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Early Big Ten Football Predictions for 2013

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The Big Ten had a year to forget in 2012. Two of the conference’s best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) were ineligible to compete for the postseason, while Michigan State underachieved and finished with a 7-6 mark.

While the 2012 season will go down as a year to mostly forget, the Big Ten should be in better shape for 2013. Ohio State will be a national title contender and has a chance to run the table to finish unbeaten once again next season. The Buckeyes rank as the No. 2 team in Athlon’s early top 25 for 2013.

The Legends Division will be a tight battle between Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern next season. The Cornhuskers are the early favorite to win the division crown, but don’t overlook Michigan. The Wolverines got a huge boost when tackle Taylor Lewan turned down the NFL, while quarterback Devin Gardner had a strong finish to the season. 

Early Leaders Division Predictions for 2013

1. Ohio State

Key Returnees: QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Jordan Hall, WR Corey Brown, WR Devin Smith, LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley, DE Noah Spence, DT Adolphus Washington, LB Ryan Shazier, CB Bradley Roby, S Christian Bryant, S C.J. Barnett

Key Departures: WR/TE Jake Stoneburner, RT Reid Fragel, DE John Simon, DE Nathan Williams, DT Johnathan Hankins, NT Garrett Goebel, LB Etienne Sabino, LB Zach Boren, CB Travis Howard, S Orhian Johnson

After a 12-0 season with nothing to play for, the stakes are much higher for Ohio State in 2013. The Buckeyes are expected to be in the mix to play for the national championship and will be heavily favored to win the Big Ten. Quarterback Braxton Miller is one of the top Heisman contenders next season, but the junior needs more help from the supporting cast. Although Miller was able to start all 12 games in 2012, he took a pounding from recording 227 carries. Although the Buckeyes need their quarterback to be a factor on the ground, running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall have to shoulder more of the workload next season. While the offense should lead the Big Ten in scoring again in 2013, the defense has a few question marks to answer. The line loses four key contributors, including end John Simon and tackle Johnathan Hankins. Although Ohio State has a few holes to fill, expect Urban Meyer’s team to make another run at a perfect season.

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2. Wisconsin

Key Returnees: QB Curt Phillips, QB Joel Stave, RB James White, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, LG Ryan Groy, RG Kyle Costigan, RT Rob Havenstein, DE David Gilbert, DE Tyler Dippel, DT Beau Allen, DT Brendan Kelly, LB Chris Borland, LB Ethan Armstrong, FS Dezmen Southward

Key Departures: RB Montee Ball, LT Rick Wagner, C Travis Frederick, LB Mike Taylor, CB Devin Smith, SS Shelton Johnson

There’s a new coach in Madison but expect much of the same success from the Badgers. Gary Andersen comes to Wisconsin from Utah State, where he compiled a 26-24 record and helped to elevate the program to a conference title contender. Andersen will have plenty to work with in 2013, as Wisconsin returns most of its core from offense and nearly everyone on defense. Curt Phillips and Joel Stave will compete for the starting quarterback job, while James White and Melvin Gordon should be a capable combination to replace Montee Ball. The offensive line will miss tackle Rick Wagner and center Travis Frederick, but Ryan Groy, Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein is a good place to start reloading. Linebacker Mike Taylor is a tough loss, but Wisconsin could have one of the Big Ten’s best front sevens next year.  

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3. Penn State

Key Returnees: RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, TE Kyle Carter, LT Donovan Smith, RG John Urschel, DE Deion Barnes, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Glenn Carson, LB Mike Hull, CB Adrian Amos, FS Malcolm Willis, S Stephen Obeng-Agyapong

Key Departures: QB Matt McGloin, C Matt Stankiewitch, RT Mike Farrell, DE Sean Stanley, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, LB Gerald Hodges, CB Stephon Morris

Despite interest from NFL teams, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien will be back in Happy Valley for 2013. And that's huge for a program in need of stability under the upcoming NCAA scholarship sanctions. O’Brien did wonders with the Nittany Lions’ offense in 2012, leading the unit to an average of 417.5 yards per game and transforming quarterback Matt McGloin into an All-Big Ten candidate. O’Brien will have his work cut out for him in 2013, as McGloin has expired his eligibility, leaving Steven Bench (eight career passes), junior college recruit Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Christian Hackenberg to compete for the starting nod. With uncertainty surrounding the quarterbacks, look for running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton to shoulder much of the early workload. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for Georgia Tech, and O’Brien promoted assistant John Butler to call the plays. Butler will have his hands full too, as first-team All-Big Ten selections in linebacker Michael Mauti and defensive tackle Jordan Hill will be difficult to replace.

