1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a very friendly schedule in 2013, and quarterback Braxton Miller continues to improve as a passer. They are unquestionably the top dog in the Big Ten. But the defensive front remains a bit of a concern, although sophomore ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence could be poised for breakthrough seasons. And second-year head coach Urban Meyer has some more depth after another great recruiting class.
2. Northwestern: The Wildcats gave away several games last year and still managed to make a New Year’s Day bowl appearance. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad hosts Ohio State under the lights in October in a game that could have national implications. This team won 10 games in 2012, and it could contend for a conference title this fall if it has learned how to close out games.
3. Nebraska: If Taylor Martinez and the offense can drastically cut down on their turnovers, it can be one of the best units in the country. The major concern for Bo Pelini and his staff, though, is the defense, which will need time to gel. The early portion of the schedule should allow for that to take place, but will the inexperience of the Huskers ‘D’ be too much to overcome?
4. Michigan: Quarterback Devin Gardner enters a season filled with high expectations, but the Wolverines will have to play without star outside linebacker Jake Ryan until at least mid-October. If the run game can get boosted by true freshman power back Derrick Green, Greg Mattison will likely be able to get enough out of the defense so that the Wolverines can compete for a Legends division crown.
5. Michigan State: We know that the Spartans defense will be strong once again, perhaps even better along the line than even last year’s group. But can Andrew Maxwell and this offense be even average? I’m buying Maxwell in Year Two as the starting quarterback after head coach Mark Dantonio had the quarterbacks be “live” this spring. But Maxwell needs much more help from his receivers than he received in 2012. The Spartans also will need the running back committee to be solid in replacing stud Le’Veon Bell. The schedule isn’t terrible, so MSU could surprise.
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