My Big Ten's Back and You're Gonna Be in Trouble: Hey Nah, Hey Nah...

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My Big Ten's Back and You're Gonna Be in Trouble: Hey Nah, Hey Nah...
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

It's been a 4 or 5 year, well-deserved media and hater onslaught, and Ohio State's two National Championship losses sit at the center of the 'contraversy'.  That doesn't mean the negative press hasn't taken it a little bit too far from time to time. The BigTen has been down by nearly everyone's standards, but the conference planted their spikes and took a huge step forward with their first winning Bowl season since 2002.  The BigTen is back.  There's no denying it.

Iowa dismantled Georgia Tech's offense in the Orange Bowl; holding them to 152 total yards.  That was 76 yards less than the Jackets second lowest output(228@Miami,Fla).

The Hawkeyes return 8 starters on defense including four All-BigTen defensive lineman.  Among them is First Team All-American candidate Adrian Clayborn.  Clayborn, Karl 'the Plug' Klug, Christian Ballard, and Broderick 'dump-you-in-the-trash' Binns comprise one of(if not) the best defensive line(s) in the entire country. Iowa and Florida are the two D-Line's that stand out to me this pre-season.  Iowa only allowed one team to rush for 200 yards in 2009(OSU/229), and they ranked first in the conference in pass-defense. They have 2 of the best safeties in division-1.  SS Tyler Sash and FS Brent Greenwood are head-hunters with coverage skills.  This is one of the best defenses in all of college football.

The OL is rebuilding, but Kirk Ferentz always seems to put together a solid front.  Sr. Qb Ricky Stanzi has 22 starts(19 wins), and a solid group of running backs.  So. Brandon Wegher may not play this season due to off-the-field issues, but Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton give the Hawkeyes two quality options in the backfield.

Iowa finished 2009 at 11-2, and returns 14 starters - including nearly all of their statistical leaders.

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The Wisconsin Badgers had a field-day against the Miami Hurricanes in the Champ Sports Bowl.  The Badgers put up 430 yards of offense - which was the second highest total that Miami surrendered all year.  The scoreboard showed just 20-14, but in the trenches the game looked like a mismatch. 

Wisconsin could have the best offensive-line in all of college football.  They paved the way for over 200 rush yards per game and gave quarterback Scott Tolzein all the time in the world to complete 65% of his passes.  Tackle-to-tackle the Bah-jers offensive-line averages a fit 6'6" 323, and has exactly 100 career starts in the two-deep.

Wisconsin has 16 returning starters(10 on offense).  Tailback John Clay(6'1" 250) was the BigTen Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, and is essentially the wrecking ball behind the John Deere tractor that is the Badger offensive line. 

Wisconsin's schedule is favorable.  Look for the Badgers to improve upon last years 10-win total, and they'll be a tough match-up for any team in a bowl game.  Many of the naysayers are pointing to the defensive-line. It's obvious that they haven't paid much attention to the absolute physical freak that is defensive-end J.J. Watt(6'6" 290).  Two years from now that guy will be standing behind the podium with a gigantic signing bonus.  Watt is as good as the more highly publicized DE's in the BigTen(Clayborn, Heyward, Kerrigan). 

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Ohio State temporarily shook the monkey by beating Oregon in the Rose Bowl 26-17. 

The Buckeyes are ranked #2 in the pre-season AP poll because of the way they finished the 2009 season, and because of the talent they have returning on both sides of the ball.

The Buckeyes went 11-2 dropping a game in week 2 against USC(15-18), and then turning-over their way to a loss against Purdue in Lafayette 18-26.  They won their last 6 ball-games by hunkering down behind a monster offensive-line.

Terrelle Pryor wasn't asked to do too much down that stretch, but his confidence and his decision-making looked much improved.  After being responsible for 4 turnovers against the Boilermakers - Pryor turned the ball over just three times in the final six games.  From a scouting standpoint; his footwork, his delivery, and his ball security improved drastically toward the end of last season.  The Rose Bowl performance could be less of a one-hit wonder, and more of a remix in 2010.  Terrelle has looked like a different quarterback in every scrimmage and drill this off-season.  He has matured physically and mentally.  'The Kid' is no longer a kid, and he's also a legitimate Heisman Candidate.

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Pat Fitzgerald will be the next 'big-thing' in coaching.  He's assembled a band of over-looked recruits, and turned them into a team that competes in a bowl game against the standard for passing the 'eye-test':Auburn. Fitzgerald's band of feral cats are dangerous and feisty.  Pat has a connection with the players, and his pride and enthusiasm for his program may be unmatched.  It might not be the most popular thing to say, and I know that Auburn wasn't the best team in the SEC, but to me Northwestern was cleary the better football team in the Outback Bowl.  Mike Kafka's five interceptions, and a couple of ill-timed penalties(only had three, but all of them came late) cost the Cats and the BigTen another victory. 

