The 2013 college football season in quickly coming to a close, and while Michigan State and Ohio State are preparing for the showdown in the Big Ten championship game, other programs are trying to take stock of everything that's transpired this season. While looking back, there are several programs that are probably wishing things would have—and probably should have—turned out better.
What went wrong? The postmortems on each team's 2013 season will likely last for months, but you can rest assured these five Big Ten teams, regardless of the findings, will long be wishing for a "do-over" when it comes to the past few months.
Purdue wasn't expected to really compete for anything more than a respectable first season showing for new head coach Darrell Hazell. Unfortunately, even that low bar wasn't met.
After a supremely successful 2012 at Kent State, Hazell was hired by a program longing to return to the top tier of the conference. The "Cradle of Quarterbacks" has gone without a Big Ten title since 2000, which was shared with both Michigan and Northwestern (Purdue's last outright Big Ten title came back in 1929.
Certainly at least a few seasons away from another conference title run, Hazell's entrance was supposed to herald a new beginning for Purdue football. Instead, it could end up being remembered as one of the worst coaching debuts in Big Ten history.
Sure, Illinois did end that epic 20-game Big Ten losing streak this past weekend with a win over hapless Purdue, but we're still looking at an Illinois team at 4-7 (1-6 in the Big Ten) this season and 6-17 under Tim Beckman as head coach.
It's almost impossible to believe, but Ron Zook isn't looking so bad right about now to many Illini fans.
What's really confusing, and no doubt frustrating, is the fact that Illinois began the season with a 3-1 mark against non-conference opponents (which included a 45-17 drubbing of Cincinnati). What happened? Where exactly did the wheels come off? If Beckman can't figure that out quickly, his tenure at Illinois may be even shorter than Zook's.
It seems as if Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson almost has things figured out in Bloomington.
Indiana fielded one of the best offensive attacks this season. The Hoosiers proved time and time again they were capable of putting up big numbers on some pretty good teams in a conference that has some pretty stout defenses. Heck, even the nation's No. 1 defense—Michigan State—gave up a whopping (for the Spartans) 28 points to Indiana.
If only Indiana could figure out how to play defense.
As good as the offensive numbers are for the Hoosiers this season, the defensive numbers are so bad, it makes the offense irrelevant. Indiana, while putting up an average of 491.8 yards per game, gives up 529.0 yards per game. What good is it to have the Big Ten's second-best offense (and 17th-best in the FBS) if you also field the conference's worst—by far—defense (ranked 122nd in the nation)?
Still, just a few extra defensive stops here and there would have drastically changed Indiana's fortunes in 2013. Those few drives may haunt Kevin Wilson and his players for months to come.
What can we say about Northwestern? A legit dark horse Legends Division candidate when the 2013 season began, the Wildcats have now lost all seven conference games played thus far.
Northwestern again carried the Big Ten banner through its non-conference schedule this season, putting up a 4-0 record yet again. Then the Wildcats drew Ohio State to open Big Ten play back on October 5. If wishes were horses...
Northwestern nearly—truly, very nearly—pulled off the upset to start the season. Ohio State held a narrow four-point lead on the final play of a back-and-forth game, and it was only a crazy fumble that was covered in the end zone by Ohio State that gave the Buckeyes a spread-covering 10-point victory.
It was all downhill for the Purple Cats after that.
Wisconsin blew the doors off Northwestern the following week, and a narrow defeat to Minnesota the week after that all but signaled the end for Northwestern. Still, we can't help but wonder what might have been if that final drive against Ohio State had turned out differently. Or maybe if Northwestern had won either of its two overtime games this season.
Pat Fitzgerald is probably wondering the same thing.
Poor Michigan. Just when you thought all of the pieces were falling into place for the Wolverines, 2013 comes along and bites you right in the maize pants.
Despite being the odds-on favorites to win the Legends Division this season, we probably should have suspected something was up after those nearly disastrous performances against Akron and Connecticut. But even a fluky loss to Penn State in four overtimes wasn't enough to dissuade many that Michigan could still rise up and capture the Legends title, especially when the Wolverines followed up the loss with an epic offensive performance against Indiana.
All of those Michigan program records set on October 19 were just a smoke screen; Michigan's offensive ineptitude was completely unmasked against the nation's top defense the following week, and the Wolverines' in-state rivals battered the overmatched "Michigan Men," 29-6.
A loss to Nebraska all but ended any dreams of anything other than a mediocre bowl game against less-than-thrilling competition come season's end. This past week's loss to Iowa? Well that's just salt in an open wound.
Brady Hoke might quickly find his seat beginning to warm if he can't find a way to quickly turn things around for 2014. Simply wishing for a do-over of 2013 won't be enough.
Follow @davidrluther on Twitter!