2014 Big Ten Preview
June 16, 2014
By Marc Lawrence
2014 Big Ten Conference Football Preview
Not So Big
In the last six NFL drafts, dating back to 2009, the Big Ten has not had a single player selected in the top ten.
The Big Ten hasn’t won a national championship since Ohio State took home the title in 2002.
Big Ten Scoreboard: SEC Matchups Are Getting More Lopsided
From the 1930s until the end of the 1970s, games between schools in the two conferences were toss-ups.
The 1980s were dominated by the SEC (17-5 record), while the 1990s (16-11) and 2000s (18-15) were generally competitive.
In the 2010s, it’s been virtually all SEC. The Big Ten has won just six of 19 contests between the two.
With college football’s popularity skyrocketing, it’s going to be imperative that other conferences, namely the Big Ten, start winning big games and showing that the sport still has parity.
Delusions Of Grandeur
Ohio State has seven conference championships since 1998 and Wisconsin has five; no other school has more than three.
The Buckeyes played in ten BCS bowl games (6-4 record), winning the national title in 2002. Wisconsin reached five Rose Bowl games, going 2-3 in those contests. The rest of the conference went just 5-8 in BCS bowl games.
The league’s decision to bring both Rutgers and Maryland on was made for financial reasons. Neither program has ever been a football power and, more importantly, it doesn’t look like either is even on the rise. Capturing a share of the television markets in New York City and Washington DC will certainly help the Big Ten expand its brand, but it surely won’t help the product on the field.
Rutgers has played in just nine bowl games in its history. Maryland’s resume is a bit better, but the Terps only played in one BCS game during the entire 16-year era, a game in which they were blown out by Florida (2002).
Once again, it’s been said the Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany is secretly a plant in quest of more soil. In this crazy world of conference expansion, we couldn’t agree more.
Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on Offense and Defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
INDIANA (Offense – *8/5 Defense – 9/3)
TEAM THEME: STAND AND DELIVER
HC Kevin Wilson welcomes back most of an explosive Offenseense that averaged 38.4 PPG and 508 YPG. Unfortunately, a Defenseense that ranked 121st in the nation – behind the likes of Eastern Michigan, Idaho and Miami Ohio – allowed more points and yards than the Offenseense was able to muster. Overall, the team has taken baby steps in the three years under Wilson, improving its W/L record each year, but still falling short of a winning campaign in the tough Big 10. The Defenseensive reins have been handed over to Brian Knorr, who spent the last three seasons on the staff at Wake Forest. With 17 returning starters back, it’s time for the Hoosiers to stand and deliver.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hoosiers were the only FBS team to rank in the Top 10 in total Offense and not go bowling last season.
MARYLAND (Offense – *8/4 Defense – 9/3)
TEAM THEME: SNAPPING TURTLES
The Terps enter their first season in the Big 10 with a boatload of returning skill players (39 of 45 two-deep players from last year) including QB C.J. Brown, their top three rushers, and top five receivers – including Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, who both missed the second half of last season with lower leg injuries. Randy Edsall added former NFL WR and Washington Redskins assistant Keenan McCardell to the staff to coach receivers. Meanwhile, Brown became the first player in school history to pass for over 2,000 yards and rush for more than 500 (2,242 and 576). On the Defenseensive front, Maryland’s 37 sacks last season were the most by a Terrapins team since 2002.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Edsall is 25-10 ATS in his career versus sub .333 opponents.
MICHIGAN (Offense – *7/3 Defense – 8/3)
TEAM THEME: HOKE SPRINGS ETERNAL
After a 6-1 start (the only loss a 4-OT thriller vs. Penn State), the season went downhill quickly for the Wolverines last year with narrow losses to Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State to close the regular season at 7-5. Brady Hoke will literally have big shoes to fill with the graduation of OT Taylor Lewan (41 career starts), record-setting WR Jeremy Gallon, and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Should Michigan fans be concerned about the present? Listen to Hoke after Michigan's first spring scrimmage: "We learned some hard lessons. The only thing we can do is go forward. We're a long way from being any good." Is it Lou Holtz-talk, or is it prophecy? Stay tuned.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: 10 years… that’s how long it’s been since Michigan has won a Big 10 football championship.
