Another season of Big Ten football is in the books except for bowl season, and there have been a ton of lessons learned each weekend that we have recapped for you throughout the season. However, some lessons need a full season to develop, especially when viewed in light of what these teams looked like heading into the season.
That's one of the many things that make college football so much fun to watch every year. With a new crop of talent coming and going and players only making an impact for two or three seasons, it becomes exceedingly difficult for programs to stay on the top for a number of years.
So while we wait on Christmas and the grim-looking bowl season to arrive, now is a great time to look back and see where the preseason predictions went right, where they went wrong, and why this happened. In doing so, perhaps we all will learn something that will help project where these teams are headed in 2013 and beyond.
Starting with the Leaders Division, each team is taken in order of actual finish.
Actual 12-0, 8-0. Predicted 10-2, 6-2.
What we got right: The offense did progress incredibly despite installing a new system with Urban Meyer. The passing game improved dramatically thanks to Corey Brown and the other receivers stepping up, and Carlos Hyde indeed became the dominant rushing threat to lead the team.
The projected lack of depth at linebacker came true, but Meyer figured out a stopgap by moving fullback Zach Boren over to linebacker. That turned out to be a golden move.
What we got wrong: Ohio State can win tough games on the road, as the games at Michigan State and Wisconsin proved to be major challenges but not too much to handle. Kenny Guiton was better than expected in relief of Braxton Miller when the Buckeyes needed him most.
Drew Basil was not nearly the important factor expected until the Michigan game. The coaching staff got this team to outperform even the best possible scenario with a 12-0 season.
Lesson Learned: Do not ever underestimate the immediate impact a good coaching staff can have, especially with the boatloads of talent left over from the Tressel era.
Actual 8-4, 6-2. Predicted 3-9, 1-7.
What we got right: Not a whole heck of a lot, honestly. The first four games were called accurately with two losses followed by two wins, but then the projection of a 1-7 finish in Big Ten play was completely wrong.
We were correct about Sam Ficken and Alex Butterworth making the special teams a real nightmare for most of the year. Bill O'Brien limited the impact by going for more fourth downs than Joe Paterno tried in the last decade, or so it seemed. The star contributions of Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges also turned out to come true.
What we got wrong: The quarterback position was not up for grabs at all, as Matthew McGloin turned out to be far better than anyone expected with the right tutor in place. This offense ignored the lack of depth and really tore through some Big Ten defenses by the end of the season.
The offensive and defensive lines came together far better than expected considering the lack of depth, but both units did have failures at critical times in the early weeks. This team showed more toughness than expected and revealed how great the hire of Bill O'Brien was.
Lesson Learned: A cornered cat is a dangerous cat indeed. Additionally, a team can win without much depth in this conference, if the cards fall right.
Actual 8-5, 4-4. Predicted 11-1, 7-1.
What we got right: The special teams needed a lot of work, and it showed throughout the season. Missed field goals likely cost Wisconsin at least two of the four Big Ten losses. Wisconsin did end up winning the Leaders Division as predicted, just not quite the same way as expected.
The offense was derailed by the lack of depth and experience on the offensive line, which we saw as a possibility. That caused Montee Ball and James White to get off to the dreaded slow start, which moved Wisconsin out of the national rankings and Ball out of the Heisman race.
What we got wrong: Apparently, Wisconsin cannot just grow new coaches and new lineman and pull them off trees when a reload of talent is necessary. There was strife from the very beginning with the firing of the offensive line coach, and perhaps the writing was on the wall about Bielema's departure (hindsight is 20/20).
Also, it does matter who Wisconsin has in at quarterback because that person has to make some threat or else it is too easy to key off the running game. Joel Stave looks to be the man of the future, but he could not stay healthy and was not a huge threat as a freshman.
Lesson Learned: Experienced linemen are critically important, especially at a place like Wisconsin where the running game is so important.
Actual 6-6, 3-5. Predicted 7-5, 4-4.
What we got right: With the exception of the three game stretch of Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa, the Boilermakers won and lost every game as expected in the preseason. It would have been hard to imagine a five loss conference start, but the final record is indeed about what was expected from this team filled with more talent than Danny Hope had at any other time in his tenure.
The Boilermakers defense was strong up front, although the pressure in the backfield was not optimal during most of Big Ten play. However, this team did a nice job of masking a weakness in the defensive secondary early in the season, almost sweeping the non-conference schedule.
What we got wrong: Caleb TerBush was not the clear starter as expected, and the other two options did not play very well either. Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt did not struggle as much as expected to move the ball with the run.
