We're here. We're finally here.
In a matter of days, the sounds of college football will once again be streaming through speakers on televisions throughout the country.
Anticipation regarding the upcoming 2010 college football season has been building immediately following Alabama's BCS National Championship win in January.
And now, after seven months, the time has finally come.
One of the conferences expected to produce multiple national-quality teams in 2010 is the Big Ten. Accordingly, with the extraordinary amount of returning talent, this is one of the most anticipated Big Ten seasons in recent memory.
So, let's get to it. Here are my predictions for how the Big Ten is going to play out in 2010.
As the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Wisconsin junior running back John Clay is expected to once again have a huge year for the run-hungry Badgers.
Last year, Clay pushed and pounded his way to 1,517 yards on 287 carries and scored 18 touchdowns. If there was one thing opposing defenses didn't want to see, it was the 250 pound Clay bearing down on them.
Expect more of the same in 2010.
After coming off ankle surgery, Clay should be refreshed and rejuvenated. With the return of his entire offensive line, he should pick up right where he left off.
That's bad news for the rest of the Big Ten.
If he can stay healthy, Clay could lead Wisconsin to one of their best offensive seasons in school history and himself to another Big Ten Offensive MVP award.
Named the National Defensive Performer of the Year by College Football Performance Awards in 2009, Iowa senior defensive end Adrian Clayborn could once again be the best defensive player in the nation in 2010.
Undoubtedly, he is the best defensive lineman in the Big Ten.
In 2009, Clayborn collected 63 tackles, 11 sacks, and forced one fumble while leading the Hawkeyes to an 11-2 record and an Orange Bowl win.
If he can play anything like that in 2010, he'll not only win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, but could go down as one of the greatest defensive ends in Big Ten history.
The 6'4", 285 pound Clayborn simply cannot be blocked.
It should come down to Clayborn and Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones for this honor, but my gut tells me that if Iowa's defense is as stingy as last year, Clayborn will get the nod.
Maybe the one knock against the Big Ten in 2010 is that they may not have a bona fide, stand-out, All-America-caliber return guy.
Two of the top returners in the conference—Indiana's Ray Fisher and Purdue's Aaron Valentin—graduated last year, leaving the conference pretty thin on star special teamers.
However, one kick returner—Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire Jr.—does have some star in him.
Last year, on 24 attempts, Stoudermire had over 1,000 kick return yards for almost a 25-yard average, including a long return of 71 yards.
If Stoudermire gets ample opportunity in 2010—and with Minnesota's defense, that's likely—he could once again be one of the nation's top kick returners.
At the very least, he'll probably be one of the lone bright spots in Minneapolis come next year.
*photo courtesy of gophersports.com
As the cousin of former Ohio State and current New York Jets defensive end Vernon Gholston, it's safe to say that big things are expected of Michigan State true freshman linebacker William Gholston.
Rated as the No. 3 defensive end in the country by Rivals while playing at Detroit Southeastern, Gholston will have to adjust to playing linebacker as a Spartan. But that hasn't stopped anyone from predicting a huge first season for the 6'7", 250-pound freshman.
Coach Mark Dantonio has already stated that Gholston will see a lot of playing time if he shows he can immediately play at the college level.
With star linebacker Greg Jones providing some tutoring, it should come as no surprise to see Gholston ripping down running backs throughout the Midwest.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year as well as Freshman All-American could be in the works for Gholston in East Lansing.
*photo courtesy of scout.com
You knew it was coming. But it doesn't make it any less true.
Ohio State junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor is the most overhyped player in the Big Ten. By far.
As the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school, Pryor was supposed to lead the Buckeyes back to the national championship and establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
He could run, he could pass. He could do it all.
Although his numbers haven't been bad (2,094 passing yards, 18 touchdown passes, 779 rushing yards last year), they haven't nearly been good enough to match the hype that he gets year in and year out.
Last year, Pryor threw 11 interceptions while completing only 57 percent of his passes. Certainly not Heisman-esque. But that's what some are predicting for 2010, along with Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Now, if he can put on the type of performance that he did in the 2010 Rose Bowl (266 passing yards, two touchdowns), those expectations might become a reality.
But until he proves he can perform well for an entire season, he's the most overhyped player in the country.
