Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke and Quarterback Denard Robinson discuss their upcoming season at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago
According to a poll of local media outlets around Big Ten country this week, the Michigan Wolverines are the favorites to win the Big Ten title. To both the players and coaches, this expectation is a welcome one.
“We had a disappointing year a year ago when you do not win the Big Ten championship. And at Michigan we’ve not won that championship since 2004,” Hoke said of his first season in Ann Arbor.
As the conference’s lone BCS Bowl victor from a season ago, Head coach Brady Hoke finally has the same expectations as the media does for his squad. However, Hoke does not put too much stock into those pre-season prognostications.
“I think we were picked fifth in our division a year ago. I think the 1997 team, I think pre-season was picked right inside the top 25 by a lot of people. And that ended up being a pretty good football team. We don’t put too much stock in that. It’s like anything in life, it’s not where we start but where we finish,” Hoke added.
However, for the Wolverines to flourish in Hoke’s second season, they will have some hurdles to clear in the Legends Division, namely the Wolverines in-state rival, the Michigan State Spartans. As the defending division champions, the expectations in East Lansing are much the same to those in Ann Arbor.
Said Dantonio of MSU’s in-state rival, “I would just say they’ve been favored pretty much the last four years. Competitive game. Big rival game. They do an outstanding job there. But it only matters: Are they favored or not in the locker room? And in our locker room, they won’t be favored.”
Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio addresses the media Thursday at Big Ten Media Days
For Michigan State, the mentality is certainly there, and so is the defense, as the Spartans return 18 of their top 22 performers on that side of the ball from a season ago. However, the question marks for the Spartans are on the other side of the ball, as MSU loses three-year starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, as well as a plethora of big-time performers in Edwin Baker, B.J. Cunningham, and Keshawn Martin.
Another rival for these two squads in the Legends division is the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are coming off of a nine-win season in their first year in the Big Ten, despite finishing third in the division. While expectations were high for the Cornhuskers in year one, the bar seems to be even higher in year two for Bo Pelini’s team.
“I think a year under our belt, having some familiarity with the conference, with the teams, with the style of offenses and defenses, you know, there’s one thing seeing it on film; there’s another thing living it and seeing it in person, firsthand,” Pelini said of the difference between last year and this year. “I think it will help us going into year two. It’s not going to win any football games for us, but I think it will be a little bit easier.”
While many count the Legends division to be a three-horse race between these teams, others believe Iowa and Northwestern are candidates to emerge as darkhorse contenders to make some noise in the division. On the flip side, most predictions have Wisconsin slotted as the Leaders division champions, in part due to the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State to claim the division title this season due to NCAA sanctions. In any case, this Big Ten Football season has the potential to be unlike any other we’ve seen before, and this should have fans on the edges of their seats.