HawkeyeNation.com 2012 Big Ten Preview
The Bottom Half

Our look at the 2012 Big Ten season continues with this look at the teams I think are the best six in the Big Ten.  You can see the bottom six at the link above and read some of the rationale.  We’ll also break the teams out into their respective divisions today based on my predicted order of finish.  I will also have Iowa’s game by game schedule breakout in the coming days in addition to bowl projections and a more in depth look at each of Iowa’s 2012 opponents.  Now, the Top Half starting with #6 up to the team I feel is the best in the Big Ten this year, or will have the best record.

6. IOWA: The Hawkeyes should have one of the league’s three best offensive lines before all is said and done.  I’m afraid that Iowa’s DL will rank in the bottom quarter of this league before all is said and done and feel Iowa will allow more than 24 points per game and more than 150 yards rushing per game.  The offense is going to have to win games this year; I just don’t see how the defense can scheme its way to much more than that.  I hope I am wrong.  My first time through my Big Ten predictions, I had Iowa at 9-3, losing at Michigan State, Michigan and home to Nebraska.  It was entirely due to the schedule, which is soft.  That meant back to back wins on the road at Northwestern and Indiana.  Iowa is better than those teams, but will it win back to back roadies?  Recent history suggests otherwise. I have gone back and forth on the Iowa State game; pure toss up in my opinion. This team feels like 6-6, but has the schedule to be 7-5 or 8-4; its ceiling is 9-3. If Iowa can navigate the back to back roadies and home game against Purdue at 2-1 at worst, eight wins seems right. But that will be the stretch which dictates 8-4, 7-5 or a run at 9-3. I feel much more comfortable at 7-5 but am betting on them winning 2 of those 3 with the offensive line hitting its stride at that point. RECORD: 8-4 (4-4)

5. WISCONSIN:  If you’ve been paying attention, this is the fifth team from the Leaders Division listed to date.  Maybe I am undervaluing that division, but with Penn State’s hard times along with Indiana and two middle off the pack teams like Purdue and Illinois, it’s just not all that good.  As for Wisconsin, you know what they are going to do, they do it well and they staved off a 7-5/8-4 season last year due to Russell Wilson.  They get another QB transfer this year, this time the kid has more than one year of eligibility remaining.  Their defense will tell the tale but I don’t see them winning at Nebraska and I think Purdue will get them in West LaFayette and they will lose at home to Ohio State.  They could win both of those last two, but I think their magic is running out this year.  They had the lowest number of returning starters in the Big Ten back in January, by the way.  RECORD:  9-3 (5-3)

4. MICHIGAN STATE:  Phil Steele picked a three way tie atop the Legends Division and I see it the same way.  The Spartans lose all of their passing game play makers from one year ago but they do return arguably the best defense in the Big Ten.  I see them losing at Michigan and at Wisconsin in the Big Ten and sweeping their out of conference slate, including against Notre Dame at home.  RECORD: 10-2 (6-2)

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3. MICHIGAN: The Wolverines return a lot, but can Denard Robinson improve in the passing game?  If he does, they might win every game.  As it stands now, I have them losing to Alabama and road games at Nebraska and Ohio Stat.  I will believe Robinson becomes a dangerous passer when I see it.  RECORD:  9-3 (6-2)

2. NEBRASKA:  I think their defense will be better on the whole despite losing Dennard and David.  They played most of the Big Ten season without Crick last year, so that’s a loss they have learned to deal with.  The offense is dangerous and Martinez can score from anywhere, but he too is a very rough passer.  In fact, he makes Denard Robinson look like Ty Detmer.  I see them losing at Ohio State and at Michigan State, but I went back and forth on that MSU game.  If they win that, they have a shot at 7-1 and the outright Legends title, which is where I had them my first time through picking every Big Ten game.  RECORD:  10-2 (6-2)

1. OHIO STATE:  I have the Buckeyes losing their first Big Ten game, at Michigan State, but winning the rest.  I think they will win all of their out of conference games, too.  This is NOT an elite Ohio State football team, but this is not an elite year in the Big Ten.  They could certainly lose at Wisconsin and at home to Michigan, but I think the change over to Urban Meyer’s system and the evolution of Braxton Miller will be tough for teams to deal with.  RECORD: 11-1 (7-1)

1. Ohio State 7-1 (11-1)
2. Wisconsin 5-3 (9-3)
t3. Purdue 4-4 (7-5)
t3. Illinois 4-4 (7-5)
5. Penn State 2-6 (4-8)
6. Indiana 1-7 (4-8)

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t1. Nebraska 6-2 (10-2)
t1. Michigan State 6-2 (10-2)
t1. Michigan 6-2 (9-3)
4. Iowa 4-4 (8-4)
5. Northwestern 2-6 (5-7)
6. Minnesota 1-7 (5-7)