Although Northwestern senior quarterback Dan Persa has spent the majority of his career as a Wildcat backing up Mike Kafka, he definitely has the tools to put up some big passing numbers in the Big Ten.
On 34 attempts last year, Persa threw for 224 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also has the ability to run the ball as evidenced by the fact that he was the first quarterback in Pennsylvania high school history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season.
Although Northwestern loses its top two receivers, Persa will have adequate targets in Jeremy Ebert, Sidney Stewart, and Demetrius Fields.
If Persa can keep his turnovers down and hit his targets, he could go from backup to one of the Big Ten's premier signal-callers.
Like the Minnesota football program in general, quarterback Adam Weber has gone nowhere but down in the past three years.
After a respectable freshman season that saw Weber throw 24 touchdowns, he threw only 15 in 2008 (although his interceptions went down), and then only 13 last year while tossing 15 picks.
In fact, there were questions as to whether he would even be the starter in Minnesota in his senior year.
But he's still in the starting slot and that might not be a good thing for Gophers fans.
Weber loses his top receiver in Eric Decker and may look to force things—meaning more interceptions is a good possibility.
After such a promising start, Weber could end his career on a sputter and Minnesota could have one of its worst seasons in years.
Although at times, quarterback Ricky Stanzi has been Iowa's worst enemy (throwing 15 interceptions last year), he's been one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the country. And he wins, which is all that really matters.
He has an 18-4 record as the Hawkeyes' starter and has won back-to-back bowl games.
In 2010, Stanzi will have great down-the-field weapons in receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and if he can limit his mistakes, could have a huge year.
20 plus touchdowns and 3,000 yards passing is certainly possible. If he does that, Stanzi and the Hawkeyes could be the best team in the Big Ten.
Other than John Clay, the running back most likely to win Big Ten Offensive Player of Year is Penn State senior Evan Royster.
In his three years at State College, Royster has rushed for 2,918 yards and 23 touchdowns.
With the loss of starting quarterback Daryll Clark, expect even more carries for Royster in 2010.
He'll be going for the Penn State school rushing record in 2010, needing only 418 more yards to take over the No. 1 spot. If history is any indication, that should be no problem.
In fact, if he gets as many carries as expected, a 1,500-yard season wouldn't be out of the question.
If not for Clay, he'd undoubtedly be the best running back in the Big Ten.
DeVier Posey. Tandon Doss. Nick Toon.
The Big Ten is littered with talented receivers in 2010.
But none of them will put up the kind of numbers that Purdue senior Keith Smith should. After beginning his career as a safety, Smith has become one of the top receivers in the country.
After 49 catches as a sophomore, Smith pulled in 91 grabs for 1,100 yards and six touchdowns last year.
With Miami transfer Robert Marve taking the reigns in 2010, those numbers may even improve for Smith.
He may not become a star in the NFL, but he definitely has star quality in college.
*photo courtesy of Herald Times Online
As the anchor of Wisconsin's huge offensive line, senior left tackle Gabe Carimi could be the most important player for what should be one of the country's best offenses.
More important than John Clay. More important than Scott Tolzien. More important than Nick Toon.
The 6'7" 325-pound Carimi was an All-Big Ten performer last year and many expect him to compete for a spot on the All-America team this year.
As we all know, left tackle is probably the second most important position on offense. If the left tackle can't block, the quarterback can't throw because he's flat on his back.
Luckily for Tolzien, Carimi can block.
Projected to be one of the top picks in next year's NFL Draft, Carimi could establish that notion with a solid season in 2010.
Although Adrian Clayborn may take the cake as the Big Ten's best defensive lineman—and player in general—Ohio State's Cam Heyward isn't far behind.
Last year, the 6'5" 288-pound Heyward recorded 6.5 sacks to go along with 10 tackles for loss and even returned a fumble for a touchdown against Michigan.
Most expect Heyward to have an even better season in 2010 as the Buckeyes look to maintain a similar defensive effort that led them to an 11-2 season in 2009.
Heyward and Clayborn will get to duke it out personally when the two teams meet on November 20 in Iowa City.
Let's just say that both teams' offensive tackles should be ready.
Picked as this year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after winning the award last year, Michigan State senior linebacker Greg Jones could be the best linebacker in the country.
