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Call them what you will: Worst, least dangerous, anemic or offensively challenged, the bottom four teams in the new-look Big Ten for 2014 have their work cut out for them in a conference schedule full of defensive juggernauts.
We'll start with the newcomers, Rutgers and Maryland. Since neither team has played a Big Ten conference game, it's difficult to know exactly where the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins will stack up against the rest of the league.
Maryland will be guided by sixth-year senior C.J. Brown, after he was granted a medical waiver prior to his 2013 senior season. Brown finished seventh in the ACC last season with 203.8 passing yards per game, which included 13 touchdowns to seven interceptions in 11 appearances.
For comparison, that would have ranked his average yardage output at fifth in the Big Ten. Then again, you'd need to compare the relative strength of passing defenses of the two conferences (Michigan State and Iowa finished in the top ten nationally from the Big Ten, while only Virginia Tech finished with such a distinction from the ACC).
Rutgers probably returns the best-sounding quarterback name of any Big Ten program in senior Gary Nova. His 215.9 passing yards per game was good enough for seventh in the American Athletic Conference last season, but Nova's 18-to-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio leaves much to be desired. With ball-hawking secondaries littering the Big Ten, Nova will need to improve his accuracy greatly with the shift from the AAC to the Big Ten.
Purdue is a team that seems to be in complete disarray. The Boilermakers' lone win last season was only secured in the final seconds against FCS Indiana State early in the year. Indiana State, for its part, was 1-11, with its lone win coming against a Division II program. It's going to be a long road back to relevance for Darrell Hazell's club in West Lafayette, and we shouldn't expect much from the Boilers in 2014 offensively.
Minnesota is the final program in our "bottom four," but is probably the most likely to make a jump in 2014. The Gophers were an impressive, if not outright surprising, 8-5 in 2013, but only managed a 4-4 conference mark after running into the conference's tougher defenses late in the year.
Quarterback Philip Nelson will be back for his junior season, and if Minnesota can find a way to make the passing game more of a factor this season (Nelson averaged just 108.8 passing yards per game last season), the Gophers could be the surprise team of the new West Division this fall.