What would Christmas be without some last-minute shopping? Nothing gets you ready for some holiday cheer like making your way through packed malls, parking lots full of idiot drivers and the constant drone of bells-a-ringing.
That may be a bit of stretch, but since the Big Ten annually waits beyond Christmas to give us the gift of football, we thought we'd start handing out some gifts to each and every one of the now 14...yes, fourteen, Big Ten teams.
Get used to Maryland and Rutgers sporting the B1G patch on their uniforms in the coming years, because by the time we reconvene here in August to talk about the upcoming season their eastern presence will be a reality.
Now, the real question is what do you get for the conference that has just about everything it needs? After all, each team can buy just about anything it wants thanks to the richest payout in college football (for now, right ESPN, err SECSPN).
That's where we'll start distributing the gifts; just call us your B1G Claus. Ho, ho, ho.
Christmas Gift: A winning record on New Year's Day
There's no denying that the world of college football looks down its nose at the Big Ten these days, and a lot of has to do with a really bad string of New Year's Day bowl performances. Last season the conference won just one game on the biggest day of the year and that was Northwestern over Mississippi State.
You have a problem when this is the most memorable moment from your bowl season:
With the new College Football Playoff coming next season, setting a positive tone for where your conference is perceived to be can go a long way. So, we're gifting the conference a 3-1 New Year's Day to set things on the right course.
OK, so here's our confession—this gift isn't so much for the powers that be in the newly minted Big Ten offices but for its long-suffering fans who are practically on their knees begging to get back to the top of the mountain.
You guys deserve it the most, Jim Delany can get to the back on the line on this one.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Christmas Gift: Three Big Ten Wins
Year one was a disaster for Tim Beckman, year two finally saw his team stop a 20-game Big Ten losing streak. Year three?
How about winning three Big Ten games and going to a bowl game for a Christmas gift?
After all, you already locked down offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, and the youthful defense can't get much worse than it was in 2013.
Reaching a bowl game will also be a lot easier with a better nonconference schedule that features an oh-so-tough slate of Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State.
With a trip to Washington the only likely loss, a 3-1 start to the season should be a realistic expectation.
Now, to just find three B1G wins...How about a two-game win streak over Purdue, getting revenge over Northwestern and surprising Penn State?
That's what B1G Claus is putting under the Fighting Illini's tree this year.
Christmas Gift: A Mediocre Defense
Yes, you read that right—a mediocre defense.
It's really all the Hoosiers need to get back to a bowl game with the high-powered offense it will put on the field as long as Kevin Wilson is in the fold as head coach.
The good news is that a lot of young players saw some huge minutes this season, and the experience they got can only make them better.
The bad news? This was one of the worst defenses in all of college football last season, and there needs to be significant improvement just to get to mediocrity.
With talented youth returning and coming into the program—including some nice JUCO pieces—Indiana could be on its way to a bowl game for the first time since the 2007 Insight Bowl.
B1G Claus is giving the Hoosiers exactly what they need to keep building and that's a bowl game in year four of the Kevin Wilson era.
Christmas Gift: Clones of James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens
It's been nice knowing you Legends Division, but not seeing Michigan and Michigan State on an annual basis is a welcome sight to the Hawkeyes.
Maybe, just maybe, Iowa will be a true competitor for a division title in 2014?
Now, if only the Hawkeyes could find replacements as good as the trio of linebackers that are patrolling the field in 2013 for 2014.
All three of the starters are seniors and won't be back in 2014, so we've got an answer for you—clones.
Yes, they'll assume different names of course, but B1G Claus is going to clone the best overall linebacking group in the Big Ten and put them under coach Kirk Ferentz's tree.
Without something like that happening, it could be a very different looking team in 2014—one that leans more heavily on the offensive side of the ball to win it games.
Enjoy the finale for Morris, Kirksy and Hitchens on New Year's Day because it will be a long time before a group like that comes together again in Iowa City.
If we can't deliver on clones, then will you settle for the talented Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry instead? The duo combined for 19 tackles in limited time behind the seniors this season.
Christmas Gift: A Bowl Game
How can we be gifting the Terrapins a bowl game, when they are playing in one this season? Do us a favor and take a look at the Terps' 2014 schedule, and you'll see why we're gifting it to them.
Reality is, it will be very difficult for Maryland to make back-to-back trips with the likes of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State on the Big Ten schedule.
