Big Ten College Football Predictions for 2013 Season

David Fidler Correspondent IAugust 18, 2013

Big Ten College Football Predictions for 2013 Season

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    College football season is fewer than two weeks away, and that means preseason polls, press conferences and predictions.

    The following did not predict a winner of the Big Ten Conference Game—because that is almost impossible given what could happen over the course of the next three months—but it did predict division champions. One comes as no surprise, while some might find the other a bit of a stretch.

    The returning starters were compiled from Phil Steele and NationalChamps.net, as well as random bits of information around the Internet.

    The "swing games" concerned the games that would make the difference in a team's best- and worst-case scenarios. These are potentially winnable or losable games, and these are the games—as opposed to major upsets—where the better coaches have to shine.

     

Illinois Fighting Illini, Leaders Division

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    Last Year's Record: 2-10

    Returning Starters: nine on offense, three on defense, the kicker and the punter

    Team Strength: unrealized talent

    Team Weakness: the entire offense, but specifically, offensive rhythm

    Best Individual Offensive Player: senior wide receiver Ryan Lankford

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior linebacker Jonathan Brown

    Biggest Question: Can second-year head coach Tim Beckman lead this program?

    Best-Case Scenario: 6-6

    Worst-Case Scenario: 1-11

    Swing Games: Cincinnati Bearcats, Washington Huskies, Miami (OH) RedHawks, at Indiana Hoosiers, at Purdue Boilermakers

    The Lowdown: There is talent on this roster, but everything Tim Beckman does—see his Big Ten Media Days appearance—inspires zero confidence that he can turn things around in Champaign.

    Prediction: 2-10 (0-8), wins over Southern Illinois (FCS) and Miami (OH)

Purdue Boilermakers, Leaders Division

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    Last Year's Record: 6-7

    Returning Starters: five on offense, eight on defense, the kicker and the punter

    Team Strength: defensive backfield

    Team Weakness: linebackers/defensive prospects against teams that run pro sets

    Best Individual Offensive Player: junior running back Akeem Hunt

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior cornerback Ricardo Allen

    Biggest Question: Can new head coach Darrell Hazell break the ceiling of mediocrity that has existed in West Lafayette since at least the early part of the millennium?

    Best-Case Scenario: 6-6

    Worst-Case Scenario: 3-9

    Swing Games: at Cincinnati Bearcats, Northern Illinois Huskies, Iowa Hawkeyes, at Penn State Nittany Lions, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers

    The Lowdown: Former coach Danny Hope couldn't seem to utilize the talent he had, especially on defense. This was despite producing substantial game-changers like Ryan Kerrigan and Kawann Short.

    In effect, it is evident that Hazell doesn't need an infusion of talent, but a team attitude adjustment. That could take a few seasons.

    Prediction: 3-9 (1-7), wins over Indiana State (FCS), Northern Illinois and Illinois

Iowa Hawkeyes, Legends Division

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    Last Year's Record: 4-8

    Returning Starters: seven on offense, seven on defense, the kicker and the punter

    Team Strength: linebackers

    Team Weakness: passing game

    Best Individual Offensive Player: senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior linebacker Christian Kirksey

    Biggest Question: Can head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis produce any sort of passing game?

    Best-Case Scenario: 8-4

    Worst-Case Scenario: 3-9

    Swing Games: Northern Illinois Huskies, at Iowa State Cyclones, at Minnesota Golden Gophers, Michigan State Spartans, at Purdue Boilermakers

    The Lowdown: After years of continuity on the coaching staff, Ferentz has seen eight staff changes over the last two years, including both coordinators. 

    His hiring of Davis produced a mess in 2012—113th-ranked scoring offense in the country—and that will have to change if Iowa is to have any success.

    Prediction: 6-6 (2-6), wins over Northern Illinois, Missouri State (FCS), at Iowa State, Western Michigan, Wisconsin and at Purdue

Minnesota Golden Gophers, Legends Division

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    Last Year's Record: 6-7

    Returning Starters: 10 on offense, six on defense and the punter

    Team Strength: running game

    Team Weakness: defensive back seven

    Best Individual Offensive Player: junior running back Donnell Kirkwood

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman

    Biggest Question: This is the best team third-year coach Jerry Kill has fielded at Minnesota. Can he turn it into something? 

    Best-Case Scenario: 8-4

    Worst-Case Scenario: 4-8

    Swing Games: Iowa Hawkeyes, at Northwestern Wildcats, Penn State Nittany Lions, at Indiana Hoosiers

    The Lowdown: The Gophers return a solid feature back and their entire offensive line. The pieces are there to put points on the board. However, there are a number of questions to answer on the defensive side of the ball.

    The schedule is bottom-heavy. All of the tough games are in October and beyond. They will not go bowling if they don't make hay in the early part of the year.

