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Rating Every Big Ten Team as a Contender or Pretender in 2013

Randy ChambersAnalyst IJanuary 23, 2013

Rating Every Big Ten Team as a Contender or Pretender in 2013

1 of 13

    Every team in the Big Ten is looking to rebound after a subpar performance took place in 2012. Out of 12 teams, five had a losing record last year and two of the better clubs in the conference weren't even eligible to participate in a bowl game. Everybody is hoping for an improved effort for all teams involved next season.

    Ohio State is now eligible to compete for a conference title, and with every team returning double-digit starters from a year ago, the overall competition should be much better than it was last season. However, even with the future looking bright for a few teams on the rise, there aren't many that stand out as true contenders heading into the new year.

    As we approach spring ball and continue to dive into a long offseason, here are the early 2013 pretenders and contenders for each team in the Big Ten.


2 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 2-10


    How 2013 Is Looking

    Illinois only won two games all of last season, and it nearly cost head coach Tim Beckman his job in his first year. The team couldn't stop anybody on defense and had an offense that was ranked 122nd in college football. It was ugly on both sides, and there is really no sign of things turning around.

    The good thing is that there will be no quarterback controversy with Nathan Scheelhaase returning, but the defense lost a lot of key players and that offense doesn't have enough playmakers to drastically improve.

    Maybe a conference win or two this season, but becoming a contender to win the Big Ten is not going to take place.

    Verdict: Pretender


3 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 4-8


    How 2013 Is Looking

    Indiana should be even better on offense with three experienced quarterbacks on the roster, including getting Tre Roberson back from injury. The running game should also get a boost with Stephen Houston coming back after he averaged close to five yards a carry a season ago.

    The defense remains a serious issue, as it took a hit with players graduating and was ranked 104th in points allowed.

    However, with eight home games on the schedule and the life Kevin Wilson has put back into the program, a trip to the bowl season for the first time since 2007 isn't out of the question. Still, I'm not sure if that will be good enough to become a contender this year in the Big Ten.

    Verdict: Pretender


4 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 4-8


    How 2013 Is Looking

    The Iowa offense last season made you want to jab a sharp object in your eye. Ranked in the 100s in both passing and running the football, the Hawkeyes couldn't get anything done, and it looks to be much of the same next season.

    This team doesn't have a quarterback on the roster that has any experience, and there are no proven playmakers at wide receiver. The defense should remain a solid bunch with one of the best front sevens in the conference, but issues in the secondary will catch up at some point.

    Iowa fell short of reaching a bowl game last season for the first time in four years. It wouldn't be surprising if the struggles continue next year due to an offense that has more questions than answers.

    Verdict: Pretender


5 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 8-5


    How 2013 Is Looking

    Michigan may finally have a balanced offense with quarterback Devin Gardner taking over. He played a handful of games down the stretch and looks to be able to make plays with his arm, something Denard Robinson couldn't do consistently.

    The offensive line needs to replace the majority of the starters, but with receiver Jeremy Gallon and Fitzgerald Toussaint on board, more points should be scored. Michigan had the second-best pass defense in the Big Ten and returns an all-conference linebacker in Jake Ryan. A total of six starters on that side of the ball have returned.

    The Wolverines get Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State in Ann Arbor this season. It should be an improved year in head coach Brady Hoke's third season.

    Verdict: Contender

Michigan State

6 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 7-6


    How 2013 Is Looking

    The offense remains an uncomfortable question mark. With workhorse running back Le'Veon Bell no longer to carry the load, the Spartans don't yet have an answer on this side of the ball.

    Quarterback Andrew Maxwell must improve his play in his second year as a starter, or things will get ugly. Good news for Spartans fans is that seven starters return from one of the best defenses in the country, including linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard. This is easily going to be a Top 25 defense next year, keeping this team in games every week.

    Michigan State also gets a favorable schedule this year, with the only tough road games taking place at Notre Dame and Nebraska. As long as the offense can make progress from a year ago, the Spartans are a contender.

    Verdict: Contender


7 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 6-7


    How 2013 Is Looking

    Minnesota qualified for a bowl game in only the second season under head coach Jerry Kill. It was the first bowl appearance since the 2009 season for the Golden Gophers. The team also has enough talent to return to the postseason next year.

    Most of the offensive line returns for Minnesota, and it appears the offense has found its quarterback in Philip Nelson. He played better than expected down the stretch as a freshman and made enough plays in the bowl game against Texas Tech to give the Red Raiders a scare. The defense is an athletic bunch and should be able to improve with senior defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman leading the way.