Last year, as a consensus All-America pick, Jones racked up 153 tackles and nine sacks.
There is, after all, a reason why he's on the watch list for the Butkus, Nagurski, Lombardi, and Lott awards. The guy is simply a machine.
However, he will have his competition in the Big Ten.
Ohio State may boast the strongest linebacking corps in the conference, while Wisconsin doesn't have too shabby of a group either.
But there's no question that Jones is the best.
It will certainly be a battle between him and Clayborn over Defensive MVP honors.
If Iowa is going to maintain the same quality defense as in 2009, it will come down largely to the play of defensive end Adrian Clayborn and strong safety Tyler Sash.
After losing linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, the Hawkeyes will look to compensate by their potential weakness at linebacker with strong play on the defensive line and secondary.
As the undisputed leader in the secondary, Sash could establish himself as one of the best safeties in the country in 2010.
Last year, he picked off six while defending 10 passes and making 84 tackles.
No doubt about it, Iowa's BCS chances could hinge on the play of Sash and their secondary in what could be a pass-happy 2010 for the Big Ten.
He may not even be a starter in 2010, but one thing is certain when it comes to Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson: the kid is exciting.
Can he pass? Remains to be seen. In 2009, he was only 14-for-31 for 288 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Can he run? Heck yes. He dashed, dipped, and darted for 351 yards and five touchdowns last year.
Can he be a successful quarterback in college? Who knows.
There is definitely a lot of uncertainty about Robinson. But he's a running quarterback. And that makes him at least twice as exciting as any other player.
No one really knows if Robinson's any good yet, but he's sure fun to watch. Good or bad.
Honestly, it's a little early even for an Internet blog to be looking ahead to the 2011 NFL Draft, but I'm going to do it anyways.
There are three players in the Big Ten that are projected to go in the first round come April 2011.
Cam Heyward, Adrian Clayborn, and Gabe Carimi.
Although it depends on what teams get what picks, it seems as though Heyward may be the most NFL-ready player in the Big Ten going into 2010.
However, if a team is in need of help on the offensive line, Carimi could be the option.
It appears as though Clayborn will be the lowest pick of the three no matter the draft order, but a year is a long time.
Either way, these guys will be making big bucks come 2011.
While the seat Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is sitting on may be hotter, at least he has a chance to keep his job. The Wolverines, if they play well, could make a bowl game. Chances are that would probably save his job.
Ron Zook, on the other hand, has virtually no chance of staying on as Illinois coach after 2010. In his five years in Champaign, Zook has compiled a 21-39 record and despite a Rose Bowl appearance in 2008, appears on the verge of losing his job.
And, to make things worse, Illinois isn't going to be very good in 2010. There's no way around it.
Unless Zook can pull off a miracle, the Illini are going to finish sub-.500 once again, and he will be searching for a new job.
Dead man walking...
After taking over the Northwestern football program after the tragic death of Randy Walker, Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald has been nothing short of brilliant.
In the past four years, Fitzgerald has led Northwestern to a 27-23 record. To many, that may see ho-hum. But not for Northwestern, whose football team has historically been one of the worst in the Big Ten.
In the past two years, the Wildcats have made bowl games and lost in dramatic fashion both times.
But this year Northwestern will be without their top playmakers, as their starting quarterback and both starting wide receivers will be gone.
However, don't expect too much of a letdown. With a favorable non-conference schedule and a potential star replacement at quarterback, Fitzgerald should once again lead Northwestern to an eight-win season and three consecutive bowl game appearances, despite preseason predictions saying otherwise.
Don't be surprised if Fitzgerald sees offers from other big-time programs in the upcoming years.
When a team returns 10 of 11 starters from the previous season, you can expect them to be good. When that same squad averaged over 30 points a game in the previous season...well, that's a recipe for greatness.
With arguably the Big Ten's best running back in John Clay, one of its top quarterbacks in Scott Tolzien, one of its most exciting wide receivers in Nick Toon, and undoubtedly the conference's best offensive line, the Wisconsin Badgers should not only have the top offense in the Big Ten, but one of the best in the country.
If they play anywhere near where they are capable of, the Badgers could average close to 35 points a game.
However, the true tests will come when they face Iowa and Ohio State, proud owners of the Big Ten's two best defenses.
