Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create this Big Ten Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 17th. What you see in the Big Ten Predictions table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.
|Big Ten Predictions|
For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
Ben Worgull of BadgerNation.com is our Wisconsin Badgers insider:
With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible from postseason play this season, there will be no excuse if Wisconsin doesn't get back to the Big Ten Championship game. Even if both schools were eligible, however, the Badgers still might be the favorite. The offensive attack looks strong with senior tailback and Heisman Finalist Montee Ball looking to improve on a junior season that saw him lead the nation in rushing yards and touchdowns. Wisconsin's defense is much-approved from a season ago, as All-American candidates Chris Borland and Mike Taylor at linebacker lead a defense that returns nine players with starting experience from a year ago.
For more from Ben Worgull and the Badgers, check out BadgerNation.com.
|2012 Wisconsin Badgers|
|1||Northern Iowa Panthers||95||56-7|
|2||@Oregon State Beavers||77||32-21|
|3||Utah State Aggies||84||34-20|
|6||Illinois Fighting Illini||73||28-21|
|8||Minnesota Golden Gophers||80||31-19|
|9||Michigan State Spartans||59||27-23|
|12||Ohio State Buckeyes||60||28-24|
|13||@Penn State Nittany Lions||76||28-17|
It all starts with quarterback Braxton Miller, who has all the skills and all the tools to be Meyer’s next great spread quarterback. The rest of the skill spots are shockingly average, but that could quickly change with almost all the key parts certain to be back in the mix for at least 2013 – there’s time to get better. The O line that struggled so much in pass protection and with its consistency will likely start four juniors to go along with a freshman tackle in Taylor Decker, who’s destined to be a big part of the fun, while the special teams should be among the best in the Big Ten.
The defense should take the biggest jump up in production with a loaded secondary full of young talent and a line with two All-America killers in tackle Johnathan Hankins and end John Simon to work around. The linebacking corps might need to get better, but sophomores Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant are nice pieces of the puzzle.
And then there’s Urban Meyer, whose reputation wasn’t exactly tarnished during the post-Tebow era at Florida, but it wasn’t exactly a smooth exit. The messy way that things ended in Gainesville will be quickly forgotten if he does what he’s supposed to do and wins national titles – plural – and makes Ohio State into Ohio State again.
Game on, college football.
- Pete Fiutak, College Football News
|2012 Ohio State Buckeyes|
|1||Miami (OH) RedHawks||82||31-17|
|3||California Golden Bears||62||26-22|
|5||@Michigan State Spartans||49||23-23|
|9||@Penn State Nittany Lions||84||27-16|
|10||Illinois Fighting Illini||66||25-18|
There’s an opening. It’s a small one and it’s closing very, very quickly, but it’s there.
Illinois doesn’t have to win an 11-team conference to get to the Rose Bowl; it only has to win in a five-team race this season to get to the Big Ten title game and the team is in place to do it.
Ohio State is ineligible to play in the championship and Indiana stinks. Penn State is still a hot mess and Purdue, while fine, is still Purdue. If Illinois has any thoughts about being good enough to win the Big Ten title, it has to be good enough to beat the Hoosiers, Nittany Lions and Boilermakers. That leaves Wisconsin to get by, but Bucky isn’t going to be the juggernaut it’s been over the last few seasons. Basically, Illinois has a puncher’s chance.
New head coach Tim Beckman isn’t exactly walking into a heater, but he gets to start out with Nathan Scheelhaase going into his third year as the starting quarterback. He gets a fast group of skill players with the raw wheels and athleticism to hit home runs behind a nice-looking line.
He gets a defensive front four that should be among the best in the Big Ten even with Whitney Mercilus leaving early for the NFL. He gets a phenomenal group of ultra-athletic linebackers led by Jonathan Brown and potential breakout star Houston Bates. He also gets the three starting defensive backs from the best pass defense in the Big Ten last year.
Beckman has work to do on the special teams and he has to beef up the depth and hope that several key prospects can suddenly become major playmakers, but with the right breaks this could be a good enough team to win the Leaders.
And it needs to do it immediately before Ohio State wakes up and Penn State and Wisconsin have fully reloaded.
