We are less than three days away from Big Ten football craning up. Here are some borderline crazy thoughts that are running through my head.
1. Only one team in BCS games: Not since 2005 has the BCS been without two representatives from the Big Ten but 2009-10 seems to be a good candidate to repeat that feat. The absence of a second Big Ten squad is not a pure reflection of the league’s waning quality (although that is a factor) but more a collection of forces.
Only 10 teams make the five BCS games - 6 major conference champions plus four at-large teams. Of the four at-large spots available, two of those are likely to be the defeated from the Red River Shootout and SECCG, respectively. That leaves two open spots. In four of the last five years a non-BCS conference team has made it and it is entirely possible that Boise State - if they can get past Oregon in the opening week - will be in a position to play in its second BCS game in four years. That leaves one at-large spot.
And, this is where the ultimate villain comes in: Notre Dame. With their newly rejuvenated (read: cupcake laden) schedule, the Irish have their best opportunity to a reach a BCS game in a long while. Notre Dame will be guaranteed one of the at-large slots in a BCS bowl if it is ranked No. 8 or better in the final BCS Standings. That easy schedule may allow them to go 10-2 and creep into BCS territory.
It goes without saying that the Big 10 could have two reps again in 2010, but I do not see it happening. And, I think the league should be better this fall.
2. Winning bowl record: This is closely tied to No. 1 above and probably my most far-fetched prediction. But, if Delaney’s gang is not stretched thin by playing up in every game they stand a much better chance of escaping bowl season above .500. Before you get carried away, I do not want you assuming that I perceive a better-than-not bowl record as the hallmark of a super conference. But, let’s be honest, the majority of fans do.
3. Winning record against ND: I don’t think much of Notre Dame this season. Last time I checked, we are talking about the same team that lost at home to Syracuse late in the season and followed that up by failing to get a first down against USC until the 4th quarter. Yet, many are predicting 10 wins or a national championship game appearance.
I admit, Purdue is a guaranteed win for chubby Charlie. But, I tend to think the Michigan brothers can each win their respective games. Hell, Mark D'antonio and crew should be favored in South Bend considering their 6-2 record under TD Jesus since 1990.
Still, I can hear you say, “Michigan is horrible. That is a guaranteed win for the Irish.” That’s the thing. I don’t think so. Contrary to media reports and wishful thinking, Michigan is not devoid of talent and their latest trials and travails may actually bring the troops closer together. Besides, Michigan still owes Notre Dame for the 2004 upset powered by Darius Walker, which was one of the most inexplicable I have seen.
4. Michigan will be as good as you hope and better than you expect: At this point, we all assume they are going to be terrible - crushed by the weight of their mutiny. But, as mentioned above, there is a real chance that the Wolverines will circle the wagons and gain stronger chemistry.
The majority of Ohio State fans want Michigan to be good - if not great - again. Michigan’s relevance is good for the rivalry, the league, and the nation. At some point, the Wolverines will become the Blue Hens. Nobody wants that.
I think Michigan wins at least six games this season, including four in the Big Ten and that is certainly more than most expect. It will not be as good as most want them to be, but it will be a start. Which brings me to my last point…
5. High expectations for 2010: There are going to be some serious expectations for the Big Ten in 2010. The majority of what will surely be a very good Ohio State team will returning with Pryor ready to hit stratospheric heights. At least a few are already making predictions. Michigan will be improved again, as well as Iowa, Michigan State, and Minnesota. With the exception of Illinois, who will lose all of its stars, and possibly Penn State, most teams will have a chance to improve upon their 2009.