Welcome to the seco edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I'll probably be making these a weekly edition just because I got some positive feedback from the first edition and also because I'm not very original when it comes to making up titles (does anyone else feel like the title of this article should be a Coheed and Cambria album??).
In this edition I'm going to make some preseason predictions that will either make me look like a moron now or a genius at the end of the season. Sure, the easy call is OSU at the top of the Big Ten but, other than Buckeye fans, who wants to hear more of that?
I've divided the conference into 3 sections that I believe each team will fall into at the end of the season: The Good (7-4 record or better), The Bad (5-6 to 6-5 record) and The Ugly (4-7 or worse). I've also thrown in a Dark Horse for each category as a team that could do better than what I've predicted.
On with the noise:
The Good: Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State
Our obvious contenders for the Big 10 title are Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin. These teams were all pretty good last year and are returning a LOAD of players. Ohio State is the preseason favorite and Terrell Pryor is a preseason Heisman hopeful for no other reason than his performance at the Rose Bowl last year. It's amazing how one player can be glaringly mediocre all season and then have 1 good game against a decent team and be a Heisman candidate.
Here's what I see playing out: OSU comes out of the gate with a bunch of swagger and easily handles top-25 opponent Miami (FL). They stay at the No. 2 spot in the polls, and deservedly so, until doom strikes and they get caught in trap month.
October is going to OSU's downfall this year. They host Indiana a week before traveling to Wisconsin. They had better not get caught looking ahead to Wisconsin or their hopes of National Championship glory will be dashed. I don't think that will be a problem though. I'm not convinced that Indiana has the talent to pull something like that off against OSU, even if they are looking ahead.
Where I think the problems will be is if OSU loses to Wisconsin, which is a very real possibility. If they lose to Wiscy things could spiral out of control. The next two weeks they host an improved Purdue team as well as traveling to Minnesota before they take on Penn State at home. If there's a danger at all of OSU having a melt-down, it will be against Purdue or Minnesota.
That being said, I think Iowa takes the Big 10 this year. They have (arguably) the easiest out of conference schedule and one of the easiest in-conference schedule in the Big 10, hosting both Wisconsin and Ohio State. They've got two trap games on their schedule as well, at Michigan and at Northwestern the weeks before Wisconsin and Ohio State respectively.
I'd like to pick Wisconsin as my Big 10 winner but they always seem to have some sort of mid-season meltdown and drop two or three games. They're a really good team on paper and John Clay is a monster but history tells me to stay away from the Badgers.
Penn State has too many questions at QB, arguably the most important position of Joe Pa's offense, to earn more than 3rd place in the Big 10. They have three HUGE away games (@Bama, @Iowa, and @OSU) and, as usual, play MSU to close out the season. The Nittany Lions went from having the softest schedule in 2009 to one of the hardest schedules in 2010.
Royster should have a huge year since I doubt Penn State is going to open the season with too many unnecessary passes from a QB still with a lot to prove. I don't expect Penn State to crumble but I don't think this is their year either. 8-3 should be a reasonable goal for the Nittany Lions.
Michigan State's offense looks scary-good this year and Cousins stands to put up some ridiculous numbers. If Dantonio can put together a secondary that's half as good as his depth chart at wide receiver, the Spartans stand to win some games this year, and that's not mentioning the fact that Santa visited East Lansing early and kept OSU off the schedule for the second year in a row.
My dark horse: MSU. The only problem is that they always seem to drop one or two against mediocre teams, regardless of how they look on paper (see: Central Michigan). Mark Dantonio needs to stop obsessing over the Michigan game and start preparing his team for the whole schedule instead of just one game. If any year is Sparty's year to earn some Big 10 love and respect, this is it.
The Bad: Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern
I really feel bad about this category because each one of these teams has the potential to be better and finish closer to the top. The problem is, we can't all be winners and there is just so much talent at the top of the Big 10 that I feel like these teams would have to have a measure of luck to make it into the next category.
