Early Predictions for Big Ten Football - Getting a Jump on the Spring Games

ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 16: Head football coach Brady Hoke during the annual Spring Game at Michigan Stadium on April 16, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Having an easy schedule helps teams, without a doubt. With that said, plenty of teams have still struggled with an easy schedule, whether it be based on injuries, lack of talent, or other factors.

To see college football schedules by conference (in PDF version, too), click here.

First, a few explanations.

(1) The first column, "2012 SOS" represents the strength of schedule of Big Ten teams for their 2012 schedule, based on 2011 records. The SOS does not include games opponents played against FCS opponents. The number indicates the respective ranking among 124 teams (including Massachusetts, South Alabama, Texas State and UTSA who join the FBS ranks). Keep in mind, it doesn’t factor in anything other than 2011 records – doesn’t take into account coaching changes, recruiting classes, or starters lost.This, like the "2009 Wins", "2010 Wins", and "2011 Wins" are reflectively of regular season win totals, only.

(2) The fourth and sixth columns, "2010 SOS" and "2011 SOS", are based on rankings from Phil Steele. These rankings are from teams 1-120.

(3) The eighth column, "2010-2011 SOS Diff" compares the strength of schedule from the fourth and sixth columns. Teams with anegative number here had a tougher schedule in 2011. Teams with a positive number here had an easier schedule in 2011. The same applies to the tenth column, with regards to the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Keep in mind, the 2012 season SOS is based on 2011 results.

(4) The ninth column, "Win Diff", is the difference between the 2010 win total and 2009 win total. Teams with a positive numberhad an increase in wins from 2009 to 2010. Teams with a negative number had a decrease in wins from 2009 to 2010. The same applies to the eleventh column, with regards to the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

The 2009 and 2010 win totals should, theoretically, be reflective of the 2010 SOS. The 2010 and 2011 win totals should, theoretically, be reflective of the 2011 SOS. Finally, the 2011 and 2012 win totals should, theoretically, be reflective of the 2012 SOS. Obviously, the 2012 win totals won’t come out until after the 2012 season, but maybe history can be used to help predict an opening over/under win total for each Big Ten team?

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Opening over/under win total predictions

Illinois

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 6.

2012 Schedule Analysis: I’ll be honest, I was a big believer that the Fighting Illini were a dark horse candidate to win the Big Ten Leaders Division. Illinois’s schedule was backloaded, without a doubt. Illinois started the season 6-0, but lost six in a row, costing Ron Zook his job. Now, former Toledo coach Tim Beckman takes over in Champaign, looking to instill toughness in his team. The Illini were 4-2 in games decided by seven points or less in 2011. Illinois faces Western Michigan and Alex Carder to open the season – the Illini beat the Broncos by three in 2011. They hit the road the second week to Tempe, to face an Arizona State team that is looking to replace QB Brock Osweiler and who will be instilling the spread under Rich Rodriguez-disciple, Todd Graham. Illinois will also face WAC champ Louisiana Tech in non-conference play. Illinois has a winnable road game against Northwestern, and winnable home games against Penn State, Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue.

Spring Game: April 14th at 2:00 PM CST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Under.

Indiana

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 1.

2012 Schedule Analysis: Things get substantially easier for the Hoosiers in year two of the Kevin R. Wilson tenure. Indiana was bad, even by Indiana standards, in 2011, only beating South Carolina State. The Hoosiers struggled to be competitive, especially late in the season. Indiana had four games decided by seven points or less, none in the second half of the season. Indiana opens the season with Indiana State, Massachusetts, and Ball State – all of which should be winnable. Expect Indiana to look for revenge against the Cardinals. I’m not saying Indiana’s schedule is easy in 2012, but its much more manageable, especially with Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler running the defense for the second year. Problem is, the winnable conference games are on the road, and the tough ones are at home. Indiana has winnable road games against Northwestern, Illinois, and Purdue, and a winnable home game against Iowa.

Spring Game: April 14th at 12:00 PM EST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Over.

Iowa

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 7.

