This was a big week for Big Ten football as the conference announced a new divisional structure as well as the advent of a nine-game conference season.
Key players in the Legends Division include Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell, Michigan's Devin Gardner, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Iowa's Mark Weisman
Incoming members Maryland and Rutgers will join the league in 2014. At that time, the Big Ten will go from its current Legends and Leaders divisional model (which was based primarily on competitive balance) to a straight East and West format.
Basically, the Big Ten will draw a line at Indianapolis with the schools from Purdue and to the west all in the West Division. Indiana and all schools east of Indy will be in the East Division. Here’s what they will look like:
East: Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana
West: Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska
The Big Ten will maintain its current eight-game league schedule for 2013 and through 2015. In these three years, schools will play six games against division opponents and two crossover opponents. The only protected crossover game for these three years and going forward will be the Indiana-Purdue rivalry.
Starting in 2016, schools will play six divisional games and three crossover games. The East Division teams will get five Big Ten home games in even seasons, while teams in the West will get five home games in odd seasons. On average, teams in one division will see each team in the other division roughly four times in every 10-year period going forward.
But, for now, it is still 2013 and the teams will play this season under the Leaders and Legends format. Most notably, this is the last year Ohio State and Michigan will be in separate divisions and, in turn, the only year where they could play their regular season finale and come back and play again a week later in the Big Ten Championship Game.
That championship game is set for Sat., Dec. 7, at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. The winner of that game will move on to either the Rose Bowl Jan. 1 or the last BCS National Championship Game Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. And this is the last year of the BCS format before major college football moves to a four-game playoff beginning in 2014.
Today, we will look at the six teams in the Legends Division coming out of spring practice. In a future update, we will look at the Leaders Division.
Five of the six teams in the Legends Division played in bowl games last year with Michigan State and Northwestern bringing home victories.
Here we go with our Spring Recap of the Legends Division:
* 2012 Record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 Big Ten Leaders (tied for fifth).
* Starters Lost (9): Offense (4): WR Keenan Davis, FB Brad Rogers, C James Ferentz, OG Matt Tobin, QB James Vandenberg; Defense (5): DE Joe Gaglione, DT Steve Bigach, CB Greg Castillo, CB Micah Hyde, SS Tom Donatell; Specialists (0): None.
* Returning Starters (14): Offense (6): TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, LT Brandon Scherff, RG Andrew Donnal, RT Brett Van Sloten, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, RB Mark Weisman; Defense (6): DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, DE Dominic Alvis, LB Christian Kirksey, LB James Morris, LB Anthony Hitchens, FS Tanner Miller; Specialists (2): K Mike Meyer, P Connor Kornbrath.
* Spring Game Recap (April 27): The offense took a 61-37 win over the defense in the spring-ending scrimmage before a crowd of 16,500 at Kinnick Stadium. The three quarterbacks vying to replace Vandenberg -- sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard – were comparable in the scrimmage. Rudock was 18 of 29 passing for 174 yards, Sokol was 13 of 18 for 183 passes one touchdown and a rushing touchdown, while Beathard was 10 of 20 for 110 yards and a score.
Freshman wideout Cameron Wilson had 10 catches for 131 yards. The defensive star was junior defensive tackle Carl Davis with three sacks and two pass deflections.
* Spring Developments: The Hawkeyes endured just their second losing season since 2000 last year. Iowa was a distant 11th in the Big Ten in scoring and total offense in 2012.
Much of the focus was on finding the new quarterback. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said the team may not decide who wins the job until the 2013 season begins but head coach Kirk Ferentz didn't go quite that far when addressing the situation after the spring game.
"My guess is we’ll probably go at least halfway through (fall) camp before we really make a final decision on who is going to start the opening ballgame (Aug. 31 vs. Northern Illinois),” Ferentz said. “Because it’s all pretty close right now.”
