The Big Ten is full of positives heading into the offseason. The conference will see Ohio State make a second run at an undefeated season, and Michigan is back on the rise. Nebraska has a senior quarterback and rising star in the backfield.
Despite the obvious strengths, some major weaknesses have to be confronted by each team before the new year.
This conference took a dive in 2012 and to get back on top it has to focus on eliminating the extreme negatives that swirl around these teams. Each squad will face adversity in the coming year, but some will face tougher roads than others.
If these teams can overcome these issues next season, the Big Ten will be back among college football’s elite.
Northwestern finished the year as the No. 21 rushing defense in the country. They held some strong ground games to limited production, but the Wildcats will lose key contributors upfront heading into 2013.
Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams have been major players along the defensive line for the Wildcats, and their departure will not be easily mended.
This will be a focus for the Northwestern coaching staff heading into spring and summer workouts. They see the gap, and mending the front will be a primary goal. This Wildcats team needs its defense to be as strong as ever heading into the new year as they search for a Big Ten title.
The Michigan Wolverines had major struggles from quarterback last season. Despite high expectations for Denard Robinson, the Michigan offense struggled to find any consistency.
When Robinson fell to an injury late in the year Devin Gardner stepped in and played admirably, but there is still a lot of unanswered questions for the position heading into the new year.
There will likely be an open competition heading into the new year with Gardner, Russell Bellomy and incoming freshman Shane Morris.
This may not be a concern by Week 1, but right now it is a major issue.
Michigan State lost its leading rusher to the NFL draft after this season and will look to replace him with a lot of unproven talent.
The Spartans are bringing in two running backs with the 2013 class, and they have two rising juniors in Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford already on campus.
This will be an interesting transition point for the Spartans offense. Andrew Maxwell didn’t prove much last season, so he needs to pick up his game exponentially. Without a power running attack this team will struggle whether or not Maxwell can improve.
If Michigan State wants to challenge for this conference, it has to find a steady, every-down type back.
Ohio State faces the biggest expectations in the country leading into the new year. The Buckeyes faithful thought this team was a national title squad last year, and believe that this is the year they return to the title game.
The Buckeyes are very talented and did run the table last season, but this year will bring new challenges and struggles. Meeting expectations will be difficult.
This team must stay grounded from day one, or this could be a flop of a season in 2013. Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches in the game, so he should be able to ensure that the team keeps an even keel heading into the new year.
What in the world has happened to the Big Ten’s second most expensive coach?
Kirk Ferentz has guided a downward spiral at Iowa over the past few years, and there is no end in sight. This team was absolutely dreadful a year ago, and it became very apparent that the program was spinning out of control.
Ferentz has to earn his keep this fall, or he may pushed out of town early. The Hawkeyes can’t afford another losing season.
This school is paying for mediocrity.
Bo Pelini was supposed to bring a winning tradition to the Cornhuskers program, but he was also supposed to bring a strong defense. Instead his Nebraska teams are consistently scorched for big numbers at the most inopportune times.
This past season the Cornhuskers lost to Wisconsin 70-31 in the Big Ten title game. They then allowed Georgia to put 45 on them in the Capital One Bowl.
It was a bad performance for the Nebraska defense virtually all season. Ohio State dumped 63 on the Huskers in early October. For Nebraska to reach title-winning level, the defense has to turn the corner.
If it doesn’t happen this season, the Pelini led squad will get embarrassed yet again in 2013.
Purdue picked up a new coaching staff this winter when the Boilermakers lured rising star Darrell Hazell from Kent State.
This team struggled a lot last year, but showed a lot of heart down the stretch earning bowl eligibility late in the year. They eventually were trounced by Oklahoma State in their bowl game, but they made the postseason nonetheless.
Hazell will bring a new energy to the program, but a first year transition is never typically easy. This team will have growing pains, but Hazell is a solid fit as the new face of the Boilermakers program.
The Golden Gophers used two quarterbacks last year, but neither was very effective at driving the team towards the winners circle.
Phillip Nelson is a rising sophomore, and finished the year as the go-to player at quarterback. He only completed 49.3 percent of his passes however, and threw eight interceptions, and only eight touchdowns.
Rising junior Max Shortell also earned some time at the position, but he was just as inconsistent as Nelson for the Gophers.
Minnesota has some talented skill players that surround the quarterback, but neither player has shown the tenacity to lead this team forward. Hopefully the Golden Gophers can get the ball rolling with one of the two signal-callers this offseason.
Indiana was the second worst team in the Big Ten last year and there doesn’t appear to be any hope that remains heading into the 2013 season.
The defense has been the killer of the program as of late, allowing seven teams to score more than 40 points on them this past season. The Hoosiers gave up more than 50 points three times.
This team has an effective passing offense that finished the 2012 season as the No. 17 ranked passing unit in the country. They were No. 104 in points against.
This defense will be the fall of this team again in 2013 if there aren’t some drastic changes.
Illinois is entering the second year of the Tim Beckman experiment and so far things aren’t looking so hot.
The Fighting Illini finished the year 2-10, and 0-8 in the Big Ten. There needs to be some major changes across the board or Beckman may not last long in Champaign.
Last year’s team was No. 111 in passing yards, No. 122 in points scored, and No. 99 in rushing yards. Beckman is thought to be an offensive guru. Things can only go up at Illinois, but they need to begin fast.
Penn State has some obvious gaps that are left behind from the NCAA shakedown that occurred this offseason. This team is resilient and has one of the best leaders in the country with Bill O’Brien, but this year will bring a lot of struggle because of the holes.
The team was able to overcome a lot of adversity a year ago, but this year will begin to show the pains of the sanctions.
How successful this team can be is still unclear. Last year it far exceeded expectations. There is a chance that it could hold onto mediocrity, but that will be tough starting in 2013.
Bret Bielema was one of the top coaches in the Big Ten after the 2012 season concluded. At the end of the year he jumped from Wisconsin and moved to Arkansas.
The Badgers are now picking up the pieces and hired a solid coach in Gary Andersen. Andersen is a strong leader and helped put Utah State on the map, but there will be growing pains.
Bielema had this squad blazing, winning two Big Ten title games in a row and on the verge of a national title berth.
The talent remains, but how quickly Andersen can turn it around is still not clear.