How The Big Ten Will Go Down In 2010
After a couple down years following 2006, the Big Ten is emerging as the premier conference in college football for 2010. The defenses will be better than any other conference, and the offenses will be much improved from the past few seasons. The Mediocre teams in the Big Ten are rising, and the bad ones are fighting for respectability. Here's how I think it will all go down:
11. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
PROJECTED RECORD:2-10 (0-8)
BIGGEST WIN: Northern Illinois at home
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: @Illinois - It's their most winnable conference game. Two deflated and beat up teams will play a relatively meaningless game toward the end of the season.
Minnesota had the worst offense in the Big Ten last year, but it could be decent this year as they return all of their leading rushers, and their offensive line has a year of experience, albeit a bad one. Adam Weber was given a raw deal with his time in Minnesota, and he may lose his job to a talented sophomore, but as long as the Gophers get decent quarterback play and their O-line holds up, their offense will be vastly improved. Their defense is almost completely gone from 2009, and it's going to struggle against a very physical Big Ten. This is going to be a rough year for the school from the Big Ten's northern-most state.
10. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
PROJECTED RECORD: 3-9 (1-7)
BIGGEST WIN: Minnesota at home
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: Indiana at home - They'll be able to move the ball, rack up the rushing yards, and look great at times, but inconsistent play at quarterback dooms them.
After taking the Big Ten by storm a couple years ago, the Fighting Illini have underperformed, and now are going to be arguably the worst team in the conference. Their defense has been terrible and their offense inconsistent. They haven't been able to pass the ball effectively, and don't seem to be getting any better in that regard with the loss of their top two receivers, including Arrelious Benn, and their quarterback from last year. Their defense should be much improved, as they didn't lose a whole lot of their production. Also, it should be noted that they could, and maybe should have one of the better rushing offenses in the Big Ten next year.
Good for a Potential Upset or Scare
9. INDIANA HOOSIERS
PROJECTED RECORD: 6-6 (2-6)
BIGGEST WIN: Northwestern at home
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: @Purdue-With Bolden back, the defense just won't be able to get that one stop they need on the road.
Indiana will surprise some people this year. There defense is going to be bad, and they without a doubt will struggle against the more physical teams in the Big Ten like Ohio State, Penn State, and especially Wisconsin, but their passing offense is going to surprise some people. They are going to be able to move the ball, and teams like Northwestern and Michigan who have very suspect secondaries should beware.
8. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
PROJECTED RECORD: 6-6 (3-5)
BIGGEST WIN: Indiana at home
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: @Notre Dame - It's a winnable rivalry game that they'd love to play WITH their best playmaker.
Purdue will be improved from last year, although their secondary has taken a huge hit. Injury has already hurt them, and will plague them early in the season. Their offense will be much improved, and when Bolden returns, teams had better take notice or we might have another Ohio State-type upset.
7. NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
PROJECTED RECORD: 7-5 (3-5)
BIGGEST WIN: Purdue at home
THE GAME(S) THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: Michigan State at home, @Indiana - These two games are back-to-back, and both very winnable, especially after a strong start.
Northwestern is going to start the season running and will put themselves in position to make some noise in the Big Ten as they start the season out 6-0, with games at home against Michigan State, and @Indiana. They might crack the top 25, they'll have a decent defense and offense, but will succumb to a more talented Michigan State, and blow it in Bloomington against the upset-minded Hoosiers. They will appear to be in a downward spiral, even though it will be because their schedule is more heavily weighted with good teams on the back end than anything else. They do have key losses on both the D-line, secondary, and at QB, but the schedule will allow them to work these things out and to make a solid run at the upper half of the conference.
6. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
PROJECTED RECORD: 6-6 (3-5)
BIGGEST WIN: @Notre Dame
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: Iowa at home - Coming off of a tough home loss to their in-state rivals, they will come out with a chip on their shoulder and almost pull an upset in similar fashion to the game a season ago.
Michigan will be much improved this year, but unfortunately for them, their coaches and their fans, so is the rest of the Big Ten. They'll lose their season opener to a very talented and underrated UCONN, and will have tough rivalry losses at home against Michigan State, whose defense is too physical, and @Ohio State, while they're too beat up on defense. They'll get a bowl bid and win it, but is 7-6 good enough for Rich Rod to keep his job?
Wild Cards/Surprise Contenders
5. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
PROJECTED RECORD: 10-2 (6-2)
BIGGEST WIN: @Iowa
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: @Penn State - The Spartans will go into the game ranked in the top 15, maybe top 10 at 10-1, playing for a chance at the conference title and a Rose Bowl birth, but lose in one of the toughest environments in college football.
