It's hard to believe that we're already approaching the midway point of the 2013 college football season.
Along with that milestone comes the run-up to the first BCS rankings of the year. That means every team—including those in the Big Ten—will finally get a look at where they stand in the race for a coveted BCS bowl come January.
But before the Buckeyes or Wolverines, or any other Big Ten team, gets too excited about what may be in store for them come January 2014, our Big Ten BCS contenders—the conference's current undefeated and one-loss teams—will need to circle the following opponents on their schedules.
Each of the following five Big Ten teams all possess some combination of weaponry that could spell disaster for opponents looking for a big payoff come Selection Sunday. While a few of these teams could also find their way to a BCS bowl should the stars align for them, it's more likely that our selections will play the role of spoilers, making them perfect additions to our list of Big Ten teams most likely to spoil a BCS contender's season.
We'll start in Madison, Wisc., with the Wisconsin Badgers (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten), who used every back door imaginable last season to find their way to the Big Ten championship game.
Not only was Ohio State—the top team in the Leaders Division—ineligible to play in the postseason, so too was second-place Penn State.
Enter the third-place Badgers.
Of course, the Badgers took care of business in a big way, dismantling Nebraska in the title game to claim its second outright straight Big Ten championship, and a share of its third straight Big Ten title. That gave Wisconsin yet another try at a Rose Bowl victory.
With two losses already this season and Ohio State ready to reclaim its spot atop the Leaders, it's looking less likely that Wisconsin will make it four consecutive trips to the BCS. But that doesn't mean the Badgers are ready to pack it in.
New head coach Gary Andersen has a team ready to compete, and with weapons like Jared Abbrederis tearing up opposing secondaries, the Wisconsin passing game is opening some eyes that usually spend their time peering into the Badgers backfield.
Not that the Wisconsin rushing game is being neglected. There are three contributors racking up rushing yards for Wisconsin, including Melvin Gordon who is averaging 10.3 yards per carry. Yes, you read that correctly.
The truly scary part about Wisconsin that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up nights is the combination of Abberderis, who averages 114.4 receiving yards per game, and Wisconsin's vaunted ground attack, which is averaging 300.6 yards per game.
Wisconsin may have already lost two games this season, but one was a nail-biter at Ohio State and the other, well, let's just say the Pac-12 has already apologized—sort of—for that debacle.
The only thing that keeps Wisconsin from getting any higher on our list is the fact that there's likely only one game remaining in 2013 against a potential BCS participant.
Game to Watch:
Oct. 12 vs. Northwestern (4-1, 0-1)
There's certainly been a lot of press this season focused on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten), and most of it has been pretty negative. From head coach Bo Pelini's rant and subsequent apology to the Cornhuskers' collapse against UCLA, there's plenty of room for angst in Lincoln, Neb., this fall.
But even though the future of the program's leadership is murky, it's still not a good idea to overlook the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska fields one of the better offenses in the Big Ten this season, ranking third in both total offense and points per game, and once star quarterback Taylor Martinez returns from his turf toe injury, the offense might get even better.
It's the defense that has surprisingly struggled. The famed Nebraska "Black Shirts" defense hasn't been able to survive under the weight of Big Ten offenses and the Huskers are once again near the bottom of the pack in total defense (10th at 445.4 yards per game allowed) and scoring defense (eighth at 25.4 points per game allowed.
But with a healthy Martinez taking the snaps for the Huskers, anything is possible—even a return trip to the Big Ten title game. That, of course, would mean Nebraska would have to break some hearts along the way.
Games to Watch:
Nov. 2 vs. Northwestern (4-1, 0-1)
Nov. 9 at Michigan (5-0, 1-0)
Nov. 16 vs. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0)
The Northwestern Wildcats (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) came about as close as any team has gotten these days to beating Ohio State. The Buckeyes certainly had their hands full with the feisty Wildcats, as Northwestern showed the nation last Saturday night that the Purple Cats are no longer a pushover program.
Northwestern isn't out of the Big Ten race and the automatic BCS berth that comes with it quite yet, but its loss to Ohio State will probably mean the Wildcats will need to win at least the remainder of their schedule to earn a BCS spot.
The loss to the Buckeyes also proved that the Wildcats are capable of scoring more than enough points to hang with any team in the conference. Typically sleepy Ryan Field is beginning to awaken to sounds of cheering from people dressed in colors other than those of the visiting team.
The Wildcats have the fourth-best scoring offense in the conference, averaging 39 points per game, so opponents will need to take advantage of Northwestern's porous defense, which is allowing 27 points per game allowed (ninth in the Big Ten) to escape with a win.
Games to Watch:
Nov. 2 at Nebraska (4-1, 1-0)
Nov. 16 vs. Michigan (5-0, 1-0)
Nov. 23 vs. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0)
Next on our list is Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten). While the Spartans aren't out of the BCS picture by any means, suffering a lone loss to Notre Dame and owning a pretty ugly offense will likely keep MSU from making a real push for a second Legends Division title in three years.
As ugly as Sparty's offense is, however, its defense is second to none anywhere in the nation. Michigan State fields the country's top defense, giving up just 203.8 yards per game—almost 70 yards fewer than the conference's second-best defense, Wisconsin.
Should any team anywhere in the nation have an off day on offense against Michigan State, the Spartans are more than capable of pitching a shutout.
In that case, it would matter how anemic Michigan State's offense is when its defense is that perfect.
Games to Watch:
Nov. 2 vs. Michigan (5-0, 1-0)
Nov. 16 at Nebraska (4-1, 1-0)
Nov. 23 at Northwestern (4-1, 0-1)
Of all the teams on our list of Big Ten spoilers, the Indiana Hoosiers (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) are probably the least likely to earn a spot in the BCS come January.
But that certainly doesn't exclude the Hoosiers from wrecking an otherwise perfectly good run by their conference brethren.
The most impressive aspect of Indiana this season has to be its offense. Head coach Kevin Wilson has been working day and night to recruit some pretty surprising talent to come to Bloomington, Ind., and his hard work is paying dividends.
Indiana fields the Big Ten's top offense (535.0 yards per game, ninth in the nation), and the Hoosiers are second in the conference in scoring offense (44.4 points per game, tied for 11th in the nation).
Unfortunately, that top-ranked offense is paired with the conference's worst defense (452.6 yards per game allowed, 105th nationally).
A lot of Indiana's struggles on defense can be attributed to youth, so Hoosier fans can only hope that the youngsters improve with experience. Fortunately for Indiana, it will be facing a pretty weak offense this week when it takes on Michigan State and its lackluster offensive attack.
Indiana could also spoil all the accolades being poured upon MSU's defense. The Spartans have yet to face a truly dynamic offensive strategy this season and Indiana may be the top offense the Spartans will see all season. An upset by Indiana would end any discussion of Michigan State's getting its shot at the BCS.
As for the rest of the conference? It will clearly be a case of whether or not Indiana's offense can outscore its opponents, as defense will have very little to do with the number of wins for the Hoosiers in 2013.
Games to Watch:
Oct. 12 at Michigan State (4-1, 1-0)
Oct. 19 at Michigan (5-0, 1-0)
Nov. 23 at Ohio State (6-0, 1-0)
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