Big Ten Leaders Division capsules

  • Updated: August 26, 2013 - 11:42 PM

A look at the Leaders Division, in In predicted order of finish by Star Tribune college football writer Joe Christensen

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Urban Meyer's Buckeyes didn't lose a game last year. If they're undefeated again in 2013, they'll likely play for the BCS championship.

Photo: Al Behrman, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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OHIO STATE

Coach: Urban Meyer, 116-23 overall in 11 seasons; second year at Ohio State.

2012: 12-0 (8-0 Big Ten), bowl ineligible.

Returning starters: Nine offense, four defense.

Key player: Braxton Miller is the Big Ten’s top Heisman Trophy candidate, a dual-threat QB who fits Meyer’s spread offense perfectly.

Outlook: Without a marquee game on its nonconference schedule, the Buckeyes probably need to go undefeated again to be part of the BCS championship discussion. Those are the expectations in Columbus. People forget how close this team came to losing three games last year (taking Purdue and Wisconsin to overtime, and beating Indiana 52-49). Running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby ran into discipline issues in July, setting a bad tone for preseason camp.

WISCONSIN

Coach: Gary Andersen, 30-31 overall in five seasons; first year at Wisconsin.

2012: 8-6 (4-4 Big Ten), defeated Nebraska 70-31 in Big Ten Championship Game, lost 20-14 to Stanford in Rose Bowl.

Returning starters: Eight offense, seven defense.

Key player: Left tackle Ryan Groy is the best blocker and the only senior on an offensive line that lost two starters and has a surprising lack of depth.

Outlook: Andersen did an impressive job rebuilding Utah State, and now he’s at a program that doesn’t need rebuilding. Even with center Travis Frederick and running back Montee Ball in the NFL, the Badgers have several marquee talents, including linebacker Chris Borland, receiver Jared Abbrederis and running backs James White and Melvin Gordon.

PENN STATE

Coach: Bill O’Brien, 8-4 in one season; second year at Penn State.

2012: 8-4 (6-2 Big Ten), bowl ineligible.

Returning starters: Eight offense, six defense.

Key player: Allen Robinson had 1,013 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Now that Matt McGloin is gone, Robinson will be helping to break in a new quarterback — either true freshman Christian Hackenberg or junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson.

Outlook: O’Brien earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors last year in his debut, and the job only gets tougher now. Besides McGloin, the team must replace its top four tacklers on defense. And by next year, Penn State will have only 65 scholarships, down from 85, which will continue cutting into its depth. The Nittany Lions also still are ineligible for postseason play for the next three seasons.

INDIANA

Coach: Kevin Wilson, 5-19 overall in two seasons; third year at Indiana.

2012: 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten).

Returning starters: Ten offense, nine defense.

Key player: Senior safety Greg Heban led the team with three interceptions and 91 tackles last season, and this defense needs to improve.

Outlook: After going 1-11 and 4-8 in the first two years under Wilson, Indiana looks like a team on the rise. But the Hoosiers allowed an average of 35.2 points per game last year, worst in the Big Ten. The offense looks potent, especially with quarterback Tre Roberson back to full health. Three receivers — Shane Wynn, Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes — return after putting up more than 600 reception yards last year.

PURDUE

Coach: Darrell Hazell, 16-10 overall in two seasons; first year at Purdue.

2012: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten), lost to Oklahoma State 58-14 in Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Returning starters: Five offense, nine defense.

Key player: Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston anchors a defensive line that lost second-round pick Kawann Short to the NFL.

Outlook: Purdue was considered a team to watch last year, and the fallout led to Danny Hope’s dismissal. Hazell came highly recommended after leading Kent State to its first bowl game in 40 years and previously serving seven years as an assistant coach at Ohio State. Purdue faces Notre Dame and Wisconsin in its third and fourth games, so it could be a rough start, but Boilermakers fans should be more interested in how this team finishes.

ILLINOIS

Coach: Tim Beckman, 23-26 overall in four seasons; second year at Illinois.

2012: 2-10 (0-8 Big Ten).

Returning starters: Nine offense, four defense.

Key player: Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase needs to bounce back after injuries and inconsistency left him with four touchdown passes and eight interceptions last year.

Outlook: Beckman replaced five of his nine assistant coaches, hiring former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit as his new offensive coordinator. Cubit’s Broncos lost last year’s season opener to Illinois 24-7 — not exactly an offensive showcase. But something had to change. The Illini offense averaged only 16.7 points per game last year. Defensively, Illinois will be counting on its linebacker corps, especially senior Jonathan Brown, after allowing 32.1 points per game last year.

Outlook: Beckman replaced five of his nine assistant coaches, hiring former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit as his new offensive coordinator. Cubit’s Broncos lost last year’s season opener to Illinois 24-7 — not exactly an offensive showcase. But something had to change. The Illini offense averaged only 16.7 points per game last year. Defensively, Illinois will be counting on its linebacker corps, especially senior Jonathan Brown, after allowing 32.1 points per game last year.

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