    Improvement is being made, but it is still going to take time before Minnesota is a threat to the big boys.

    Verdict: Pretender


8 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 10-4


    How 2013 Is Looking

    If Nebraska is going to become a contender once again in this conference, the defense must decide to show up. The defensive front returns only two starters, but that may be a good thing for a unit that couldn't stop opposing teams from running the ball down its throat.

    What is going to make this Nebraska team go is the offense. Quarterback Taylor Martinez returns for his final season, and he has an arsenal of weapons in running back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Kenny Bell. The Cornhuskers should once again have the best offense in the Big Ten.

    With a team that can score points as quickly as Nebraska can, another Legends Division isn't out of reach in 2013. However, improved defensive play and a lack of turnovers on offense will put this squad over the top.

    Verdict: Contender


9 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 10-3


    How 2013 Is Looking

    Northwestern managed to win 10 games with a young team that nobody expected much from. Now that 15 of those starters are returning, you have to go ahead and throw the Wildcats up there with some of the elite teams in the conference.

    An offense that was averaging 31 points per game returns eight starters, including two reliable quarterbacks in Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Colter may in fact be the most versatile player in the country, and he is somebody who can score anytime he touches the football.

    Defensively, seven starters return from an underrated group that managed to hold its own throughout the year. With guys such as defensive tackle Tyler Scott and safety Ibraheim Campbell, this is a defense that could take that next step and sneak into the Top 25.

    Northwestern won 10 games last year and could have easily walked away with the division crown. With so many players returning, now is not the time to sleep on this program.

    Verdict: Contender

Ohio State

10 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 12-0


    How 2013 Is Looking

    If Urban Meyer was able to lead Ohio State to a perfect record in his first year on campus, you can only imagine what he could manage to pull off with an entire offseason to work with his guys.

    Quarterback Braxton Miller is going to be a stud in his third year and should be considered the favorite at the quarterback position to win the Heisman. He should have more playmakers around him than a year ago, and the Buckeyes will score a boatload of points.

    Defensively is where there are issues with only three starters coming back. However, Meyer did a wonderful job of recruiting on that side of the ball, and fresh names such as Noah Spence, Joshua Perry and Adolphus Washington should soon begin to ring bells in Columbus.

    Ohio State is not only considered the favorite in the Big Ten, but this team should give everybody a run for its money for the BCS title. Let's not forget that Jim Tressel was able to win a national championship in his second year.

    Verdict: Contender 

Penn State

11 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 8-4


    How 2013 Is Looking

    Penn State was able to shock the college football world with eight victories last season. Majority of that success was because of the inspiration head coach Bill O'Brien provided and a loaded senior class on the defensive side of the ball. But with those guys no longer around to provide energy to the team, this is where the NCAA sanctions begin to kick in, and the Nittany Lions season begins to suffer because of it.  

    The depth just is not there on defense, and there is no answer at the quarterback position. There is a nice slate of home games on the schedule, but on paper the talent is just not there to compete with the true contenders in the Big Ten. Even if this program continues to shock us all and has another magical run, a bowl ban will prevent the Nittany Lions from actually competing for a conference title.

    Verdict: Pretender


12 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 6-7


    How 2013 Is Looking

    After Purdue went 3-5 in conference play, Danny Hope was let go and Darrell Hazell is the new guy in charge of everything. Boilermakers fans are hoping that he will be able to turn around this program the same way he brought success to Kent State.

    The possibilities are there, but it won't be in the first season. Purdue is searching for a new starting quarterback and running back. The good news is that eight of the starters return on defense, but the best defensive player in defensive tackle Kawann Short has left for the NFL.

    When you combine the youth of this team, a new head coach and a schedule that includes Notre Dame and many tough road trips, patience is what every Boilermaker fan should get familiar with.

    Verdict: Pretender


13 of 13

    Last Year’s Record: 8-6


    How 2013 Is Looking

    When you become a new head coach of a program, you can only dream to walk into the situation that Gary Andersen has walked into. Filling the shoes of former head coach Bret Bielema won't be easy, but he has enough talent on the roster to make a good impression in his first year on the job.

    Right off the bat, Wisconsin has seven starters returning on defense, including all four defensive linemen and two of the three linebackers. Offensively he will have a young quarterback prospect in Joel Stave, a playmaker at running back and three of the five offensive linemen.

    While most new coaches have their work cut out for them immediately, Anderson will have 15 returning starters from a team that just won the Big Ten.

    To make the deal even sweeter, the only two true road tests all season long come from Arizona State and Ohio State. It should be another great season for the Badgers.

    Verdict: Contender

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