Who will win the Big 10’s Leaders and Legends divisions in 2012? That question was addressed this morning at The Saturday Edge in the first of four Big 10 Q & A sessions. I have expanded on my Leaders and Legends answer below.
The price on Wisconsin (-195) may sound steep, but when you look through the remainder of the Leaders Division, there doesn’t appear to be another legitimate contender in the bunch. The Badgers bring back Heisman candidate Montee Ball and, for the second straight year, pick up the services of an accomplished former ACC quarterback in Danny O’Brien. Wisconsin does have to travel to Lincoln, but the rest of road slate in the league is very manageable (Purdue, Indiana, Penn State) and the Badgers do not play Michigan.
With Ohio State ineligible in 2012, Penn State would be the only team going in that looks to have a chance to knock off Wisconsin and play for the Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions will need to find some offense to have a chance this season and with the quarterback rotation as it currently stands, there is little chance that happens. Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden have some experience, but unless one of the two steps forward and makes some huge strides toward consistency, Penn State will struggle to score again in 2012.
Purdue would be a dark horse and possibly worth a stab if the price is right. The Boilermakers have a pretty nice road schedule within the league (Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois) but have to play Michigan and Wisconsin back to back in early October. A late September game at Notre Dame is the only trip away from Ross-Ade Stadium until late October. So, if Purdue can build some momentum early, they could challenge Wisconsin for the Leaders’ Championship.
The Legends division battle should be more interesting than the Leaders in 2012. Michigan is the favorite mainly due to the return of Denard Robinson. Robinson led the Wolverines to an 11-2 mark and a victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan will face what looks to be a much tougher schedule in 2012.
A year after going 2-2 on the road in the league, Brady Hoke’s squad will have to travel to Purdue, Nebraska, and Minnesota, before the season finale rivalry game in Columbus with Ohio State. The Wolverines do avoid Wisconsin, but with early season battles with Alabama in Arlington and a trip to Notre Dame both on the docket, Michigan could enter Big Ten play at 2-2 and struggling.
The biggest challengers to Michigan appear to be Michigan State and Nebraska. Iowa could also find themselves with a chance to win this division in late November.
Michigan State is the defending champions of the Legends division, but Mark Dantonio and company will have to find a replacement for Kirk Cousins who won a lot of games as the quarterback of the Spartans. The new signal caller will have to be ready as MSU has road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin back to back in late October. Michigan State also has Ohio State, Iowa, and Nebraska at home. In the end, I think the schedule and not lack of talent will keep the Spartans from repeating as division champs.
Nebraska returns the dynamic duo of quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead. Martinez has struggled with injuries in the past, but if he can stay on the field the Huskers can win the Legends.
The biggest negative against Nebraska going into 2012 is they may have the toughest schedule in the league. The Huskers go to Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Iowa. They also get Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State at home. If Martinez stays upright and can provide some offense through the air, Nebraska can overcome this schedule and win the Legends.
Iowa is a dark horse to watch out for. The Hawkeyes don’t appear to have a ton of offensive weapons, but they return an experienced quarterback in James Vandenberg and the schedule is set up for a run. Iowa does not play Ohio State or Wisconsin and get Nebraska at home. There are road trips to Michigan and Michigan State, but an upset in one of those two games could land the Hawkeyes in the title game.
Please let me know below who you think will win the Leaders and Legends Divisions in the Big 10 this year. Thank you – Maggiore.