: Michigan St. @Notre Dame, 3:30 P.M, September 21st
 – See: Week 2, Sentence 2-3.

Week 5: Wisconsin @Ohio St., 8:00 P.M, September 28th
 – Bo Bieliema may be gone, but Patterson doesn’t on plan on shaking things up too much. That means this game is going to be full of bruising hits, big time plays, and very few points. It will also be the first bit of real action Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby see when they return to the Scarlet and Gray. Look out.

Week 6: Ohio St. @Northwestern, 8:00 P.M, October 5th
 – Depending on how things shake out, this could actually turn out to be a battle of unbeaten conference leaders, in prime time. One, the resident top dog. The other, the passionate upstart. If things go according to my plan, this will be the must watch game all across the country that night.

Week 7: Indiana @Michigan St. 12:00 P.M, October 12th
 – This one should be fun to watch for one reason: Offense vs. Defense. MSU’s defense is going to be one of the stingiest in the country, as always. It’s going to be fun to watch them try and stop IU’s air attack  that averaged over 440 yards of offense/game last season. Now the Hoosiers (definitely not a football nickname) have to decide on a starting quarterback.

Week 8: Indiana @Michigan, 3:30 P.M, October 19th
 – The reason to watch this game is the exact opposite reason you’ll watch OSU-Wisconsin. You’re getting nothing but offense in this one. The over under will be set somewhere close to 80. Take the over.

Week 9: Penn St. @Ohio St., 8:00 P.M, October 26th
 – Bill O’Brien and Urban Meyer came into the Big 10 at the same time, both came into programs in the midst of some trauma, and both had successful first years. Two of the best and newest coaches in the conference go head-to-head in this one. Luckily for Braxton and Co. they get the Nittany Lions at the Shoe.

Week 10: Northwestern @Nebraska, November 2nd
 – Bold prediction #1: This game will allow everyone to realize that Northwestern is your favorite in the Legends division.

Week 11: Nebraska @Michigan, November 9th
 – There’s two reason’s you should watch this game: 1. Devin Gardener 2. Taylor Martinez. If you like watching athletic quarterbacks do their thing, this is the game for you.

Week 12: Purdue @Penn St., November 16th
 – Darrell Hazell played against Penn State twice when he was heading up Golden Flashes football at Kent State. This is his chance at redemption. He’ll have his Boilermakers extra hyped for this one. Also Purdue-Related: Hazzell, a former OSU assistant, takes on the Bucks on November 2nd, at Purdue. That could be one to keep an eye on as well.

Week 13: Michigan @Iowa, November 23rd
 – Bold prediction #2: Michigan falls to the lowly Hawkeyes, overlooking them before…

Week 14: Ohio st. @ Michigan, November 30th
 – Do we really have to explain why to watch this one? I think not.

 

10 Players to Watch
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State, QB, Junior
 – Another year under Urban Meyer’s tutelage, another phenomenal season awaits. Miller’s numbers last year (3,310 total yds, 28 TDs) were impressive, but this year’s expectations state that they need to be stellar. He’s leading what should be one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks, and if the Buckeye’s stumble, it all falls on Miller’s shoulders. Meyer, and the rest of Columbus, is hoping he can carry the load without any problems.

2. Taylor Lewan, Michigan, LT, Senior
 – Robinson may have had the name recognition in Ann Arbor, but it was Lewan who would’ve been a top ten pick in last year’s draft. Instead, he chose to be a Michigan Man for one more year, and Brady Hoke, Devin Gardener, and all of Michigan’s tailbacks are thankful. He’s arguably the best tackle in the country, but there’s no argument that he’s a pleasure to watch.

3. Venric Mark, Northwestern, RB, Senior
 – Somehow, Mark didn’t end up at Oregon. Instead, he’s torching teams in the Big 10 nearly every time he touches the ball (Last season: 6 yds/carry, 2,166 all purpose yards). Mark jumped onto everyone’s radar last season (1,366 yards, 12 TDs), and if he can avoid stumbles like last year’s Penn State game (13 rush, 72 yds in a loss), and perform in big games, Mark may end up as one the best tailbacks in country.

4. Max Bullough, Michigan St., LB, Senior
 – He had 111 tackles last season, including 12.5 for a loss. He’s headlining a defense that allowed just 16 points/game last season. He’s 6’3, 245 lbs, and runs like a gazelle. I’m sorry, did I miss the part where opposing offenses aren’t supposed to be terrified of Bullough? They should be.

5. Chris Borland, Wisconsin, LB, Senior
 – Borland lost a lot of tackles to Mike Taylor last season, and he still ended up with 103 tackles. Wisconsin’s defense may be great this season, but they may not be as stellar as usual. A lot of that will depend on Patterson and new defensive coordinator Dave Arnada; there are a lot of questions in Madison. One thing’s for certain, Borland will rack up quite a lot of tackles this season. Watch this man make hits.

6. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota, DT, Senior
 – Physically dominating, with the numbers to back it. The 6’6, 300-plus pounder commanded double teams all last season and still ended up with six sacks. Expect a couple more take downs in the backfield this season.

