It is well known that 1/3rd of the Leaders Division in the B1G is ineligible to participate in the conference championship game. Those teams are Penn State and Ohio State. So, with two of the programs unable to play, four remain to make a bid. Those four are looking to upset the winner of the Legends Division.
The former B1G champion and Leaders Division champion, Wisconsin, is looking like the heavy favorites to take the division once again. With the rest of the division including Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana. Is this Wisconsin’s division to lose, even with a sub-par performance within in the conference? In a way, yes.
Wisconsin is returning their heavy hitter and Heisman hopeful, Montee Ball, for another year. This presence in the backfield is huge considering the offense will feel the loss of Russell Wilson (let’s face it, Danny O’Brien is no Wilson) and his production in the air and on the ground. Though O’Brien will be aided by solid receivers Jeff Duckworth and Jared Abbrederis. Wisconsin is also returning their linebacker corps of Mike Taylor and Chris Borland on defense. Overall, it has five returning starters on offense and six on defense.
With all that talent on both sides of the ball, the lower tier opponents of the Leaders division can’t statistically compare, right? Let’s look at Wisconsin’s conference schedule in 2012:
- AT Nebraska
- Vs. Illinois
- AT Purdue
- Vs. Minnesota
- Vs. Michigan State
- AT Indiana
- Vs. Ohio State
- AT Penn State
The first test Wisconsin receives will be at Lincoln when they play the Nebraska Cornhuskers. No matter the quality of the Nebraska team, the rabid fans of Lincoln makes it always difficult to play there. Last year, the Badgers were aided by a monster performance by Ball. Who rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Badgers handled Nebraska easily, winning 48-17. With much improved Nebraska squad, who has had a full year of B1G football, I don’t think Wisconsin escapes with a victory.
Illinois is going through a change of identity right now. As former head coach Ron Zook was fired and replaced with Tim Beckman. In most first years, teams often struggle to find their identity. I believe Wisconsin takes this game easily.
Purdue may be considered the dark horse to win the division this year, and I agree. Here’s why. Purdue is returning a QB looking for a better season than last, and with another year of experience under his belt, Caleb Turbush is looking for redemption. It doesn’t hurt to have a dependable back in Ralph Bolden. Purdue is also returning defensive back Ricardo Allen and stud defensive tackle Kawaan Short. They also have a potential game changer in kick returner Raheem Mostert, who lead the FBS in kickoff returns last year. Purdue is returning nine on offense and ten on defense, so most of the same core is there. Even though Purdue finished 7-6 last year, expect more of a solid team this year. I believe Purdue pulls the “upset” here, beating Wisconsin.
Minnesota is well, Minnesota. They were 2-6 in the B1G. Faced with multiple health scares with their head coach Jerry Kill. Let’s just face it, they flat out stink. But, hey. They have a beautiful new stadium. Postives, right? Wisconsin wins big.
This brings us to Michigan State. The arch-enemy of Wisconsin the past few seasons. The Spartans have smacked the Badgers down to earth recently. The most memorable moment coming with the miraculous Hail Mary pass caught by Keith Nichol with time expiring to defeat Wisconsin 37-31, an absolute shocker. They both met up again in the conference championship game. Where Wisconsin found revenge in the form of a roughing the kicker call to allow Wisconsin to run the clock out for the win. Michigan State, especially with their tough defense, will come away victorious.
Indiana. Need I say more? They stink. Wisconsin wins.
Next up, the Buckeyes. The first year of Urban Meyer’s regime will showcase a much better Buckeye team than last year. Even though Ohio State was victorious against Wisconsin last year on ANOTHER Hail Mary pass (you’d figure they’d practice this by now), Wisconsin will be a well prepared team and will shut down the spread. The Badgers win. But, it’s close.
Finally, the regular season ends as they head to Happy Valley to play Penn State. After recent events, that I don’t really need to expand on, the Nittany Lions will be reeling and it will show in their play. Wisconsin wins easily.
Though you can’t predict a division and the results, but considering Penn State and Ohio State are both out, Wisconsin could go 5-3 in the division and still play in the conference championship. If that’s the case, Purdue or Illinois could be major figures in playing the upset figure.
But, on paper, Wisconsin is the vastly superior team in this division. It’s theirs to lose, there’s no doubt about it. This is how I feel the Leaders Division pans out:
- Ohio State
- Penn State