Big Ten Conference Preview

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The Big Ten Conference is likely to have a 1970s flavor this season. Michigan and Ohio State are expected to lord themselves over the rest of the conference, though surprises could still emerge.

Team That Could Surprise: Northwestern.

The Wildcats won the second bowl game in the history of the program this past January, beating Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. That’s nice, but the win over a relatively mediocre opponent only underscored how little success Northwestern has tasted over the years. The Wildcats briefly flourished in the mid-1990s, making the Rose Bowl and then the Citrus (now Capital One) Bowl in consecutive seasons, but only now has the program begun to emerge as a regular bowl team. Nevertheless, Northwestern generally doesn’t win championships. Two Rose Bowl appearances in the history of the program do not represent a glowing track record, to say the least. National expectations for this team will be measured, even though people in and around the program are very excited about the level of recruiting being done by head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff. Northwestern is a team that will have to do much to transform its reputation, but if the Wildcats’ secondary and pass rush can improve this season, a darkhorse run to the Big Ten Championship Game is hardly out of the question. Nebraska and Wisconsin will be seen as primary contenders in each of the two Big Ten divisions, but Northwestern is the wild card, a team that could either surge or plummet in 2013.

The Best NFL Prospect In The Conference Is…: Taylor Lewan, Michigan.

The player who will get the most preseason publicity in the Big Ten is Braxton Miller, the flashy and immensely entertaining quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Miller will dazzle people with his running ability, but in terms of an NFL future, no one’s outlook is brighter than Lewan’s. This offensive tackle contained South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney for much of the 2013 Outback Bowl against South Carolina. His decision to stay at Michigan for his senior year was something of a shock. He could have begun to cash a nice paycheck on Sundays. Instead, Lewan will anchor the Wolverines’ offensive line and give the Maize and Blue a genuine chance to win the Big Ten this season. Lewan is a central reason Michigan should rightly be seen as the favorite in the Legends Division, with Ohio State being the obvious choice in the Leaders Division.

Team That Will Win: Ohio State.

The weight of Urban Meyer’s reputation and the quality of his recruiting won’t lie: The Buckeyes have the best and deepest team in the conference. Michigan should face Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the Wolverines do not yet have the proven passing game that can make the Buckeyes’ defense look silly. Braxton Miller is the best playmaker in the conference, and that’s likely to make the difference for Ohio State this season.

Big Ten Champion (odds from 5Dimes)

Ohio State -115

Michigan +520

Nebraska +750

Michigan State +800

Northwestern +900

Wisconsin +1000

Indiana +5000

Iowa +5000

Minnesota +8500

Purdue +10000

Illinois +20000

(Penn State is ineligible for postseason play and the league championship)

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