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College Football 2014 Look Ahead: The Big Ten

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Michigan State vs Ohio State

Yesterday, we looked at the SEC. Today, we take a quick look ahead at their big money brethren, the Big Ten.

Expansion: The Big Ten adds two new members for 2014. Playing Nebraska every year was at least cool in theory. Playing Rutgers/Maryland every year, at the expense of say Iowa/Wisconsin, is not so great. Hooray, BTN footprint! For the athletics departments, it will be more money to fritter away on salaries and facilities. For fans it, frankly, sucks. Expansion dilutes the schedule. With a conference home slate of Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana and Maryland, even Michigan is struggling to sell tickets.

Prorated SRS: Here are the prorated Simple Rating System numbers for the Big Ten from the past four seasons…

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What do we make of this? First, the SEC has six teams better than Wisconsin and 13 teams better than Iowa. The B1G just countered Texas A&M and Missouri by adding another Minnesota and Indiana.

Michigan State is not as high as the naked narrative would suggest. That’s mostly a product of poor schedule strength and not beating teams by many points, before 2013. Sparty did phenomenally well in 2010-11, going 8-1 in one-score games. The course correction happened in 2012. Michigan, meanwhile, has not been as bad as the naked narrative would suggest.

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Teams Helped By The Schedule: Iowa drew Indiana/Maryland from the East. Their toughest game from the first 10 is Northwestern at home. They get Wisconsin/Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium at the end of November. Ohio State drew Illinois/Minnesota from West. Michigan State (away) and Michigan (home) are their only contentious games, maybe. Wisconsin faces Rutgers/Maryland from the East. They get Nebraska at home. The Spartans play Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State in East Lansing.

Teams Hurt By The Schedule: Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights drew Wisconsin/Nebraska from the West and play both back-to-back, right after facing Michigan and Ohio State. That’s not to mention the trip to East Lansing later in the year. Nebraska has four seminal B1G games – Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa – all on the road. Minnesota drew Michigan and Ohio State from the East. They close the season with Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin. Don’t expect a great leap forward from Jerry Kill’s crew.

Returning Starters: Not too much here. Indiana has 18 starters back, albeit from a team that went 5-7. Many of the major programs will be overhauling in certain parts of the field. Wisconsin loses its entire starting front seven on defense. Both Nebraska and Ohio State must replace four offensive line starters. Michigan State kept Pat Narduzzi, but drops seven starters from last year’s defense, including three who were first-team All-Big Ten.

Brady Hoke angry during Penn State overtime

Quarterbacks: Not as bad as you might think. Braxton Miller and Devin Gardner return as seniors. Both have dominated games and looked poor on occasion. Neither is a real area of concern. Nate Sudfeld at Indiana, Joel Stave at Wisconsin and Connor Cook at Michigan State may leap forward as juniors. Christian Hackenberg has the arm talent, but perhaps not the supporting cast. Taylor Martinez will no longer be javelin tossing. Things are looking up. It’s possible the Big Ten could feature some bonafide forward passing.

Hot Seats: Brady Hoke. He has been everything Michigan wanted off the field. On it, the team has regressed each year he’s been there. Roster demographics, particularly on the offensive line, account for part of 2013. But just part. Michigan takes the field in 2014 with Hoke’s players, who were highly touted recruits. If they aren’t making an impact in year four, it’s on him and his staff. Michigan wants Hoke to work, but anything less than 9-3 against that schedule is inexcusable. And, really, it’s Michigan fergodsakes. Winning 1/3 on the road against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State should not be too much to ask.

Tim Beckman. Illinois fired Ron Zook for being mediocre. Beckman is 1-15 in the Big Ten his first two years. That one win was by four points against Purdue, who went winless against FBS in 2013. His highlight so far is getting caught dipping on the sideline. It may be a bowl game or bust for the former Toledo coach.

Bo Pelini’s seat has cooled. But another inopportune defensive apocalypse could turn it right back up. Also keep an eye on Kyle Flood at Rutgers. The program has trended downward, both on the field and in recruiting. They could take a beating against as brutal a schedule as the B1G can muster this year. Flood, earning less than $1m per year, would be cheap to fire. Former godsend Greg Schiano is looking for work…

[USA Today Sports]

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