What a season it's been in the Big Ten thus far, with surprises and traditional powers in a battle to be named the Big Ten's elite. Here's a look at the conference superlatives thus far and what we can expect from the second half of the season.
Biggest Surprise: Iowa Hawkeyes
To much of the Big Ten's surprise, the Hawkeyes have started the season 6-0, making them the only undefeated team in the conference. After a close game against Northern Iowa—in which the Hawks had to block two field goals to preserve a win—Iowa has been very good.
They marched into Happy Valley and beat No. 5 Penn State 21-10, and defeated Michigan 30-28 at home in week six. They have a tough schedule ahead (at Wisconsin, at Michigan State, and at Ohio State), but have the capability to possibly end the season undefeated.
Biggest Disappointment: Illinois Fighting Illini
At the beginning of the season, people kept on saying how good Illinois was going to be. I wasn't buying it, as the offense is inconsistent and the defense is awful. It turns out I was right, and while this wasn't much of a surprise for me, it was for most of the conference.
I guess they can count as the biggest disappointment and save Michigan State from landing this title, as the Spartans have looked better as of late. The Illini started off the year with a blowout loss to Missouri. Besides a (very impressive) win over Illinois State, things haven't gotten much better and former star quarterback Juice Williams was benched in week six. Look for the Illini to reach three wins at most and finish at the bottom of the conference.
Best Offense: Michigan Wolverines
While it may be young and inexperienced, the Michigan offense is extremely talented and has amazing potential. The inexperience has shown, as the offense has made a few costly mistakes, but overall, they're the reason this team is 4-2. Tate Forcier has been very good—with the exception of a poor game against Iowa—and it looks like the running backs are finally coming around. This offense is and will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Best Defense: Iowa Hawkeyes
The Iowa defense is the main reason the Hawkeyes are 6-0. The unit has been outstanding at stopping some very dynamic offenses and forcing turnovers like no other. The defensive line hasn't skipped a beat with the losses of Mitch King and Matt Kroul, as Adrian Clayborn has stepped up to become one of the best defensive linemen in the conference.
Broderick Binns has also been a force for the defensive line. The secondary, led by Tyler Sash, has been outstanding at producing turnovers, and the linebacker play—particularly that of Pat Angerer—has similarly been outstanding.
Midseason Offensive POY: Eric Decker, Minnesota
While Minnesota hasn't exactly been a force in the Big Ten, Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker has been outstanding. He has caught 46 passes for 689 yards and five touchdowns. This includes a 183-yard day against Syracuse, a 140-yard day against Wisconsin, and a 119-yard day against California. While he likely won't be able to get Minnesota to the top of the Big Ten, he is a vital part of their offense and must keep delivering for Minnesota to end the season on a high note.
Midseason Defensive POY: Pat Angerer, Iowa
While half of the Iowa defense—including Adrian Clayborn, Tyler Sash, and Broderick Binns—could make strong cases for this honor, Angerer has been the most impressive. While many in the conference expected other linebackers, such as Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee of Penn State and Greg Jones of Michigan State, to be among the top in the league, Angerer has been arguably the best thus far.
He has delivered 59 tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception and has recorded over 10 tackles in four of Iowa's six games. Perhaps his most impressive game came against Penn State, as he racked up 14 tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception. If he keeps producing at this rate, he could be well on his way to an All-American year.
Midseason Freshman POY- Tate Forcier, Michigan
While he lost a little bit of hype in week six against Iowa, Tate Forcier has been as clutch for Michigan as any quarterback can be. And the crazy thing is, he's only a freshman. Forcier has led his team on many fourth-quarter comebacks and made many throws that even seniors have a tough time completing. He needs to cut down on his interceptions, but those mistakes are typical of a freshman. If he can do that, he can turn Michigan into one of the top teams in the Big Ten.
Hottest Team- Ohio State Buckeyes
Ever since a close home loss to USC, the Buckeyes have played as well as any team in the conference. Their defense has been very good, and while the offense has been shaky at times, it seems that Terrelle Pryor is finally emerging as a big-time quarterback. Granted, the Buckeyes lost the only real test they've had, but expect this team to get better and better down the stretch.
Best Game: Iowa at Penn State
This is really a no-brainer. The Hawkeyes knocked off a top-five ranked Penn State team for the second straight year, this time in Happy Valley. After the Nittany Lions jumped out to an early 10-0 lead, the Hawkeyes bounced back and stuffed them in their tracks. Penn State brought a 10-5 lead into the fourth quarter, but Adrian Clayborn's blocked punt return for a touchdown and very good defense led to the Hawkeyes coming away with a 21-10 win.
Best Game to Come: Iowa at Ohio State
While we have anointed many games thus far as "The Game to Decide the Conference," it seems we have finally found the real one. Iowa and Ohio State remain the frontrunners to win the Big Ten and this battle in Columbus. If both teams don't lose until then—a definite possibility—this game could not only crown the Big Ten champion, but could also decide which team goes to the Rose Bowl and which team goes to a different BCS bowl. It should be a very exciting game between two of the best defenses, not only in the Big Ten, but in the country.
Projected Order of Finish:
1. Ohio State 11-1 (8-0)
2. Iowa 11-1 (7-1)
3. Penn State 10-2 (6-2)
4. Wisconsin 9-3 (5-3)
5. Michigan 8-4 (4-4)
6. Minnesota 7-5 (4-4)
7. Michigan State 6-6 (4-4)
8. Northwestern 6-6 (3-5)
9. Purdue 4-8 (2-6)
10. Indiana 4-8 (1-7)
11. Illinois 1-11 (0-8)
Projected Bowl Placement:
Rose: Ohio State
Capital One: Penn State
Champs Sports: Michigan
Alamo: Michigan State
Little Ceasars Pizza: Northwestern