7. Bradley Roby, Ohio St., CB, Junior
 – He’s suspended early, otherwise he’d be much higher on this list. Probably the best isolation corner in all of college football, quarterbacks will hardly look Roby’s way this season. But when they do, watch out. He finished 3rd in the nation last year with 17 pass deflections and also had two picks.

8. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska, QB, Senior
 – T-Magic’s career at Nebraska, if anything, has always been productive.  The 4th-year starter will probably break nearly every Nebraska record a quarterback can break this season, as long as he remains healthy. But, all the numbers in the world won’t mean a thing if he can’t lead the Husker’s to a BCS bowl at the very least.

9. Devin Gardner, Michigan, QB, Junior
 – Gardner’s transition from receiver to quarterback in .9 seconds was fun to watch. This season, with an entire offseason behind center under his belt, Gardener may trump both Miller and Martinez as the must watch quarterback in the conference.

10. Jonathon Brown, Illinois, LB, Senior
 – He’s going to be the only player to watch on a mostly-unwatchable team. Brown was putting up solid numbers throughout an injury plagued 2012 (59, tackles, 9.5 tackles/loss, 2.5 sacks) that ended three games short. He also had an even more impressive sophomore season, that included 19.5 tackles/loss. If healthy, watch out for Brown.

Conference Prediction (Regular season, Conference recond)

Legends:

1. Northwestern (10-2, 6-2)

2. Michigan (9-3, 5-3)

3. Michigan State (8-4, 5-3)

4. Nebraska (4-4, 7-5)

5. Minnesota (2-6, 6-6)

6. Iowa (1-7, 4-8)

– I can’t lie, I’m probably a bit too high on these guys, but right now I’m the conductor of the Northwestern bandwagon. There’s very few people on board right now, but I can promise (maybe not promise) you that plenty more will be chugging along with me by season’s end. On offense, they’ll be led by the dynamic duo of Mark and quarterback Kain Colter – who is also in the running for best name in the conference, with Braxton Miller and teammate Ifeadi Odenigbo. They return eight men on that side of the ball, and seven experienced defenders, including defensive end Tyler Scott, whose pass rush (9 sacks last season) will be critical in disrupting the spread-option offense Northwestern will face throughout conference play. The key, though, is coach Pat Fitzgerald. He liked last season’s ten wins, but this year he wants more, and a division title is that next step. Devin Gardener falters one too many times on the road this season, on a few occasions; Taylor Martinez forces a few too many balls, and fumbles, and doesn’t have a defense when he’s not on the field; Michigan State is good, but Michigan State is not great. This is how Northwestern wins the Legends Division.

Leaders:

1. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0)

2. Penn State (10-2, 6-2)

3. Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3)

4. Indiana (7-5, 4-4)

5. Purdue (4-8, 2-6)

6. Illinois (4-8, 1-7)

– The Buckeye’s will have some challenges this season, but a friendly schedule, one of the best head coaches in all of college football, and an immense amount of talent all across the roster put this team in a position to challenge for a national championship. Miller and Roby are just the tip of the iceberg on a roster loaded with talent at every position. The big question is whether or not Miller can improve his play like he did from his freshman to sophomore year. If he makes that kind of leap again, the Buckeye’s will be playing for the Crystal Ball and Braxton will be in New York hoping to take home the Heisman. If he doesn’t – if his development stagnates and he commits a few too many turnovers, we may see Ohio State could slip up once or twice. But, barring any injuries, or more off-field issues, it’s more than likely we will be seeing Miller and the Buckeye’s playing the SEC Champion in the National Title Game in January, wishing the BCS a very happy death.

Conference Champion:
-Ohio State Buckeyes

Final Notes

– This conference is incredibly deep at quarterback and linebacker. Don’t be surprised to see more than a few Big 10 names at both positions at come year-end-award season.

– Ryan Shazier wasn’t even mentioned on our “Players to Watch” list, but he’ll lead the conference in tackles.

– Barring any major surprises, Only 1 team from the Big 10 will likely make a BCS bowl

– Michigan State lucked out. They avoid Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin

– Kirk Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in the conference, he took the job in 1999, but he’s one of the few coaches actually on the proverbial ‘hot seat’ heading into the season.

– This isn’t only the last year for the BCS; the “Leaders” and “Legends” division names both pass into the afterlife as soon as the 2013-14 season wraps up. Sadly the names don’t get that much better, my request to change the divisons to “Autobots” and “Decepticons” never received a response.

– Former Ohio State President Gordon E. Gee will receive a 5.8 million dollar retirement payout over the next 5 years after stepping down as president. That’s about the equivalent of how much Urban Meyer will make this year if the Buckeye’s reach the BCS Championship game.

– Next season Maryland and Rutgers join the conference, ironically pushing the Big 10 to 14 teams.

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Follow Justin on Twitter here: Follow @Rockhold21// Email him at Justin.Rockhold@CBSRadio.com to ask questions for an upcoming College Football Mailbag

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