The 2012 college football season was a rough one for the Big Ten. The pride of the conference, Michigan, opened the year at No. 8-overall and promptly laid an egg in front of the entire country in a blowout loss to Alabama.
While that loss was bad, no one expected it to signal the onslaught of losses that would pile up over the next three months for one of the nation’s oldest and most well-respected conferences.
The top two teams in the Big Ten Leaders division, Ohio State and Penn State, were both banned from postseason play. Although the year ended with a perfect 12-0 record, the Buckeyes were forced to sit and watch the conference title game from home after several players sold their OSU memorabilia for tattoos. The scandal resulted in the firing of national championship-winning coach Jim Tressel and the one-year bowl ban.
Penn State’s transgressions were far worse, and far more publicized. The Nittany Lions will not be in a bowl game for another three seasons.
That left Wisconsin. The mighty Badgers out of Madtown lost three conference games in overtime and another by three to Nebraska in regulation. The talent was there, but the ability to finish was not.
That is, of course, until the Badgers took on the Huskers once again, this time in Indianapolis with the Big Ten title on the line. The most complete game played by any conference team all year resulted in a 70-31 thrashing for Wisconsin of a Nebraska team that had been 10-2 at the time and primed to represented their new league with class in the Rose Bowl.
However, the slightly embarrassing year has come to an end. Wisconsin lost the Grandaddy of ‘Em All, but in a neck-and-neck, 20-14, showdown with Stanford despite coach Bret Bielema’s abrupt departure to Arkansas prior to the game. Many in Mad-town are chomping at the bit to see what quarterback Joel Stave and running back James White can do with a full offseason to work together.
Northwestern tied a bow on one of the greatest seasons in program history with a win over the SEC’s Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, 34-20. The Wildcats return several star players and has finally learned how to recruit following a 10-win 2012 season.
South Carolina needed a miracle to overtake Michigan in the Outback Bowl, and big things are once again expected of the Wolverines in 2013.
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With Devin Gardner under center as opposed to the uber-talented but incredibly inconsistent Denard Robinson and Taylor Lewan back to anchor the offensive line, there should be no let-down in Ann Arbor.
Out in Lincoln, the 2013 season will be the swan song for quarterback Taylor Martinez. Once again, Nebraska will have all the talent to make things happen, but the program needs to prove it can get over the hump under coach Bo Pelini.
Oh yeah, and Urban Meyer has never lost a game as the coach of Ohio State. Presumably, he does not plan to.
The bottom-feeders of the league may still look pretty ugly in 2013 — Illinois is going to stink, Purdue is rebuilding under a new head coach and Iowa is tumbling — but the cream of the Big Ten crop are looking primed for a return to national glory.
But which program will make good on preseason expectations? Which representative of the downtrodden Big Ten will rise from the ashes of the 2012 debacle and carry the entire conference back to the spotlight?
We’re just going to come right out and ask it …