Nov 17, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer answers questions during post game press conference following the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 21-14 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

What Is A Successful Season In The Big Ten Leaders?

Nov 17, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer answers questions during post game press conference following the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 21-14 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State opens the season as the cream of the crop. Myriad other teams, though, have high hopes for the 2013 season – whether that means returning to a bowl game or winning the division. Wisconsin and Penn State hope to challenge Ohio State for as long as possible on the other side.

2012: 2-10, 0-8 Big Ten; no bowl

Well, it can’t get much worse for Illinois. Coach Tim Beckman’s first season turned into an utter disaster. The team he inherited reached consecutive bowl games – and a Rose Bowl just five years earlier. Not only did the Illini fail to win in 2012, they weren’t especially competitive – seven of their eight conference losses came by double digits.

So is there hope for Illinois? There should be at least some. Again, this is a team that won games under Ron Zook. Beckman knows coaches are no longer safe in Year 2, as evidenced recently by Jon Embree at Colorado and Turner Gill at Kansas. Beckman hired a new offensive coordinator, who presumably will be better able to utilize QB1 Nathan Scheelhaase’s skill set, and recruited the junior college ranks aggressively.

After a disastrous season by a team lacking in winning tradition, it’s never easy to find league victories before the season starts. It’s no different for Illinois this season, which isn’t likely to be favored in Big Ten play at all in 2013. Making matters worse is the fact that the Illini play Cincinnati and Washington in the non-conference slate. They will be lucky to be 2-2 heading into league play.

What constitutes a successful season? To start, win a conference game. On second thought, start by beating FCS team Southern Illinois in the opener. Try surviving a challenging nonconference schedule in September, stealing an early win to get to at least 3-1. Then keep games close in the Big Ten. Winning two league games and finishing 5-7 would be a significant step forward for Illinois this year. Making a bowl game would be even better, but returning to a competitive state would probably give Beckman another year.

2012: 4-8, 2-6 Big Ten; no bowl

In a league full of impotent offenses, the Hoosiers managed to make Big Ten offenses look like they belonged in the Big 12. Indiana allowed 30 or more points in eight of its last 10 games and 40-plus points six times. Conversely, Kevin Wilson’s offense consistently scored points and actually kept several contests close until a disastrous three-game stretch to end the year.

Keeping a quarterback healthy would be a start. Any quarterback, really. Wilson has a good problem: Tre Roberson, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld all showed promise in 2012. RB Stephen Houston also showed he can carry the workload for the Hoosiers as needed.

The conference slate doesn’t get started until October. By then, Indiana’s direction could be set.

All of the non-conference games are winnable, but home games against Navy, Missouri and Bowling Green are hardly surefire wins. Winning more than two conference games means the Hoosiers will have to pull off some upsets.

What constitutes a successful season?

Wilson has done a good job of slowly turning this program around. Now it’s time to flirt with making a bowl game. Of course, to do so, Indiana might have to play a little defense – something it showed no ability to do a year ago. Winning three of four non-conference games would mean the Hoosiers only need three league victories to go bowling. Both of those goals are attainable. Getting to the season-ending rivalry game at Purdue with a bowl game on the line would be a reasonably strong season. Beating the Boilermakers to make a low-level bowl game would make it a success.

Ohio State
2012: 12-0, 8-0 Big Ten; no bowl

Despite an undefeated first season under coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes weren’t dominant throughout. They had to survive one-possession games against California, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan. Then again, they survived. Ohio State’s defense improved dramatically during the second half of the season, which is part of the reason many national pundits pick the Buckeyes for the BCS National Championship Game.

Ohio State has the offensive talent – QB Braxton Miller and RB Carlos Hyde – and the system to be in the conversation about the best in the nation. Coming from the Big Ten, that’s saying something. However, the Buckeyes didn’t have to play with the pressure of a championship run since they knew NCAA sanctions prevented them from making a bowl appearance. Recent years have shown that added pressure sometimes proves too much to overcome. Meyer’s experience in those spots should help

The Buckeyes should fly through the non-conference schedule at 4-0 before getting into
conference play. Once there, Ohio State gets its toughest divisional games – against Wisconsin and Penn State – in the Horseshoe.

What constitutes a successful season?

Ohio State didn’t hire Meyer to make BCS bowls or win Big Ten crowns. As soon as Meyer stepped on campus, expectations elevated to winning national championships. That’s not to say it’s national title or bust every season in Columbus now, but it’s not far off, either. With the way the season sets up, the Buckeyes must at least make – and probably win – the BCS National Championship Game for 2013 to be considered a success.