    Prediction: 6-6 (2-6), wins over UNLV, at New Mexico State, Western Illinois (FCS), San Jose State, Iowa and Penn State

Penn State Nittany Lions, Leaders Division

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    Last Year's Record: 8-4

    Returning Starters: eight on offense, five on defense, the kicker and the punter

    Team Strength: receivers and tight ends

    Team Weakness: defensive depth. 

    Best Individual Offensive Player: junior receiver Allen Robinson

    Best Individual Defensive Player: sophomore defensive end Deion Barnes

    Biggest Question: Head coach Bill O'Brien performed a near miracle last season, getting his undermanned, dejected team to eight wins. Can he continue the success now that the sanctions are fully in force?

    Best-Case Scenario: 8-4

    Worst-Case Scenario: 5-7

    Swing Games: Syracuse Orange, at Indiana Hoosiers, at Minnesota Golden Gophers, Purdue Boilermakers

    The Lowdown: Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network tweeted from summer camp that 105 Nittany Lions were on the field: 65 scholarship and 40 walk-ons.

    According to the June 13 depth chart, PSU couldn't even field a three-deep at any of the linebacker positions.

    That could spell trouble when it gets into the heart of conference play.

    Prediction: 6-6 (2-6), wins over Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, Central Florida, Kent State, Illinois and Purdue

Indiana Hoosiers, Leaders Division

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    Last Year's Record: 4-8

    Returning Starters: 10 on offense, nine on defense, the kicker and the punter

    Team Strength: receivers and tight ends

    Team Weakness: rush defense, particularly up front

    Best Individual Offensive Player: junior wide receiver Cody Latimer

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior strong safety Greg Heban

    Biggest Question: The Hoosiers can play offense, but can they stop anyone from scoring?

    Best-Case Scenario: 8-4

    Worst-Case Scenario: 5-7

    Swing Games: Missouri Tigers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Purdue Boilermakers

    The Lowdown: Indiana had the fourth-best scoring offense in the Big Ten, and that was after losing its starting quarterback early in the season. This year, the Hoosiers have two quality options at quarterback, plus a solid offensive line and talented, experienced skill-position players. Expect the offense to move into the conference's top three.

    The problem is Indiana has been one of the bottom two scoring defenses in the conference every year since 2008 (it was ninth in 2007). The Hoosiers have to play defense in order to break through.

    Prediction: 7-5 (4-4), losses to Missouri, at Michigan State, at Michigan, at Wisconsin and at Ohio State

Northwestern Wildcats, Legends Division

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    Last Year's Record: 10-3

    Returning Starters: eight on offense, seven on defense, the kicker and the punter

    Team Strength: offensive playmakers

    Team Weakness: offensive line

    Best Individual Offensive Player: senior running back Venric Mark

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior defensive end Tyler Scott

    Biggest Question: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job as the little engine that could. Can he get his program to perform under the spotlight? 

    Best-Case Scenario: 10-2

    Worst-Case Scenario: 7-5

    Swing Games: at California Golden Bears, Ohio State Buckeyes, at Wisconsin Badgers, at Nebraska Cornhuskers, Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans

    The Lowdown: Last season, all three losses came in late-game collapses. The Cats were fewer than 15 minutes away from a perfect season. Less well known is that, according to Phil Steele, the Wildcats only lost five games to injury last year.

    In short, a fortunate call here or a broken leg there could have made a big difference in Northwestern's season.

    This year, the Wildcats are a sleeper to win their division, but they will have to bring everything together in order to make that happen.

    Prediction: 8-4 (4-4), losses to Ohio State, at Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State

Nebraska Cornhuskers, Legends Division

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    Last Year's Record: 10-4

    Returning Starters: nine on offense and four on defense

    Team Strength: offensive skill positions

    Team Weakness: run defense

    Best Individual Offensive Player: junior wide receiver Kenny Bell

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior nickelback Ciante Evans

    Biggest Question: Has head coach Bo Pelini—a defensive specialist—forgotten how to coach defense?

    Best-Case Scenario: 11-1

    Worst-Case Scenario: 8-4

    Swing Games: UCLA Bruins, Northwestern Wildcats, at Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans

    The Lowdown: In 2012, Nebraska allowed 27.6 points per game, its worst showing since 2008, Pelini's first season as the head coach. Ohio State ran for over eight yards per carry (YPC) against the Huskers. Offensively challenged MSU put up over five YPC. In the Big Ten Championship game, Wisconsin averaged over 10 YPC.

    Couple this with the most turnovers lost in the conference and it's a miracle Nebraska won 10 games.

    In 2013, the Huskers have the personnel to challenge OSU for the best offense in the conference. They only return four on defense, but given last year, it might be a case of addition by subtraction.