The Terps will need to win one of those games at a minimum if it hopes to make a bowl game. So, congrats Maryland, we're saying you get to beat the Hawkeyes, who have to make the long trip from Iowa City to College Park.
Enjoy the gift from B1G Claus because year one in the Big Ten may be a wake-up call to just how much better the Big Ten is from top to bottom over the ACC.
Christmas Gift: A Running Game
It's no secret that under Brady Hoke the key to success is running the football. In the first year of the Hoke era, the Wolverines did a good job of using it's best runner, Dennard Robinson. A Sugar Bowl berth and win was the result.
Since then it's been tough sledding and that includes this year, where Michigan finished the regular season next to last in B1G play—averaging just 130.8 yards per game overall and 99 yards per game in conference play.
Look under the tree Brady Hoke, because B1G Claus is giving you a running game.
Yes, that means an offensive line that learns from the mess that was 2013 and gives Derrick Green the space needed to use his power and cutback ability to its fullest.
If you don't use the gift, it may be the final straw in Ann Arbor for at least offensive coordinator Al Borges—if not Brady Hoke himself.
Michigan State Spartans
Christmas Gift: Pat Narduzzi Stays Again
The face of Michigan State's stellar defenses over the past few seasons nearly jumped earlier this month at the UConn head coaching position, but balked at the salary pool for assistant coaches. Most have assumed it is just a matter of when, not if, Narduzzi takes on his own program, but it won't happen after the 2014 season either.
That's because the Spartans will open their pocket books and make him the highest paid assistant in the Big Ten.
It's all in an effort to keep him in town in case Mark Dantonio jumps ship (relax, we don't see that happening soon, if ever).
So, enjoy B1G Claus giving you some more Pat Narduzzi under your tree this year.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Christmas Gift: A Quarterback Guru for Philip Nelson
What do you get for a team that needed a passing game to be a true competitor for a division crown in 2013?
Of course, you get them a magical passing game in 2014, duh.
That means Philip Nelson sees a gift certificate for a month of work with a passing guru this offseason (shh, don't tell the NCAA we're giving him that), courtesy of B1G Claus.
He's clearly the best option at QB for the Gophers, and he also clearly needs some work on his passing game, completing just 51.4 percent of his passes this year (which was an improvement over his 49.3 percent effort in his freshman season).
If he can just get it up to around 60 percent this football team becomes a lot more dangerous and multidimensional.
Minnesota is slowly building in the image of head coach Jerry Kill, and if the trajectory continues upward they'll be a true contender thanks to the work Nelson puts in with that quarterback guru we give him.
Christmas Gift: A Muzzle for Bo Pelini
It's like Bo Pelini is part feline or something—the guy has survived more things that should've killed a coaching career than anyone else we've seen.
Whether its a failure to lose any fewer than four games as a head coach or his failure to win a conference title in four tries, what he's done on the field has given his detractors enough ammo to call for his firing.
And we haven't even talked about his ability to nearly talk himself out of a job...not once, but twice this season.
So, for 2014 B1G Claus is investing in a muzzle for Bo Pelini. That way he can let his team's play on the field do the speaking for him.
Rather than his mouth sinking him, it'll be on the performance of his team to determine his future in Lincoln.
Sorry fellow media members, Bo won't be answering your questions this season. We're sure you're heartbroken over that development too.
Christmas Gift: Health
Seriously, was there a more snakebitten team in the country when it came to injuries this year? OK, maybe Georgia has a case, but Northwestern stands up there with anyone.
When Pat Fitzgerald looks under his tree, he'll see B1G Claus' gift of a healthy team right there.
In 2014, Fitz's crew won't have to deal with multiple injuries to running backs, or a quarterback who bounces in and out of the lineup. He'll also see that the gift comes from the NCAA when it grants an extra season of eligibility to star running back Venric Mark.
With Mark, quarterback Trevor Siemian and a lot more healthy players around them Northwestern will once again be a contender in the Big Ten.
Adversity shows character, and Northwestern kept fighting till the bitter end, winning on the final weekend over rival Illinois. It will go a long way towards making this team better in 2014 as well.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Christmas Gift: Braxton Miller Returning for Senior Season
Let's be 100 percent honest here, without Braxton Miller next season could be a severe test in patience for Ohio State fans.
