That means this coming season will be the final year where the Big Ten is made of the Leaders and the Legends divisions, the two poorly-named and short-lived six-team divisions. While the Legends division should be hotly contested again, likely between Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska, the Leaders division is a different story.
Nothing is certain in early July, but it is pretty safe to say that the Leaders division will be very weak this season as it lacks any depth after the Ohio State Buckeyes. The other five teams — Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Penn State – fail to impress at all, having been a combined 15-25 last year while Ohio State went undefeated in the Big Ten.
None of the Buckeyes’ divisional competitors have improved very much, and Wisconsin and Penn State are the only two who are at least likely to be good enough to be bowl eligible, even if the Nittany Lions are banned from a bowl or from winning the division. Illinois and Indiana figure to be conference bottom-feeders again, while Purdue figures to be mediocre in their first year with new coach Darrell Hazell.
Ohio State, on the other hand, look like the popular pick to win the entire Big Ten, much less the Leaders division. After going undefeated last year but being kept back from the national title conversation because of a tattoo-caused bowl ban, the Buckeyes have a good shot at repeating in 2013. Urban Meyer‘s crew will only have four legitimate tough games (at California, Penn State, Wisconsin, and at Michigan) and should be favorites in every one.
The Leaders division has one clear leader. Ohio State is clearly more talented than any other team in their division and it would take a lot to go wrong for them and a lot to go right for Wisconsin for the Buckeyes not to find themselves in the Big Ten Championship game.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter at @alexdaleCFB