Big-10 Leaders Division Preview

IS OHIO STATE REALLY A SUPERPOWER...OR IS BIG 10 "LEADER" A PRETENDER?

It was very hard last year to determine whether or not the Ohio State Buckeyes were a mirage, or a true national power. They finished the season 12-0. But, they had so many unimpressive victories that real handicapping wouldn't have put them in the same class as a team like Alabama.

As we continue our summer series of college football conference previews today with the Big 10 "Leaders" division, it's time to look more closely at Ohio State's 2012 results...and their 2013 potential.

Why? Because everyone and their mother is placing Ohio State at #2 in the early 2013 polls even though this team had to go overtime to beat Purdue, looked awful in tighter than expected wins over weak California and UAB squads, and barely survived nail-biters with Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Michigan!

On the bright side: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State didn't at all embarrass themselves in neutral field bowl games against Stanford, South Carolina, and TCU respectively. Ohio State going 3-0 vs. those Big 10 powers on its own would suggest top 10 caliber.

On the down side: Ohio State ranked #47 on offense and #34 on defense despite playing a weak schedule. Their "best" games were top 10 caliber...but they weren't consistently top 10 caliber all season. A team like Alabama would have utterly crushed UAB, Purdue, and even California. Heck, Alabama utterly crushed Michigan on a neutral field, when Ohio State only beat the Wolverines by five in Columbus.

With that context for last year, let's see what 2013 looks like for the Buckeyes and the rest of the "Leaders" division. We'll look at the "Legends" division (featuring the Michigan schools and Nebraska) in Thursday's report).

BIG 10 LEADERS

OHIO STATE

Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 4 on defense
Quarterback: Braxton MIller
Head Coach: Urban Meyer

The defense takes a big hit. But, the new starters will have plenty of time to get ready for league action with an opening slate of Buffalo, San Diego State, rebuilding California, and Florida A&M. Big 10 play starts tough with a home game against Wisconsin and a road game at Northwestern. Those will be legitimate hurdles the Buckeyes have to clear. We don't have Ohio State in the top five of our own proprietary Power Ratings to start the season. We'll put them there if they earn it. Remember that Notre Dame's debacle in the BCS title game last year was more evidence that Midwest football is still way behind the SEC. Handicappers and sports bettors MUST have a firm grip on reality.

WISCONSIN

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Quarterback: ???
Head Coach: Gary Anderson (new)

The Big 10 was shocked when Bret Bielema fled Wisconsin for Arkansas. What a blow to the league's pride! The Badgers will try to regroup under new coach Gary Anderson (from Utah State), while lacking an experienced quarterback. There is still a lot of talent, and a lot of beef. Can that overcome the shellshock? A September 14 trip to Arizona State will tell us a lot. That's a very tough test if the team is troubled. Places that have Wisconsin in their Preseason top 15 may be crossing their fingers a bit.

PENN STATE

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Quarterback: ???
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien

Can life get any easier for Ohio State?! The two main threats in their division will both be starting inexperienced quarterbacks while only returning half of the team's offensive and defensive starters. There's a definitely chance of a "letdown" this year after an inspirational rally toward a surprising level of play in 2012. Many expected a program-wide collapse. Instead, Penn State grinded out an 8-4 record that was highlighted by a 6-2 mark in Big 10 play. Great for the players...but a very strong indictment of how bad this conference has become. Penn State lost to Ohio and Virginia but went 6-2 in the Big 10!

INDIANA

Returning Starters: 10 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Tre Roberson
Head Coach: Kevin Wilson

There's a real opportunity for the Hoosiers to take a step forward here because they have so much returning experience. Roberson at QB is the only non-starter returning according to Athlon's preseason publication (be sure to check out JIM HURLEY'S display ad on page 173!). And he showed promise in the past before suffering an injury. This is still a team that lost to Ball State and Navy last year, while ranking #103 in defense. Look for "live dog" spots with them when their experience is most likely to pay off.

PURDUE

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 8 on defense
Quarterback: ???
Head Coach: Darrell Hazell (new)

Hazell comes over from Kent State. Jumping from the upper half of the MAC to the lower half of the Big 10 just isn't all that big of a jump any more. He may be able to improve the Boilermakers right away. Offense will be a trouble spot with little experience and no proven quarterback. We may be looking to fade Purdue in their season opener at Cincinnati as a result. Purdue's schedule is frontloaded with trouble this year...which will make it difficult to get traction.

ILLINOIS

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 3 on defense
Quarterback: Nathan Scheelhause
Head Coach: Tim Beckman

Scheelhause is a game competitor...but he tends to wear down because he likes having the ball in his hands. There is experience back on offense to help him if he stays healthy. The defense is in big trouble...as the only strength on a bad 2012 team was gutted by graduation. Maybe they'll have an interesting battle with Purdue for last place.

We often sound negative about the Big 10 in our summer previews. They've earned that scorn in recent seasons outside of a few great stories here and there. Right now, there's a chance that Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State will all be overrated, while the lower half doesn't show much improvement. We'll have more positives to outline tomorrow with all head coaches in the "Legends" half of the league returning, as well as five of six starting quarterbacks.

JIM HURLEY has owned college football through recent seasons because he understands the difference between media hype and actual on-field ability. He'll prove that to you again this year in both college and pro football. Take advantage of great early-bird rates right now here at the website. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453

Back with you tomorrow to study the "Legends" division. We'll devote Friday to baseball with the return of MLB from the All-Star Break...then jump right back to football for the Atlantic Coast Conference Saturday and Sunday. Stick with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK, and link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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