Since the BCS system was implemented in 1998, no conference has had more representation than the Big Ten, which has tallied 26 total appearances. With a loaded league from top to bottom in 2013, the conference looks primed to add to its total in the final year of the BCS.
This season also marks the final year of the “Legends” and “Leaders” divisions, as next year’s additions of Maryland and Rutgers warranted realignment, and consequently new names as well. Beginning in 2014, teams will be split into “East” and “West” divisions, and in 2016, the league will transition to a nine-game conference schedule instead of eight. The Big Ten East Division will be comprised of Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers, while the Big Ten West Division will consist of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
In the meantime, you can find everything you need to know about the 2013 Big Ten football schedule in our preview below.
Iowa Hawkeyes - 2012 record: 4-8 (2-6 vs. Big Ten)
The Hawkeyes have earned bowl game berths in 10 of Kirk Ferentz’s 14 years in Iowa City, and will look to return to the postseason this year as the team brings back seven starters on each side of the ball. While the offense will lean on the continuity to improve an embattled attack, the defense is looking to the returning players to build on a unit that was already outstanding a year ago – in 2012, the defense allowed less than 23 points per game in a powerful Big Ten.
Player to Watch: Mark Weisman | Running Back
Despite only carrying the ball in nine games, Weisman proved to be a revelation for the Hawkeyes. The 6-1, 236-pound bruiser came out of nowhere to have some monster games for Iowa in 2012, including a four-game stretch in which he gained 623 yards on the ground with eight touchdowns. The former walk-on will be counted on to carry the load all season long in 2013 after averaging over five yards per carry in limited duty last year.
Michigan Wolverines - 2012 record: 8-5 (6-2 vs Big Ten)
Although Michigan loses electrifying playmaker Denard Robinson and brings back just 12 total starters from last season, the 2013 Wolverines may just be head coach Brady Hoke’s most dangerous team yet. Hoke will welcome to campus the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the nation according to Rivals.com, which includes Derrick Green, the top-ranked running back in the class. With the pro-style offense being ushered in, the recruits should thrive in the new system.
Player to Watch: Devin Gardner | Quarterback
The team’s faith in Gardner can be summed up by the fact that it decided to move Robinson, a Heisman Trophy candidate, to other positions in order to get Gardner snaps behind center. The offense was much more balanced with Gardner in charge, as he threw for 11 touchdowns and just five interceptions in limited action. Gardner’s combination of play-making ability and accuracy should ensure that the Wolverines offense will again keep the chains moving in 2013.
Michigan State Spartans - 2012 record: 7-6 (3-5 vs Big Ten)
Michigan State will bring back to East Lansing 15 total starters from a team that won a bowl game a season ago. Head coach Mark Dantonio always seems to have his Spartans prepared for postseason play, having guided his squad to bowl games in each of his six seasons since taking over in 2007. Though the offense will have to replace star running back Le’Veon Bell, returning starting QB Andrew Maxwell should be able to lead the offense in a more pass-heavy approach.
Player to Watch: Darqueze Dennard | Cornerback
It is not often that the most important player on a team is a cornerback, but such is the case with the 2013 Spartans, given Dennard’s immense talent and ability to change games. The senior defensive back has been known to lock down his assigned receiver for the duration of games, and will not hesitate to step in front of a pass that comes his way. Notably, the shutdown corner had two interceptions against Nebraska in a key game in 2012.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - 2012 record: 6-7 (2-6 vs Big Ten)
Minnesota returns the second-most starters in the conference in 2013, with 16 set to return to campus, including 10 on offense. After splitting time at quarterback in 2012, sophomore Philip Nelson will now assume complete control of the Golden Gophers offense, where he will use a familiarity with his surrounding players to attempt to bring the team to its second straight postseason appearance.
Player to Watch: Ra’Shede Hageman | Defensive Tackle
Hageman is one of the most impressive physical specimens in all of college football, with a 6-6, 311-pound frame and the ability to chase down running backs from behind in pursuit. Hageman recorded six sacks in 2012 – second-most on the team – and will be relied upon heavily to lead a rebuilt defense this season.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - 2012 record: 10-4 (7-1 vs Big Ten)
Nebraska looks like it could be the team to beat in the Legends Division, with nine starters returning from an offense that ran for over 250 yards per game a season ago. Taylor Martinez is sure to receive plenty of Heisman hype as he heads into his fourth year as starting quarterback of the Cornhuskers after scoring 33 total touchdowns last season. The critical component to the success of the Huskers may be the passing game, where Martinez will look for Kenny Bell (50 receptions, eight touchdowns) to keep defenses honest.
Player to Watch: Ameer Abdullah | Running Back
Although Martinez will be tasked with running the offense, all eyes will be on Abdullah to see if he can replicate his breakout 2012 season, in which he ran for 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns in the first significant action of his career. With Rex Burkhead – fifth place on the school’s all-time rushing list – recently graduated, Abdullah will need to step up his production yet again in 2013.
Northwestern Wildcats - 2012 record: 10-3 (5-3 vs Big Ten)
Under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, the Northwestern Wildcats have become one of the most dangerous teams in the Big Ten. After snapping a 64-year drought by beating Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl last season, the Wildcats are a team to watch for in 2013, especially considering they are returning 15 total starters from last year’s 10-win squad.
