Worst Case Scenarios: How Bad Things Could Get for Each Big Ten Program
Although it's only June, the conference favorites in the Big Ten are pretty much set for the 2010 season. Most experts expect Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin to be the main contenders for the conference title.
But as we've seen from this week's conference expansion push, nothing is guaranteed in college football. What would happen if Terrelle Pryor isn't as good as we think he is, or if the Iowa offensive line doesn't come together?
While these situations are longshots, they are possibilities. Let's take a look at the worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team.
Illinois: The Running Game Collapses
The prospects for Illinois' season don't look very good, and coach Ron Zook probably needs a (unlikely) winning season to keep his job.
The defense doesn't look much improved from it's awful 2009 campaign, and the Illini will be starting a freshman quarterback.
The one part of the Illinois offense—and entire team, for that matter—that works is the running game. Running back Mikel LeShoure had a good year last season, rushing for 734 yards and five scores, including three 100 plus yard games.
He wasn't Heisman or All-Big Ten material, but he got the job done. If he is suddenly injured, Illinois could be in huge trouble next season.
Worst case record: 1-11
Indiana: Either Tandon Doss or Damarlo Belcher are Injured
While most of the 2010 Hoosiers aren't a force to be reckoned with, Indiana has one of the best receiving duos in the Big Ten.
Doss caught fire last year, with 962 yards and five touchdowns. He's an outstanding athlete and could be a first team All-Big Ten candidate next season.
Belcher took a backseat last season during Doss's breakout year, but he was quietly a major threat to opposing defenses. With 770 yards and five touchdowns, his stats aren't as impressive as Doss's, but he is a proven playmaker who could eclipse the 1,000 yard mark.
If the Hoosiers were to lose even one of these receivers, their season could end before it starts.
Bill Lynch is on the hot seat, and while a losing season won't end his tenure in Bloomington, double-digit losses could have him feeling the heat.
The cupcakes on the schedule should help Indiana avoid a winless season, but if one of their top receivers is injured, the Hoosiers could be looking at 10 losses.
Worst case record: 2-10
Iowa: The Offensive Line Doesn't Come Together
A year removed from having arguably the best offensive line in the Big Ten, Iowa will need to rebuild its signature position in 2010.
Kirk Ferentz is well known around football as an offensive line guru, thanks to his experience as an offensive line coach at Iowa and in the NFL. He consistently sends offensive line talent to the NFL and rarely needs to worry about that position's success.
But this year, Iowa must replace three starters on the offensive line. Tackle Riley Reiff is an All-Big Ten favorite and Julian Vandervelde is very experienced. The "next men in" have experience too, as they are all upperclassmen. But they have had little time on the field during their years at Iowa.
Although Iowa fans my dread it, this line has drawn comparison to the 2007 line, which sent quarterback Jake Christensen to his back way too many times.
That team went on to go 6-6.
The 2010 line is much more disciplined and experienced than in 2007, so don't expect a debacle. But again, anything can happen in college football.
If the line can't meet expectations, don't expect a debacle as big as 2007, mainly because the rest of the team is better. But the worst case scenario could still lead to heartbreak in Iowa City.
Worst case record: 7-5
Michigan: Warren and Graham aren't Replaced
Contrary to popular opinion, Tate Forcier doesn't hold the key to Michigan's success in 2010. A big season would certainly benefit the Wolverines, but it's hard to expect a streaky sophomore quarterback to carry a team.
The defense holds the key to 2010 succes—and Rich Rodriguez's job—and it must improve on a subpar 2009 season.
That could be hard to do considering the unit lost its two best players—safety Donovan Warren and defensive end Brandon Graham.
Neither player will be easily replaced, and for this reason, Michigan's worst case scenario may become reality. And in all likelihood, Rich Rodriguez will be looking for a new job at this time next year.
Worst case record: 4-8
Michigan State: The Secondary/Offensive Line Fall Apart
Michigan State has a chance to be a good football team in 2010, but just like 2009, things could go terribly wrong.
Last year, the problem was mainly inexperience. But this year, specific positions need rebuilding.
The offensive line returns only two starters from last year's unit, which wasn't even that good to begin with. In order to have success on offense, coach Mark Dantonio has to address that issue.
Dantonio also needs to fix his secondary, which was torn apart last year by opposing quarterbacks.
The Spartans don't lose much at that unit, but the players need to improve. If they can't, Michigan State will be in for another down year, no matter how good the offense is. And if the offensive line can't rebuild, fans in East Lansing will be in for another tough year.
Worst case record: 5-7
Minnesota: The Quarterbacks Struggle
With Erik Decker gone, Minnesota can't afford another mediocre year under center. The Gophers fell apart after Decker was injured, and quarterback Adam Weber couldn't find a rhythm.
