Big Ten Early Bird Preview: A Husker's Take
The final year of the Big Ten as we know it starts in the fall of 2010. The eleven team league has been in the head lines since December of '09 with the talk of expansion and surprised no one at accepting Nebraska's bid to join one of the most prestigious academic conferences in America.
All this excitement though, doesn't come to fruition for another year. The Huskers will start play in 2011 throughout the Big 10, thus this is the final year of the almost twenty-year-old eleven team conference.
As a Husker fan I am taking special interest in the Big Ten this season and as a result, I am trying my hand at analyzing the Big Ten for the last time from the stance of an impartial party.
Enjoy my projected rankings for the 2010 season and feel free to comment or "correct" anything it looks like I might be missing.
11. Minnesota (2009 Results 6-7 [3-5])
We all saw how productive the Minnesota offense was without Eric Decker last season. Simply put, it wasn't.
However with nine returning starters and a new offensive coordinator (Jeff Horton former quarterbacks coach of the Detroit Lions), things might be looking up for the Golden Gophers.
However, when your top offensive threats are a running back that amassed only 376 yards a year ago and a wide receiver that also plays quarterback you might be in a bit of trouble. If the offensive line holds together and gives Adam Weber time, you could see a markedly better offense from a year ago. Not that it would be that hard for the worst Big Ten offense to improve.
Defensively the Gophers were decent last year, but lost nine starters. And as a Husker fan, it will pain me to see Kevin Cosgrove ruin another defensive unit. An average defense from last year under the guidance of Cosgrove could turn into an abysmal one in 2010.
With most of their tough games at home the schedule is favorable but the talent differential will be too much against the likes of USC, PSU, OSU and Iowa.
My take on the Gophers for 2010? 4-8 (1-7)
10. Illinois (2009 Results 3-9 [2-6])
Ron Zook may never see the new Big Ten as head coach of the Fighting Illini. Probably the coach with one of the hottest seats in the Big Ten if not the nation. Zook has never been a good coach and his lone appearance to the Rose Bowl in 2007 appears to be an aberration in his career.
Zook has never led a team to a season with fewer than four losses and has slowly but surely declined over the past two years after his only bowl appearance with the Illini going 5-7 and 3-9 respectively.
Losing Juice Williams will not help his chances at a resurgence and the loss of Arrelious Benn will cripple the offense in 2010. Right now unknown quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (RFr.) looks to be the front runner to replace Juice at QB and running back Mikel LeShoure looks to be the go to guy for the offense.
A defense that lost half its starters from the last ranked defense in the Big Ten a year ago won't be much better in 2010 even with the return of Martez Wilson at linebacker.
The schedule opens up as always with a neutral site against Missouri, which isn't a good start. Games against Southern and Northern Illinois round off the out of conference play before they play Ohio State for the first Big Ten games of the season.
My take on the Illini for 2010? 3-9 (2-6)
9. Indiana (2009 Results 4-8 [1-7])
Indiana's offense was poor in every category except one a year ago. Passing.
Ben Chappell emerged as a good quarterback on a bad team in 2009 throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns.
However, don't expect the offense to be that bad this season. The receiving corps is catching up to the rest of the Big Ten with players like Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss coming back from a season ago. If running backs Darius Willis and Nick Turner can approach the thousand yard mark, Indiana's offense could scare some people in 2010.
The defense though is a different story. With only four starters returning on a defense that ranked lower than seventy-fifth in four of five defensive categories (lower than 80th in three) we could see some shoot outs in the Big Ten next season involving the Hoosiers.
With the first three games of the season against Towson, Western Kentucky and Akron to start the season the Hoosiers of Indiana could approach bowl eligibility this season if their defense can hold better than they did all last year.
My take on the Hoosiers for 2010? 5-7 (2-6)
8. Purdue (2009 Results 5-7 [4-4])
It's a bit different from coaching in the FCS ins't it Coach Hope?
In his first season since leaving Eastern Kentucky in 2008 Hope went 5-7 with the Boilermakers in 2009 and given his schedule come 2010 I'm not sure he can expect much better.
Hope is a good coach with a winning attitude but is in a tough position to win in the Big Ten, with teams like Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State in the mix.
Hope will need to replace a quarterback, running back and some important offensive lineman as well on offense. At quarterback, it looks like Miami transfer Robert Marve will most likely take snaps from center and will be tossing balls to All-Big Ten receiver Keith Smith for scores.
However any time a team has this many question marks in a new coaches second year on offense it gives me cause for concern.
The defense is a similar story, the Big Ten's fourth best secondary from a year ago will be tested early and often in conference play and a more experienced defensive front seven needs to take the pressure off in order to have much success.
The schedule breaks difficult for Purdue with an opener against Notre Dame and games at Ohio State and Michigan State. However, not having to play Iowa could be a big break for Hope in his second year.
My take on the Boilermakers for 2010? 6-6 (3-5)
7. Northwestern (2009 Results 8-5 [5-3])
Pat Fitzgerald is officially a home run as Northwestern's head coaching choice. In four years with the Wildcats Coach Fitz has gone 27-23 with two straight bowl appearances.
Now all he has to do is win a bowl game, and this could be the year.
Northwestern's top passing attack in the Big Ten will take a step back with the loss of Kafka from a year ago, but Dan Persa looks ready to take the reins in a seamless transition.
Both sides of the ball lost five starters from a year ago but the defense is once again junior and senior laden, especially in the middle.
