The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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178 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY CHRIS BALAS T he days of trying to figure what teams are in which Big Ten divi- sion are over. Starting this year, the league will be geographically split between the now 14 Big Ten teams, and the line is drawn somewhere between West Lafayette, Ind., and Bloomington, Ind. — just as Purdue and Indiana fans would probably prefer. Gone are the days of "I know all the teams that start with the letter 'M' are in the Legends" (or is it the Leaders?). Big Ten teams will start playing nine conference games instead of eight in 2016, and for the foreseeable future there will still only be one conference champion, decided by a title game between division winners as it has been each of the last two years. Here's a look at what to expect from this year's Big Ten: Top Storylines Division Realignments: So long, Leaders and Legends — hello, East and West. Yes, the divisions have been split on location, which makes sense. However, many believe it hasn't been split evenly, at least based on how some feel conference teams should fare. Historical powers Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all in the East and joined by upstart Michigan State, last year's Big Ten champion, while Indiana and newcomers Maryland and Rutgers round out the division. East Division teams have won outright or shared eight of the last 10 Big Ten titles, while West Division teams (Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota) have won two outright and shared two. Wisconsin has captured three of those four titles — with Iowa earning a share with Michigan in 2004 — and the Badgers will probably be the favorite to win the West Division even with only nine starters returning. Advantage: East (for the foreseeable future), though the Badgers will have something to say about it. The Year Of The Returning Quarterback: All but one Big Ten team returns a quarterback that was at least a part-time starter, and most of them were full-time guys. Only Illinois, which lost Nathan Scheelhaase, must break in a brand-new signal- caller with no experience this year. There's star power in those who return. Ohio State welcomes back Big Ten Player of the Year favorite (and returning Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year) Braxton Miller, while Michigan State returns second-team All-Big Ten honoree Connor Cook. Michigan's Devin Gardner, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Wisconsin's Joel Stave were among those who received honorable mention all-confer- ence accolades. That's a pretty good collection of talent for a league that could use a bit of it to combat negative perception that the Big Ten just isn't that good. Scheduling Quirks: There are now 14 conference teams and still only eight league games each, so there will be debate about what's fair and what isn't. Each team will play all of its divisional foes with two crossover games — for the Wolverines, it's a rather undaunting duo of Minnesota at home and Northwestern on the road, though the Wildcats have some talent and could surprise this year. On the flip side, U-M must travel to Michigan State for the second straight year and also head to Columbus to face Ohio State in the finale. Those two teams figure to be among the class of the Big Ten in 2014. The Spartans seem to have the easiest road to a title, schedule-wise. They get crossover opponent Nebraska as well as Michigan and Ohio State at home, and their other non-divisional game is at bottom feeder Purdue. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, travel to Penn State for a night game in addition to going to East Lansing, while PSU travels to U-M but hosts MSU in the season finale. Keep an eye on Iowa in the West Division. The Hawkeyes have Maryland and Indiana as their crossover foes, and get both Nebraska and Wis- consin at home. The Badgers get the Terrapins and Rutgers from the East and host Nebraska, so their Nov. 22 showdown at Iowa could be for a West Division title. PREVIEW New Divisions, New Teams And Most Of The Same Quarterbacks Highlight The Upcoming Conference Season 178-181.Big Ten Preview.indd 178 6/19/14 3:13 PM

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