Big Ten and Power Football: Can It Still Work?

Benjie KleinCorrespondent IMay 24, 2010

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: John Clay #32 of the Wisconsin Badgers carries the ball against the Michigan State Spartans on September 26, 2009 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Nick Saban.

Outside of teams led by that former Big Ten coach, traditional offensive football teams have struggled of late to reach the top of the BCS. Even the current Big Ten , former epitome of true smash mouth football, has teams who deviate away from the original essence of pound and control the ball.

Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, and Penn State all run forms of the spread offense. Michigan State and Minnesota have recently transitioned back to more traditional offenses, while Wisconsin and Iowa have stayed true to the power game.

So do Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, or Minnesota have any chance of taking their current styles of offense all the way to the top of the national food chain?


The first choice is an Iowa squad who looked destined for a national championship appearance as recent as last year. The team eked out victories week after week until luck finally ran out against Northwestern. Protected by a solid offensive line,  QB Ricky Stanzi controls the game just enough to slug out victories. 

At 23.2 PPG, tenth in the Big Ten last season, there is cause for some concern. Florida’s average of 29.7 PPG in 2006 is the only team to win a National Championship without scoring a minimum of 30 PPG since 2003.  

Only the Shonn Green 2008 breakout year has garnered enough points to think the offense could work if their defense faltered. After losing top lineman  Bryan Bulaga  to the NFL draft, the offense cannot afford a drop off in run blocking and protection. With the running back crew of  Jewel Hampton, Brandon Wegher , and Adam Robinson  still fighting for the starting spot, at least one needs to make a statement.  

As for quarterback, Stanzi must make better decisions. His TD/INT ratio of 17/15 must improve for the offense to have a chance. With methodical possessions to give the defense some rest quick turnovers can be fatal.

Iowa may have the best defense in the Big Ten this year, but that may not matter if the offense can't score like in 2008.


Last season, Wisconsin led the Big Ten in scoring at 31.8 PPG. But perhaps more importantly, the Badgers were atop the Big Ten in time of possession at 33:54 minutes per game.

With John Clay, returning Big Ten OPOY, this offense has the best chance to succeed with a power style. The key, however, lies in Scott Tolzien’s hands. Similar to Stanzi, Tolzien must minimize turnovers. With weapons like Nick Toon and David Gilreath , the play-action will be extremely valuable if used correctly.

If the Badgers can continue to control the ball, they may have the best traditional offense to succeed beyond the Big Ten. Coach Bret Bielema must stay the course in his decision making.



The Spartans are the complete opposite of the Badgers. With a low time of possession at 28:50 minutes per game, the Spartans struggled to control the ball. After the loss of Javon Ringer, Don Treadwell ’s offense sought an identity. Still able to reach 29.7 PPG with solid QB Kirk Cousins at the helm, MSU must return to its roots to take the next step.

Cousins is an extremely valuable weapon to have, but with a still questionable defense the offense needs to be able to stay on the field. With the potential of reforming a Ringer/Caulcrick speed/power style running game, the Spartans expect Larry Caper and Edwin Baker to step up. Each showed spurts last season, but this year consistency is key.

The Spartans have the potential, but perennially underachieve on both sides of the ball. If they can help keep the opposing defense on their heels, both sides of the ball will benefit. 


Minnesota was perhaps the most disappointing team in the Big Ten last season. The Gophers struggled to transition into a more traditional offense sending their whole season spiraling down. With USC slated for a September game, the Gophers will find out real quick where their offense stands. Fifth year senior Adam Weber leads the team at QB and must keep care of the ball.

With a porous defense and lack of true offensive identity, Minnesota faces a similar reality to the Spartans. Find someone to control the ball. After losing top WR Eric Decker , the team has even less to turn to. The key for this team will be the offensive line. If they can control the line of scrimmage and make due with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge at running back, they will improve from last season.

As for Weber, many fans are ready to remove him for MarQuiese Gray and return to a full spread offense. Neither quarterback leaves much to be desired, but with Gray’s youth he has more future potential. If the season starts off poorly, look for tradition to once again be thrown out the window in a last ditch effort to perhaps save the coaching staff.