Welcome back Big Ten Football fans. Welcome back to another season of coverage of college footballs’ second best…..is it second best?…it’s at least third…depending on who’s in the Big 12 now…..well, let’s just call it one of the top five conferences in all of the (F)BS…the Big Ten schedule of games begins on Thursday, August 29th. We have a lot to discuss between now and then…I will tell you who will win, who will lose and more importantly why things will shake down the way they do.
First off…I guess we need to welcome Rutgers and Maryland to the conference. Welcome…thank you for increasing the rate at which the Big Ten plummets into mediocrity…Yes, you will be getting your money soon….yes Rutgers it doesn’t matter what happens from now on, you are in the Big Ten…YES..NO MATTER WHAT!…oh and by the way, thanks for the meaty New York TV market….your first check is in the mail….don’t call us, we’ll call you….Have a great time Scarlet Knight fans in 2014 when you drive from New Jersey to Lincoln, Nebraska and the almost 1300 miles and almost 20 hours of time you will spend behind the wheel…and that is one way. Thanks Mr. Delany…I know you made boat loads of money with the deal, but it’s just another nail in the coffin of the common fan. The Big Ten (and most other conferences by the way) used to be able to say that most of its teams were never really further than a nine or ten hour drive away from each other. You used to be able to do a snap-decision, middle-of-the-night or leave-at-dawn commute to your biggest rivals stadium….Those days are gone…thanks.
Let’s get the Big Ten Preview started shall we?….and for the last time, we will begin the preseason analysis with the Leaders Division.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Head Coach: Tim Beckman 2nd year….2-10
“In a word”..Wow…after doing some research on last years’ Illinois team…first off, I had to wake myself up on numerous occasions sifting through the ineptitude that was the Illinois offense…two things caught my attention…one…last year the Illini had co-offensive coordinators..neither of whom had any OC experience prior to 2012…two..in all eight Big Ten games in 2012, the Illinois offense had two plays that went for more than 30 yards…..TWO PLAYS….stunning. Tim Beckman hires a new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit who has been a coach or coordinator since 1997 in his last stop at WMU, Cubit made a believer out of QB Alex Carder (3800 yards and 31 TD’s and WR Jordan White-140 catches). Problem solved…just how soon will be the question. The Illini bring back eight offensive starters and that paired with the hiring of Cubit will improve what Illinois did in 2012. Look for a bounce-back season from senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase…he will be back in the upper echelon of the Big Ten QB’s. WR Ryan Lankford and HB Donovonn Young will keep offenses guessing as they will line up all over the place. The ten TD’s Illinois scored in their eight conference games last year will be a thing of the past.
“In a word”..Lacking…Since the loss of Ron Zook, most experts say that the talent level has decreased at Illinois…that may or may not be true, but one thing most will tell you is that they need to get to the oppositions QB at a better rate…period. The defensive line is where the Illini has had a pretty good amount of talent the last five years or so…but that well seems to have dried up when Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence left after last season. Illinois is going to have to rely on a ton of young, inexperienced but talented guys on the line to generate a pass rush in 2013….that might work in Columbus or Eugene…but probably not in Champana. Jonathan Brown is back to lead the linebackers and he is a major talent…after recording well over 100 tackles in 2011, he played injured for most of last season and still mustered up almost 60 tackles…but in order for Illinois to even think about getting back to .500, Brown needs to not only be on the field, but be a one man wrecking crew until the rest of the unit improves. The secondary brings back only one starter (Earnest Thomas) but they have very young and raw talent back there, but it is at least two years from being a real threatening force. The defense will be the key to whether or not the Illini can improve their 2012 win total by a couple or threaten for a bowl game in 2013.
Illinois 2013 Schedule
Win your non-conference games…they host Southern Illinois, Cincinnati and Miami, OH and play Washington at Soldier Field..they need to win as many as possible because their Big Ten slate is as daunting as they come…best chance at a W in the Big Ten is November 23 at Purdue and their first year coach…they open at Lincoln, get a bye, then host Wisconsin and MSU, go to Penn State and Indiana, host OSU, travel to West Lafayette and finish by hosting Northwestern….and 2014 doesn’t look much better…but that is so long from now…
Illinois…Could’s, Should’s and Will’s
Illinois could improve on the 2 win total from 2012…
The Fighting Illini should get coach Tim Beckman’s first conference win in 2013…
The Illini will be a better team than the 2012 squad…the record, however may not illustrate it.
Head Coach: Kevin Wilson 3rd year….5-19
“In a word”…scary….Indiana lost its starting QB Tre Roberson in game 2 in 2012 and still led the Big Ten in passing yards…Backup Cameron Coffman threw for over 2700 yards and almost 250 yards per game…they are a fast-paced offense and enjoy throwing the ball all over the field…with those two QB’s the Hoosiers are actually better off than most in the Big Ten…but HB could be dicey…the starter the last two season is Stephen Houston who has racked up over 1500 yards in that span…but I wouldn’t call him a work horse just yet. Last season he totaled just 162 carries….which is close to 14 carries a game…in Big Ten country, that is two quarters of action, but in Kevin Wilsons offense, where airing it out is king…it’s enough. Ten of the top eleven WR’s on the team come back in 2013…in fact, the Hoosiers return 10 starters on offense..tied for the most in the conference. They are going to put a lot of points up…the big challenge for Wilson is if his offense can produce like that all season long….unlike 2012.
“In a word”…improving…look, make no mistake..they will not be confused for a stout defense..they may have their moments and the talent level is increasing, but they are a ways away from relying on their defense for multiple stops in a half, let alone a game. IU does have eight starters returning…surprisingly, the Hoosiers did make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage in 2012…they will need to improve on yards allowed and points allowed…they were dead last in the conference in both of those departments last year. If Indiana can elevate either or both of those rankings just a spot or two, they will be a very dangerous team. I still have issues running this kind of offense in the Midwestern climate…but if this unit can make similar strides in 2013 as the offense did in 2012, this could be a team that may make a run for the division title…remember, they gave up three second half leads..at home vs MSU, OSU and gave up a lead on the road vs Navy last season…so they can hang.
Indiana 2013 Schedule
The Hoosiers don’t leave their home state until mid-October..just because you are playing at home, doesn’t mean it is easy…a challenging Indiana State team..followed by a rematch with Navy, then a tougher-than-you-may-expect Bowling Green squad and the nonconference slate ends with Missouri making the trek to Bloomtown. The Big Ten schedule gets underway after a bye week when PSU visits and the winner there probably will be the bigger threat to OSU for the Leader crown…IU then travels to East Lansing and Ann Arbor, gets a bye…has it’s homecoming tilt with Minnesota, hosts Illinois..then travels to Madison and Columbus and ends with the homer vs Purdue. They should win three or four home games without much trouble, but if they can win any road games coach Wilson is on his way to being a fixture at IU as long as he wants to stay.
Indiana Could’s, Would’s and Will’s…
Indiana could be the surprise team in the Big Ten this year.
The Hoosiers should qualify for a bowl game in 2013
IU will win a road game in 2013…it just may be their bowl game.
Up Next: I will preview Ohio State and Penn State
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