First, a quick introduction of myself. I'm a junior at Indiana University and am a big sports fan, through and through. I'm a journalism major and try to write about sports as much as possible. I asked Grue about a week ago if he would be continuing this blog series. He said worked wouldn't allow him the freedom, then graciously let me continue the blogs. Therefore, I have some huge shoes to fill.
The Big Ten has quickly become one of the most intriguing conferences with the addition of Nebraska and the creation of the two divisions (although, nothing about those divisions makes sense). If you've memorized the members of the divisions, more power to ya. But for those of us who haven't, here's how they look this year
Despite the lunacy involved in splitting these divisions, there are some intriguing matchups in both divisions. In the Legends, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska all could be ranked by the end of the year. Having Michigan-Michigan State in the same divisions gives you a big rivalry game, also.
Iowa is flying under the radar, in my opinion. Despite losing Ricky Stanzi, they return some key weapons, including running back Marcus Coker. Defensively, they return possibly the best defensive back in the Big Ten in Micah Hyde. And when you look at their schedule, they travel to PSU to start the Big Ten season, then get Northwestern and IU at home, at Minnesota, home against Michigan and Michigan State, at Purdue, and at Nebraska. That sets up possibly the division title on the line in the season finale, which would be the Big Ten's dream scenario.
The Big Ten is going to get their wish come week 13 as Nebraska and Iowa are going to battle for the division title at noon on ABC at Nebraska.
As for the rest of the Legends division, you certainly can't count out Michigan. If Denard Robison is utilized the right way, we saw what he could do last year. In fact, I watched first hand as he torched IU for for 277 yards and 3 passing TDs and 217 rush yards and 2 TDs. Don't count them out.
Michigan State is another overlooked team in the Big Ten. They come in ranked 17th, but have a gauntlet of a schedule. They go to Notre Dame, to Ohio State, then host Wisconsin and go to Nebraska in back to back weeks. I don't see MSU making it through those 4 games with more than 2 wins.
In the end, however, this is Nebraska's division to lose. They don't have a hard schedule, an away game at Wisconsin being the only tough game. They return Taylor Martinez, who COULD become a dark-horse for the Heisman this year. I think they'll run through this division without much resistance and come away with a division title in their first season.
The Leaders division is just as interesting as the Legends division. Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin all could win the division. As much as I love my Hoosiers, I don't think they'll be in title contention, although Kevin Wilson seems like the real deal.
Personally, I'm not sold on Ohio State. There's so much scrutiny and turmoil and change going on in Columbus so quickly that I think this year is a lost year. They won't be winning the division this year, but they'll be in the headlines, no doubt.
Penn State comes in as the Iowa of the Leaders division. If they can find someone at the QB position who can manage the game, they have a great defense that can keep them in games. The only downside of the team is that the schedule. They host #2 Bama in week 2, meaning they have to get things sorted out quickly. Then they end the year vs. Nebraska, at Ohio State, and finish at Wisconsin. Hypothetically speaking, the Wisconsin game could be for the division, but don't hold your breath.
That leaves Wisconsin. Led by a two-headed running game of Montee Ball and James White, both 900+ yard rushers last year, the Badgers, like always, are going to run the ball down your throats. Their toughest games are home against Nebraska, then away at both Michigan State and Ohio State, both of which could become small games by the time they're played. Much like Nebraska, I think this is Wisconsin's to lose. With the implosion in Columbus right now, the only formidable opponent is Penn State, and they aren't that formidable.
Here's how I think the two divisions will break down with rough predictions on records
Nebraska 12-0 (8-0)
Iowa 11-1 (7-1)
Michigan State 9-3 (6-2)
Northwestern 9-3 (5-3)
Michigan 7-5 (4-4)
Minnesota 4-8 (1-7)
Wisconsin 11-1 (7-1)
Ohio State 9-3 (5-3)
Penn State 8-4 (5-3)
Illinois 7-5 (4-4)
Purdue 7-5 (3-5)
Indiana 4-8 (1-7)
Big Ten Title Game
Nebraska defeats Wisconsin - 21-13
Players to Watch
QB Taylor Martinez - Nebraska - If his head is screwed on straight and he plays well, like I said, he could be a darkhorse for the Heisman. But those are some big if's
RB Edwin Baker, MSU - He's vowed to rush for 2000 yards. If he does so, against the level of competition he'll face, he'll be a big time Heisman candidate.
QB Denard Robinson, UM - This is a no-brainer, but there might not be a more exciting player in the nation than Robinson. He faded last year, but look for him to start off red-hot in non-conference play.
WR DeMarlo Belcher, IU - The one thing IU does have is great WRs, and the best is Belcher. At 6'5, 213 pounds, he may be one of the most underrated receivers in the nation.
Here's to a (hopefully) great season of Big Ten football on the way.