Big Ten spring preview: Leaders Division
With a handful of schools already starting their spring practice session on Monday – with the latest being April 3 – we can get a small glance of how teams will be shaping for this fall.
Spring games usually take place in the latter end of April, but there will be some played in March.
That said, I will be releasing pre-spring power rankings for every major conference, while giving a short explanation for my decision.
Here is a spring preview of the Big Ten Conference: Leaders Division.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten in 2012)
Urban Meyer did an unbelievable job with a team that had won six games prior to his arrival and in a year that technically meant absolutely nothing. Now that Ohio State is eligible, it should be thinking Big Ten championship and national championship appearance (it would have made one in 2012 had it been eligible). The Buckeyes should be explosive on offense again with nine returning starters – including Heisman contender QB Braxton Miller – and a young, but very talented defense: Ohio State will have to replace all four starting defensive linemen from last year, but the backups could be just as good as last year’s front, if not better.
2. Wisconsin Badgers (8-6, 4-4)
The good news for Wisconsin is that it got one heck of a hire with Gary Andersen to replace Bret Bielema, who fled for Arkansas. The bad news is that Ohio State is eligible again, and the Badgers will have to do much better than seven wins to reach the conference title game. The offensive line will be one of the best in the country (as usual), meaning Wisconsin will not have too much of a drop-off in the backfield with Montee Ball’s departure. However, the Badgers lose nearly their entire secondary, including some key playmakers. The Leaders Division may come down to September 28 when Wisconsin visits Columbus to take on the Buckeyes.
3. Indiana Hoosiers (4-8, 2-6)
Could it be that we’re looking at the second bowl-bound Indiana team since 1993? Kevin Wilson has made it a great possibility. Like last year, the Hoosiers are tied for first in the nation for returning starters (19), which just goes to show how young this team has been. QB Tre Roberson is back from a broken leg and should be ready to lead an offensive unit that put up 49 points on Ohio State. If key recruits can fill some significant holes on the defensive front seven, the Hoosiers will undoubtedly be participating in postseason festivities.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-4, 6-2)
Someone has to say it, but the fairy tale ends here. It’s almost hard to believe Bill O’Brien was able to work up eight wins all while leading Penn State through one of the biggest scandals in this country’s history, but unfortunately, he’ll be feeling the after-effects of it for the next several years. Penn State has a lot of questions at multiple key positions heading into the spring. Quarterback is a mystery, although it did receive a huge commitment from Christian Hackenberg (the No. 2 QB for the class of ’13). Unless some young guys step up big, the Nittany Lions will struggle to get a push on opposing offensive lines. The Big Ten’s monstrous run game could do it in for what looks to be a depleted defensive front.
5. Illinois Fighting Illini (2-10, 0-8)
A lot needs to happen for Tim Beckman to keep his job after next season, and I’m not so sure that any of those requirements will be met. One positive for new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit is that he will have an experienced quarterback to work with in Nathan Scheelhaase, but desperately needs to find a playmaker to help him out, as the Illini finished 122nd in points for (16.7) last season. Illinois will also somehow have to fill both defensive tackle spots after junior Akeem Spence declared for the draft, while getting consistent play from its veteran defensive backs.
6. Purdue Boilermakers (6-7, 3-5)
You have to take a step back before you can take one forward, right? Well, that’s the case for Darrell Hazell’s Boilermakers in 2013. Purdue did it right by letting go of Danny Hope and grabbing Hazell from Kent state. However, it’s going to take some time for his system to sink in and for his recruits to fill positions. The Boilermakers return just five starters on offense and have to find a replacement at quarterback, running back and leading receiver. They bring back eight familiar faces on defense, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot to a team that allowed at least 34 points in seven games last season.
Click here to check out the Big Ten Legends Division spring preview.