With their most difficult games late in the season, Fitzgerald has an opportunity to toy with the starting line up for the first part of the season to get it just right for those all important games against the likes of Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
My take on the Wildcats for 2010? 7-5 (4-4)
6. Michigan (2009 Results 5-7 [1-7])
To keep his job Coach Rodriguez needs to do more than just beat Notre Dame and Indiana.
This year could be the year of the semi-return of the Wolverine. Energetic quarterback Tate Forcier should gain some weight and durability over the off season and the return of fourteen starters from a season ago should provide more stability in this Coach Rod's third year as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines.
The defense last year, was in a word, bad. Giving up over 27 points a game never really gave Coach Rod's offense a chance to take off a year ago. However, if he wants to keep his job for a fourth season he has to beat the likes of Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois and a win against Ohio State wouldn't be bad either.
The offense will be better, the defense might be, and if Tate Forcier retains his starting job (in the spring it looked like Robinson might take it from him) he needs to learn how to keep that magic throughout the season, not just the first four games.
If Michael Shaw breaks out as a threat this year and Martavious Odoms is able to do what everyone thinks he is capable of doing Michigan could be back in the bowls come the end of 2010.
My take on the Wolverines for 2010? 7-5 (4-4)
5. Michigan State (2009 Results 6-7 [4-4])
If Michigan Sate makes any head way in the 2010 season it's going to have to have a defense that's better at turning the ball over.
Last season the Spartans managed just 14 takeaways, worst in the Big Ten and 116th in the nation. If a defense that lost only four starters from a year ago can improve on that number and the offense, led by Kirk Cousins, can continue to perform at the level they did last season (second ranked passing attack in the Big Ten, first in efficiency), we could see Mark Dantonio's best season yet as the Spartans' head man.
The Spartans open up the season with five straight home games, one of which will be played in Detroit. the absence of Ohio State on their schedule should make Spartan fans smile.
My take on the Spartans for 2010? 8-4 (4-4)
4. Penn State (2009 Results 11-2 [6-2])
Joe-Pa is 394-129-3 as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions and this could be his last year as the head honcho at PSU.
That being said the loss of Daryll Clark will undoubtedly hurt as well as the loss of a few lineman. The system at Penn State is a proven one, but it also relies heavily on good quarterback play and that's something that is an unknown coming into the 2010 season.
The head man for the job looks like Kevin Newsome but fellow sophomore Matt McGloin could easily step in as well. Regardless of who the starter is you can expect to see Penn State give their opponents a fairly heavy dose of Evan Royster throughout the year.
Like Virginia Tech in the ACC, Penn State is always one of the stronger defenses in the Big Ten and even though they lost six starters from a year ago don't expect a big drop off in production from the defensive side of the ball. Penn State will be good this year but because of inexperience at the quarterback position, they will most likely not win the Big Ten once again.
My take on the Nittany Lions for 2010? 9-3 (6-2)
3. Iowa (2009 Results 11-2 [6-2])
Iowa is a tough team to root against, they are hard nosed, run the football and reflect the attitude of their head coach.
Also, they seem to either play up to or down to the level of their opponent each game which doesn't bode well for a conference like the Big Ten. Last year the Hawkeyes lost by single digits to such teams like Ohio State and Northwestern, but could only beat Northern Iowa by one on two late blocked field goals and had to rely on late game heroics to beat Arkansas State by three and Michigan by only two.
Iowa lives on the edge and did so riding a nine game winning streak before a forgettable loss to Northwestern late in the season.
Iowa goes as Ricky Stanzi goes and sometimes we just don't know how that is. Last season I saw Stanzi throw five interceptions in one half and then four touchdowns in the next one. That being said Stanzi has to become more consistant if Iowa wants to threaten for the Big Ten championship.
Defensively the Hawkeyes should be nearly as good as they were last year with players like Adrian Clayborn and Brett Greenwood they should be just as stout as they were last season.
My take on the Hawkeyes for 2010? 10-2 (6-2)
2. Wisconsin (2009 Results 10-3 [5-3])
Wisconsin has become synonymous with stability in the Big Ten and is consistently finishing in the top three, usually behind Michigan and Ohio State. However with Michigan on the down swing and Penn State rebuilding, they could make a run for a Big Ten title in 2010.
But maybe not.
The offense will be good next year, with ten starters back from a year ago including quarterback Scott Tolzien and running back John Clay. Clay is the prototype Ron Dayne-ish running back that Alvarez built the Wisconsin machine with and might be just as good as Dayne.
Nick Toon is a good go to receiver and the Badger offensive line just might be the best in the Big Ten but that's not the reason why the Badgers are dangerous.
The real reason is that the defense received a major face lift in 2009 and ended up being the best against the run that same year. If the defense can bounce back from the loss of six starters this team could really compete for their first Big Ten crown since 1999.
My take on the Badgers for 2010? 10-2 (6-2)
1. Ohio State (2009 Results 11-2 [7-1])
It's Terrelle Pryor's Junior year and it could be a good one for the phenomenon out of Pennsylvania.
With eight starters back from an offense that went through growing pains a year ago and a loss to the likes of Purdue they should be one of the better offenses in the Big Ten this season. Watch for Devier Posey to continue to assert himself as one of the top receivers in the Big Ten and Brandon Saine has become a serviceable back splitting time with Daniel Herron.
It's going to be hard to improve from a defense that shutout three teams a year ago and held another two to only one score. But they don't have to be better, they just have to be consistent which Mister Sweater-Vest Jim Tressell is great at being.
My take on the Buckeyes for 2010? 11-1 (7-1)