After watching their conference go 1-6 in bowl games this past season, Big Ten fans were disappointed (obviously) and received mass criticism.
Their conference, after all, has been whipped in the National Championship the previous two years, and hasn't won a BCS Bowl since the 2005-2006 season.
However, after a mediocre season, the Big Ten looks like it'll make a rebound in 2009. Continue reading for a team-by-team breakdown.
Why they'll be good: Returning starters. The Illini have 18/22 starters returning in 2009. One of them is QB Juice Williams, who had 219 completions on 381 attempts in 2008, putting up 3,173 yards and 22 TDs while compiling a solid 138.09 QB rating. Williams also ran 175 times for 719 yards, gaining 4.1 YPC, and scoring 5 TDs.
Williams will have four of five offensive linemen returning, a critical part of their offense, as well as RB Jason Ford, who looked decent in his freshman year. Illinois also doesn't lose a single receiver, and their 19th-ranked offense should be much better in 2009.
On defense, Illinois loses just three people, DE Doug Pilcher, MLB Britt Miller, and CB Vontae Davis. Illinois' defense ranked an average 56th in 2008, but with that many starters returning, they should be better.
Why they'll be bad: Returning starters aren't everything. The 2009 Illinois team will have many of its 2008 players on it, who put up a mediocre 5-7 record. Who knows if they'll be any different?
One more thing—special teams. Illinois does have all of their specialists returning as well, but K Matt Eller missed one in four FGs last year. Illinois was 113th in net punting, 94th in punt returns, and 63rd in kick returns. Don't look for it to be much better in 2009.
Overall: Illinois fans should be excited. Their team will likely improve from 2008 and likely see a bowl game—possibly even a New Year's Day game.
I say Illinois will finish with a record between 7-5 and 9-3, and likely go to the Insight Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl, or Alamo Bowl. They are definitely a Big Ten sleeper for me in 2009. I wouldn't be too surprised if Illinois wins the Big Ten.
Why they'll be good: Kellen Lewis will return in 2009 to lead the Hoosiers. They have all of their linemen returning, too. And, just like Illinois, they also have all of their receivers coming back.
Indiana also has 7 defensive starters coming back. Sorry, Indiana fans, but there's not very much to write here.
Why they'll be bad: Although Kellen Lewis returns, he had a mediocre 108.2 QB rating. He actually threw 2 more pics than TDs. He also picked up 500 yards and 3 TDs, but now loses RB Marcus Thigpen.
The Indiana offensive line was horrible in 2008, and although it has all of its starters returning, it won't be much better. That will impact Lewis' throwing (again) and Indiana's rushing offense, which was 41st in the nation in rushing offense (they already lose Thigpen).
The Hoosier's defense is like their offensive line: They have a lot of people returning and they were terrible. Don't expect them to be much better in 2009. They do have seven starters returning, but that's not enough to transform a horrible defense into anything near good.
Overall: This Indiana team will probably improve from 2008, but not by much. Although they will improve, so will the conference, so their record could be worse in 2009 (and anything worse than 3-9 is pretty terrible).
The Hoosiers won't go to a bowl game in the 2009 season and are not even anywhere close to a sleeper. Their record will likely be anywhere from 2-10 to 4-8.
Why they'll be good: Iowa loses just three starters in 2009 on defense, and only four on offense. Their defense was 13th in the nation overall, and they ranked fifth in scoring defense. They'll have three defensive backs, all three linebackers, and two defensive linemen returning.
They also have plenty of depth at the defensive back and defensive line positions.
Iowa's offense starts off with a very good offensive line. Three of five starters return there, and Iowa usually builds their offense around the line. QB Ricky Stanzi obtained the 40th best QB rating nationally, and improved very well throughout the 2008 season. He was listed on EPSN as a 2009 Heisman sleeper.
RB Shonn Greene leaves big shoes to fill, but Jewel Hampton, who will be a sophomore in 2009, picked up nearly 500 yards along with 7 TDs and a 5.1 average (and that was behind Greene). Hampton won't be as good as Greene in 2009, but I think people should keep an eye on him. He will be very good in upcoming years.
Also, Iowa only loses Andy Brodell and adds big time recruit Keenan Davis at the wide receiver spot. Plenty of depth will help out there, too. Iowa has almost all of their specialists returning from a good season (26th in net punting, 43rd in punt returns, but 75th in kick returns).
Why they'll be bad: The loss of RB Shonn Greene will obviously hurt. He didn't only run for Iowa, he opened up the rest of their offense. RB Jewel Hampton should get the job done, but he definitely won't be able to completely replace him.
Iowa also loses their two star defensive tackles, Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The two were huge parts of Iowa's excellent defense, and their departure will put Iowa's d-line a step back.
