Yesterday we took a look at some of the possible Big Ten breakout players for 2013. Today we continue with our Big Ten football Q & A and look at which teams mare most improved and which teams may be overrated.
We are again joined by our panel of Big Ten football experts, including Joe Beale of the Ohio State blog Eleven Warriors, Kevin McGuire of the Nittany Lions Den, and Andrew Coppens of the Wisconsin blog MadTown Badgers.
Joe Beale – Eleven Warriors: Greatest improvement: Minnesota. In his third year at both Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, Jerry Kill won ten games after mediocre-to-poor second seasons. This is his third year at Minnesota, and the opportunity is there for the Gophers to improve from last season’s 6-7 record. The strong running game and solid defense is a tried and true formula for cold weather teams, and I think it will work well for Kill and his team this year, not to mention that their schedule is favorable with no Ohio State on the list and a soft non-conference slate.
Overrated: Michigan. I think everyone is underestimating the impact of losing Denard Robinson. Devin Gardner is a good quarterback, but not a great one. Without a top-notch running game or an elite passer or runner at quarterback, I think the Wolverine offense will struggle. The defense has a lot of talent, but they lost a great leader in Jordan Kovacs, and it might take some time for the new faces to gel with the veterans.
Kevin McGuire – Nittany Lions Den: I think going in to the 2013 season the team best suited to show an significant jump in terms of wins and losses might actually be Illinois. The Illini were a train wreck last season in Tim Beckman’s debut season and as comical as it was to watch unfold at times it is important to realize a number of factors went in to the abysmal season. The Illini tried implementing a new system without the proper personnel to execute it. They also suffered some injuries and the coaching staff failed to develop the talents of players on the roster. I’m willing to give Beckman and his staff a mulligan and see if he can turn things around after trudging through a rough 2012 with a young roster.
The schedule for Illinois is not easy and their final record may not illustrate just how much the Illini could be improved, but I would bet they manage to improve on a 2-10 mark in 2012.
Andy Coppens – Madtown Badgers: I’ll take the second question first here and this team is one I hinted at in my first answer. I think the most overrated team in the conference this year is Michigan State. The defense is great, no question about that, but this is an offense that lost it’s two most reliable pass catchers in Dion Sims and Le’Veon Bell. Bell also had 382 carries last season and the only returning back with experience has all of 48 yards to his name from last season.
Point being, this team’s offensive success last season hinged on one player and that guy is gone. How exactly is this team better without it’s workhorse when we haven’t seen them prove that last year’s mistakes haven’t been overcome either? No way on paper you can make a legitimate case that they are better off without Le’Veon Bell and Dion Sims in the fold vs. complete youth and just under 100 yards of rushing offense returning to a team that needs to run the ball well to succeed.
As for the team that will show the greatest improvement over last year that’s a tough one because it depends on what you mean by improvement. If you are talking about record only then it’s got to be the Wisconsin Badgers who were just 8-6 last season and have realistic expectations of a 10 win season in the regular season this year.
However, if you mean improvement from where a team was last season in terms of competitiveness I think you’ll see that from Illinois. The hire of Bill Cubbit as OC was a great one by Tim Beckman and watching this team in the spring game it was vastly different and vastly more confident on offense. If they carry that over to this season they’ll win a few more games and be on the right track. Nathan Scheelhaase looks like he should’ve looked over the past few seasons this spring and that’s great news for the Illini.