The Big Ten Legends made a splash in the preseason Associated Press poll, look with three teams (Michigan, shop Nebraska, cialis Northwestern) showing up in the top 25. Even our neighbors up north made the cut! Although I’m still waiting for the powers that be in Indianapolis to scrap the embarrassing division names and do something more sensible (“East” and “West”? “North” and “South”? Or just cut the pretense and call them “Ohio State” and “Michigan”?), I’m still excited about the return of college football. So let’s jump right in and see what we’re working with this year.
Welcome back, Divas. Let’s do this!
No. 17 Michigan Wolverines, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Head Coach: Brady Hoke, 3rd year, 19-7 record
Player to watch: Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner, @2g1two
Most intriguing game: Notre Dame, September 7
Not to offend any Temple fans, but this will be the first big test for both Notre Dame and the Wolverines. Hope Alabama didn’t knock too much fight out of the No. 14 Irish during last year’s BCS national championship game.
Toughest game: No. 2 Ohio State, November 30
There are no rankings in rivalry games, but let’s be real for a second: this is pretty cool. Both of these programs will always have national prominence, but OSU has owned Michigan this past decade winning nine of their last ten match-ups.
With the new East and West alignment for the Big Ten that is expected in 2014 with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, this could be the last year that Ohio State and Michigan would face each other in the Big Ten Title Game. As two of the strongest contenders this year in the Big Ten, you can bet that Buckeye and Wolverine fans are already dreaming about the very likely scenario.
First game: Central Michigan, Saturday at 2:30 pm on Big Ten Network
No. 18 Nebraska Cornhuskers, Lincoln, Nebraska
Head coach: Bo Pelini (@BoPelini), 6th season, 49-20
Player to watch: Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, @TMAG1C
Toughest stretch: November 2 to November 23
Starting November 2, they play No. 22 Northwestern, at No. 17 Michigan, Michigan State and at Penn State. Yikes.
Padding the win column: Non-conference schedule
They play Wyoming, Southern Miss, South Dakota State and No. 21 UCLA. All of them are at home. For a team with as much upside as the Cornhuskers have, this non-conference schedule is a joke.
Biggest asset: RB Ameer Abdullah
The Huskers ended 2012 first and second respectively in rushing and scoring offense. With RB Rex Burkhead now in the pros, look out for junior Ameer Abdullah. He ran for over 1000 yards in 2012 – and he wasn’t even the starter. Along with QB Taylor Martinez (who ran for over 1000 yards with 10 touchdowns), these two will count for the majority of the offense.
First game: Wyoming, Saturday at 7pm on Big Ten Network
No. 22 Northwestern Wildcats, Evanston, Illinois
Head coach: Pat Fitzgerald, 8th year, 50-39 record (and he gets a fun fact: he’s from Orland Park!)
Player to watch: Senior running back Venric Mark, @PurpleBlaze_5
Biggest upside: Their non-conference schedule
Starting this Saturday, the Wildcats play at California and then they’re home for Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine. Hopefully their four weeks on the bunny hill will help prepare them for their introduction to conference schedule in week five. Speaking of…
Biggest potential for disaster: Homecoming
I think it’s so Gen Y and awesome of Northwestern to pick October 5, when they play they play No. 2 Ohio State, as their Homecoming game. You know, surround yourself with the best and that’ll elevate you to another level. How forward thinking.
Watch out for: One-two punch of Colter and Mark
Senior quarterback Kain Colter (@KainColter_2) and running back Venric Mark. Mark led the conference in
all-purpose yards, and ESPN ranks him 5th in their top 25 players in the Big Ten for 2013. At 5’8” and 175 pounds, he’s on the smaller side for his position but he isn’t afraid run between the tackles and get the tough yards.
Colter is also looking to have a big season; with this being his final year, he’ll need both big numbers and as many wins as possible to impress NFL scouts. Like Marc, he’s incredibly mobile. He racked up 170 carries, 894 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns last season.
First game: at California, Saturday at 9:30 pm on WatchESPN.com
Michigan State Spartans, East Lansing, Michigan
Head coach: Mark Dantonio, 6th year, 50-27 record
Player to watch: Senior linebacker Max Bullough, @bullough40
Bet on: A media frenzy in October
Why? Here is their schedule starting October 5: at Iowa, Indiana (Homecoming), Purdue and at Illinois. With non-conference games against Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State (all at home), they’re a sure bet for eight wins. This bottom-feeder stretch will be a great confidence boost for what’s to come in November.
The must wins: No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 17 Michigan
These yearly duels will be great indicators of how good the Spartans actually are. And winning these games will put the BCS on notice. If the Spartans want to bounce back from last year’s disappointing turnout, these two are absolute must-wins.
First game: Western Michigan, Friday at 7pm on Big Ten Network
Minnesota Gophers, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Head coach: Jerry Kill, 2nd year, 9-13 record
Player to watch: Sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson
Who’s returning? Everyone
That’s right; sophomore QB Phillip Nelson and senior running back Donnell Kirkwood are both back for the Gophers. But the most important returning starters? Their offensive line. All five O-linemen are not only one year older, bigger and stronger, they’re also one year more experienced. Few things are more valuable for a football team than a solid offensive line.
Strength of schedule
It is entirely possible that Minnesota will go into their week six game at No. 17 Michigan undefeated. By the end of the season, it’s even more plausible that the Golden Gophers could be the class of the division if not the conference.
First game: UNLV, Thursday at 6pm on Big Ten Network
Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa City, Iowa
Head coach: Kirk Ferentz, 15th year, 100-74 record
Player to watch: Junior running back Mark Weisman
Last season was pretty bad for the Hawkeyes. Riddled with injuries and at capping out at two conference wins, there’s nowhere to go but up in 2013…right? There will be no better way to get their groove back than against 2012’s biggest surprise Northern Illinois this Saturday in Iowa City.
There’s a few of them. The Hawkeyes play at No. 2 Ohio State and No. 22 Nebraska with home games against Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Going to Columbus to play the best team not named Alabama smack dab in the middle of the season? By far the biggest test.
First game: Northern Illinois, Saturday at 2:30pm on Big Ten Network