After years of issues at running back, it looks like Iowa has developed some depth there with Weisman, Damon Bullock, Jordan Canzeri and others in the fold. Fiedorowicz should be one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends.
Defensively, Iowa will have a strong linebacker corps with Hitchens (the Big Ten’s leading tackler in 2012) and Morris. Trinca-Pasat missed the spring due to injury, but Davis’ emergence was a plus up front.
* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, Northern Illinois; Sept. 7, Missouri State; Sept. 14, at Iowa State; Sept. 21,Western Michigan; Sept. 28, at Minnesota; Oct. 5, Michigan State; Oct. 19, at Ohio State; Oct. 26, Northwestern; Nov. 2, Wisconsin; Nov. 9, at Purdue; Nov. 23, Michigan; Nov. 29, at Nebraska.
* Helwagen Says: Iowa won as many as 11 games as recently as 2009. But that total has dropped to eight, seven and four wins over the last three years. You have to give Ferentz the benefit of the doubt, though. His teams have a knack for catching some early season breaks and getting on a roll as conference play arrives.
The offense must find a leader at quarterback and develop some consistency to take some of the pressure off the defense. That’s basically the key to the entire situation. The schedule is not all that easy with Northern Illinois (a team Iowa defeated 18-17 last year) and Iowa State (a team Iowa lost to 9-6) in the nonconference and Ohio State and Wisconsin in crossover games.
Iowa is looking up at Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and maybe Michigan State in the division. The Hawkeyes should get six or seven wins, though, and get back to a bowl game.
* 2012 Record, Bowl: 8-5 overall, 6-2 Big Ten Leaders (second), lost to South Carolina 33-28 in the Outback Bowl.
* Starters Lost (11): Offense (6): RG Patrick Omameh, QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, LG Ricky Barnum, C Elliott Mealer, TE Mike Kwiatkowski; Defense (5): DT Will Campbell, CB J.T. Floyd, MLB Kenny Demens, SS Jordan Kovacs, DE Craig Roh; Specialists (0): None.
* Returning Starters (14): Offense (6): LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, TE Devin Funchess, WR Jeremy Gallon, FB Stephen Hopkins; Defense (6): DE Frank Clark, NT Quinton Washington, CB Ramon Taylor, FS Thomas Gordon, WLB Desmond Morgan, SLB Jake Ryan; Specialists (2): K Brendan Gibbons, P Will Hagerup.
* Spring Game Recap (April 13): A crowd estimated at 18,000 at the Big House was greeted by cold and some early spring snow as the Wolverines wrapped up their spring drills.
Junior Devin Gardner, who finished last season as the regular quarterback with Robinson injured, completed 11 of 16 pass attempts for 142 yards and one touchdown. Gardner's lone touchdown came on a 12-yard strike to freshman tight end Jake Butt. Michigan's next touchdown came on the very next play when redshirt freshman Brian Cleary hit fifth-year senior wideout Joe Reynolds on a 14-yard strike.
Junior running back Thomas Rawls scored the scrimmage's first touchdown on a 14-yard run down the left sideline. Rawls led the Wolverines with six carries for 32 yards. Meawhile, Gallon had four receptions for 30 yards, while Funchess finished with two catches for 38 yards.
The Wolverine defense had four sacks -- from Clark, senior Jibreel Black, sophomore Mario Ojemudia and freshman Taco Charlton. Sophomore linebacker James Ross III led the team in tackles with eight. He also had two tackles for loss.
* Spring Developments: Robinson’s departure after 3-1/2 years as the leader at quarterback means the offense can move toward more of a pro style look. There were bright spots as Gardner showed signs of improvement and Darboh and Jehu Chesson emerged alongside Gallon at wide receiver. Lewan passed on a shot to leave early for the NFL and will lead the offensive line at left tackle.
But Toussaint, lost to a broken leg late last season, was not able to practice. And backup quarterback Russell Bellomy was lost for the season with a knee injury. Key freshman Shane Morris will arrive this summer to provide backup to Gardner.
