Remember that the Big Ten is now actually comprised of 12 teams this season with the addition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are expected to be big players in their inaugural season. With the expansion, the Big Ten will now be divided into two divisions called the Legends Division and the Leaders Division.
The two division winners will then meet in the first ever Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN.
Here is our predicted order of finish for each division:
1 – Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans won 11 games last season, and they are returning quarterback Kirk Cousins, top two running backs Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell and veteran wide receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol. The biggest losses come on defense with the defections of linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, but if their replacements are adequate, the Spartans could be smelling roses.
2 – Nebraska Cornhuskers: The Huskers are favored to win the Legends, but duel threat quarterback Taylor Martinez will be going against bigger and better defenses than he faced in the Big 12, and the running game took a big hit, losing Roy Helu, Jr. The defensive front seven is as good as any in the country, but we still think that there will be a transitional period with the change in leagues.
3 – Northwestern Wildcats: The Wildcats are the best of the rest as long as quarterback Dan Persa can stay healthy all year after having his 2010 season cut short by a ruptured Achilles. Northwestern returns four starters on the offensive line as well as running back Mike Trumpy and wide receiver Jeremy Ebert. The Cats also have a senior laden defense and a relatively easy schedule with their toughest games at home.
4 – Michigan Wolverines
5 – Iowa Hawkeyes
6– Minnesota Golden Gophers
Also see: Odds to win Big 10 Conference | BCS Champ Odds | Heisman Odds
1 – Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers lost a lot this year, but running backs Montee Ball and James White are back, so Wisconsin can win the Leaders with their power running game alone. The Badgers lost quarterback Scott Tolzien and wide receiver David Gilreath, but this is a run-first team anyway. The defense is solid, especially in the backfield where Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus were both All Big Ten last year.
2 – Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes’ troubles are well documented, but they should still finish second in what easily looks like the weaker of the two divisions. Ohio State did have great depth last season, and those back-ups will be put to the acid test now.
3 – Penn State Nittany Lions: Somebody has to be third in this division, and the fact that the Nittany Lions should be improved on defense with eight returning starters offsets the fact that they are still looking for an adequate replacement for running back Evan Royster. The offense will bog down at times, but their defense is better than the remaining three teams in the division, so we give Penn State the nod for third.
4 – Illinois Fighting Illini
5 – Purdue Boilermakers
6– Indiana Hoosiers
Big Ten Championship Game Prediction: Michigan State over Wisconsin