- Pete Fiutak, College Football News
|2012 Illinois Fighting Illini|
|1||Western Michigan Broncos||69||28-22|
|2||@Arizona State Sun Devils||45||22-23|
|3||Charleston Southern Buccaneers||95||45-8|
|4||Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||73||27-18|
|5||Penn State Nittany Lions||64||22-17|
|10||@Ohio State Buckeyes||33||18-25|
|11||Minnesota Golden Gophers||67||24-18|
Other than at quarterback, depth is a problem across the board, but the starters are good enough to battle and hold up well with the potential to start beating some of the better teams.
The Boilermakers boast a pair of NFL defensive tackles in Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston to work around, and while it’s a bit premature to start calling sophomore end Ryan Russell another Ryan Kerrigan, he might not be too far off. The corner tandem of Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson are phenomenal open field tacklers, and Dwayne Beckford and Will Lucas are strong, active linebackers who should be able to come up with plenty of big plays.
There’s speed to burn in a receiving corps full of great athletes and experienced playmakers, and the line should be a rock with, effectively, four returning starters and a veteran JUCO transfer filling in the fifth spot.
The running backs are quick, the quarterback play should be strong with three good starting options, and the special teams boasts the nation’s best kickoff returner in Raheem Mostert.
And now it’s time to take advantage of the quickly-shutting window with Urban Meyer reloading at Ohio State and Wisconsin not going anywhere. This Purdue team might be able to do it.
- Pete Fiutak, College Football News
|2012 Purdue Boilermakers|
|1||Eastern Kentucky Colonels||95||48-8|
|2||@Notre Dame Fighting Irish||47||23-25|
|3||Eastern Michigan Eagles||75||29-18|
|5||Marshall Thundering Herd||68||27-22|
|8||@Ohio State Buckeyes||25||19-27|
|9||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||65||26-20|
|10||Penn State Nittany Lions||65||25-19|
|12||@Illinois Fighting Illini||53||21-20|
Mark Brennan of FightOnState.com is our Penn State Nittany Lions insider:
It is same old, same old at Penn State. Ho-hum.
Well, that's unless you count one of the worst scandals in sports history, the firing (and later, the passing) of a Hall of Fame coach, the hiring of a new coach, the absorbing of harsh NCAA sanctions, the transfers of some key players and a radical change to college football's most classic uniforms.
Surprisingly, despite enduring a bizarre off-season, the Nittany Lions should at least be competitive in the Big Ten. If they catch a few breaks and avoid serious injuries, they'll have a chance to make a little noise.
Led by defensive tackle Jordan Hill, and linebackers Gerald Hodges and Mike Mauti, new coach Bill O'Brien will field one of the best front sevens in the conference. Experience and depth are lacking in the secondary, so the men up front better get it done.
More significant changes occur on offense, where O'Brien is implementing the pro system he used as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. Even with the transfers of tailback Silas Redd and receiver Justin Brown, the Lions should be fine at most skill spots. Tight ends Garry Gilliam and Kyle Carter will restore that position to prominence.
The biggest question is at quarterback, where veteran Matt McGloin looks to show more consistency in O'Brien's read-and-react offense than he did in Joe Paterno's predictable attack.
All eyes are on the offensive line, too. Four starters are gone. But the men replacing them have reportedly benefited greatly from strength coach Craig Fitzgerald's Olympic-style program.
The good news is fans will have no trouble identifying the new faces on the field, many of whom will be counted on to provide depth. The Lions will have names on their jerseys for the first time in school history this year.
For more from Mark Brennan and the Nittany Lions, check out FightOnState.com.
|2012 Penn State Nittany Lions|
|5||@Illinois Fighting Illini||34||17-22|
|9||Ohio State Buckeyes||16||16-27|
Coach Kevin Wilson has preached that the team needs to get more talented, faster, and more than anything else, tougher on both sides of the line. It’s not exactly easy to get the top prospects interested in the Hoosiers, so Wilson has to have a niche. He and his staff have to come up with one thing the program can do well at a high level to form an identity, but the team couldn’t find anything that worked last year.
