Spring Picks: B1G Legends
Jon Miller takes a mid-Spring look at the Big Ten Legends Divisions with some spitball predictions…click here to read his leaders predictions. Don’t run the math on these predictions to see if it all adds up, because again, these are spitball takes. We’ll fine tune things in June.
1. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers return seven starters on both sides of the ball according to the Big Ten Prospectus. They lose RB Roy Helu on offense and he was a load for that team, rushing for 1,292 yards and 11 touchdowns. Taylor Martinez, their running quarterback ran for 1,195 yards and was dinged up over the final quarter of the year. He not a great thrower, however and until he shows he can consistently beat you through the air with good decisions, you load up on the run…that’s something the Big Ten has done on a weekly basis for 100+ years. They have to replace three starters on the OL, too. On defense, Jared Crick returns as does leading tackler Lavonte David. Three of four defensive linemen return so this is going to be a very good defense. They will be 4-0 in the out of conference and are at Wisconsin to start their Big Ten existence. They follow that up with a home game against Ohio State, the first game where the Buckeyes Tattoo Five can play. I think they go 6-2 in league play and 10-2 overall if Martinez has matured.
2. Michigan State: As much as it pains me to put them here..they have the fewest question marks of the rest of the lot in the Legends. They return every playmaker on offense save Mark Dell who had a team best 51 catches last year, but BJ Cunningham had 50 and Keshawn Martin is back too. Their three-headed rushing attack returns as do three offensive linemen and most importantly Kirk Cousins is back. He had a 150.7 efficiency rating last year, throwing for 2,825 yards, completed 66.9% of his passes and had 20 touchdowns to 10 INT’s. This offense is going to be a tough out. On defense, they lose inside backer Greg Jones. That’s a loss, but I think inside guys are easier to replace. They lose four of their top five tacklers on the whole so they have some question marks. Dan Conroy made 14-15 field goals last year and he returns. I’ll pick them 8-4 on the season, 5-3 in the Legends.
3. Iowa: It’s easier to minimize the losses on your favorite team and overstate the losses on their opponents because you are too familiar with the backups for the home team. I think James Vandenberg is going to have a great year, but it’s an unknown. Iowa has one proven receiving target, period. Iowa will start Marcus Coker at running back and I loved what I saw last year, but he is still green. The offensive line is the thing you can bank on here and it could be the best in the Big Ten by season’s end; that’s typically a good recipe for an Iowa bounce back season. The defense? It’s a buffet of questions. How will the line hold up against the run? How will the safeties play replacing Greenwood and Sash? How will Eric Guthrie do at the punting position? We know the names that will fill in, but the rest of the nation doesn’t so don’t get irritated with Iowa’s preseason predictions. It’s totally understandable and even I go into this year looking at this team as one that could be 6-6 to 10-2. I don’t see that range for any other Big Ten team. So for now, I am going to say 8-4, 4-4…even though when I look a the Big Ten schedule, I favor Iowa in every game but two. I think they CAN be 7-2 heading into Purdue and that game spooks me a bit, but I am not necessarily picking that as a loss. This is just a spitball look at the schedule on the whole.
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3. Northwestern: They allowed 21.4ppg over their first ten games and then 54.3 over their last three games, with each opponent scoring at least 45. That’s what quarterback Dan Persa meant to this team. They don’t have a great defense though most return for this year. Persa moved the chains as well as any starting quarterback in the nation. He completed 73.5% of his passes and had 15 TD to 4 INT before getting hurt against Iowa and being done for the season. He kept drives alive and kept the defense off the field. He should be back to full speed by the fall and they return nine starters on offense. They got to 7 wins last year and I think they will get there again this year. 7-5/4-4
5. Michigan: If Rich Rod were still there, we wouldn’t know what to expect from this club for 2011. He’s not; it’s Brady Hoke and I still don’t know what to expect from this club. Can Denard Robinson be as effective and dynamic in a pro-style offense? Is that what they will run or will be it a hybrid? Can Greg Mattison turn things around defensively? The answer to that is yes, as you cannot get worse than they were under Rich Rod. However, how much better? They will be healthier and better in the secondary, where they were atrocious last year. They return their entire front four, which was pathetic last year. They lose Jonas Mouton, the only Michigan player drafted last week. Like Iowa, their downside/upside swing is pretty significant, but history and tradition weighs too much into that right now; gotta see results. 7-5/3-5 for me right now.
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6. Minnesota: Gone is record setting quarterback Adam Weber. Has anyone had a more statistically productive career in Big Ten history with fewer wins to show for it than Weber? With them, it’s not as much to do with what they return as it is with who they will be. Jerry Kill has the job now, and he plays hard nosed football, as opposed to whatever Tim Brewster did. Minnesota returns their top three receivers and top two rushers. Can Marqueis Gray be the option under center? He didn’t throw it so well last year, but he is a dual threat guy. I think they will be a punching bag for another year. 3-9/0-8
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SUMMARY: Nebraska and Michigan State are the most stable teams as I see them right now, with Iowa and Michigan having the potential to move up in the pecking order. Northwestern is probably stable, too it’s just a matter of consistency for them as it typically is. As goes Dan Persa, so go the Cats. This adds up to far more intrigue than we see in the Leaders Division as that is a one-team race. The Legends? Wide open.