    Prediction: 9-3 (6-2), losses to UCLA, Northwestern and at Michigan

Wisconsin Badgers, Leaders Division

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    Last Year's Record: 8-6

    Returning Starters: eight on offense, seven on defense, the kicker and the punter

    Team Strength: as usual, the running game

    Team Weakness: defensive backfield

    Best Individual Offensive Player: senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior linebacker Chris Borland

    Biggest Question: Bret Bielema may not have have been the most popular guy in the Badger State, but it wasn't because of what he did on the field. Between 2006-2012, Wisconsin was the 13th-winningest program in college football. That included three straight Rose Bowl appearances.

    Can new head coach Gary Andersen equal or top that?

    Best-Case Scenario: 11-1

    Worst-Case Scenario: 8-4

    Swing Games: at Arizona State Sun Devils, at Ohio State Buckeyes, Northwestern Wildcats, BYU Cougars

    The Lowdown: Not to diminish the Badgers' recent accomplishments, but they made it to the Big Ten Championship game against a weakened OSU in 2011 and an ineligible OSU in 2012. The Buckeyes are now at full strength, and the Badgers have to respond.

    Couple that with a new coach, and a talented Wisconsin team will have a number of obstacles going against them. However, a Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska-less schedule won't be one of them.

    Prediction: 9-3 (6-2), losses at Arizona State, at Ohio State and at Iowa

Michigan Wolverines, Legends Division

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    Last Year's Record: 8-5

    Returning Starters: six on offense, six on defense (including injured linebacker Jake Ryan), the kicker and the punter

    Team Strength: defensive coordinator Greg Mattison

    Team Weakness: pass rush

    Best Individual Offensive Player: senior left tackle Taylor Lewan

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior free safety Thomas Gordon (unless Ryan returns at optimal health)

    Biggest Question: With Ryan out, can the defense find a playmaker?

    Best-Case Scenario: 11-1

    Worst-Case Scenario: 7-5

    Swing Games: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, at Michigan State Spartans, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Ohio State Buckeyes

    The Lowdown: Head coach Brady Hoke has distanced his program from the Rich Rodriguez disaster, but he is still lagging behind OSU.

    This season, there are a lot of holes to fill, but Mattison is one of the best in the business, new quarterback Devin Gardner is a much better fit for the offense than former quarterback Denard Robinson, and outside of an early home game against Notre Dame, the schedule offers this young team a lot of time to grow.

    Prediction: 10-2 (6-2), losses at Michigan State and Ohio State

Michigan State Spartans, Legends Division Champions

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    Last Year's Record: 7-6

    Returning Starters: eight on offense, seven on defense and the punter

    Team Strength: defensive back seven

    Team Weakness: passing game

    Best Individual Offensive Player: senior tackle Dan France

    Best Individual Defensive Player: senior linebacker Max Bullough

    Biggest Question: Can head coach Mark Dantonio find a quarterback to lead his offense and reignite a passing game that was the worst in a conference that had three passing attacks in the bottom 20 in the country last year?

    Best-Case Scenario: 10-2

    Worst-Case Scenario: 6-6

    Swing Games: at Notre Dame Fighting Irish, at Iowa Hawkeyes, Indiana Hoosiers, Michigan Wolverines, at Nebraska Cornhuskers, at Northwestern Wildcats

    The Lowdown: MSU is in an interesting place within Dantonio's program. After two straight double-digit win seasons—a first in the program's history—the Spartans stumbled to a six-win season last year.

    How much of that was due to injuries—as Chris Solari of the Lansing State Journal documented, the offensive line was decimated by injuries—and replacing the quarterback and all the receivers?

    In 2013, the Spartans have a lot to prove, and with both OSU and Wisconsin off the schedule, they will have a great opportunity to do it.

    Prediction: 10-2 (7-1), losses at Notre Dame and at Nebraska

Ohio State Buckeyes, Leaders Division Champions

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    Last Year's Record: 12-0

    Returning Starters: nine on offense, four on defense and the kicker 

    Team Strength: quarterback

    Team Weaknesses: receivers and tight ends

    Best Individual Offensive Player: junior quarterback Braxton Miller

    Best Individual Defensive Player: junior linebacker Ryan Shazier

    Biggest Question: Was last year's defense—sixth-ranked in the conference—an anomaly, or can head coach Urban Meyer coach up a defense to match his turbo-charged offense?

    Best-Case Scenario: 12-0

    Worst-Case Scenario: 10-2

    Swing Games: Wisconsin Badgers, at Northwestern Wildcats, at Michigan Wolverines

    The Lowdown: Expectations are sky-high in Columbus, but Meyer is no stranger to high expectations. Nevertheless, anything short of a conference championship and BCS bowl bid will be a major letdown. For some, only a national-championship-game win will suffice. 

    Prediction: 12-0 (8-0)