5 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Present and Future of Big Ten Football

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5 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Present and Future of Big Ten Football
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Hugging is winning.

It's easy to get down on the Big Ten these days. With the strongest team ineligible for the postseason and seemingly everyone else in a drought of quality, a casual fan might just say "eh" and turn on baseball or something.

Don't do that to yourself. Don't be that guy. Don't be that gal. Does anyone even say "gal" anymore? Anyway, don't be that person.

There's a lot to be excited about with the Big Ten, both this year and beyond. It's time to get in on the ground floor and get psyched about the conference starting right now. Here's why.

 

All Braxton Miller Everything

Anyone who reads this blog knows we're delighted about the emergence of Braxton Miller at Ohio State, and how couldn't you be? He's a highlight-reel rusher...

...who's able to make deadly accurate throws...

...and has a flair for the dramatic.

Miller's not perfect, and the fact that he had two injury scares (which, as it turned out, didn't keep him out of the game for more than a couple minutes) in last Saturday's game is a valuable reminder that his health isn't a guarantee—especially with heavy usage.

But nobody's health is a guarantee, and so far, Miller's been able to rise to every challenge Urban Meyer has laid out before him. The postseason ban will probably be enough to distract voters from anything more than nominations for any major awards, but make no mistake, Braxton Miller is the best player in the Big Ten.

And let's remember, Miller is a true sophomore. He'll be back for 2013, and depending on what NFL scouts do or don't like about him by then—to say nothing of what goals he still has left for his college career and how important they are to him compared to money—we might even get a senior season out of Miller.

Four years of Braxton Miller as a starting quarterback would be an awesome thing. Three would be quite alright, too. And even if we're "only" getting three seasons, that's fine—we're not even halfway through that spell yet.

 

Improving Continuity

Leon Halip/Getty Images
You wouldn't think guys that look like this are part of the "new guard," but lo and behold...

We've mentioned this before (and then Lou Holtz mentioned it on ESPN's Gameday Final last weekend, so now we don't know if it's smart anymore), but half of the Big Ten's coaches are in their first or second year as a head coach at their respective schools. That's not to say a guy like Jerry Kill is inexperienced or anything, but he and every other coach are undertaking transitions at their schools, and those take time.

Well, come two or three years from now, these guys will be fully entrenched at their schools. And these guys are hardly slackers. Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke will be rebooting one of the best rivalries in the nation at Ohio State and Michigan. Tim Beckman will be bringing that "MACtion" spirit to Illinois. Kill is already putting together a solid program at Minnesota, one that could contend for bowls on an annual basis very soon. Even Kevin Wilson has brought much-needed improvement to Indiana, though that team's still a long ways away.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

As for Bill O'Brien? He seems like the absolute best man for that seemingly radioactive job at Penn State right now, and he could end up being a beloved 20-year coach if he guides the program out of the darkness when the time comes.

What's more, nobody in the Big Ten appears to be on the hot seat at this point. Bret Bielema and Kirk Ferentz are having disappointing years, but their jobs are safe. Bo Pelini could be putting together a Rose Bowl run this year, and so could Danny Hope at Purdue, for that matter. Mark Dantonio will be at Michigan State for as long as he wants, and Pat Fitzgerald has essentially a lifetime contract at Northwestern—and he's still in his 30s.

These guys will be around for a while. The Big Ten will be stronger for it.

 

Nebraska's Backfield Will Be Incredible for Years to Come

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

This season is the swan song of Rex Burkhead, one of the best Big Ten halfbacks in recent years and a Nebraska football hero. It's a privilege to watch a guy like that play halfback, and Husker fans should be proud of what he's accomplished. We probably don't need to tell them they should be proud.

But the real surprise is what happened when Burkhead missed much of the non-conference slate with a sprained MCL; that backfield didn't miss a beat. Ameer Abdullah has turned from the skinny, fumble-prone sprinter he was as a true freshman last year into someone who's ready to be a feature back right now. He's still lightning-fast and a threat out of the backfield, but he's running hard, breaking tackles and looking like an actual tailback now.

Oh, and he rushed 30 times against Arkansas State in Week 3 and wasn't slowing down by the time his day was done.

Behind Abdullah is true freshman Imani Cross, and Cross would be pushing for a starting role on a lot of college-football teams—even good ones. He is physically ready to take on whatever role Nebraska gives him, and he and Abdullah are going to be the best one-two punch in the Big Ten—if not all of college football—within the next year or two.

Seriously, Imani Cross is the truth.

 

Our Walk-Ons Matter

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

 

 

Now, one's initial reaction to a fact like this might be revulsion and derision. Look at the Big Ten being ruled by walk-ons! Har har har, nobody is good.

But having a strong walk-on program is crucial to the strength of an athletic conference, and the better those walk-ons are, the better your team is as a result. If someone announces they're walking on at Michigan, the people around him cheer. If someone announces they're walking on at, say, Temple, that's when you hear the gasps and one wise old man saying, "Son, you have too much to live for."

Moreover, you know who else was a walk-on? Jordan Kovacs, and he's a Michigan captain now. Dallas Clark was a walk-on and he turned into one of the best tight ends of the last 20 years in the Big Ten and a first-round NFL pick.

Most of all, this isn't entirely a matter of Big Ten lore, but Nebraska had one of the strongest walk-on programs ever under Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. Scholarship rules have changed since then, but Nebraska knew that having—and using—walk-ons wasn't a sign of weakness, but one of strength. These guys are paying to be an extra part of the football program. So use them!

 

No More Denard Robinson After This Year

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Whoa whoa whoa. It's heresy to look forward to the departure of a player as exciting as Denard Robinson, right? He's a Michigan legend!

And yet Robinson has been so underwhelming in the biggest games that if Michigan is facing a top opponent or heading away from Ann Arbor, there's a certain pit of dread that Wolverine fans get in their stomachs.

That's no way for a college-football fan to live, and with a 5-star QB prospect like Shane Morris about to come to town, the future is as bright as ever for the Wolverines. Plus, as far as Denard Robinson is concerned, we'll always have YouTube. The man was born for YouTube.

So we'll always have that.

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