Big 10 Legends Schedule Outlook
August 8, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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This will be a critical year for the Big Ten, a conference that needs to gain back some national credibility as it moves towards expansion next season. The Legends division was the superior group top to bottom last season but it has been a Leaders team winning the conference championship game the last two seasons. Here is a look at the six squads in Legends division and the schedules ahead in the 2013 regular season.
Iowa Hawkeyes: After a rare losing season for the Hawkeyes the pressure will be turned up this season as it has been three consecutive disappointing years in a row after the Orange Bowl win following the 2009 season. Iowa scored just 19 points per game last season and was out-gained by over 70 yards per game for ugly numbers all around. Two of the four wins for Iowa came by a combined total of four points last season with one of the wins in double overtime as the season could have been even worse. A tough draw from the Leaders division presents a serious challenge and moving up will be difficult with a very tough slate of home games. Iowa does have a relatively light non-conference schedule but it is a similar card to last season when they opened the year 2-2 with losses to Iowa State and Central Michigan.
Leaders Draw: Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue
Toughest Back-to-Back: The final two games of the season will be very difficult and perhaps the most important games of the year for a team that figures to be right on the edge of bowl eligibility. After a bye week Iowa will host Michigan and then head to Nebraska for a road contest the Friday after Thanksgiving. Iowa may need to win one of those games to get into the postseason and potentially stave off major changes for the program.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: The rivalry with Iowa State has resulted in 3-point losses each of the last two seasons for Iowa so this year’s game in Ames will be huge. An opener with Northern Illinois will certainly be a big game as well but Iowa needs to win back supremacy in its own state after two bowl seasons in a row from Iowa State.
Michigan Wolverines: The Wolverines stepped back to 8-5 last season following up a Sugar Bowl win the previous season and there is a lot of player turnover on the squad, notably the departure of longtime QB Denard Robinson. Michigan should be able to get off to a strong start this season with a relatively light non-conference schedule and the weaker conference matchups early in the year. The final five-game gauntlet will make for a very difficult November however with three of the last five on the road and quality competition throughout with the home games coming against Nebraska and Ohio State. Michigan could improve in record but probably only slightly with a still difficult schedule.
Leaders Draw: Penn State, Indiana, and Ohio State
Toughest Back-to-Back: While the opposition in the other November games will feature more prominent teams the most important stretch may be back-to-back road games in the division, at Northwestern and then at Iowa. The huge home game with Nebraska precedes that set and the huge finale with Ohio State will follow and those middle two games could be games Michigan will be at risk to slip up in.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: One of the big early season games on the national schedule will be Michigan hosting Notre Dame in the second week of the season. Last season Notre Dame won 13-6 despite Michigan featuring a solid yardage edge and Michigan can make a national statement by handing the Irish their first loss.
Michigan State Spartans: After losing in the Big Ten championship game two years ago many expected last season to be a great season in East Lansing. With a win over Boise State to open the season things looked promising with the Spartans rising to the top 10 but things fell apart from there, ending up just 6-6 in the regular season before a narrow bowl win. Michigan State lost five games by four or fewer points last season as the season could have turned out much differently and with Ohio State and Wisconsin absent on the schedule this is the year the Spartans could move to the top of the conference.
Leaders Draw: Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois
Toughest Back-to-Back: Late in the season a pair of consecutive road games figures to be taxing, playing at Nebraska and then playing at Northwestern. The first of those games conceivably could be a division title deciding game but a letdown effort in Evanston would not be a surprise regardless of the result with the Huskers.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: Without question the big game for Michigan State will also be with Notre Dame, playing in South Bend in the fourth week of the season. That was the game where everything started to go wrong for the Spartans last season and the Spartans have now lost three of the last four in the series.
Minnesota Golden Gophers: This will not be an easy division to move up in but after a bowl appearance last season the Minnesota program appears to be headed in the right direction. Minnesota should be favored to start 4-0 in non-conference play and while no schedule is easy in this division Minnesota does not have to play Ohio State this season for a slight break in the schedule. Minnesota has one of the most experienced teams in this division and in year three for Coach Kill expectations will be elevated and the Gophers will need to beat a few quality teams to return to the postseason.
Leaders Draw: Indiana, Penn State, and Wisconsin
Toughest Back-to-Back: The first two Big Ten games will be critical for Minnesota to show that the program is on track to improve. Hosting Iowa for homecoming to open the conference season is a game Minnesota needs to be able to win. The next game at Michigan is a game where the Gophers need to at least present a competitive showing after still losing in lopsided fashion against most of the top teams in the conference last season. If Minnesota starts 0-2 in conference play, even after a 4-0 non-conference start, it could be a long season.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: While a formidable San Jose State team may provide the best competition, the opener with UNLV is a big statement opportunity for Minnesota. Last season the Gophers needed triple-overtime to skate by with a 30-27 win in Las Vegas and they need to handle business better this season and pull away with a convincing win to build confidence for the season.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: Most will favor Nebraska to repeat as division champions this season and the Huskers certainly have a favorable schedule to get the job done with Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Indiana absent from the Leaders draw. Nebraska has lost at least four games every season under Bo Pelini however so expecting a clean run through what looks like a favorable schedule seems foolish. Most of the big games will come in succession in November and this was not a team that gave consistent week-to-week efforts last season.
Leaders Draw: Illinois, Purdue, and Penn State
Toughest Back-to-Back: The season-making games for Nebraska will be in consecutive games in November, playing at Michigan and then at home against Michigan State. Nebraska won in both matchups last season but neither win came easily and the opposition will be ready for redemption.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: Last season a highly ranked Nebraska team was a favorite at UCLA and left with a 36-30 loss, a game that was not as close as that score with the Bruins posting 653 yards. The defense will need to make a stand early in the year and show that there has been improvement but only four returning starters are back on that side of the ball.
Northwestern Wildcats: The Wildcats quietly won 10 games last season and dominated a SEC team in its bowl games for a great overall season. Northwestern seems to be overlooked again in this division and facing a tougher schedule than some of the other top teams may leave the Wildcats behind in the standings. A difficult Leaders draw as well as a very tough set of home games could lead to a step back in record although this is a dangerous team that will not be overmatched anymore.
Leaders Draw: Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois
Toughest Back-to-Back: Northwestern opens the Big Ten season with its two big games from the other division, playing Ohio State for its homecoming game coming off a bye week and then visiting Wisconsin. Northwestern has not played either team the last two seasons and if the Wildcats are serious about competing in the conference race they need to be able to deliver the upset in at least one of the games.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: In a season that will open with high expectations a road game at California will provide a suitable test in the opener. California is rebuilding but it will be a marquee opponent and a big road test. The home opener with Syracuse could also be a critical game coming off that west coast trip and with the Orange remembering a one-point loss from last season.