Yes, the 2013 season just ended on Monday night, but it is never too early to talk about next season.
A victory by the Florida State Seminoles over the Auburn Tigers to win a national title capped off what has been a great season. With the Seminoles’ victory came a dethroning of the SEC in the national title game and more importantly, a farewell to the BCS era as a four-team playoff system will be put in for 2014. Bringing in a new system also brings in changes for conferences like the Big Ten.
The Big Ten will not only bring in two new teams, the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights, but it will also realign the current divisions into the East and West divisions. This realignment is already begging the question of who will win the Big Ten in 2014. The Ohio State Buckeyes were a clear favorite to win the conference in 2013, but it is not as clear-cut for 2014.
The defending conference champion Michigan State Spartans would make sense as a favorite since they will be the highest ranked Big Ten team heading into next season. However, they will now be in the East Division with Ohio State instead of being in a different division like they have been the last few years. The Spartans will also lose several of their star defensive players like Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis. The Buckeyes are hungry for a title, a championship and revenge on Michigan State. They will not make it as easy on the Spartans as they did this season. The likely return of Braxton Miller for his senior season and a much-improved defense will be what the Spartans have to contend with. Ohio State is losing some key starters on both sides of the ball, but they have plenty of younger guys with a lot of potential who are ready to step up and make a name for themselves. Who knows what the Michigan Wolverines or Penn State Nittany Lions will do in 2014, but a good season for either of these teams could make it a multiple team race for the East Division title. So, what about the West Division?
The West Division of the Big Ten will be even more wide open. After Ohio State and Michigan State, the Wisconsin Badgers are likely the next highest ranked team in the Big Ten. Now that the Badgers won’t have Ohio State to contend within the same division, it could give them a better shot at a conference title. They will lose a lot of seniors on their defense, but they will not have to face the Buckeyes, Spartans or Wolverines in 2014. Both the Iowa Hawkeyes and Nebraska Cornhuskers finished with just four losses in 2013, so they could be in the mix to compete for a title as well. You also cannot count out the Northwestern Wildcats or Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Wildcats are determined to have a better season after what was to be a promising season in 2013 turned into a disappointment. Minnesota had a surprising season in 2013 and will look to continue their momentum into next season. It could turn into a multi-team race in the West Division.
The fact that there is no clear-cut favorite in either division shows how the Big Ten is improving. More and more Big Ten teams are ranked and in the mix to play for the conference title every year. Who will win the title in 2014?
It may not be as easy to predict as you might think. Get ready for some exciting Big Ten football in 2014.