Not only is their favorite scapegoat, defensive coordinator Luke Fickell still on staff as we speak, but this team will lose a ton of key players on offense without Miller leaving.
Earlier this month we explored what life would look like without Miller, and the numbers that would have to be replaced aren't pretty. OSU would be losing over 90 percent of its total offense and scoring should Miller leave.
So, to ease the fall of losing Carlos Hyde and four offensive linemen, B1G Claus says Braxton Miller will announce his return to the Buckeyes immediately following his team's Orange Bowl victory over Clemson.
His announcement will go something like this: "I can't leave here without winning a Big Ten championship and competing in the College Football Playoffs."
Penn State Nittany Lions
Christmas Gift: Bill O'Brien Spurns the NFL For Good
Bill O'Brien and NFL rumors—it's becoming an annual right of passage in Happy Valley.
When PSU fans wake up on Christmas Day, B1G Claus will be giving them the news they've wanted to hear all along: O'Brien announces he is staying with Penn State and won't entertain NFL head coaching offers for the rest of his contract at PSU.
OK, if spurning the NFL for good isn't realistic, how about the more realistic news that O'Brien announces he will stay with the program for at least another two years?
Penn State losing Bill O'Brien right now would be a massive blow to the program, as they attempt to keep afloat during the NCAA sanctions over the next two seasons.
There's something to be said for loyalty these days, and it would be nice to see O'Brien stick it out with the kids that committed to him through all the tough years of NCAA sanctions.
Christmas Gift: Hazell's Culture Taking Over
Was Purdue flat out not good in 2013? Yes.
There was a reason for that though, and it was because the Boilermakers were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole in style and culture.
Head coach Darrell Hazzell and offensive coordinator John Schoop are installing a pro-style, downhill running-based scheme and were trying to work with players recruiting for zone-blocking and spread offensive looks.
The results were awful, as Purdue was a 1-11 football team when it was all said and done.
For Christmas, B1G Claus will be giving Hazell a clean slate and his own players to work with. To those ends, Purdue has signed a class featuring four defensive lineman and 18 players overall.
Add in the experience that young but talented quarterback Danny Etling got this year, and the Boilermakers could make it a quick turnaround in culture and talent to fit the system Hazell is looking to run.
The culture Hazell talks of so often has been bought into by most of the players around the program, but there's no substitute for getting the guys you want into the system to help turn things around.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Christmas Gift: A Pile of Cash
More than anything else, the newcomers to the Big Ten could use the money that will come with membership, and RU is getting access to that cash up front, unlike when Nebraska came into the fold and had to wait until this year to earn a full share of the money offered by the league.
It means more money to invest in facilities, upgrading recruiting efforts, marketing in the New York and New Jersey areas and getting people excited about Big Ten football.
Cash can change a program forever, just ask Oregon and all the money Nike's Phil Knight has invested over there.
Rutgers sits in the most fertile recruiting grounds on the East Coast, and the increased exposure and cash will go a long way towards building this program up to Big Ten levels.
The question is, just how quickly will that cash help to change the results on the field, because what Rutgers put out this season will get it crushed on a nearly weekly basis in the Big Ten.
Christmas Gift: Joe Mixon and Jamil Kamara
Wisconsin and elite recruits haven't exactly gone hand in hand over the years, but it's a perception head coach Gary Andersen is working hard to change.
So far, so good as the Badgers will be in the annual hat dance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, 2014.
The Badgers are in on the No. 1 all-purpose running back in the country, 5-star Joe Mixon, and one of the best wide receivers out there in Jamil Kamara.
Merry Christmas to Badger Nation, because B1G Claus is giving Wisconsin the two biggest prizes on its wish list for the 2014 recruiting class.
Landing not one, but two big names will make other top-level recruits start to take Wisconsin even more seriously, and that would be a game-changing event for the future of the Gary Andersen era at UW.
When Gary Andersen landed the job at UW, he said he wasn't afraid to get involved in big-time recruiting battles. B1G Claus says he wins two of them and proves this statement from his introductory press conference true:
Wisconsin, the football program's recruiting, in my opinion, is obviously very well respected throughout the country, and as a staff and as a football program, we should be able to get into any recruiting fight that we want to get ourselves into.
We hope you enjoyed the gifts under each and every tree this year. May 2014 bring your team exactly what you want and if not...don't blame B1G Claus, he tried his best for you.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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