A question for Iowa is their offensive line's pass blocking. They were excellent at run blocking (a huge part of Greene's success), but were tied for 71st in the nation in sacks allowed.
Overall: This Iowa squad should probably be Iowa's best since 2004, when they won the Capital One Bowl and finished 8th in the nation. They face a very tough schedule, but should finish 9-3 or 10-2.
Iowa has a decent shot at the Big Ten Title, but I don't think they quite have what it takes to win it in 2009. They should be looking at nothing worse than the Outback Bowl.
Why they'll be good: In the past, it seems like Michigan always significantly improves after a below average season. This was way more than a below average season though, but Michigan should be looking at something better.
They'll have six starters returning from a below average defense (not very good, but not terrible last year), which should be decent in 2009.
On offense, they do lose RB Sam McGuffie (transferring) but have plenty of young talent behind him. QB Steven Threet will return. He didn't do so well in 2008, but he was only a freshman. Threet will also have plenty of returning WRs to throw to.
Why they'll be bad: Although they do have six starters returning on their defense (which should improve), their defense still won't be very good. It was 67th nationally last year, and losing five people will hold it back slightly.
Michigan still won't have the players to make their spread offense work in 2009. The departure of RB Sam McGuffie will hurt them, too. Michigan will improve, but still not be very good.
Overall: This Michigan team finished 3-9 in 2008. They'll have an okay defense, but like I already said, their offense won't have what it takes to get going.
The Wolverines should improve, but it'll be very tough for them to make a bowl game. I'm predicting that they won't, due to the tough Big Ten competition. Their final record should probably be between 3-9 and 5-7.
Why they'll be good: They have seven starters returning from an okay defense (58th) in the nation. They should improve at least a little.
On offense, although QB Brian Hoyer and RB Javon Ringer are leaving, the offensive line has three of five people returning and should be okay. They'll have to do their best to help the new starters that will come in next year.
Why they'll be bad: No more Brian Hoyer or Javon Ringer. Either one would have been bad enough, but to lose both is a huge hit. MSU's offense will struggle in 2009.
As for the defense, although it should be decent, it wasn't amazing last year. And it probably won't improve significantly in 2009, but should be okay.
Overall: I think MSU loses too many key players to be like they were in 2008 next year. Their offense will have a lot of trouble getting going (especially against a good crop of Big Ten defenses) but their defense will be decent.
I don't think MSU will see a bowl next year. They're probably good enough to go to one, but due to the tough Big Ten competition, they likely won't go. Final record: 4-8 to 6-6.
Why they'll be good: Plenty of returning starters. Minnesota was looking at a top 10 finish last year—they had a 7-1 record and a No. 16 ranking, then dropped five in a row.
QB Adam Weber will return, and should be pretty good. Their entire offensive line will return (which was T-24th in sacks allowed), as well as WR Eric Decker, who was impressive in 2008.
On defense, they only lose three starters from last year. Their defense didn't look good on paper, but much of the yards they gave up came in their last 5 games. Minnesota could surprise some people in 2009. I even thought about putting them in my top 25.
Why they'll be bad: They dropped five in a row in 2008. Their defense was ranked 80th nationally, 68th in rushing defense. All three of the defensive players departing come from their front seven, so their rush defense will take a hit.
They'll need to run the ball more if they want to improve, too. They had the 104th ranked rushing offense, but they'll have the opportunity to improve with a good line in 2009. Minnesota's offense will improve from last year, but still won't be great.
Overall: Minnesota has plenty to look forward to in 2009. I'm watching out for the Adam Weber-Eric Decker combination, especially since the O-Line will be good.
Their defense should be okay with 8 starters returning. I'd say Minnesota gets to a bowl game—probably somewhere like the Insight Bowl or Champs Sports Bowl. But I'm picking them as a sleeper in 2009, due to the large amount of returning starters from an already pretty good team.
Final record will likely be between 7-5 and 9-3.
Why they'll be good: Four of five offensive linemen returning will allow talented QB Mike Kafka to get going in 2009. Kafka played behind CJ Boucher last year, but compiled a 131.1 QB rating when he did play.
On defense, NW has eight starters returning from a pretty good defense that finished 49th nationally last year (including their entire secondary and DT Cory Wooton). Most of their specialists will help out as well.
Why they'll be bad:Even though Kafka will be fine, Boucher would have been better. RB Tyrell Sutton is leaving, and he was a huge part of NW's offense.
NW's defense is a lot like Minnesota's. They both lose only three defensive starters, but for both teams, all three are from their front seven. NW's rush defense will be impacted.
Overall: Northwestern will have a pretty good passing attack in 2009, but their rushing offense will be questionable.