Michigan State caught the luck of the draw, by missing Ohio State and Indiana, meaning they will miss out on two of the conferences top passing offenses that would exploit their porous secondary. Their front seven is as good as any outside the Big Ten, and they'll have possibly the most offensive weapons of any team in the conference. They'll be physical on both offense and defense, and really turn some heads.
4. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
PROJECTED RECORD: 10-2 (6-2)
BIGGEST WIN(S): @Alabama, Michigan State at home
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: @Iowa - If they win this game, they not only would get payback for the past few years, but they would also win a share of the Big Ten title and get an at-large BCS bid.
Penn State is going th be better than anyone realizes. Yes, they do lose their starting QB from last year, along with Jared Odrick and all three linebackers, but outside of those players, they return just about everything from a season ago. Penn State might be the best school in the country at recruiting and developing talent and depth on the D-line, and they should also have some solid linebackers ready to step in as well. Their front seven never seems to be the question. Their defense matches up well with Alabama's offense, and their offense will at times overpower the relatively inexperienced Tide defense, which lost 9 of 11 starters from a season ago, including the best players at every level. Returning on offense is 4 of 5 O-linemen, their top 3 receivers, and one of the most underrated running backs in the country in Evan Royster. They'll catch Alabama's untested front seven off guard, and make their presence felt. Whoever their quarterback is will make the throws he needs to against an inexperienced duo of corners. Iowa will still have their number, as will Ohio State, but there's no shame in that against two very good teams on the road.
3. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
PROJECTED RECORD: 10-2 (6-2)
BIGGEST WIN(S): Michigan at home, Penn State at home
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: @Iowa - Like Penn State, winning this game would give the Buckeyes a share of their 6th straight conference title and also would have gotten them an at-large BCS bowl bid.
Ohio State will be stacked again on defense, and will have a much improved offense. They're hurt by their schedule which will have them play their two best opponents on the road with a bullseye on their back, while still playing other good, upset-minded teams in Penn State and Michigan in rivalry games. The Bucks do well to continue to keep Michigan down, and improve their bowl position by beating Penn State.
2. WISCONSIN BADGERS
PROJECTED RECORD: 11-1 (7-1)
BIGGEST WIN: Ohio State at home
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: @Iowa - Their lone blemish comes in a tough game on the road a week after a physical and emotional game against the Buckeyes. Win this, and they would likely be on their way to their first ever National Championship.
Wisconsin is going to be built like Alabama last year. The offense will be even better and more physical that 'Bama's was, but the defense won't be near as good. Teams will hurt after playing Wisconsin and what is probably the best, most physical offensive line in college football, as well as the most physical running back in the country. Scott Tolzien is one of, if not THE best passing QB in the conference, and he's got several good weapons on the outside that will make teams pay for stacking the box in an attempt to avoid getting run over by their rushing attack. The defense will be better than people think, but only needs to be good enough to allow their offense to wear people down and outscore them. Wisconsin isn't built to be the team with four or five hundred yards of total offense, but don't be fooled, this is one of the better offenses in the country. They'll control the time of possession, they'll wear the defense down late, and they'll make other teams hurt - smash mouth football at its finest. They get Ohio State at home, which should be enough to sway the game of two pretty evenly matched teams in their favor.
1. IOWA HAWKEYES
PROJECTED RECORD: 11-1 (7-1)
BIGGEST WIN: Wisconsin at home
THE GAME THEY WISH THEY COULD REPLAY: Michigan State at home - I don't believe Iowa's offense is going to be good enough to allow them to go undefeated. They'll get up for and play the favorites in the conference tough, but a surprise team like Michigan State with a good offense and solid defense will catch them off guard a week after getting beat up a bit against Wisconsin.
Iowa's defense is going to be good . . . SCARY good. They'll have a very good secondary, very good linebackers, and the best D-line in football. They'll beat Wisconsin because their defense matches up pretty well with the Badgers' offense, and they get them at home. The same thing goes for Ohio State, whose team looks a lot like theirs - great defense and a solid, but not great offense. Their offensive line will take time to gel, so they'll be most vulnerable early in the season @Arizona, and possibly even at home against Penn State and @Michigan. The Big Ten is tough this year, but Iowa is the team most capable of overcoming and going to their first Rose Bowl in over 2 decades. Jewel Hampton will give them more depth and playmaking at running back, and they return some of the best receivers in the Big Ten. I expect Ricky Stanzi to play better and smarter this year, making fewer mistakes, and Iowa is going to be a tough team for anyone to play.
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