Right out of the gate we should know what kind of Purdue team we are dealing with. They open up the season at Notre dame in what should be a great test for Miami (FL) transfer Robert Marve. He looks like he's going to have a huge impact for the Boilermakers and has a great target in Keith Smith, a thousand-yard receiver in 2009 and led the Big Ten with an average of 7.6 receptions per game and 91.7 receiving yards per game, which ranked him 13th in the nation in that category.
My problem with Purdue, as is the same with the other two teams in this category, is their lack of depth, especially in the secondary. The entire secondary is made up of players that have never started a game for the boilers, having lost a couple of big names in Torri Williams, the team's tackles leader, as well as second-team All-Big Ten cornerbacks David Pender and Brandon King. Inexperience in the secondary never bodes well for a team.
Northwestern rounds out this section in similar fashion to the Boilers and the Wolverines but most of their questions lie in the defensive front. The Wildcats are losing three out of four starting linemen that were very good against the run including Corey Wootton who had a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and 4 sacks in 2009.
My Dark Horse: Michigan. Each of the teams in this section have a chance to produce on the offensive side of the ball despite their questions on defense but I think that Michigan has the deepest and most talented offense in this group and are returning the most players on defense (by 1).
If I were arguing with myself I would argue that Northwestern has an easier schedule but only because they play Minnesota and not Ohio State so there really isn't that much of an advantage.
The Ugly: Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana
There really isn't much to say about this group and, no offense to the fans, I had to struggle to remember the 11th team in the Big 10 that I was missing from my list. I'll leave it up to you to decide which of these three that was.
If there's a competition to get the hottest seat in the Big 10, the front-runners are Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez and Ron Zook. The only difference between the two coaches is that Zook is probably on his way out the door already while Rodriguez at least has a shot at saving his job.
In the last three years Illinois has recruited 20th, 23rd, and 35th in the nation (according to rivals.com) and finished 37th, 72nd, and 101st respectively. It absolutely blows my mind that somebody can have top-40 talent three years in a row and finish an average of 70th in the league.
Naming off the returning starters of a team that finished 101st in the league (out of 120 for those who forgot) would be a complete waste of time. I have nothing whatsoever against Illinois but I'm not seeing an improvement from last year.
Right behind Rodriguez and Zook in the hot-seat race is Golden-Gophers' head coach Tim Brewster. In 2007 Brewster vowed to take the Gophers to the Rose Bowl. Then three years of mediocre seasons later here they are, no better off than when they started.
Last year they ended up in the bottom 25 percent of the nation in rushing yards and points scored. They weren't much better in the passing department, finishing 76th in the league. One of their few bright-spots on offense last year was Eric Decker, who went on to bigger and better things in the NFL. It's going to be difficult for the Gophers to replace talent like that.
On the other side of the ball, Minnesota needs to replace NINE starters. Once again, I have nothing against Minnesota but I don't expect much more than awfulness from the Gophers in 2010.
Indiana could easily be my most inaccurate pick in this bunch. And that's why they're my Dark Horse for this section. They showed flashes of brilliance in 2009 and look to have improved on the offensive side of the ball, returning 9 players. Chappel, Doss, and Belcher are among those returning for the Hoosiers and if they can take care of the ball there should be no real big problems for the offense.
The Hoosiers lose some quality players on the defensive side of the ball but no real huge names. Expect Indiana to have trouble against teams with a strong rushing game (In order of appearance: Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State) since their linebacking corps is paper-thin. If Indiana can manage to keep its defense off the field they might be able to escape into the next category.
Author's note: Thanks to everyone for reading. If you liked what you read and would like me to cover a particular match during this season for my Good, Bad, and Ugly series send me a message or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and team/match and I would be happy to oblige. Even though I'm a Michigan fan I do my best to make sure that each article I write is as unbiased and objective as possible. Who wants to read homerisms?