As the 2009 season has come to a close, college football fans begin the football withdrawal hangover and an eight month wait until August. But even though there are eight months to go, it's never too early to start talking about August. Here are my early Big Ten power rankings for 2010.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
What's not to like about Ohio State? They return most of a very good defense and the offense has finally found a rhythm. Terrelle Pryor looks like a possible Heisman contender and the running game will be very good as well. After years of being the laughing stock of college football, Ohio State finally has some respect and can gain even more with a win over Miami in Columbus.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa returns most of a defense that may be the best in the country in 2010, including its defensive line which might have a few All-Americans. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi will improve and the wide receivers will be outstanding. Plus, the Hawkeye running game gets both of this year's starters and Jewel Hampton, who missed the season due to an injury, back.
Expect the Big Ten title and possibly a National Championship berth to go through Iowa City when Ohio State comes to town on Nov. 20 for the pseudo Big Ten Championship.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
Coming off an impressive Champs Sports Bowl win over Miami, Wisconsin looks to be in good position for a January Bowl next season. The Badgers return most of their starters, including star running back John Clay, who could be a Heisman contender. The schedule isn't bad, as Wisconsin misses Penn State, but a home game against Ohio State and a matchup in Iowa City will present some challenges.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions
2010 will be a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions, who lose a lot of their defense and quarterback Darryl Clark. Don't expect a major breakdown in Happy Valley because Joe Paterno lands some of the nation's best recruits year in and year out.
But the schedule also presents some problems and may have Penn State dropping all the way to the Outback Bowl. The Lions go to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama, to Columbus to face Ohio State, and to Iowa City to face Iowa.
5. Northwestern Wildcats
With a favorable schedule and a good, young team in 2010, Northwestern may be able to reach a January bowl once again. The Wildcats get Iowa and home and don't play Ohio State, but they do have to go to Penn State and Wisconsin.
Quarterback Mike Kafka is gone, but his backup, Dan Persa, has been very good this season and should carry that success into next year. Plus, coach Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best in the business and should be able to guide his Wildcats to another successful season.
6. Michigan State Spartans
It's hard to know what to expect from Michigan State after last season. The Spartans played very well in losses to Iowa and Texas Tech, but also played extremely bad against Wisconsin and Penn State.
If Sparty plans on getting back to the upper tier in the Big Ten, it needs to have more consistency and live up to expectations. Quarterback Kirk Cousins will be back and should help lead his team to a decent season, at least better than last year.
7. Purdue Boilermakers
The future looks pretty bright for Purdue football. After losing some very close games at the beginning of the season, the Boilermakers finally found out how to turn those close losses into wins. It ended up being too late and they were denied a bowl game, but with a lot of stars returning in 2010, the Boilders are due for a good season.
Quarterback Joey Elliot is gone, but running back Ralph Bolden is back and could become one of the top running backs in college football. If the defense gets more consistent, expect Purdue to get back to at least a middle-tier bowl game.
8. Michigan Wolverines
The "other" team in Michigan (never thought I'd be saying that about the one in Ann Arbor) is also difficult to figure out. The Wolverines looked great to start the season, but after a loss to their instate rival MSU, they dropped off by a lot. Tate Forcier's cockiness didn't help and he ended the season as a complete mess, as did the defense, which loses its best player, Donovan Warren, to the NFL.
Don't expect 2010 to be much better for Michigan, as it might be lucky to reach the Little Ceasars Bowl this season.
9. Indiana Hoosiers
After finally reaching a bowl game in 2007, Indiana football is back on the wrong track. Despite having some decent players, the Hoosiers didn't play very well last season and don't have the talent to regularly compete in the Big Ten.
With that being said, quarterback Ben Chappell does return and he was OK last year. The offense should be better, but with Jamie Kirlew gone, Indiana needs a lot of help on its defense.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers
After it looked like Tim Brewster had finally gotten the Minnesota football program back on track, the Gophers endured another season of failing to meet expectations. It didn't help that star wide receiver Eric Decker was hurt for much of the year, but quarterback Adam Weber couldn't step up and the running game was virtually non-existent. Weber will be back again next season, but expect MarQueis Gray to see some time at that position if Weber struggles.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini
Remember that Illinois Rose Bowl trip in 2007? Yeah, neither do I. It's amazing how far coach Ron Zook and his team have fallen after what looked like an Illinois football revival. Quarterback Juice Williams has talent, but hasn't played well, and that's been the story of the whole Fighting Illini team.
Zook brings in talented recruits year after year, but does less with more year in and year out. His teams have awful chemistry and lately have been extremely bad defensively. And with Illinois's one glimmer of hope, wide receiver Arrelious Benn, bolting to the NFL early, expect another miserable year in Champaign.