MICHIGAN STATE (Offense – *7/2 Defense – 5/2)
TEAM THEME: MARK IT DOWN
In one of the greatest seasons in Spartans history, Michigan State set a school record with 13 victories, including a season-ending Rose Bowl win over Stanford, earning them a final No. 3 ranking in both polls. Mark Dantonio welcomes back QB Conner Cook, leading rusher Jeremy Langford (who averaged over 100 YPG on the ground and scored 18 times), and four of his top five receivers. Meanwhile, DC Pat Narduzzi’s Defenseense held nine foes to season-low – or 2nd low – yards, while also limiting six of the last seven regular season foes to season-low points. Topping all of that should prove difficult in 2014, especially against a bevy of avenging opponents.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Michigan State became the first undefeated team in Big 10 play last year to win every conference contest by double-digits since Michigan in 1943.
OHIO STATE (Offense – *5/1 Defense – 7/4)
TEAM THEME: FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST
At first glance, the attrition looks absolutely devastating: just 39 letterman return – one of the lowest numbers in all of college football – and the losses are heavy, especially on Offenseense. Sure, quarterback Braxton Miller and his top two targets are back, but the top two running backs have moved on. And so have four Offenseensive linemen with 141 starts! The good news is our STAT YOU WILL LIKE comes storming to their aid this season. Urban Meyer had won 24 straight games since taking over the program in 2012, but losses in the Big Ten Championship game to the Spartans and in the Orange Bowl to Clemson have the Buckeyes on a two-game skid. Time to reload.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buckeyes return players with 221 starts this season.
PENN STATE (Offense – *5/3 Defense – 7/2)
TEAM THEME: FRANKLIN, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
The Nittany Lions welcome James Franklin to replace Bill O’Brien, who departed for greener pastures in the NFL with the Houston Texans. O’Brien did well under difficult circumstances following the death of Joe Pa and the Sandusky scandal, finishing with a respectable 15-9 mark (10-6 in the tough Big 10) in his two seasons as HC. Franklin comes over from Vanderbilt – a perennial SEC doormat – where he changed the mindset during his three seasons there, going 9-4 in the last two campaigns. Franklin will have Big 10 Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg back under center, along with ‘Thunder & Lightning’ RB’s Zack Zwinak and Bill Belton to tote the football. Franklin’s Commodores averaged more than 2,000 rushing yards per season in his three years at Vanderbilt. Yes, electricity is back in the air at Happy Valley.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: PSU’s 63-14 loss to OSU last year was the worst in school history since 1899.
RUTGERS (Offense – *9/5 Defense – 7/2)
TEAM THEME: CHANGING FACES
Maybe the biggest news in Piscataway, besides seeing the Scarlet Knights enter their first season in the Big 10, is Kyle Flood’s addition of ex-Maryland coach Ralph Friedgren to his staff as Offenseensive coordinator. It’s also ironic since the Terrapins are the other school joining the Big 10 on 2014. The Fridge was so angry when he was fired that he burned his Maryland diploma and hasn’t coached since. QB Gary Nova, star RB Paul James and rising WR Leonte Carroo are back, along with a complete Offenseensive line returning intact. In addition, 17 different players made their first career start last season, while nine true freshmen earned playing time – including three of whom started at cornerback.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rutgers is the only school in the nation to post a shutout each of the last eight seasons.
ILLINOIS (Offense – 6/4 Defense – 8/2)
TEAM THEME: CHAMPAIGN GONE FLAT
Last year was a difficult one for the Illini. After a 3-1 start, they went 1-7 with the lone victory over lowly Purdue. Defenseense was the weak link in Champaign last season, as it allowed over 450 yards in nine outings, including games where they coughed up over 600 yards to Washington and Indiana. Early indications are that with a year of experience for eight returnees, the unit will be much improved in 2014. With Nathan Scheelhaase out of eligibility, HC Tim Beckman must choose a new signal-caller from Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt and senior Reilly O’Toole. Lunt is a blue-chip recruit who started five games as a true freshman for the Cowboys.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Illinois is 1-17 SU and 6-12 ATS in its final six games of the regular season since 2011.
IOWA (Offense – *8/3 Defense – 5/3)
TEAM THEME: DOWNY SOFT
Kirk Ferentz is now the dean of Big 10 head coaches heading into his 16th season, tied for third in longevity among all BCS head coaches. At age 58, Ferentz has guided four teams to 10 or more wins in his career at Iowa, and has been bowl-eligible in 11 of the last 12 seasons. This year, he brings back QB Jake Rudock and leading rusher Mark Weisman, who both started all 13 games in last year’s 8-5 campaign. The thing that really stands out at first glance is the apparent ease of the soft schedule – you won’t find the Buckeyes, Spartans or Wolverines on the ledger. Hence, a 10-0 start does not seem out of the question for the Hawkeyes.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Iowa held seven opponents to season-low – or 2nd low – yardage last year.