If the offense can put up enough points for the Badgers to come out on top in those games, it could be time to start calling the 2010 version one of Wisconsin's best offensive teams ever.
Despite losing a few key performers in the form of linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds and cornerback Amari Spievey, the Iowa Hawkeyes should still have the best defense in the Big Ten.
Adrian Clayborn and Tyler Sash should be able to make up for the loss of the aforementioned players and maintain the Hawkeyes' status as having one of the best defenses in the country.
Last year, Iowa gave up only 15.4 points per game—good for the eighth-best in the nation—and if the Hawkeyes hope to return to the BCS, they'll need to keep up that production.
The one area where Iowa may slightly struggle is at linebacker—a position that fellow defensive giant Ohio State will thrive at. But don't expect that to hurt the Hawkeyes in the long run.
It will once again be another long season in Iowa City for opposing offenses.
Although two losses would be considered a successful season for most teams, for Ohio State—in 2010—it won't. Anything but.
The Buckeyes, with their returning offensive and defensive talent, expect to at least win the Big Ten and maybe even the national championship in 2010.
They will have a great team, no doubt about it. In fact, if Terrelle Pryor can play like a Heisman candidate all season long, they may be close to unstoppable.
But that's a big "if." There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding Pryor and if he sputters, so will the Buckeye "O." If that happens, even their defense won't be able to pick up the slack when it comes to going undefeated.
There's also the matter of two huge road games at Wisconsin and Iowa. Both places are incredibly tough to play in for opposing teams, and even one loss here would likely kill Ohio State's dreams of a national title.
Ohio State rightfully has the highest expectations of any Big Ten team going into 2010. But that also means the disappointment will be that much more crushing if and when they fall.
With Miami transfer Robert Marve leading the way from under center, the Purdue Boilermakers could make some serious noise in the Big Ten next year.
After essentially being absent from the mix the past three years, it seems as though the Boilermakers finally have the talent—on offense at least—to win a few conference games and make it back to their first bowl game since the 2007 Motor City Bowl.
If Marve can perform well after a year off and Ralph Bolden can return from his ACL tear, Purdue could have one of the top offenses in the conference.
Their defense, on the other hand, is a little more suspect.
But defense wins championships. Purdue isn't expecting to win a championship.
They just want to throw their name back into the mix, and their offense should be enough to accomplish that.
When Ohio State takes on Iowa under the lights of Kinnick Stadium on November 20, it could be for the right to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl or even the national championship.
This game could be that huge.
Now, it's certainly possible for both teams to slip up before their date in November.
Iowa has some tough games with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State, while Ohio State has to go to Camp Randall to face the Badgers.
Either team could easily have a loss or two by the 20th, making this game much less monumental.
But assuming they don't, this will undoubtedly be the best game of the Big Ten season. Even with a loss here or there, the game itself will incredible to watch and could decide the conference championship.
In fact, I do see Ohio State having a loss coming into this game. Against who, you say?
Although it wouldn't really be a huge upset—seeing as how Wisconsin will be playing at home and will probably be ranked fairly high themselves—a win over No. 2 Ohio State would send the Big Ten into chaos.
Ohio State would likely lose its shot at the national title and, in the process, would leave the door open for either the Badgers or Iowa to steal the Big Ten crown.
If Wisconsin can get the running game going against the Buckeyes and Scott Tolzien can keep the ball away from Ohio State defenders, it's really not that hard to fathom a Badger victory here.
Ohio State could just as easily knock out Wisconsin and establish themselves as the best team in the Big Ten, but it seems very unlikely that the Buckeyes will trounce around Camp Randall.
The Buckeyes better have this one circled on their schedules. It could determine their postseason fate.
With what should be the conference's best defense and an offense that isn't flashy but just gets it done, the Hawkeyes have all the tools to emerge as the Big Ten champion in 2010.
That, paired with the fact that Iowa has maybe the most favorable home schedule in the country (games vs. Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State are all at Kinnick Stadium) is all I need to predict roses between the teeth of Hawkeye players come late November.
If Iowa plays its cards right, and gets a little help in process, they could even be heading to Glendale come January.
But, for now, I'll just stick with a conference title and a Rose Bowl appearance.
Let the madness that is college football begin...