The teams in the beleaguered Big Ten are set to resume hostilities against one other this weekend following a disappointing showing in non-conference play.
The Big Ten is currently the laughingstock of the college football nation after a number of embarrassing defeats, with the Michigan Wolverines‘ lopsided loss against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Cowboys Classic a harbinger of things to come.
The Big Ten is 6-9 against teams from BCS conferences and Notre Dame so far this season and only the Ohio State Buckeyes, Northwestern Wildcats and Minnesota Golden Gophers have emerged unscathed from the non-conference slate.
However, everyone will now happily turn their attention to Big Ten play and try to put their nightmare start behind them as we take a look at the five most pressing issues ahead of the conference openers.
1. Is Denard Robinson the man to lead Michigan to Big Ten glory?
Expectations were sky high for the dynamic quarterback heading into his senior season, especially after offensive coordinator Al Borges hailed his improved accuracy in spring and fall camp, but so far turnovers have plagued ‘Shoelace’. Robinson leads all FBS quarterbacks with eight interceptions, including two pick-sixes in just four games and saw his Heisman campaign end with a thud.
However, number 16 is one of the most electrifying players in the nation and if he can regain his swagger and cut down on the turnovers then Michigan has every chance to punch its ticket to Pasadena.
2. Can Michigan State win the Legends Division with an anemic passing attack?
The Spartans were picked by many pundits ahead of the season to win their division but struggled to move the ball in their loss to Notre Dame and were down at the half to lowly Eastern Michigan before pulling away in the fourth quarter last weekend. Michigan State’s defense has been as good as advertised but the offense has been unable to move the ball through the air and the receivers drew the ire of coach Mark Dantonio last Saturday.
The good news for Spartans fans is that they have an all-conference running back in Le’Veon Bell and boast a suffocating defense and that should be enough to win more games than not in a down year for the Big Ten.
3. Are Minnesota and Northwestern for real?
Not much was expected out of Minnesota after Jerry Kill’s first season at the helm produced a forgettable 3-9 record. However, the Gophers have sprinted out of the starting blocks and are currently undefeated heading into their Big Ten opener at Iowa. The tilt against the Hawkeyes is certainly winnable but with Michigan, Michigan State and the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the schedule it’s hard to envisage Minnesota winning more than three conference games.
Northwestern has been the Big Ten’s surprise package so far this year, defeating the likes of the Syracuse Orange, Vanderbilt Commodores and Boston College Eagles en route to an impressive 4-0 start. Pat Fitzgerald is a criminally underrated coach and the team has a home-run threat in Venric Mark and there’s no reason why the Wildcats can’t make some noise in the Leaders Division this year.
4. What’s wrong with the Iowa Hawkeyes?
No one expected Kirk Ferentz’s men to be the cream of the Big Ten crop this season but losses to the Iowa State Cyclones and Central Michigan Chippewas coupled with last-minute escapes against the Northern Illinois Huskies and Northern Iowa Cyclones have left the Hawkeyes faithful frustrated.
Injuries at the running back position can be used as a viable excuse but the struggles of quarterback James Vandenberg are harder to swallow. Ferentz shook up his staff after last season and that move has not paid dividends yet. A quick look at the upcoming schedule shows that a 2-6 conference record is not out of the question.
5. Can Braxton Miller continue to carry Ohio State on his back?
The Buckeyes have looked sluggish in their opening games but navigated their way through a slew of tricky situations thanks to the brilliance of their sophmore quarterback. Ohio State staved off upset bids from the California Golden Bears and UAB Blazers but will need to play better on both sides of the ball when they travel to East Lansing on Saturday.
Miller has forced his way into the Heisman conversation with his performances to date and can single-handedly change the outcome of a game but will need help from his running backs and receivers to ensure he lasts the entire season.
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