In fact, at times this season only the running game and short passes to the running backs seemed to work. Purdue did end up having the guns to play with the best teams on their schedule, but those turned out to be Ohio State and Notre Dame instead of Michigan and Wisconsin.
Lesson Learned: Having three quarterbacks is still worse than having one good one, as coaches never know what to do with them properly.
Actual 4-8, 2-6. Predicted 3-9, 0-8.
What we got right: Cameron Coffman may not have won the job outright from Tre Roberson, but he did serve admirably well when he had to come in as a result of Roberson being lost for the season. Coffman was a critical JUCO pickup for Kevin Wilson in his second season of recruiting.
The receivers also clearly improved as a unit and made this offense a true threat that was hard to stop for certain Big Ten defenses. The lapses on defense also continued, as expected.
What we got wrong: It is truly hard to go winless two seasons in a row in league play, as there is always a team that plays a bad game or a team that ends up being worse than projected. Indiana nabbed two conference wins and came close to some big wins over Michigan State and Ohio State.
The season did not fall apart completely without Tre Roberson, as projected. The defensive secondary also did not improve as much as expected. This is a continued weakness that needs to be addressed.
Lesson Learned: While more improvement should have been expected from Indiana, this team will continue to struggle as long as defense is a weakness.
Actual: 2-10, 0-8. Predicted 7-5, 4-4.
What we got right: The special teams was once again a disaster for most of 2012 as Illinois could not get out of its own way. The wide receivers struggled without A.J. Jenkins, as expected.
What we got wrong: Everything about this team improving under a first-year head coach. Nathan Scheelhaase did not become a more accurate passer. The defense did not stay rock solid to keep the team in games.
Basically, the projections for Penn State and Illinois should have been switched. Perhaps when one school thinks it needs to actively recruit on the campus of another, that should have been a sign that the team seeking players is in more dire straits than the one losing players.
Lesson Learned: Never ignore how a team finishes, as the six straight losses to end the 2011 regular season was a harbinger of more problems to come.
Actual: 10-2, 7-1. Predicted 10-2, 6-2.
What we got right: The preview warned that an early-season road game at UCLA could be problematic, and indeed it turned out to be. Swap the predictions for that game and the Michigan State game and the record would have been spot on, as the other ten games were predictable.
Martinez was an unquestioned leader of the Cornhuskers offense and even won first team all-conference honors from the coaches. Rex Burkhead not only received the help that was predicted from Ameer Abdullah, he watched Abdullah carry the team during an injury that held him out for a few weeks in the middle of the season.
What we got wrong: The returning starters on defense did not step up and replace the all-American level talent that had graduated from each level of the defense in 2011. The defensive secondary was not the strength of the defense, as it turns out.
The Cornhuskers also may not manage to break the streak of four loss seasons, as expected. That has yet to be determined. The defense and special teams were not quite as dominant as expected, but still good enough to win ten games.
Lesson Learned: Never bet on a Nebraska defense becoming true Blackshirts just because it is Nebraska. Also, never bet on Bo Pelini in conference championship games.
Actual 8-4, 6-2. Predicted 9-3, 6-2.
What we got right: Denard Robinson is still really good at throwing interceptions at inopportune times, and that really wrecked Michigan against Notre Dame. Although projecting five interceptions on five straight pass attempts would have been impossible, the weakness was confirmed.
The linebackers also became the strength of the defense and held this unit together when good offenses threw tough schemes at the Wolverines. Jake Ryan, in particular, stepped up big for his second season. Brady Hoke has some real talent coming into Ann Arbor for the future.
What we got wrong: The running game was not "strong as ever." On the contrary, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith might as well have been invincible when Denard Robinson was around. This was a huge weakness that stopped the Wolverines from beating the elite teams on their schedule.
The schedule played out nearly as expected, but Notre Dame turned out to be far better than expected. Michigan has a long way to go before it is considered a nationally elite program again, but the foundation is being laid as best can be seen from outside.
Lesson Learned: Schedule is everything, as a step back was predictable in view of the tough road games after a soft schedule. That bodes well for next year.
Actual 9-3, 5-3. Predicted 6-6, 3-5.
What we got right: Trevor Siemian did indeed get a look at quarterback, and more than just a look considering he started multiple games this season. Kain Colter was still a huge difference maker, whether he was taking the snaps or playing more of a running back type role for the Wildcats.