Starting out with a stunning loss to Ball State and hurt more by an embarrassing gaffe against North Texas, the Hoosiers didn’t beat an FBS team with the lone victory coming in a fight over South Carolina State.
With the writing on the wall early on, IU went with a major youth movement with true freshmen and several other underclassmen thrown to the wolves in key spots. The production might not have been there and the team might not have gotten better as the season went on, but there were signs that the team could be far more competitive in the near future.
Tre Roberson is a fun and exciting quarterback coming off a promising true freshman season, while Stephen Houston came in from the JUCO ranks to carry a running game that was supposed to be deep, but wasn’t.
The lines are going to be more experienced, the secondary is full of veterans, and the coaching staff went to the JUCO ranks to instantly improve the linebacking corps.
But Indiana still has miles to go before the talent and the playmakers are going to be in place to do the things Wilson would like. Changes aren’t going to come overnight, but considering the problems over the last 100 years, another season or three won’t seem like much.
- Pete Fiutak, College Football News
|2012 Indiana Hoosiers|
|1||Indiana State Sycamores||95||42-9|
|3||Ball State Cardinals||60||26-23|
|6||Michigan State Spartans||15||15-30|
|7||Ohio State Buckeyes||13||16-31|
|9||@Illinois Fighting Illini||35||19-25|
|12||@Penn State Nittany Lions||43||20-22|
Tom Beaver of GoBlueWolverine.com is our Michigan Wolverines insider:
Michigan went 11-2 in Brady Hoke's first season in 2011, finishing on a high with wins over Ohio State and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
For 2012 the Wolverines return 7 starters on offense, including Heisman candidate QB Denard Robinson, and 8 on defense.
On offense U-M said good-bye to Rimington Trophy winner OC Dave Molk, OT Mark Huyge, TE Kevin Koger and WR Junior Hemingway. The losses, though few, are key -- particularly Koger and Hemingway. At receiver Michigan may well use reserve QB Devin Gardner to help fill the void. Offensive strengths are Denard, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (1000 yard rusher in '11, he begins the '12 season on suspension), and AA OT candidate Taylor Lewan. Key position to watch: receiver -- can senior Roy Roundtree fill the void left by Junior Hemingway, or will Gardner have to make the big plays at WR after not having played the position since his sophomore year in high school.
On defense the Wolverines lost just three players, but those three comprised its defensive line: 3rd round draft pick Mike Martin plus Ryan VanBergen and Will Heininger. To try to fill the void, U-M has bulked up last year's top two Rush Ends into down linemen, Craig Roh and Jibreel Black. And U-M needs former 5-star NT recruit Will Campbell to finally play to his potential in his senior season. The back seven of the defense is solid, led by senior veteran S Jordan Kovacs and young rising stars OLB Jake Ryan and CB Blake Countess.
Michigan enters the season as the Big Ten favorite, but its biggest opponent may be its schedule, featuring an opener versus Alabama plus road games at Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State, and a home tilt versus Michigan State.
For more from Tom Beaver and the Wolverines, check out GoBlueWolverine.com.
|2012 Michigan Wolverines|
|1||Alabama Crimson Tide||36||22-27|
|2||Air Force Falcons||93||33-16|
|4||@Notre Dame Fighting Irish||53||26-23|
|7||Illinois Fighting Illini||66||25-19|
|8||Michigan State Spartans||55||23-22|
|10||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||82||30-17|
|13||@Ohio State Buckeyes||55||26-23|
Dave Berk of SpartanDigest.com is our Michigan State Spartans insider:
Kirk Cousins became the face of the Big Ten Conference and the Michigan State Spartans during his record-setting career. Cousins, along with wide receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol, and Keshawn Martin are all gone, leaving Mark Dantonio looking for answers on offense.
While most head coaches might be losing sleep with so many losses, Dantonio knows he's built great depth in his program since arriving in East Lansing prior to the 2007 season and will look for redshirt junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell to pick up where Cousins left off.
Maxwell lacks the reps you would like to see from a starting quarterback, but understands the offense and may have a stronger arm than Cousins. While the Spartans will still need to throw the ball around, look for junior running back Le'Veon Bell to improve upon his 948 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns from a year ago. Bell, who didn't start until midway through the season, is a workhorse back at 6-foot-2, 240-pounds and will run behind a veteran offensive line that includes senior Chris McDonald who enters the season with 26 starts at right guard.