On defense, they lose three of seven of their front seven, but should have a decent defense. I'm looking at Alamo Bowl or Champs Sports for NW, but they're another Big Ten sleeper for me. Northwestern will likely finish anywhere from 7-5 to 10-2.
Why they'll be good: QB Terrelle Pryor should be very good. He had a 146.5 QB rating last year, and was decent on the ground. A good offensive line will help him out, too.
On defense, despite losing Laurinaitis and Jenkins, Ohio State should be very good. They have seven starters returning, and along with coach Jim Tressel, should develop a good defense (not quite like last year, but still very good).
The Buckeyes also have plenty of recruits to answer any questions they may have.
Why they'll be bad: Ohio State loses two three-time All Americans in James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, who were huge pieces of their 14th-ranked defense. RB Beanie Wells is also leaving.
Overall: Ohio State doesn't have much to worry about in 2009. Everyone says how they lose so many people, but nobody critical to their success is leaving besides Laurinaitis, Jenkins and Wells.
Ohio State has a tough schedule, facing USC early in the year, taking on Penn State on the road and playing Iowa at home. Ohio State will finish either 10-2 or 11-1, but should probably take the Big Ten, and go to the Rose Bowl.
Why they'll be good: QB Darryl Clark and RB Evan Royster will be very good. Legendary coach Joe Paterno (who many people think is hurting Penn State—I think he's right where he belongs) will also help out the Nittany Lions.
LB Navorro Bowman will lead PSU's defense, along with CB A.J. Wallace. PSU also, like Ohio State, has plenty of recruits to pick from.
Why they'll be bad: They lose 16/22 starters. Only one of five offensive linemen are returning. Good recruits or not, that's hard to fix in one season.
Soooo many questions. It's unlikely that PSU will be able to answer them all successfully.
That lack of offensive linemen is critical. That's the key to a great offense. It doesn't matter who you have on offense, if your line doesn't succeed, nobody on offense will.
On defense the Nittany Lions lose 8/11 starters. PSU will need to take advantage of their easy non-conference schedule to allow them to develop.
Overall: Penn State has A LOT of questions coming into 2009. I'm almost sure they won't be as good as they were in 2008.
PSU needs to take advantage of their easy non-conference schedule to allow these new starters to develop before they take on Iowa.
The Nittany Lions should turn out okay. They have plenty of talent coming in, and playing nobodies early can't hurt. I'm guessing they'll be around 9-3 or 10-2, going no lower than the Outback Bowl (most likely).
But PSU has to work their @$$ off in the offseason if they want to succeed. Otherwise, they'll be in a whole lot of trouble.
Why they'll be good: The Boilermakers have four of five offensive linemen returning. That should help QB Justin Siller out. He looked o.k. in 2008 and probably will improve more throughout 2009.
Purdue has eight of 11 defensive starters returning from an average defense (61st nationally), so they should have a decent defense. They had the Big Ten's best pass defense in 2008, and they don't lose a single defensive back and only one LB. Purdue will likely be very good against the pass.
Why they'll be bad: Curtis Painter and Kory Sheets are gone, leaving a large void in Purdue's offense.
The Boilermakers lose three of seven starters in their front seven, and they already weren't too good against the run last year (93rd nationally).
Overall: Purdue will have a very good pass defense, and their rush defense will improve, but still not be that great. On offense, they lose QB Curtis Painter and RB Kory Sheets, but QB Justin Siller will be okay, especially behind a good offensive line.
I'm looking at Purdue going around 6-6 to 8-4. They'll likely make a bowl game—probably something like the Music City Bowl or the Insight Bowl. They'll improve from 2008.
Why they'll be good: RB John Clay will lead this Wisconsin offense, who will probably also have a solid offensive line. On defense, I believe Wisconsin has six starters returning, so they should be okay there (since they finished 37th nationally last year).
Why they'll be bad: No passing attack next year. Their offense will be one-dimensional. Wisconsin does lose five defensive starters, so their defense could get worse next year.
Overall: Wisconsin will likely have a solid defense in 2009, but their offense will be one- dimensional with the loss of PJ Hill. John Clay is still very good, but obviously it hurts to lose Hill.
Wisconsin won't really improve from last year, but they won't get any worse. I'd say a realistic record is 5-7 to 8-4, with a bowl bid to some place like the Champs Sports Bowl, Insight Bowl, or Alamo Bowl.
1. Ohio State (10-2, 7-1)
2. Iowa (10-2, 6-2)
3. Penn State (9-3, 5-3)
4. Illinois (8-4, 5-3)
5. Northwestern (8-4, 4-4)
6. Minnesota (8-4, 4-4)
7. Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4)
8. Purdue (7-5, 3-5)
9. Michigan State (6-6, 3-5)
10. Michigan (4-8, 2-6)
11. Indiana (2-10, 0-8)
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