Ross’ emergence is important as Michigan looks for new playmakers at linebacker. Ryan, who underwent ACL surgery this spring, could be back in the fold there as well by midseason.
Michigan’s Big Ten championship drought is at eight years and counting. But UM also lost to four top-10 teams last year in national champion Alabama, title game loser Notre Dame, unbeaten Ohio State and South Carolina in the bowl game. In two years, Hoke’s teams are 5-7 away from Michigan Stadium.
"We didn't play well on the road," Hoke said. "We didn't play with the toughness that it takes. We learned a lot in the bowl game about us as people, especially the guys coming back, good and bad."
* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, Central Michigan; Sept. 7, Notre Dame, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2); Sept. 14, Akron; Sept. 21, at Connecticut; Oct. 5, Minnesota; Oct. 12, at Penn State, 5 p.m. (ESPN or ESPN2); Oct. 19, Indiana; Nov. 2, at Michigan State; Nov. 9, Nebraska; Nov. 16, at Northwestern; Nov. 23, at Iowa; Nov. 30, Ohio State.
* Helwagen Says: The schedule sets up extremely well for Michigan, which played pretty well down the stretch after Gardner took over at quarterback. The Wolverines host Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State. They must visit division foes Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa, however.
Some are looking at Michigan as a possible top-10 team and the favorite to win the Legends Division. I would agree. That regular season finale against Ohio State could be the first of two meetings in eight days between those bitter rivals.
Michigan’s Big Ten championship drought dates to 2004 and Hoke is bound and determined to change that … ASAP. I like the Wolverines’ chances to at least play for the title.
The improvement Michigan has made defensively over the last three years – coinciding with Greg Mattison’s return to Ann Arbor as the defensive coordinator – has been awesome. UM needs that defense to set the tone in 2013 and, in turn, give Gardner some breathing room to grow into the starting role at quarterback.
* 2012 Record, Bowl: 7-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten Leaders (fourth), defeated TCU 17-16 in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
* Starters Lost (8): Offense (3): TB Le’Veon Bell (early to NFL), RG Chris McDonald, TE Dion Sims (early to NFL); Defense (4): NT Anthony Rashad-White, BC Johnny Adams, DE William Gholston (early to NFL), LB Chris Norman; Specialists (1): K Dan Conroy.
* Returning Starters (16): Offense (8): LT Dan France, LG Blake Treadwell, C Jack Allen, RT Skyler Burkhead, WR Keith Mumphery, WR Bennie Fowler, QB Andrew Maxwell, FB Lawrence Thomas; Defense (7): DT James Kittredge, LB Denicos Allen, LB Max Bullough, FC Darqueze Dennard, SS Isaiah Lewis, DE Marcus Rush, FS Kurtis Drummond; Specialists (1): P Mike Sadler.
* Spring Game Recap (April 20): The White defeated the Green 24-17 before 22,500 at Spartan Stadium. Walk-on A.J. Troup's 46-yard touchdown reception from Maxwell with 4:32 left in the game proved to be the difference in a back-and-forth game that featured three lead changes. Maxwell was 9 of 20 passing for 110 yards and that touchdown.
The Green compiled 325 yards of total offense, led by sophomore quarterback Connor Cook, who completed 10-of-26 passes for 217 yards including a 22-yard touchdown pass to DeAnthony Arnett. Sophomore Aaron Burbridge paced the wideouts with five catches for 113 yards for the Green. Fowler hauled in four receptions for 84 yards for the Green.
* Spring Developments: Michigan State boasted one of the nation’s best defenses, but also suffered from a ton of bad luck a year ago. MSU dropped five Big Ten games by a combined 13 points. Allen, Bullough, Lewis and Dennard return to lead the defense, which should be strong once again.
The Spartans went into the spring looking for more consistency on offense – particularly from Maxwell, who was pulled in favor of Cook in the bowl game. MSU coach Mark Dantonio said Maxwell would remain the top quarterback going into fall camp.