When Maxwell does throw, he'll have a big target in 6-foot-5, 285-pound tight end Dion Sims, along with several young receivers, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who was ruled eligible to play this fall after the NCAA granted his request for a residence waiver. Arnett played in 12 games as a true freshman, pulling down 24 balls for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
Why is Dantonio so relaxed going into the season despite the losses on offense?
Defense highlights the 2012 Spartans as defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi welcome backs the core of last season’s highly ranked unit. Despite the loss of second round draft pick Jerel Worthy, Narduzzi has the majority of his defense intact with linebackers Max Bullough (89 tackles - 3.5 sacks), Denicos Allen (83 tackles - 11 sacks) and Chris Norman (76 tackles - 2 sacks) to go with defensive ends William Gholston (70 tackles - 5 sacks) and Marcus Rush (58 tackles - 4 sacks). The secondary is manned by one of the best in the conference in senior Johnny Adams (51 tackles - 3 sacks - 3 interceptions) along with some of the best young players in the conference.
While some may feel the Spartans loss too much to post a third 11-win season with a schedule that includes games against Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska, don't be surprised if Dantonio has his team poised for a return trip to Indianapolis for a second conference title game and the program’s first BCS berth on the line.
For more from Dave Berk and the Spartans, check out SpartanDigest.com.
|2012 Michigan State Spartans|
|1||Boise State Broncos||54||26-24|
|2||@Central Michigan Chippewas||92||32-15|
|3||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||63||25-21|
|4||Eastern Michigan Eagles||84||30-16|
|5||Ohio State Buckeyes||51||23-23|
|13||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||79||28-17|
Josh Harvey of BigRedReport.com is our Nebraska Cornhuskers insider:
From new kids on the block to the forgotten ranked team in the conference. Not many experts are giving Nebraska a shot to win the Big Ten in 2012, but this year's squad might be set up better than last year's team to make a run. The offense only loses three starters and features first-team All-Big Ten running back Rex Burkhead. If third-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez's highly talked about offseason work pays off, the Huskers should not have any problems finding the end zone. The defense does lose three NFL draft picks from a year ago, but the general consensus is they are deeper in 2012. With a new defensive coordinator, secondary coach, and d-line coach, Nebraska will look to be more aggressive this year on defense, something that helped the Huskers reach back-to-back Big 12 title games in 2009 and 2010.
For more from Josh Harvey and the Cornhuskers, check out BigRedReport.com.
|2012 Nebraska Cornhuskers|
|1||Southern Miss Golden Eagles||75||29-20|
|3||Arkansas State Red Wolves||78||32-23|
|4||Idaho State Bengals||95||53-8|
|6||@Ohio State Buckeyes||42||24-26|
|10||@Michigan State Spartans||48||22-23|
|11||Penn State Nittany Lions||68||26-20|
|12||Minnesota Golden Gophers||78||29-19|
Few programs do a better job of getting players who fit the system, beef them up, and make players out of them, but it doesn’t always work. Last year the offensive line had a Riley Reiff and plenty of talent across the board and was mediocre. The defensive line was full of veterans and got pushed around too often. There wasn’t any consistency and there were too many mistakes, but last year’s team was full of veterans while this year’s squad has lots of issues and plenty of work to do across the board.
It’s Iowa so the lines will turn out to be fine, but the defensive front is all but starting from scratch and the offensive front has to hope for some good young players to quickly emerge as stars for the offense to work.
The constant issues at running back will continue after the early departure/booting of Marcus Coker, and while there’s talent, once again Iowa has to hope for someone to emerge from relative obscurity to become a star for the ground game. Considering the O line will be a work in progress, the running attack can’t be counted on after finishing dead last in the Big Ten, and that means QB James Vandenberg will have to do even more despite losing No. 1 target Marvin McNutt.
The linebacking corps will be great, the secondary will be fine, the schedule is manageable, and the coaching staff continues to be good enough to ensure another winning season and a good bowl bid, but is that enough? Would 8-4 and a solid post-season appearance be enough to generate hope for a possible Big Ten title run in 2013?