Penn State
2012: 8-4, 6-2 Big Ten; no bowl

The first season under coach Bill O’Brien couldn’t have gone much better – especially considering the Nittany Lions opened with losses to Ohio and Virginia. Penn State’s only conference losses came to Ohio State and Nebraska – arguably the best two teams in the Big Ten in 2012. QB Matt McGloin, a breakout star, is gone and must be replaced and “Linebacker U” needs to live up to its reputation to replace a couple starters, including LB Gerald Hodges.

With the quarterback competition coming down to JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson and incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg, O’Brien will have a lot of work to do in the passing game.

Fortunately, he returns RB Zach Zwinak, perhaps the most surprising 1,000-yard rusher in the Big Ten last season. Penn State always seems to have a strong defense regardless of how much talent it loses. O’Brien needs to continue that tradition.

Winning all of the non-conference games won’t be easy, but Penn State will be expected to do so. Central Florida and Syracuse present the greatest challenges.

What constitutes a successful season?

Since playing in a bowl is not a possibility, O’Brien must measure results by what happens during conference play. Considering that Penn State will break in a new quarterback, it’s reasonable to expect a slight regression. The next few years will likely be tougher on the program from a depth prospective than was last season. If the Nittany Lions can replicate its 8-4 season in 2012, it was a very strong season.

2012: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten; Lost Heart of Dallas Bowl

November 24, 2012; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Rob Henry (15) runs past Indiana Hoosiers cornerback Brian Williams (7) during the game at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Inconsistent play teamed with a five-game losing streak to open conference play cost former coach Danny Hope his job. In fairness, the Boilermakers weren’t particularly competitive in four of those five contests with an overtime loss at Ohio State randomly sprinkled in the middle. Purdue won its final three games – albeit against the illegitimate “I’s” of the Big Ten: Iowa, Illinois and Indiana – to qualify for a bowl game.

First-year coach Darrell Hazell inherits what has the makings of a strong defense. Yes, the Boilermakers lost DT Kawann Short, but CB Ricardo Allen’s decision to return was huge.

Nine defensive starters return from a group that showed it could play well when motivated. The defense played especially well in a closing-seconds loss to Notre Dame and in an overtime loss at Ohio State. Offensively, Purdue must settle the quarterback position and will likely need to rely on RB Akeem Hunt at least early.

Games at Cincinnati and home games against Notre Dame and Northern Illinois present tremendous non-conference challenges to the Boilermakers. If they can navigate to a 3-1 record outside the Big Ten, it should be considered an accomplishment.

What constitutes a successful season?

Hope got fired over a 6-6 campaign, but that might actually be difficult for Hazell to replicate during his first season. Purdue is listed as double-digit underdogs in games against Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State. If Hazell manages a couple upsets and gets the Boilermakers to a seven-win season, he has done a good job.

2012: 8-6, 4-4 Big Ten; Lost Rose Bowl

What started out as a disappointment of a season turned into a Big Ten championship and another trip to the Rose Bowl by season’s end. Of course, that comes with an asterisk. Had Ohio State – or Penn State – been eligible for postseason play, the Badgers never would have had the opportunity to play (and crush) Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game. Bret Bielema decided to leave the program to take over at Arkansas, so new coach Gary Andersen will provide a new look for Wisconsin.

The loss of RB Montee Ball would devastate many teams. Not the Badgers – who have electric RBs James White and Melvin Gordon waiting in the wings. There are questions at the quarterback position – which will almost certainly be manned by either Joel Stave or Curt Phillips to open the season. Whoever wins the position gets to throw to explosive WR Jared Abbrederis. Wisconsin should boast one of the most talented defenses in the nation, captained by LB Chris Borland.

Tough non-conference games at Arizona State and BYU mean the Badgers won’t be able to breeze through that part of their schedule, but a 4-0 run through it is far from impossible. A Sept. 28 game at Ohio State will likely dictate whether Wisconsin can return to the Big Ten Championship Game.

What constitutes a successful season?

With Ohio State seemingly on the verge of a dominating season, running the table might be a bit unrealistic for the Badgers. A 10-win season with a trip to a BCS bowl should be considered a tremendous Year 1 for Andersen.

Tags: Football Illinois Fighting Illini Indiana Hoosiers Ohio State Buckeyes Penn State Nittany Lions Purdue Boilermakers Wisconsin Badgers

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