MINNESOTA (Offense – 8/4 Defense – 7/3)
TEAM THEME: KILLING IT
Despite suffering at least five epileptic seizures on game day with the Gophers, and soundly Defenseeating Stage 4 kidney cancer, HC Jerry Kill refuses to quit. “Everybody has a struggle or two,” Kill said, “but you bounce back. I still believe it determines what kind of person you are with how you handle adversity.”And though assistant Tracy Claeys received a good deal of credit while the HC was away, Kill was always calling the shots. After compiling a 14-12 mark the last two years (and making two bowl appearances), Minnesota rewarded Kill with an extension through 2018, bringing his salary in line with several other Big 10 coaches. It’s about time.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Jerry Kill’s 10-man assistant coaching staff is the most tenured in college football, having been with him 134 years.
NEBRASKA (Offense – *5/1 Defense – 6/2)
TEAM THEME: LITTLE BO WEEP
Bo Pelini has been successful at Nebraska since taking over in 2008, winning nine or more games in all six of his seasons in Lincoln. As a result, he was awarded a contract extension, albeit much to the outcry of loyal Husker fans. Last year’s 9-win campaign was somehow accomplished despite ranking 121st in punt returns, 120th in net turnovers (-12) and 117th in red zone Defenseense. Bo can thank his lucky stars that his squad was 5-0 last season in games decided by 7 or fewer points, and is 9-0 the last nine. The Offenseensive line was decimated by graduation with five seniors accounting for 120 starts now departed. Not having to tackle Michigan and Ohio State helps.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskers have won 28 straight season openers.
NORTHWESTERN (Offense – 9/5 Defense – 8/3)
TEAM THEME: LATE-GAME MISFORTUNE, THY NAME IS…
Only five starters are not returning in 2014 for the Wildcats. One of them, QB Kain Colter, got most of the ink during the Offense-season by leading the movement to unionize athletes at the school. But he has paid his dues and used up his eligibility, so QB Trevor Siemian takes over (threw for 178 completions, 2,149 yards and 11 TD’s). Talented Venric Mark missed most of last season with injuries, but thanks to a fifth year of eligibility granted by the Big 10, will join top rusher Treyvon Green in the running game behind an intact O-line. Here’s hoping all this experience outweighs the bad experience of close-call losses the past two seasons.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wildcats have suffered four losses the last two years on a game-ending TD pass.
PURDUE (Offense – *8/3 Defense – 7/2)
TEAM THEME: FLIP-FLOPS
It doesn’t get much rougher than the year Darrell Hazell had in West Lafayette. With glowing praise heaped on the young head coach after he directed Kent State to an 11-3 mark in his second season there, Hazell was hired to coach the Boilermakers. Unfortunately, his 8-0 conference mark with the Golden Flashes was flipped upside-down at Purdue to an 0-8 Big 10 record. QB Danny Etling and dual-threat RB Akeem Hunt will lead the Offenseense, and with all three WRs and the TE back, Hazell will use his background as a receivers coach to improve the passing game – but it’s going to take some time. Where have you gone, Drew Brees?
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hazell is 12-6 SU and 12-5-1 ATS versus MAC opponents, including 7-1 ATS as a favorite.
WISCONSIN (Offense – *6/3 Defense – 3/0)
TEAM THEME: STOP US IF YOU CAN
The footnote atop this year’s spring prospectus says it all: 3 Consecutive Big 10 Championships (2010-12) • 5 BCS Bowl Games • 12 Consecutive Bowl Games • 17 First-Team All-Americans Since 2000. That, and 300 RYPG, is what Wisconsin football has been all about since the turn of the century. A 0-2 finish soured Gary Andersen’s first campaign with the Badgers but not before a solid 9-win effort. This year’s edition features a total of 23 different players who started at least one game in 2013, including six who earned All-Big 10 honors. Included in that group is QB Joel Stave who directed the most prolific Offenseense in school history.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Andersen is 18-4-1 ATS versus non-conference foes, including 11-1 ATS as a dog.
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