Yes, being very good is nice, but Michigan State has been stronger over the past few seasons, Wisconsin has been special, Ohio State has been elite, and Michigan is about to get national title-good again soon. Iowa has to show this year that it’s about to raise its game again soon or else it might have to accept life in the middle of the pack.
- Pete Fiutak, College Football News
|2012 Iowa Hawkeyes|
|1||@Northern Illinois Huskies||63||26-21|
|2||Iowa State Cyclones||51||24-23|
|3||Northern Iowa Panthers||95||49-8|
|4||Central Michigan Chippewas||80||29-19|
|5||Minnesota Golden Gophers||64||26-20|
|7||@Michigan State Spartans||35||21-25|
|8||Penn State Nittany Lions||64||23-18|
The 2011 Wildcats showed the heart to come back from a 2-5 start to get to a bowl game, but there was no pass rush, the disappointing offensive line got its clock cleaned on a regular basis, and when push came to shove, the team was shoved.
That’s going to change, but it’s going to take a while in what should be a step-back 2012 before potentially taking a giant leap forward in 2013.
This is a really, really young defense with plenty of good athletes and loads of upside. The line is far quicker and more athletic than the one that generated a mere 17 sacks, while the back seven has gotten faster over the last few recruiting classes. The idea is for the D to become more disruptive and far more productive, and while there might be problems against the more powerful teams, the improvement should come week after week.
The offense has to undergo massive changes on the line and in the receiving corps, but there are plenty of speedy targets to get excited about for the passing game and the line might be the tallest in college football, for what that’s worth. Several underclassmen will play key roles for both units, while most of the top rushing prospects still have a few years left to grow. Quarterback Kain Colter is only a junior with all the top backups young enough to develop for the near future, and more so than in past seasons, there are options to play around with if something happens to Colter.
In many ways Northwestern is maturing as a program under Pat Fitzgerald while at the same time getting a whole lot younger. No, being a perennial powerhouse probably isn’t going to happen under Fitzgerald’s watch, but winning records on a regular basis and being in the hunt for the Legends is an attainable goal. Fitzgerald and his staff are building things up again, and if nothing else, it’s going to be an exciting team to watch over the next few years.
- Pete Fiutak, College Football News
|2012 Northwestern Wildcats|
|3||Boston College Eagles||65||27-22|
|4||South Dakota Coyotes||95||47-9|
|6||@Penn State Nittany Lions||70||25-19|
|7||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||63||26-21|
|12||@Michigan State Spartans||29||21-27|
|13||Illinois Fighting Illini||46||23-23|
Very young, Minnesota is still building and still trying to find its place in the Big Ten world without the top talent to have any real shot at winning a title – at least at the moment. Jerry Kill is a terrific head coach who has succeeded at his other stops and might be the type of coach who could beat most coaches if the talent level was equal. And now the goal going forward will be for Kill and his staff to start putting the puzzle together.
Minnesota will never get the four-and-five star prospects like Ohio State and Michigan will bring in, and the overall team speed will never match the giants, but it’s not like Wisconsin is blowing the recruiting rankings off the charts and Iowa has been able to recruit to a type and succeed. Kill is great at putting together lines, and as long as his offensive front is solid – he’s creating a good young group – then he should be able to do what he wants. Now he and his staff have to find a few top-shelf offensive skill players to get excited about, and he has to focus on finding a group of killer linebackers to build around.
Going into this year, the Gophers should take another step forward with no seniors on a promising offensive line and with an improving defense that appears to have a good enough starting 11 to win with. If MarQueis Gray can end his career by living up to his promise and potential at quarterback, and if Kill’s magic at creating powerhouse running games can start to kick in, all of a sudden Minnesota could be an interesting team to watch out for in a down year for the Big Ten.
- Pete Fiutak, College Football News
|2012 Minnesota Golden Gophers|
|2||New Hampshire Wildcats||95||42-6|
|3||Western Michigan Broncos||46||25-26|
|11||@Illinois Fighting Illini||33||18-24|
|13||Michigan State Spartans||21||17-28|