Weber has all the tools to be a standout college, or even pro quarterback, but the promise that he showed early in his career hasn't led to wins in the latter half of his stay in Minnesota.
Weber has to turn his game around for Minnesota to even have a shot at a winning season, and he has to be outstanding if the Gophers want to improve on last year's Insight Bowl loss.
The wildcat experiment with MarQueis Gray has been an utter failure, which ultimately places Minnesota's 2010 fate on Weber. If he can't rebound from a bad 2009, next season could get even worse in the Twin Cities.
Worst case record: 3-9
Northwestern: The Secondary Can't Rebuild
While losing a star quarterback like Mike Kafka would be a problem for most teams, Northwestern will have no issues rebuilding at that position, as experienced backup Dan Persa should do just fine under center.
Where the Cats need to worry was is in the secondary, arguably their strongest unit in 2009.
Northwestern loses star All-Big Ten selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips, and must also find a replacement for Brad Smith, who was solid during limited playing time.
The linebackers should be solid next season, but they can't carry the whole workload.
If coach Pat Fitzgerald can bring some more solid players out of nowhere and put together another solid secondary, Northwestern could be January bowl bound again.
But if not, the Wildcats will be lucky to be bowl eligible.
Worst case record: 5-7
Ohio State: Terrelle Pryor's Rose Bowl Performance was a Fluke
Much of the preseason hype for Ohio State is based off Terrelle Pryor's outstanding Rose Bowl performance. And while Pryor may very well have a tremendous 2010 season, there are a few reasons to be cautiously optimistic.
1. It was just one game. Since when do we judge a player off one game? I know the Rose Bowl carries momentum into the next season, but it could have been a fluke.
2. Oregon's defense isn't very good. Honestly, Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and maybe Northwestern could have all beaten Oregon. The Ducks defense last season could have made any quarterback look like a Heisman Trophy candidate.
3. Isn't this the quarterback that Ohio State fans wanted benched just a few months before the Rose Bowl? Pryor is a streaky player and needs to learn to not let his emotions get the best of him. If he is too caught up in the hype, a few bad passes could spell doom for Ohio State.
I'm not saying the Rose bowl was definitely a fluke, and in all likelihood it wasn't. But there's a chance that Terrelle Pryor isn't as good as we think he is.
However, this is Ohio State we're talking about. Even with a bad performance from Terrelle Pryor, Jim Tressel has a solid team.
Worst case record: 8-4
Penn State: The Lions Can't Replace Darryl Clark
After an intense spring quarterback battle, Penn State still hasn't found its man to replace Darryl Clark in 2010.
Kevin Newsome looks like the favorite, but Matt McGloin and Paul Jones are still very much in the race.
After a rough spring game, Lions fans should be worried about finding a solid replacement for Clark. The rest of the offense should improve, but that means nothing if the quarterback is worse.
Penn State knows that it is heading into a rebuilding year, and most people don't expect the Lions to contend for a Big Ten Championship. More importantly, Joe Paterno needs to worry about avoiding an embarrassment.
To help keep his team respectable, Paterno needs to decide on a quarterback soon. If none of the three candidates state a convincing case, Happy Valley may not be so smiley come September.
Worst case record: 6-6
Purdue: Robert Marve Doesn't Live Up to the Hype
Although it loses star quarterback Joey Elliott, hopes are high at that position in West Lafayette, as Robert Marve finally tries to live up to his potential.
Marve was a top recruit for Miami, but wound up at Purdue after a string of on and off-field incidents for the Hurricanes.
Last year, he tore his ACL in practice and didn't contribute to the Boilermakers at all.
This year, Marve finally has a shot to prove he's worth all the hype.
He certainly has weapons around him to help, as wide receiver Keith Smith is arguably the best in the Big Ten. But can he stay disciplined and showcase his talent?
That's the million dollar question. If he can, Purdue could be going bowling. If not, Purdue could be worse than last season, crushing signs of a promising future.
Worst case record: 3-9
Wisconsin: Scott Tolzien Gets Injured
While running back John Clay is the Heisman candidate, quarterback Scott Tolzien is perhaps the most important player for Wisconsin to keep healthy in 2010.
Tolzien's importance was realized during spring practice after backup quarterback Curt Phillips was sidelined with an ACL tear.
If Tolzien were to get hurt, the Badgers would have no viable quarterback and a promising season would be all but ended.
Just how bad could life be without Tolzien? Look no further than 2008, when Wisconsin couldn't find a solid starting quarterback. Now multiply that by five.
No matter how well John Clay or the defense play, the Badgers can hope for a mediocre season at best if they lose Tolzien. The veteran offensive line should help him avoid an injury, but I'll end the article with the same phrase as it began: In college football, anything can happen.
Worst case record: 6-6