2012 Big Ten Leaders Division Preview

College Football
2012 Big Ten Leaders Division Preview

All Odds courtesy of Bovada

Wisconsin is a heavy favorite to win the Big Ten Leaders Division. Penn St and Ohio St are ineligible due to NCAA sanctions.

Although Wisconsin is the two time defending Big Ten champion, many thought they wouldn’t be as strong this year. The Badgers are still projected to be a pre-season top 25 team, but they had top 10 talent the last two years. Yet, Wisconsin is still the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten Leaders Division. This is mainly due to Ohio St and Penn St being ineligible for the Big Ten Championship game and post-season play. None of the other 3 teams that are eligible for the division title, Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana are expected to be as strong as Wisconsin.

Here is a look at the 4 teams that are eligible for the Leaders Division title, with odds courtesy of Bovada. I will include the odds to win the division, the Big Ten, and BCS Championship when applicable. I will not be discussing Penn St and Ohio St, because they are not eligible. Penn St was banned from post-season play for 4 years earlier in the week by the NCAA along with other harsh sanctions as a result of the Sandusky scandal and cover-up by university officials. Ohio St is also under NCAA sanctions this season.

Wisconsin – (1/5 Leaders, 2/1 Big Ten, 40/1 BCS)

Wisconsin, coached by Brett Bielema, won their second straight Big Ten title last year and made a second straight trip to the Rose Bowl with an 11-3 record. unfortunately, they lost in Pasadena for the second year in a row in heartbreaking fashion, 45-38 to Oregon.

Last season, Wisconsin was led by quarterback Russell Wilson, who transferred from North Carolina St. Wilson was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. However, the Badgers went to the ACC transfer well again with Danny O’Brien from Maryland. O’Brien graduated in May and will be eligible to play right away for Wisconsin, and will have two years of eligibility left. He is the likely starter, but sophomores Joe Brennan or Joel Stave could steal the job if they dazzle in fall camp.

Wisconsin must also replace offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who left to take over as head coach at Pittsburgh. Bielema hired Northern Illinois OC Matt Canada. NIU runs a similar spread offense as Wisconsin with an emphasis on the run game.

O’Brien’s top weapon on offense will be Heisman candidateĀ  running back Montee Ball. Ball led the nation in rushing last year with just under 2,000 yards, and scored 39 touchdowns (33 rushing) last year. James White, Melvin Gordon, and Jeffrey Lewis will also get some carries in relief of Ball. Ball and White both caught a lot of passes from the backfield. Wide receivers Jared Abbrederis, and Jeff Duckworth along with tight end Jacob Pedersen are best receivers. The line returns 3 starters, and should be able to protect the quarterback and open up holes for Ball.

The defense returns almost all of their starters and back-ups from last year. They struggled against the run, as they ranked 60th out of 120 teams in FBS college football. However, the Badgers were #4 against the pass. With experience, expect the defense to be better this year.

The non-conference schedule isn’t a cake walk. They open at home against perennial FCS power Northern Iowa, before traveling to Oregon St. The Badgers then host WAC favorite Utah St and UTEP from Conference USA. In conference Wisconsin has road games at Nebraska, Purdue, Indiana, and Penn St, and has home games against Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan St, and Ohio St. The trip to Nebraska, and home games against Michigan St and Ohio St look to be the toughest games on the schedule. Wisconsin should get back to the Big Ten title game though, and could take a BCS bid as well.

Illinois – (11/2 Leaders, 20/1 Big Ten, No Line BCS)

Last season, Illinois started off 6-0 and had dreams of a Big Ten title. However, the Illini lost their last 6 games to go 6-6. They still qualified for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and beat UCLA 20-14 to finish 7-6. The six game losing streak cost coach Ron Zook his job. Illinois hired Tim Beckman from Toledo. He led Toledo to a 9-3 record that could have been even better, as the Rockets had narrow losses to Syracuse and Northwestern.

Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is playing in his third system in three years under new offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales. Scheelhaase is a dual threat quarterback. He led the Illini in passing and rushing last year, with over 2,700 combined yards, 19 total touchdowns, and he threw 8 interceptions.

The running backs will be sophomores Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson. young had 6 rushing touchdowns last year, but missed most of the spring with a foot injury. He is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Ferguson played in only three games last season. The Illini return 3 of their top 4 receivers in Spencer Harris, Darius Millines and Jon Davis, but must replace leading receiver A.J. Jenkins. Millines should be the go-to receiver. The line struggled last year, as they were 102nd out of 120 teams. They do return 3 starters, so they could improve this year.

Illinois returns most of the starters from a defensive unit that was #7 in the nation a year ago. They should remain an elite unit barring injury.

Illinois has non-conference home games against Western Michigan, Charleston Southern, and Louisiana Tech, and travels to Arizona St. In conference, Illinois hosts Penn St, Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota, and travels to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio St, and Northwestern. That is a brutal schedule having to go to Madison, Ann Arbor, and Columbus in a four game stretch. Illinois could get a bowl bid but I don’t think they will contend for the division or conference title.

Purdue – (8/1 Leaders, 50/1 Big Ten, No Line BCS)

Last season, Purdue finished 7-6 under coach Danny Hope, and won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl 37-32 against Western Michigan. The team was a little difficult to figure out, as they lost to Rice early in the season, but upset Illinois and Ohio St.

Look for the Boilermakers to use at least two quarterbacks this year, and maybe three. Senior Caleb TerBush was the starter last year. He put up decent but not spectacular numbers last year. Sixth year senior Robert Marve returns from a torn ACL. Rob Henry is also coming off an ACL tear. He could see some time at running back or wide receiver as well as taking some snaps. He is the best athlete of the three.

The offensive line loses 3 starters and the other two battled injuries in the spring. The top receivers are Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross. The running backs are Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden. Bolden is also coming off a knee injury.

New defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar has installed a system that uses multiple formations with players who can play different positions. The idea is to confuse the offense. Purdue should be more aggressive, and has a lot of talent.

The Boilermakers open with 5 of their first 6 games at home, but then go on the road for 4 of the last 6. the only road game in the first 6 is at Notre Dame. Purdue has home games against Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Marshall, Michigan and Wisconsin. The second half includes home gamesĀ  against Penn St and Indiana, and road games at Ohio St, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. They might get a bowl bid.

Indiana (15/1 Leaders, 65/1 Big Ten, No Line BCS)

Last season Indiana finished 1-11 under first year coach Kevin Wilson. In the first five games of the season, Indiana lost 4 of 5 games by a total of 19 points. The only win came against South Carolina St. In the second half of the season, they lost 7 games by an average of 27 points.

Indiana struggled on both sides of the ball as you might expect from a one win team. Freshman Tre Robinson took over as the starter midway through the season. He is a better runner than passer, but he looks to improve on his throwing. His job as the starter isn’t secure as Cameron Coffman and Nathan Sudfeld have stronger arms.

Seven of the top eight rushers return, led by Stephen Houston who averaged 5 yards a carry last year. D’Angelo Roberts, Tevin Coleman, and Isaiah Roundtree will also get some carries. Kofi Hughes is the top receiver, but he only had 35 catches. Duwyce Wilson returns a knee injury. Cody Latimer and Jay McCants also have potential.

The Indiana defense was worst in the Big Ten last year in total defense, against the run and in scoring defense. Wilson brought in 5 junior college transfers to improve the defense right away.

Indiana has non-conference home games against Indiana St and Ball St, and road games at Massachusetts and Navy. The Hoosiers have conference games at Northwestern, Illinois, Penn St, and Purdue, and host Michigan St, Ohio St, Iowa, and Wisconsin. I think 5 wins would be a stretch for this team.

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