Fitzgerald, a former Northwestern middle-linebacker ,consistently fields a tough defense.  Northwestern held Iowa to 65 yards rushing, and four other opponents to less than 100.

Northwestern finished the season 8-5 and should continue to improve this season.  They break in a new quarterback, but he has experience.  Dan Persa could be a breakout player in 2010 because of his accuracy, and his ability to run the ball.  Persa can easily outrun the average division-1 linebacker.  I'd like to see this team play a tougher schedule.  10 wins is within reach.

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There's no clear cellar-dwellar like you'll find in many other BCS conferences.  Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana will all vie for that dubious position this fall.

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Rich Rodriguez is on the hot-seat in Ann Arbor.  I think he needs either 8 wins, or 7 wins and a win against Ohio State to keep his job.  The good news(for BigTen fans) is that Michigan will be much improved in 2010.  This is the best O-line in RIch-Rod's tenure, and expect the defensive line to improve as well.

DL Mike Martin is one of the strongest players in the country.  His strength at the point of attack often requires a double-team, and even then he's a handful. 

Rodriguez will need to improve upon a last place conference finish in rush-defense.  The Wolverines are too talented on the d-line to continue with that trend.  A coach known for his offensive prowess will rely on improvement defensively if he wants to stay in town.

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It will take time for Penn State's rebuilt offense to gel.  Joe Paterno may have to stick around for at least another year if he wants to go out with a 10-win season.  Penn State will field a strong defense despite the losses of O'Drick and a host of star linebackers.  After all, it's still linebacker-U.

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The Big Ten has three teams deservedly ranked in the top 15 in the pre-season AP poll.  I wouldn't hold my breath if you're waiting for some of those teams to fall by the wayside.  Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio State could actually be underrated.  In my opinion, you can take those three and put them with Nebraska, Florida, and Alabama(in any order), and you have a pretty strong/realistic top 6. I guess you can throw Boise in there if the Broncos take care of business against VaTech and Oregon State, but I'm not sold on the Blue-Man-Group just yet.

The BigTen is not a one team conference.  There are three legitimate title contenders in there, and a solid nucleus of other potential top 25 teams(PSU, NW, MSU,Mich). 

Be careful not to make too many early assumptions in 2010.  Minnesota will struggle against a favored and under-rated MTSU team in the opener, and I don't think that Penn State stands much of a chance at Alabama in week 2.  I have the Nittany Lions finishing 4rth or 5th in the BigTen pending on Michigan's improvement, and Minnesota is rebuilding. 

I'm not sure who wins this conference in 2010(predictions below), but the top three teams are capable of beating any team in the country, and the middle-tier is as strong as it has been in years.

Predictions:
11.Indiana - great offense, god-awful D
10.Minnesota - see above
9.Illinois - the illini just have more talent on the roster than the previous two
8.Purdue - lots of questions on offense, but the addition of Marve helps - the d should be pretty good
7.Michigan State - lots of talent at WR and QB, but both lines need to improve - they have the athletes to compete week-in week-out
6.Northwestern - a technique sound football team with a great coach - the new Qb is a defensive coordinators' nightmare
5.Penn State - qb questions, rebuilt OL, good D, great Rb
4.Michigan - will improve in all areas, but those first two games are still tough(UConn and @ND)
3.Iowa - Big upgrade from #4 to #3.  Iowa's D is definitely elite caliber. Very, very stingy.
2.Wisconsin - under-rated defense and perhaps the best OL in the country
1.Ohio State - great OL, talented qb, and strong D

Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Candidates:
5.Kirk Cousins - Qb Michigan State
4.Tandon Doss -Wr Indiana
3.Evan Royster - Rb Penn State
2.John Clay - Rb Wisconsin
1.Terrelle Pryor - Qb Ohio State

Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Candidates:

5tie. Ross Homan Lb Ohio State, Ryan Kerrigan DE Purdue
4.J.J. Watt - DL Wisconsin
3.Cameron Heyward - DE Ohio State
2.Adrian Clayborn - DE Iowa
1.Greg Jones - Lb Michigan State

Newcomer of the Year:
3.Jake Stoneburner - TE Ohio State
2.Robert Marve - Qb Purdue
1.Dan Persa - Qb Northwestern

Key OOC games:
9-4-10 Purdue @ Notre Dame
9-4-10 UConn @ Michigan
9-11-10 Miami.Fla @ Ohio State
9-11-10 PSU @ Alabama
9-11-10 Michigan @ Notre Dame
9-18-10 USC @ Minnesota
9-18-10 Iowa @ Arizona
9-18-10 Wisconsin @ Arizona State
9-18-10 Notre Dame @ Michigan State

Key IN-conference games:
10-2-10 Penn State @ Iowa
10-16-10 Ohio State @ Wisconsin
10-16 Iowa @ Michigan
10-23-10 Wisconsin @ Iowa
11-20-10 Ohio State @ Iowa
11-20-10 Wisconsin @ Michigan
11-27-10 Michigan @ Ohio State

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