The youth infusion on the defense also caused some improvements after a highly disappointing group of seniors departed after 2011. The defense failed to make some big plays that could have won one or two more games, which fits exactly with the struggles for the Wildcats in the past against better teams.
What we got wrong: Transfer WR Kyle Prater was not a big deal for the offense, as he racked up a whopping eight receptions all season long. Kain Colter did not keep the starting quarterback job, but he did take the snaps at more important junctions than Siemian throughout the season.
The outcome for the Wildcats was much better than expected. Boston College was way worse than projected at the beginning of the season, and Northwestern played much tougher than expected on the road in wins over Minnesota and Michigan State, as well as a near win over Michigan.
Lesson Learned: Pat Fitzgerald is one of the better coaches in this conference and looks to be poised to stay there, even if Northwestern will only rarely play for the conference championship game.
Actual 6-6, 3-5. Predicted 10-2, 6-2.
What we got right: The Spartans did take a step back in the passing game, although probably a bit larger than expected. Andrew Maxwell did indeed get on the same page with his receivers, but it really did not happen until the season had a few losses already.
William Gholston was a force again on the defensive line, but he did not get much help. The Spartans were nasty on defense, especially when the unit produced turnovers such as in the game against Wisconsin.
What we got wrong: In this division, the two projections that should have been switched were Michigan State and Northwestern. The Spartans did not open holes for Le'Veon Bell as expected with the offensive line being dominated against better defensive fronts. That led to a few of the losses for the Spartans.
The Spartans looked to have the best linebackers in the conference, but that did not quite pan out as the season wore on. Instead, the linebackers just held the line instead of dominating as expected. Still, Michigan State was a tough out thanks to the strength of that defense.
Lesson Learned: This is still "Sparty," and losing a quarterback like Kirk Cousins is never something to be ignored, even with a good defense and rushing game.
Actual 4-8, 2-6. Predicted 8-4, 4-4.
What we got right: Mike Meyer again was a solid weapon for Kirk Ferentz in special teams, hitting all of his extra point attempts and 17/21 field goals. Micah Hyde was the lock down cornerback expected at the beginning of the season, even though he did not get much help at times. The defense was solid as expected.
The running game was as much of a mess as projected, but those struggles were obvious thanks to the pre-season injuries and problems for most of the options at running back. James Vandenberg could not carry the offense by himself, although his struggles were worse than expected.
What we got wrong: James Vandenberg could not take the next step to be great when his team needed him to be.
Mark Weisman was not even on the radar of choices for primary running back, but he got the job done. Perhaps the "Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God" lost track of him because he was a fullback. Between the bad luck at running back and the struggles along the offensive line will go away next season, as those things are the primary road blocks to success in Iowa City.
Lesson Learned: This team had a bad feeling about them with the running back curse and the Rhabdo outbreak, and sometimes you have to trust your gut rather than believe what a team looks like on paper.
Actual 6-6, 2-6. Predicted 4-8, 1-7.
What we got right: An improvement on defense was easy to predict considering the mighty struggles to stop anyone in 2011, and Jerry Kill got his defense right in 2012. Even though the offense struggled to break 14 points on multiple occasions, the defense was strong enough to keep the Golden Gophers in games.
MarQueis Gray could not stay healthy, and so Max Shortell did see some playing time. But he could not stay completely healthy or hold onto the job either, so Philip Nelson got to show what he could do as a freshman. If Kill keeps playing freshman quarterbacks eventually he will have some outstanding upperclassmen to lead this offense.
What we got wrong: The offense did not need the running game to get going to achieve respectable results. However, this offense did struggle to break 14 points, which was in large part due to an ineffective offense (rushing and passing).
Minnesota should have been given more credit on the home field, especially in non-conference play where they swept the slate. The Gophers did knock off the truly bad Big Ten teams, but those teams turned out to be Illinois and Purdue instead of Northwestern.
Lesson Learned: Never ignore a weak non-conference schedule, as that can get a team on a roll and make big injury problems and offensive struggles irrelevant later.
This was a pretty average year for the predictions, as about half the teams lived up to expectations or down to expectations, and the other half did things completely unexpected. The state of Illinois was a quagmire for this particular prognosticator, but we will remember this next season. Do not underestimate the purple power.
Thankfully, even the expert bloggers over at ESPN had some serious mistakes with teams like Michigan State and Illinois. Sometimes the signs just send everyone the wrong direction. However, we can learn from these lessons and be surprised be completely different things next season.
Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or questions, please comment below or contact David on Twitter.
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