2012 Schedule Analysis: Of all Big Ten teams, Iowa’s gets the third toughest in 2012, only Nebraska and Michigan State’s get tougher. QB James Vandenberg returns for his junior season (sophomore in eligibility). The 2012 SOS is a bit of a misnomer, as Northern Illinois graduates QB Chandler Harnish. Iowa plays four of their first five games at home, and doesn’t play a true road game until October 13th, after their bye week. Iowa has tough trips to Michigan State and Michigan, and hosts tough games against Purdue and Nebraska. Despite how tough Iowa’s schedule looks on paper, its very manageable. The Hawkeyes could be looking at double digit wins when the 2012 season is completed, post-season and all.

Spring Game: April 14th at 12:00 PM CST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Over.

Michigan

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 10.

2012 Schedule Analysis: Believe it or not, on paper, Michigan’s schedule in 2012 is easier than the 2011 schedule. Part of this is likely due to the fact that its tough to compute how Massachusetts will fare. In order of difficulty, Michigan’s non-conference schedule is Alabama, Notre Dame, Air Force, and Massachusetts. With the Falcons graduating RB Asher Clark and QB Tim Jefferson, this game looks much easier than it could have been in 2011, especially under a new regime in Ann Arbor. Now, in season two under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines won’t be flying under the radar. Michigan has tough trips to Nebraska and Ohio State, and hosts tough games against Michigan State and Iowa. Think about it this way, can Michigan beat three of five against the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Ohio State? Its possible, but if they only beat three of them, they better not lose to anyone else.

Spring Game: April 14th at 12:00 PM EST on BTN.

Early Prediction: Under.

Michigan State

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 10.

2012 Schedule Analysis: Without a doubt, the most important position in college football is the quarterback. And the Spartans are graduating Kirk Cousins, one of few MSU quarterbacks to have gone undefeated against their in-state rival. Arguably, the second most important set of positions are the offensive line, which looked like a liability for MSU heading into 2011. Yet, Michigan State only decreased their regular season win total by one, due to a pair of blowouts on the road against Notre Dame and Nebraska. Michigan State opens with Boise State – the Broncos haven’t won fewer than 10 regular season games since 2005 – yet the Broncos are replacing QB Kellen Moore. With games against MAC teams (Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan) and a home game against Notre Dame in between, its not unreasonably to think MSU could be 4-0, or at least 3-1 to start the season. Michigan State has tough trips to Michigan and Wisconsin, and hosts tough games against Ohio State and Nebraska. The road team in the Michigan State/Wisconsin series struggles on the road, the Spartans would need to win three of four against Boise State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska.

Spring Game: April 28th at 1:00 PM EST on BTN.

Early Prediction: Under.

Minnesota

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 3.

2012 Schedule Analysis: Minnesota’s high strength of schedule rating is due to the fact they are playing 9 teams who made bowl games in 2011 (including all of their Big ten opponents) – 3 of those teams had 10 regular season wins or more in 2011. Still, the 2012 version of the Gophers should be much improved – the FCS game is winnable, and the Gophers could be 4-0 before the conference slate. But, the Gophers will face a tough Syracuse defense and a veteran quarterback in Alex Carder (Western Michigan). Minnesota has winnable road games against Iowa and Illinois, and winnable home games against Northwestern and Purdue. Can Minnesota win at least four games against the likes of UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, Syracuse, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, and Purdue? The Gophers could be the most improved Big Ten team in 2012.

Spring Game: April 21st at 11:00 AM CST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Over.

Nebraska

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 9.

2012 Schedule Analysis: Preliminarily, the Huskers have the toughest schedule of all Big Ten teams in 2012. But Southern Miss’ QB Austin Davis will be on NFL draft boards, rather than on the minds of college coaches. Nebraska does visit UCLA, but its going to take some time for Jim Mora Jr. to incorporate his quality recruiting class onto the field. Nebraska has tough trips to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa, and hosts tough games against Wisconsin and Michigan. Assuming Nebraska starts 4-0, the Huskers could improve on last season’s win total. Pitfalls lie on the schedule, but expect the Huskers to be a favorite to win the Big Ten Legends Division.

Spring Game: April 14th at 1:00 PM CST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Over.

Northwestern

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 6.

