The Buckeyes and the rest of the Conference recently reported to camp. Other than some random pictures of players in shorts and T-shirts, not much has happened yet.
But soon, OSU and the rest of the League will be at each others’ throats trying to win what will be the last of its kind.
It turns out that 2010 is the last year that a team can represent the (newish) old school Big Ten.
The Conference was founded in 1896, so with its most recent incarnation clocking in at 20 years old, that makes the Penn State era the shortest term in the league’s history without adding a team.
Something tells me the Nebraska era will be even shorter.
Unfortunately for most of the league’s teams, this farewell season looks like it will end in the same fashion as the last five: with Ohio State at that top.
That does not mean that it will not be interesting along the way. This is my humble, brief, and (ultimately incorrect) look at how good I believe the teams are; not how they will finish.
1. Ohio State
Positives: For the first time in a long time, the lines at OSU are projected as strengths of their respective units. There were some losses on the defensive line, but if John Simon progresses the way most people expect, they should be better than they were in 2009.
Negatives: I’m nitpicking, but the running back situation is not ideal and the kicking game is in shambles by Tresselian standards. The defensive secondary has no proven leaders. (Sorry, Chekwa fans.)
Realities: Missing two of the league’s upper crust is an unnecessary gift for what is easily the most talented team in the Conference. Despite trips to Madison and Iowa City, the Buckeyes are likely to be favored in every game of the season. 8-0 is expected.
Positives: The Badgers return 10 offensive starters, including a great offensive line (again) and arguably the league’s best skill players. John Clay should run for another 1,500 yards if he shows up every game.
Negatives: The schedule is not great. They miss PSU but they travel to Iowa, Michigan State, and Michigan. Ohio State comes to Madison after a few scrimmages.
Realities: Wisky tends to play to the jersey (see several close games in 2009) so asking them to finish second in an improved Big Ten may be asking too much. Still, on paper this team is better than all but one.
Positives: The Hawkeyes’ defense is going to be lights out. Between the players, coaches, and team mentality, this is probably the best defensive unit in the Conference…
Negatives: … unfortunately, they will be playing in a lot of close games because an offense that largely struggled in 2009 and has to rebuild their offensive line (which was its strength).
Realities: Ricky Stanzi likes to get hurt, but when healthy (a big if behind the new line) the Hawkeyes are productive. All the big games are at home, which is huge benefit.
4. Michigan State
Positives: Oddly, for a team sporting arguably the best defensive player in the Big Ten, MSU’s offense was the lifeblood of this team in 2009. Cousins and Co. should lead the way again, but the Spartans should be more balanced.
Negatives: Four teams had multiple players rush for more yards than MSU’s leading rusher, Larry Caper (Illinois and OSU had three players each).
Realities: They struggle to get over the proverbial hump. MSU has not defeated a Top 10 team since an overtime victory against Notre Dame in 2005. They are 0-8 since that game.
5. Penn State
Positives: I feel like I say this for every team, but the PSU defense looks really good. Evan Royster is a stud and he will be running behind another good Big Ten line.
Negatives: The quarterback situation is a puddle. Kevin Newsome is extremely likely to win this derby but any Nittany Lion fan would tell you that this position battle is unsettling. I just don’t think the WRs are that great.
Realities: This was a super balanced team in 2009: ranked second in both total offense and defense. That was not nearly enough to beat the league’s elite, as Iowa and Ohio State handled Penn State easily in Happy Valley. Without Clark, it is hard to imagine a better outcome.
Positives: Let’s see…they are really good at returning punts and kicks. Seriously, this was the youngest team in the Conference last season so they have to be…actually let’s just say that the lines will be decent.
Negatives: Rich Rod is their coach and has made a mess of the program. Is there any confidence left in Ann Arbor?
Realities: According to people who get paid to talk about it, they have lots of talent. Two straight Top 10 classes need to start making a difference. Placing them in the top half of the league could make me look like an idiot.
Positives: This is a really mysterious team. How do they win games? Pat Fitzgerald appears to make a huge difference…
Negatives: He better, because the offensive options are slim. Kafka’s graduation is troubling, but NW seems to replace QBs in the same way that Wisky replaces offensive linemen.
Realities: Despite a lot of statistical leaders leaving, the Wildcats do return 13 starters. That is bound to count for something.
Positives: Despite losing surprisingly productive QB Joey Elliot, the Boilers might be in better shape at the QB spot. Miami transfer Robert Marve is now under center and provides the athleticism that Purdue has never had at the position. The front 7 has lots of experience.
Negatives: The loss of RB Ralph Bolden ensures that balance is not a word many will be using to describe the Purdue offense.
Realities: Maybe I am biased after the loss to the Boilermakers in ‘09, but this team looked better than its 5-7 record. If nothing else, this is the league’s most intriguing team with the addition of Marve.
Positives: The Illini could experience addition through subtraction with the loss of their four-year starting QB. Their passing attack was the worst in the Big Ten.
Negatives: Ron Zook. I don’t understand why he is still the Illinois coach. He recruits marginally well, but his teams are getting worse.
Realities: The offense and defense look equally shaky. If you had to point to one unit as decent, it would be the running backs.
Positives: Adam Weber is a four-year starter and a dual threat. He was more effective running the spread offense, but he is clearly the lifeblood of this team.
Negatives: The Gophers return two starters from a statistically average defense. This could get ugly.
Realities: I would be shocked if they won more than five games. But I hear that new stadium is nice.
Positives: The offense is poised to really improve with Chappell and his entire receiving corps back.
Negatives: With two players off to the NFL, the defense figures to be the same or worse. That would make it the league’s worst for the third year in a row.
Realities: This offense may be nice to watch at times and thanks to a horrible non-conference schedule, they may actually make a bowl game.