"There are stress points," Dantonio said. "A young person who's 20 or 21 yards old is often times critiqued when things don't quite as well. It's hard to identify who that offensive guard was, but everybody knows who the quarterback is. He gets more than his share of the praise, certainly, but he gets his share of the criticism, also.
"He understands that's part of the deal, having gone through this once. He's been able to refocus and recenter himself, and now he gets to start over perse, begin fresh and right the ship a little bit."
But the Spartans lost Bell (nearly an 1,800-yard rusher), Sims (a security blanket at tight end) and Gholston (a key pass rusher) early to the NFL. Riley Bullough, a converted linebacker, had a game-high 48 yards rushing in the spring game.
* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, Western Michigan; Sept. 7, South Florida; Sept. 14, Youngstown State; Sept. 21, at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. (NBC); Oct. 5, at Iowa; Oct. 12, Indiana; Oct. 19, Purdue; Oct. 26, at Illinois; Nov. 2, Michigan; Nov. 16, at Nebraska; Nov. 23, at Northwestern; Nov. 30, Minnesota.
* Helwagen Says: After back-to-back 11-win seasons, Michigan State fell back to the pack with last year’s hard luck season. A bounce here or there and the Spartans could well have been in the Legends Division race.
My guess is we see Michigan State embroiled in a lot of games where the first team to 20 points will win. The final scores will be 23-20, 17-14, 16-13 – those kind of nut crunching games. The schedule is pretty favorable with Ohio State and Wisconsin falling off the slate. Road trips to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Northwestern look tough. Eight wins seems reachable and – with a bounce or two (and you know they’re due) – it may even be nine.
* 2012 Record, Bowl: 6-7 overall, 2-6 Big Ten Leaders (tied for fifth), lost to Texas Tech 34-31 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
* Starters Lost (8): Offense (2): FB John Rabe, QB-WR MarQueis Gray; Defense (5): LB Keanon Cooper, LB Mike Rallis, CB Troy Stoudermire, CB Michael Carter, DE D.L. Wilhite; Specialists (1): K Jordan Wettstein.
* Returning Starters (17): Offense (10): LT Ed Olson, LG Jon Christenson, RG Caleb Bak, C Zac Epping, RT Josh Campion, QB Philip Nelson, TB Donnell Kirkwood, TE Drew Goodger, WR Isaac Fruechte, WR Derrick Engel; Defense (6): DE Michael Amaefula, DT Roland Johnson, NT Ra’Shede Hageman, SLB Aaron Hill, DB Derrick Wells, DB Cedric Thompson; Specialists (1): P Christian Eldred.
* Spring Game Recap (April 27): The Maroon team defeated the White team 24-17. The Maroon dominated offensively, outgaining the White Team in passing, rushing and total yards. Nelson led the Maroon team. He piloted a long drive from the 35-yard line that included two fourth down conversions, culminating in a 1-yard Kirkwood touchdown run.
An announced crowd of 8,400 attended the scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium. Nelson took control of the starting role with a decisive performance in the spring game, going 13 for 17 passing with 179 yards and a one touchdown. Nelson also ran for 45 yards on six carries.
* Spring Developments: The Minnesota staff will try and build an emerging defense behind the 6-6, 311-pound Hageman at defensive tackle. Hageman gave thought this last winter to testing the NFL draft pool, but realized it was in his best interest to put one final season on tape to display for professional scouts.
Wells proved he can handle switching from his original safety position to cornerback. Wells was one of the leaders in the defensive backfield this spring. Sophomore Eric Murray and junior Briaen Boddy battled for the second corner spot. The Gophers lost quite a pair there in outgoing starters Stoudermire and Carter.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jamel Harbison suffered an ACL injury in the first game against UNLV last year. This spring he appeared to be back to 100 percent physically. The Gopher staff was very high on Harbison last season before getting hurt. He had five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 29, UNLV; Sept. 7, at New Mexico State, 8 p.m.; Sept. 14, Western Illinois; Sept. 21, San Jose State; Sept. 28, Iowa; Oct. 5, at Michigan; Oct. 19, at Northwestern; Oct. 26, Nebraska; Nov. 2, at Indiana; Nov. 9, Penn State; Nov. 23, Wisconsin; Nov. 30, at Michigan State.
