Big Ten Legends Division Preview
We’re in the midst of the slowest part of the offseason for college football. Players are beginning or have already reported to campus to start summer classes and brutal conditioning workouts are on the horizon.
With just over two months until the first kickoff, we sit and wait to see the future of college football’s playoff system. We know a four-team playoff is going to happen, but how will those final four teams be chosen? The meeting of the minds is taking place today (Tuesday) in Washington to try and put together a final product (lets not hold our breath).
In the Big Ten, we have a few certainties. The Buckeyes are ineligible to reach a bowl game, Danny O’Brien pulled a Russell Wilson, Brady Hoke can recruit, Minnesota can only get better and the Fighting Illini have a new coach. I’d say the offseason has been exciting so far? Ok, you don’t have to agree. But what is exciting is the upcoming season, and the talent that has returned for several teams.
The debate between who will win each division has some scratching their heads. Will Nebraska finally make the jump and win a Conference title? Husker country is starting to get a little anxious.
How about Michigan State? A great group return on defense and Le’Veon Bell returns in the backfield. Whether Andrew Maxwell can succeed the departed Kirk Cousins remains the big question.
Today, lets look at the Legends division as I make my prediction on how the season will shape up.
1. MICHIGAN STATE (10-2, 6-2)
The Spartans return several experienced players on defense and are deep at almost every position. The offensive line is arguably the best Coach Mark Dantonio has had in East Lansing and bruising tailback Le’Veon Bell returns in the backfield. Tennessee transfer WR DeAnthony Arnett won his appeal with the NCAA and will be eligible immediately to play this season. This big question is whether Andrew Maxwell can step in at quarterback and provide the talent they need to get the job done. Back to back trips to Ann Arbor and Madison are on the schedule, if Sparty can come away with a split they’ll be in good shape.
2. MICHIGAN (9-3, 5-3)
Brady Hoke’s crew comes off their Sugar Bowl victory against Virginia Tech last year with a certain confidence and swagger about themselves. Denard Robinson is back (again), former sophomore running back sensation Fitzgerald Toussaint returns and Michigan has gotten a whole lot better on defense. Yet again, I believe it all comes down to whether or not Denard Robinson can take care of the football and make smart decisions in the pocket. In nine out of twelve games last season, Robinson threw at least one interception and had a pair of games where he threw three. He’s got to limit the turnovers if Big Blue wants to compete with Sparty in the Legends division.
3. NEBRASKA (8-4, 4-4)
I’m sorry Husker fans. I don’t want to do this at all, but I have to. This team has been filled with potential season after season, but one thing is holding them back. Taylor Martinez. He’s limited as a passer completing only 56.3% of his passes last season. His throwing motion is off, his mechanics are sub par and he takes a beating running the football as much as he does. Rex Burkhead is the key to this offense and should have the ball in his hands 60% of the time. It’s also going to be difficult for Nebraska to replace LaVonte David, Alfonzo Dennard, Jerad Crick and Marcel Jones. Four tremendous players that were key to the Huskers defensive success in 2011.
4. IOWA (8-4, 4-4)
The Hawkeyes come in to 2012 having to replace two big time players in their offense. Marvin McNutt has left for the NFL and Marcus Coker strangely left the team and transferred to FCS Stony Brook. Iowa always seems to fail at holding on to solid running back talent, but it hasn’t hurt them too terribly in the past because they’ve been able to bring in another solid runner in the backfield. We’ll see if they can do that again. One positive for the Hawks, James Vanderberg returns after having a nice season in 2011. The senior threw for 25 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, but he’ll be without his favorite target McNutt in 2012. Look for Iowa to surprise some people.
5. Northwestern (5-7, 2-6)
Whether or not Pat Fitzgerald can write the ship this year his team is going to be exciting. The Wildcats are young in the secondary, linebacker and have to replace stud Dan Persa under center. Kain Colter, the 6-0 junior will make the move from receiver to quarterback this season and will give Northwestern a dual threat option with his running ability and knowledge of the offensive system. Transfer wideout Kyle Prater from USC still waits the decision on his appeal from the NCAA on his eligibility for the 2012 season.
6. Minnesota (3-9, 1-7)
Jerry Kill enters his second season with the Gophers on what some might say the hot seat. I think that is a little harsh because it takes a little longer than two years to help build up a program. MarQueis Gray is talented and can move outside the pocket. Last season, Gray through for eight touchdowns as well as eight interceptions and had a dependable Da’Jon McKnight to throw to. He will not have that luxury this season. Minnesota will need help on both sides of the ball if they plan on improving in Kill’s second season. With a mix of young running backs and wide receivers, Gopher fans will look for a leader to emerge come fall.
Check back tomorrow for my preview of the Leaders Division. Can the Badgers repeat?