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4. Indiana

Key Returnees: QB Cameron Coffman, QB Tre Roberson, RB Stephen Houston, WR Cody Latimer, WR Shane Wynn, WR Kofi Hughes, TE Ted Bolser, LT Jason Spriggs, RG Dan Feeney, DE Ryan Phillis, DE Zack Shaw, LB David Cooper, LB Chase Hoobler, LB Flo Hardin, CB Brian Williams, S Greg Heban, S Mark Murphy

Key Departures: C Will Matte, DT Adam Replogle, DT Larry Black

The Hoosiers showed marked improvement in Kevin Wilson’s second season. Indiana increased its win total by three games and suffered four losses by four points or less. With nearly everyone back for 2013, Indiana should be able to push for six wins and a bowl appearance. The Hoosiers averaged 311.2 passing yards per game and return three capable starting quarterbacks. Tre Roberson started the first two games of the year but suffered a season-ending leg injury against UMass. In his absence, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld combined for 22 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a solid supporting cast, which includes one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps and an offensive line that returns four starters. Fixing the defense was a top priority for Wilson when he arrived in Bloomington, but Indiana has ranked 100th or worse in total and scoring defense over the last two years. Although Adam Replogle and Larry Black are huge losses for the defensive line, there’s some hope for a turnaround since nearly everyone else on the  two-deep is back for 2013.

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5. Purdue

Key Returnees: QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Hunt, WR O.J. Ross, WR Gary Bush, WR Dolapo Macarthy, DE Ryan Russell, DT Bruce Gaston, LB Will Lucas, LB Joe Gilliam, CB Ricardo Allen, CB Frankie Williams, SS Landon Feichter, S Taylor Richards

Key Departures: QB Robert Marve, RB Ralph Bolden, RB Akeem Shavers, WR Antavian Edison, LG Peters Drey, C Rick Schmeig, DT Kawann Short, LB Robert Maci, CB Josh Johnson

Despite taking Purdue to back-to-back bowl games, coach Danny Hope was fired shortly after the regular season finale against Indiana. New coach Darrell Hazell is charged with elevating the program back to Big Ten contender status, but 2013 could be a difficult year for the Boilermakers. Hazell’s rebuilding project will start on offense, as Purdue loses quarterback Robert Marve and running backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. Rob Henry will likely get the first shot at replacing Marve under center, but he has thrown only 38 passes since starting seven games in 2010. Despite losing All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short, Purdue’s defense should show some improvement after finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten in total and scoring defense last year. Hazell did a good job of rebuilding Kent State in a short amount of time. Can he find the same quick fixes in West Lafayette in 2013?

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6. Illinois

Key Returnees: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, RB Josh Ferguson, WR Ryan Lankford, WR Darius Millines, RG Ted Karras, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Mason Monheim, LB Mike Sventina, S Earnest Thomas

Key Departures: LT Hugh Thornton, C Graham Pocic, DE Michael Buchanan, NT Akeem Spence, DT Glenn Foster, CB Terry Hawthorne, CB Justin Green, S/LB Ashante Williams, S Suppo Sanni

Tim Beckman’s first season in Champaign was a disaster. The Fighting Illini won just two games for the first time since 2006 and snapped a streak of back-to-back bowl games. While a few ups and downs can be expected in a coaching transition, considering the returning talent at Illinois in 2012, no one could have predicted a season full of blowout losses and zero wins in Big Ten play. Beckman fired co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty and demoted Billy Gonzales to receivers coach. Staff changes on offense were necessary after finishing 119th nationally in scoring, but personnel is also an issue. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is a capable player but had very little help from the running game, offensive line and receiving corps in 2012. While Scheelhaase has to play better than he did last year, the coaching staff has to get better production from the surrounding cast. The defense allowed 387.6 yards per game last season and loses a chunk of its core, including nose tackle Akeem Spence, cornerback Terry Hawthorne and defensive end Michael Buchanan. The roster isn’t devoid of talent, but for now, the Fighting Illini will be the early favorite to finish in the cellar of the Leaders Division.

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Early Legends Division Predictions for 2013

1. Nebraska

Key Returnees: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah, RB Braylon Heard, WR Kenny Bell, WR Jamal Turner, WR Quincy Enunwa, LT Brent Qvale, RG Spencer Long, RT Jeremiah Sirles, DE Jason Ankrah, DT Thad Randle, DT Chase Rome, LB David Santos, CB Andrew Green, CB Josh Mitchell, DB Ciante Evans