* Helwagen Says: Kill and his staff of grinders just go to work every day. Slowly but surely, they are seeing some fruits from their labor. Minnesota got back to a bowl game for the first time since 2009 and very nearly pulled off the win over Texas Tech in that Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Ultimately, the key for Kill and his staff is to routinely keep Minnesota’s best players at home and playing in the Gophers’ beautiful on-campus stadium. The fact is Minnesota was 2-6 in Big Ten play with five double-digit conference losses. Once again, Minnesota probably needs to sweep its nonconference opponents (and that should not be too big of a challenge) and again eke at least two Big Ten wins to get back to a bowl game. That may be a tall order, considering the Gophers must visit an improving Indiana.
* 2012 Record, Bowl: 10-4 overall, 7-1 Big Ten Leaders (first), lost to Georgia 45-31 in Capital One Bowl.
* Starters Lost (13): Offense (4): IB Rex Burkhead, LG Seung Hoon Choi, C Justin Jackson, TE Ben Cotton; Defense (8): DE Eric Martin, LB Will Compton, LB Sean Fisher, LB Alonzo Whaley, DE Cameron Meredith, S Daimion Stafford, S P.J. Smith, DT Baker Steinkuhler; Specialists (1): K-P Brett Maher.
* Returning Starters (13): Offense (8): WR Kenny Bell, IB Ameer Abdullah, WR Quincy Enunwa, LT Brent Qvale, RG Spencer Long, QB Taylor Martinez, RT Jeremiah Sirles, FB Mike Marrow; Defense (5): DE Jason Ankrah, DT Thad Randle, CB Ciante Evans, CB Andrew Green, CB Josh Mitchell; Specialists (0): None.
* Spring Game Recap (April 6): Nebraska supplied one of the greatest moments of the spring and made a young boy’s dream come true as 7-year-old Jack Hoffman, an Atkinson, Neb., native battling a rare form of brain cancer, galloped 69 yards for a touchdown late in the scrimmage. The entire Nebraska team celebrated with the youngster in the Memorial Stadium end zone.
Playing in front of 60,174 fans, the Red squad defeated the White 32-25. Hoffman’s touchdown run was the margin of victory. Martinez and Tommy Armstrong Jr. joined forces to complete 13 of 17 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns for the Red team.
Ron Kellogg completed 11 of 12 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown for the White squad.
* Spring Developments: For much of last year, the Nebraska offense was fun to watch with Martinez running and distributing the ball to Abdullah in the backfield and Bell and Enunwa downfield. Martinez is back for his fourth year as the starter and figures to set a career-high in pass attempts this year.
But, truly, offense is the least of NU coach Bo Pelini’s problems.
The Huskers simply could not stop good teams last year. Nebraska allowed an average of 53.5 points in its four losses. Ankrah and Randle are the only returning starters in the front seven. It looks like Ankrah and redshirt freshmen Avery Moss and Greg McMullen will step up at defensive end. Nebraska moved 310-pound OL Brodrick Nickens over to defensive tackle to bolster the defense this spring.
"I think our defense has potential to be very good, but it is going to require a lot of hard work between now and (the start of the season)," Pelini said. "There's going to be a tremendous competition to see who is out there on the field come that first game. Who that's going to be, I don't know yet. There's a lot of potential, but like I said, there's a lot of work to do between now and then."
* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, Wyoming; Sept. 7, Southern Miss; Sept. 14, UCLA; Sept. 21, South Dakota State; Oct. 5, Illinois; Oct. 12, at Purdue; Oct. 26, at Minnesota; Nov. 2, Northwestern; Nov. 9, at Michigan; Nov. 16, Michigan State; Nov. 23, at Penn State; Nov. 29, Iowa.
