Big Ten Preview: Success In The Legends Division

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November 5, 2011; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz shakes hands with Michigan Wolverines coach Brady Hoke after the game at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa beat Michigan 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa

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

Bowl games have become a given while Kirk Ferentz has been the Hawkeyes coach. For the first time since 2007, though, Iowa failed to get to a bowl. For the first time since 2000, the Hawkeyes finished the regular season below .500.

The biggest problem came from a stagnant, predictable offense. Of course, not making any changes to said offense and hoping a quarterback understudy who couldn’t beat out a struggling senior doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The Hawkeyes won their first two league games before dropping their final six.

Iowa’s goal this year should be to shorten games by controlling the clock (35 minutes or more per game) and playing great defense. That would at least mask any deficiencies at the quarterback position. The defense is capable, despite some lackluster stats from a year ago. Having such poor offensive production can make defensive numbers deceiving. Starting with a team that reached a BCS bowl the year before is never a coup. Iowa will take it in this case, though, with Northern Illinois breaking in a new coach. The Hawkeyes, of course, would love to take back the CyHawk Trophy from rival Iowa State, which has won the annual game in consecutive seasons. There aren’t many soft spots in the Big Ten slate, so winning in the preseason becomes crucially important.

What constitutes a successful season?

Ferentz has one of the worst contracts in college football – from a program’s perspective, anyway – but can’t feel too great if he fails to lead Iowa to a bowl again in 2013. Regardless of shortcomings, the Hawkeyes faithful won’t accept anything less than six wins. If Iowa can win six regular-season games, including a victory over Iowa State, and win a bowl game, it should keep the administration happy enough to stand by its commitment to Ferentz.

Michigan

2012: 8-5, 6-2 Big Ten; Lost Outback Bowl

One could consider the fact that an 8-4 regular season a disappointment again in Ann Arbor to be a good thing. That one, however, doesn’t bleed Maize and Blue. Coach Brady Hoke immediately reset expectations when he led the Wolverines to a Sugar Bowl win in the 2011 season. Early losses to Alabama and Notre Dame – both of whom eventually met in the BCS National Championship Game – took Michigan out of the national spotlight. The Wolverines had a shot to win their division until losing to Ohio State in the final game of the regular season.

QB Devin Gardner has already shown he can competently replace Denard Robinson, though Michigan will miss his change-the-game-on-any-snap ability. The Wolverines’ defense played very well for much of 2012. It has some holes to fill before they kick off against Central Michigan. Coaches seem pleased with the progress, though someone needs to step up at linebacker.

Even with Notre Dame looming in Week 2, don’t rule out the Wolverines sweeping the non-conference schedule. In that case, another 10-win season and a trip to a BCS bowl are certainly within grasp for Michigan.

What constitutes a successful season?

Michigan’s division is wide open, with Nebraska having won it last season. That makes the Nov. 9 contest at the Big House among the bigger conference matchups of the season. Winning that game, then, becomes Step 1 for the Wolverines to view this season as a success. For it to truly be a strong season, though, Michigan needs to get cracks at Ohio State in consecutive weeks – meaning it won the division – and beat the Buckeyes at least once. Michigan should strive for a BCS game.

Michigan State

2012: 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten; Won Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

November 3, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Ameer Abdullah (8) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans linebacker Denicos Allen (28) during the second half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Nebraska won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports


Star players RB Le’Veon Bell and DE William Gholston were enormous reasons for the Spartans’ moderate success in 2012. Replacing them will be no easy feat and that challenge will likely provide coach Mark Dantonio with sleepless nights heading into August practice. While last season’s five Big Ten losses were a tremendous disappointment in East Lansing, Michigan State didn’t lose any of its conference games by more than four points.

Something has to give on offense. Either QB Andrew Maxwell – or Connor Cook – must improve the passing game dramatically or the Spartans have to find a threat at tailback. Spring practice provided clarity to neither situation. Returning seven defensive starters should mean the unit will remain productive this season.

The Spartans should fly to 3-0 before facing Notre Dame in South Bend. From there, the Spartans could jump out to a 4-0 start in conference play and then close the season with pivotal divisional games against Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern.

What constitutes a successful season?

The Spartans have some huge questions entering the season, but the schedule sets up marvelously. A nine-win season with a defeats Nebraska or Michigan should be considered a strong campaign for Michigan State.

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Tags: Football Iowa Hawkeyes Michigan State Spartans Michigan Wolverines Minnesota Golden Gophers Nebraska Cornhuskers Northwestern Wildcats

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