Player to Watch: Kain Colter | Quarterback
In his three years in Evanston, Colter has been one of the most dynamic players in the country. Last season, the versatile playmaker threw for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, rushed for 894 yards and 12 touchdowns, and even caught 16 balls for 169 yards. This season, he is expected to do most of his work from behind center, where he will again team up with running back Venric Mark to form one of the nation’s best backfield duos.
Illinois Fighting Illini - 2012 record: 2-10 (0-8 vs Big Ten)
Head coach Tim Beckman is looking for a rebound season for the Illini after battling through a transition year in 2012. Beckman, who previously led an embattled Toledo program to prominence, will have plenty of talent to work with in his second season, including a pair of capable running backs in Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson. With the backfield mates taking turns lining up next to returning QB Nathan Scheelhaase, the Illini offense could show some significant improvement in 2013.
Player to Watch: Nathan Scheelhaase | Quarterback
If Scheelhaase can return to the form that he showed during his sophomore season, the Illini have a chance to really progress this season. By tempering his inclination towards improvising, his arm strength and accuracy can be fully utilized in an offense that thrives on completions and downfield passing.
Indiana Hoosiers - 2012 record: 4-8 (2-6 vs Big Ten)
With 19 returning starters – tied for the most in the nation – the Indiana Hoosiers are one of the nation’s top breakout candidates. The Hoosiers bucked the Big Ten trend of run-heavy attacks by throwing for over 311 yards per game in 2012, despite rotating between three different quarterbacks. In 2013, Indiana’s passing game should be stronger than ever, as the team returns all three QBs and 10 of its top 11 receivers.
Player to Watch: Cody Latimer | Wide Receiver
While it’s unknown who will be taking all of the snaps from behind center in 2013, one thing is for certain: Cody Latimer will be a go-to target for long passes. Last season, the 6’3 receiver burned opposing defenses to the tune of 51 catches for 805 yards – an astounding 15.8 yard-per-catch average.
Ohio State Buckeyes - 2012 record: 12-0 (8-0 vs Big Ten)
Entering the season as the No. 2 team in both the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and the AP Poll, the Buckeyes will have a target on their backs all season long as they attempt to navigate through a difficult conference slate. Although OSU completed the 2012 season with an unblemished record, they will have their hands full trying to repeat that feat this season in a vastly improved Big Ten.
Player to Watch: Braxton Miller | Quarterback
Miller is among the Heisman frontrunners heading into the 2013 season, and for good reason – the dual-threat QB was nearly unstoppable last season, scoring 28 total touchdowns while throwing for 2,039 yards and rushing for 1,271 more. If the Buckeyes are to achieve another undefeated season in 2013, it will likely hinge on Miller’s ability to live up to expectations.
Penn State Nittany Lions - 2012 record: 8-4 (6-2 vs Big Ten)
While an 8-4 campaign at Penn State would not normally be worthy of national recognition, the eight victories the Nittany Lions earned last season deserved all of the attention they received after a trying offseason. Head coach Bill O’Brien implemented his spread-option offense to great results in his debut season, as PSU ranked 35th nationally with over 273 passing yards per game. The key in his second season could be the defense, which must replace six players from a unit that placed 16th in the country in points allowed.
Player to Watch: Allen Robinson | Wide Receiver
One benefactor of the team’s new identity as a spread attack was Allen Robinson, who demolished the previous school record by hauling in 77 receptions last season for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. Whoever ends up taking the snaps in Happy Valley will undoubtedly have one of the best weapons in the conference at his disposal on the outside.
Purdue Boilermakers - 2012 record: 6-7 (3-5 vs Big Ten)
The Boilermakers have experienced plenty of turnover from a team that qualified for a Jan. 1 bowl game last season, but they will also have some new and exciting talent to show off. The offense will bring back five players, while the defense will regain the services of eight of its first-teamers. The team will ride a three-game Big Ten win streak into conference play in 2013 after running off a trio of wins over Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana to end last season and become bowl eligible.
Player to Watch: Rob Henry | Quarterback
Although Henry has not started a game in the past two years, he is far from inexperienced. The senior signal caller started seven games in 2010, when he threw for nearly 1,000 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for 547 yards and four touchdowns. If Purdue is to make it to another postseason game in 2013, Henry will need to show the same versatility he did three years ago.
Wisconsin Badgers - 2012 record: 8-6 (4-4 vs Big Ten)
Wisconsin has been among the most consistently dominant teams in the nation in recent years, and will have a chance to further that reputation this season, despite losing head coach Bret Bielema. Although the team will experience change from its leadership on the sidelines, the continuity on the field should help the Badgers maintain their standard of excellence under new coach Gary Andersen, as 15 starters return from a 2012 Rose Bowl squad.
Player to Watch: James White | Running Back
The Badgers have owned one of the nation’s top rushing attacks for years, but now that stud running back Montee Ball has graduated, the team must rely on a new back to carry the load. White has seen playing time in the past, but has seen his workload decrease each season since 2010 as Ball emerged as the feature back. If White can show the production he did back in his freshman year (1052 yards, 14 TDs), the Badgers might not miss a beat on the ground.
KEY BIG TEN GAMES
Ohio State vs. Northwestern | Oct. 5
Michigan vs. Michigan State | Nov. 2
Iowa vs. Nebraska | Nov. 29
Ohio State vs. Michigan | Nov. 30
Penn State vs. Wisconsin | Nov. 30
Big Ten Championship Game - Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis | Dec. 7