2012 Big Ten Preview: The Top Half

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)

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)

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)

  • DaCoach

    Ohio State is being way, way, WAAAAYYY overrated by everyone. They were awful last year, still don’t have any WRs, and you make fun of Denard and TMart as passers but Braxton Miller gets a free pass? If Urban Meyer wasn’t the coach of this team people would be picking them to go 6-6 again.

    • sandhawk20

      But he is the coach of this team.

      • DaCoach

        He’s good but not that good.

  • cbancroft83

    I kinda hate to say it but I’m afraid you have some great rationale here for iowa to have something like an 8-4 record this season. I’m still hoping for at least 9-3 but only time will tell. If JVB has an all Big Ten type year, most anything is possible. Let’s go Hawks!!!

  • Larry Flint

    I have no idea about how the Hawks will do this season. In my mind a lot will hinge on how well guys can focus on the “little picture” and whether we can enjoy adequately good health.
    While I agree with Jon that Iowa’s D will likely give up plenty of yards and points this year. I’m just not certain that the reasons or the numbers will be just as Jon portrays them. Specifically, if you look at the ’11 season, Iowa gave up 23.8 points per game, 156 rushing yards per game, 378.9 total yards per game, and a 46% 3rd down conversion percentage. Clearly that is not up to the “normal” standards of the Hawkeye D. However, I’d point out that those numbers were accumlated against a Hawk D that replaced 3 outstanding starters AND the front 7 contended with extensive injuries. The DL was already pretty dinged up even coming out of fall-camp last year … and then, to make matters worse, Mike Daniels only enjoyed a few healthy games ALL of last year and James Morris may not have enjoyed that many.
    To provide a point of comparison, if we look at the performance of the ’05 defense, we see the following numbers. That year the D gave up 20 points per game, 126 rushing yards per game, 382.7 passing yards per game, and a 45% 3rd down conversion percentage. That year was not a “normal” year for the Hawk D either. Of course that defense had to replace 4 starters, but in contrast to the ’11 season it remained pretty healthy throughout the season (only Wilcox had serious injury issues).
    One thing that fans hopefully learned from the ’05 season was that that D was pretty experienced in the back-end, but it featured an all-new front 4. That front 4 certainly got pushed around early … however, they also had plenty of good moments too. Furthermore, that front 4, featuring 2 redshirt freshmen at DT and 2 redshirt SOs at DE ended up developing into a unit that could play with just about anybody by the end of the season. It’s interesting to recall that Iowa’s top 6 guys on the DL were grossly undersized. King was at 250 (or listed there, at least), Kroul was at 267, Mattison was at 262, Iwebema was at 255, Bain was at 286, and Follet was at 255. That’s an average of just 262.5 lbs per defensive lineman!
    In contrast, Iowa’s DL in ’12 is far less dependent on freshmen than its ’05 counterpart. In ’05, the Iowa DL relied upon 2 redshirt freshmen and 2 true freshmen to play a lot of quality snaps. In contrast, the ’12 DL will probably only rely upon 2 freshmen to play a lot of quality snaps. Furthermore, if you look at what appears to be Iowa’s top 6 on the DL, you see that the ’12 DL enjoys more size too. Bigach is at 282, Alvis is at 265, Cooper is at 280, Davis is at 310, Gaglione is at 264, and Trinca-Pasat is at 270. That’s an average of 278.5 lbs per defensive lineman!
    I’m inclined to believe that if the Iowa front 7 can remain adequately healthy and if Iowa’s strong safeties do a good job in run support … particularly when helping crowd the box … then Iowa’s run D may prove to be better than many anticipate. The surprise that many Hawk fans might observe instead is that increased risk also tends to lead to getting burned more. Thus, I’d agree that Iowa will give up more points than usual … but that will be due more to a philosophy change than due to a disadvantaged run D.

  • Russell Steburg

    I always like the Hawks when they are not rank,They will give everyone a run for there money.

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