* Helwagen Says: Nebraska has won nine or 10 games in all five of Pelini’s seasons as the head coach. But he and the Huskers will be looking to take the next step and secure the school’s first league title since 1999.
The offense will be something to see and my guess is Martinez, not necessarily known for this throwing, could threaten NU’s single-season passing record. They will have to be good – at least until the defense gets its feet under it.
In the years since NU’s last league title, the Huskers have had teams with great defense and piddling offense and some, like last year, that were vice versa. I’m not necessarily convinced the 2013 Nebraska team will break that mold. But the schedule seems largely manageable with no Ohio State or Wisconsin.
Plus, Nebraska gets Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa at home. The Nov. 9 game at Michigan could decide the Legends Division title. If the defense comes together, an 8-0 start is entirely possible with November telling the tale. Nine wins seems a strong likelihood with a shot at 10 if everything goes well.
* 2012 Record, Bowl: 10-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten Leaders (third), defeated Mississippi State 34-20 in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
* Starters Lost (9): Offense (4): WR Demetrius Fields, LG Brian Mulroe, LT Pat Ward, RG Neal Deiters; Defense (5): DT Brian Arnfelt, LB David Nwabuisi, DE Quentin Williams, CB Quinn Evans, S Sared Carpenter; Specialists (0): None.
P Brandon Williams.
* Returning Starters (16): Offense (8): WR Christian Jones, C Brandon Vitabile, TB Venric Mark, QB-WR Kain Colter, QB Trevor Siemian, WR Rashad Lawrence, WR Tony Jones, RT Jack Konopka; Defense (6): DT Sean McEvily, S Ibraheim Campbell, LB Damien Proby, OLB Chi Chi Ariguzo, CB Nick Van Hoose, DE Tyler Scott; Specialists (2): K Jeff Budzien, P Brandon Williams.
* Spring Game Recap: Northwestern did not have a typical spring-ending scrimmage game. As many as 13 NU players underwent surgeries in the last few months, limiting the depth.
* Spring Developments: NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has said that Colter and Siemian will again share the quarterback job with Colter also shifting to wide receiver at times. Mark, a 1,300-yard rusher, returns after earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. But the Wildcats must find three new starters on the offensive line.
Campbell and Ariguzo are emerging stars on the NU defense, which must improve against the pass. Proby and Van Hoose were out this spring due to injuries. The NU staff liked the progress of Scott (nine sacks last year) at end and C.J. Robbins on the defensive line.
“I think our chemistry carried over from last year. I think we learned a great lesson on being a team a year ago,” Fitzgerald said. “You can see the togetherness and the brotherhood they have.
"Our team speed is definitely much improved. Our secondary runs as well as it has at all four positions."
* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, at California; Sept. 7, Syracuse; Sept. 14, Western Michigan; Sept. 21, Maine; Oct. 5, Ohio State, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2); Oct. 12, at Wisconsin; Oct. 19, Minnesota; Oct. 26, at Iowa; Nov. 2, at Nebraska; Nov. 16, Michigan; Nov. 23, Michigan State; Nov. 30, at Illinois.
* Helwagen Says: Northwestern is coming off its first 10-win season since the 1995 Rose Bowl year and its first bowl victory since 1949. Some think the Wildcats have what it takes to win the Legends Division title this year.
But those crossover games with Ohio State and Wisconsin loom very large. NU will host Ohio State in a prime time game at Ryan Field. That last time that happened in 2004 the Wildcats upset the eighth-ranked Buckeyes.
Northwestern won 10 games, but did not have anybody drafted. Provided the big uglies come along quickly to support the skill position players on offense, the Wildcats could be pretty good in 2013. I think eight wins seems likely and maybe as many as 10 if everything clicks.