BIG-10 Legends (Whatever That Means) Preview
The Big-12 Legends division makes absolutely no since in its name only. Here’s my trick for remembering the divisions: all the M’s, N’s, and Iowa are in the Legends, everybody else is in the leaders. Again, this makes no sense as the average person who doesn’t follow college football year round will not take the time to figure this out.
But a conference division by any other name would play as well and hit as hard. There are three legitimate conference champions: Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State. There is the fabled Denard Robinson, the team of no-names that gets the job done at Michigan State, and “if he could just pass not like a junior higher” Taylor Martinez and Nebraska.
1. Michigan State
I have always been a little down on the Spartans, but this year Michigan State has got “it.” So what if they travel to Michigan and Wisconsin. So what if they have to play Ohio State too. Michigan State has been sneaky good the last few weeks. We’ll have a pretty good idea of how good this team is after they open up against Boise State on Friday.
13 starters come back to this team, and most importantly, eight are on defense. The Spartans only allowed 18.4 points a game last season and just barely lost to Wisconsin in the conference championship game. Michigan State beat the spread ten times last year and were underrated the entire season. William Gholston is back and is an animal on the line and Max Bullogh and Denicos Allen are both back at linebacker.
On offense four of the linemen returning, which is incredibly important when opening against Boise State and getting through the stretch of games in October against Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Andrew Maxwell replaces Kirk Cousins at quarterback. Running back Le’Veon Bell returns after almost reaching 1000 yards last year and 13 touchdowns.
The magical Denard Robinson returns for another year. A man constantly on the periphery of the college football land known as mega-stardom. Talk about a great coaching job by Brady Hoke. The San Deigo State mover and shaker created the biggest defensive turnaround in recent memory while actually improving points per game and getting 11 wins!
Six starters return to an offense that actually improved upon Rich Rodriguez numbers, averaging over 33 points per game. The most important returner is Denard Robinson who rushed for 1176 yards and 16 touchdowns last year while throwing for 2173 yards, 20 touchdowns, good for 55% completion rate. Fitzgerald Toussaint also comes back after rushing for 1041 yards and 9 touchdowns.
On defense seven starters return including all three linebackers. The defense two years ago was awful, and last year it was very good. Not being crushed by injuries helped but also the players seemed to be much more aware of what was happening. They looked prepared for all the situations and were well disciplined.
This team plays at Notre Dame in what has been some of the most amazing games the last couple years. They host Michigan State before playing at Nebraska and then finish up the season against Ohio State in the Horseshoe during Urban Meyer’s first year.
Taylor Martinez has been the player who leads the nation in “if he could just” the last two years. He took over for Jake Locker on inaccuracy issues when Locker graduated and went to the Titans. Luckily for Martinez, he works in an offense that is much nicer to his running abilities and can hide his accuracy issues. Always a constant like Virginia Tech winning ten games is Nebraska losing four under Bo Pelini.
The season looks promising as 14 starters come back, four on each side of the ball. Taylor Martinez comes back after throwing for 2089 yards, a 56.2% completion rate, and 13/8 TD/INT. He forms a dangerous backfield with Rex Burkhead in the backfield as Burkhead rushed for 1357 yards and 15 touchdowns. Who would’ve thought one of the best running backfields has two guys who are white? Don’t see that much anymore.
The defense was subpar last year, allowing 23.4 points a game after allowing less than 18 the previous two years. Three defensive linemen come back with two returners at both linebacker and in the secondary. The defense is going to need to be on point as the schedule is not very forgiving.
The Children of the Corn host Wisconsin and then play at Ohio State on consecutive weeks. Then they host Michigan before traveling to Michigan State. They have the four best teams in the Big-10 schedule and they come on back to back weeks.
The Hawkeye running back position is cursed right now. They are dropping at record speed like the drummers in Spinal Tap. Iowa pulled an upset last year when they beat Michigan by eight points.
Only 11 starters return to a team that went 7-5 last year in the regular season. The schedule is incredibly forgiving though. They open with Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, and Minnesota. All of those games are at home. The Hawkeyes don’t leave the state until October 13 when they travel to Michigan State. A big key is that they avoid not only Ohio State but also Wisconsin in their schedule.
This Iowa team could be a reboot of their 2009 season where they won tons of games although nobody knew how. The Hawkeyes will be 5-0 in mid-October and they could be just a few breaks away from a division title. James Vandenberg needs to be better than he was last year when he threw 58.7% for 3022 yards and 25/7.
The nerds have only five returning starters on each side of the all. Dan Persa is gone and the running game wasn’t incredibly strong last year. Kain Colter looks to replace him and three linemen return, but there are lots of questions at the skill positions.
Late October through November is going to be tough for the Wildcats and they probably will go 3-2 in September with losses to Vanderbilt and Boston College (maybe BC, kind of a toss up).
Jerry Kill is now in his second year at Minnesotta and the season ended on a high note with a 20 point win over Illinois. It’s difficult to see how the Gophers have fallen so far with they only lose to USC by 2 in the season opener. The -8 turnover margin leads us to believe they’ll benefit more this year and possibly get a couple more wins.
12 starters come back to a team that went 3-9 last year with wins over Miami of Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois. Marqueis Gray has been a poor man’s Denard Robinson, rushing for 966 yards and 6 touchdowns while throwing for 1495 and going 8/8. Three offensive linemen return who started last year. They could go 3-0 through the preseason but the Gophers probably aren’t going bowling this year.