2012 Schedule Analysis: You’d think that replacing QB Dan Persa would be tough, but QB Kain Colter has some experience, especially with Persa missing the beginning part of the season. Coulter saw plenty of time in 2011, so coach Pat Fitzgerald won’t be devoid of experience at the QB position in 2012. Northwestern could start the season 0-2, with a road trip to Syracuse and opening the home schedule against Vanderbilt. The ‘Cats also have winnable games against Boston College and South Dakota, before opening the conference schedule with Indiana in Evanston. Northwestern has winnable road games against Penn State and Minnesota, and winnable home games against Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois. I tend to think Northwestern will be a borderline bowl team, but Colter’s experience in 2011 should be enough to put them over the top, and into the postseason.

Spring Game: April 14th at 12:00 PM CST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Push.

Ohio State

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 6.

2012 Schedule Analysis: Of the 8 Big Ten teams who are projected to have easier schedules in 2012, Ohio State’s schedule get easier by the third largest margin (only Indiana and Minnesota’s get easier by a larger margin). Only one of the Buckeyes’ non-conference opponents made a bowl game in 2011 – Ohio State has all of them in Columbus. Expect QB Braxton Miller to be improved in 2012. The Buckeyes were 3-5 in conference play in 2011, but should be better in 2012, as three of the five losses were on the road last season. No Big Ten loss was by more than seven points. Ohio State was 2-6 in games decided by seven points or less. Expect that to improve in 2012. Ohio State has tough trips to Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin, and hosts tough games against Nebraska and Michigan. Remember, the Buckeyes won’t be in the postseason in 2012, regardless of their record, which, almost assuredly, will improve.

Spring Game: April 21st at 1:30 PM EST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Over.

Penn State

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 9.

2012 Schedule Analysis: With problems in Happy Valley surrounding the end of Joe Paterno’s tenure as head coach, the Nittany Lions can’t wait to get back on the field. Of all Big Ten teams, Penn State’s schedule got easier from 2010 to 2011, result in two more wins in 2012. Things get tougher for Penn State in 2012, facing three bowl teams in their non-conference schedule – Ohio University, Virginia, and Temple. The Lions will also face Navy. Of the top four teams in the Big Ten last season, Penn State had the worst point differential – outscoring their opponents by a total of 33 points in 13 games. Five of Penn State’s games were decided by a touchdown or less in 2011 – PSU was 4-1 in those games. Penn State has tough trips to Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin, and hosts tough games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.

Spring Game: April 21st at 2:00 PM CST on BTN.

Early Prediction: Under.

Purdue

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 6.

2012 Schedule Analysis: QB Robert Marve will be back for the Boilers, as he was granted a sixth year of eligibility. It remains to be seen whether Danny Hope will start Marve, though. The Boilermakers were 2-2 in non-conference games last season, beating Middle Tennessee and Southeast Missouri State, but falling to Rice and Notre Dame. Purdue also won 4 Big Ten games, three of which were at home. The non-conference schedule gets easier, with the potential for three or four wins, but the Big Ten schedule gets tougher. With the exception of Indiana, Purdue could go winless in Big Ten play. Purdue has winnable road games against Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, and winnable home games against Penn State and Indiana.

Spring Game: April 14th at 1:00 PM EST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Push.

Wisconsin

2011 Regular Season Win Total: 11.

2012 Schedule Analysis: Surprise surprise, for the third straight season, the Badgers have the easiest schedule of all Big Ten teams, based primarily on the non-conference schedule which pairs them against only one team who was in a bowl game last season – Utah State. Further, Wisconsin’s toughest games are at home in conference play. If you know Big Ten football, you know that Camp Randall is a house of horrors for the opposition. Wisconsin will have to replace QB Russell Wilson. Danny O’Brien transferred from Maryland and will be eligible in 2013. Expect Coach Bret Bielema to have his quarterback ready to play when the Badgers visit Nebraska on September 29th. Wisconsin has tough trips to Nebraska and Penn State, and hosts tough games against Michigan State and Ohio State.

Spring Game: April 28th at 4:00 PM CST on BTN-DN.

Early Prediction: Push.

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