- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The injury bug bites some teams more than others in certain seasons, and Big Ten squads like Michigan State and Minnesota had a hard time avoiding it in the 2012 campaign.
The Spartans and Gophers had more starters miss games than any of their Big Ten brethren, according to Phil Steele, who recently examined the starts lost for each FBS team last season. Steele looked at offensive starts lost, defensive starts lost, total starts lost and percentage of total starts lost to injury.
No Big Ten team finished among the top 15 nationally in total starts lost, but three squads finished in the top 30 (Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan).
Here's a look:
Michigan State: 28 starts lost (27 offense, 1 defense); 9.79 percent of total starts
Minnesota: 26 starts lost (22 offense, 4 defense); 9.09 percent of total starts
Michigan: 23 starts lost (8 offense, 15 defense); 8.04 percent of total starts
Indiana: 22 starts lost (16 offense, 6 defense); 8.33 percent of total starts
Illinois: 21 starts lost (7 offense, 14 defense); 7.95 percent of total starts
Wisconsin: 19 starts lost (9 offense, 10 defense); 6.17 percent of total starts
Iowa: 18 starts lost (16 offense, 2 defense); 6.82 percent of total starts
Ohio State: 14 starts lost (3 offense, 11 defense); 5.3 percent of total starts
Penn State: 14 starts lost (10 offense, 4 defense); 5.3 percent of total starts
Nebraska: 12 starts lost (9 offense, 3 defense); 3.9 percent of total starts
Purdue: 8 starts lost (3 offense, 5 defense); 2.8 percent of total starts
Northwestern: 5 starts lost (2 offense, 3 defense); 1.75 percent of total starts
There's no doubt injuries hurt both Michigan State and Minnesota in 2012, especially on offense, as both teams were banged up along the line for most of the season. You have to wonder how much the injuries hurt Michigan State, which dropped five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points.
It's important to note that chunks of the total starts lost totals can be attributed to one player missing much of the season, like Michigan CB Blake Countess tearing his ACL in the opener, Indiana QB Tre Roberson suffering a season-ending injury in Week 2 or Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead missing six games with recurring knee problems.
Most teams had an imbalance in offensive and defensive starters lost. Like Michigan State and Minnesota, Iowa lost multiple starting offensive linemen to injury. Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State, meanwhile, were hit a lot harder on defense.
Northwestern's strong health certainly contributed to the Wildcats' 10-win season, although the loss of cornerback Nick VanHoose to injury late in the year loomed large in close losses to Nebraska and Michigan. Not surprisingly, Steele's research shows teams that lost six or fewer starts to injury had a tough time improving the following season.
Injuries are tough to predict and vary year to year, but Michigan State and Minnesota are hoping for better fortunes in 2013.
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