After a few years of being the butt of everybody's joke, especially in SEC country, the Big Ten is back. Last year, they won both their BCS bowl games while Penn State and Wisconsin beat top 15 teams in their bowls. This season you have I believe three teams who have a legitimate shot a making a run to the BCS Championship. If they can avoid an SEC team in the national championship game, they might just win it.
Champion - Wisconsin
The Badgers do it old school with a solid running game and they do it so well. The Badgers return ten starters on offense including RB John Clay who should be on everyones Heisman short list. QB Scott Tolzien is not flashy but he gets the job done. He has good receivers in Nick Toon and tight end Lance Kendricks. The offensive line is one of the best in the country, seven have starting experience and their average weight is 319 pounds. Wisconsin has an very easy four games in September before Big Ten play begins which will give a young defense a chance to gel. The big games are back to back weeks in October when Ohio State comes to Madison on the 16th and then they have to play at Iowa on the 23rd. Wisconsin has traditionally choked when expectations are high. It won't happen this season as the Badgers go back to the Rose Bowl and maybe farther.
Runner-Up - Ohio State
The Buckeyes and coach Jim Tressel finally got a little respect in big games back after winning the Rose Bowl over Oregon last season. Terrelle Pryor had a great game and made himself a Heisman front-runner this season. This season Pryor does not have to lead the team in rushing and can focus more on his passing attack since OSU can go about five deep at tailback and not lose anything. Seven starters return on a defense that was fifth in the nation last season. It is anchored by All-America candidate Cameron Heyward. Much of the Buckeyes' national championship hopes rest in Pryor. While brilliant in the Rose Bowl he has also been very inconsistent in the passing game. The schedule is not kind either as OSU has to travel to both Wisconsin and Iowa. I think they get tripped up in one or both those games. If not the Buckeyes could be back in the BCS title game.
Runner-Up - Iowa
I have two runners-up because I think the Hawkeyes are just as good as the previous two. As it was last season the defense will lead the way. Eight starters are back from last season's tenth-ranked defense including all four on the defensive line, anchored at end by All-America candidate Adrian Clayborn. QB Ricky Stanzi is in his third season under center and while he may throw a few too many picks for my liking, he is 18-4 as a starter. The Hawkeyes weakness is usually their strength, along the offensive line. They have to replace three starters and it is a necessity if Iowa wants a Big Ten title. Of course if you need to get offensive linemen, head coach Kirk Ferentz is the one who can do it. The schedule is a huge plus for Iowa. The toughest road test is week three at Arizona. Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State all visit Iowa City
Joe Paterno has proven he still has it the past few years. The cupboard is not bare in Happy Valley, but Penn State is playing catch up to the top three this season. Even Royster is a solid running back and can become the school's all-time rushing leader. A new quarterback must be found to take pressure off of Royster. It will also be tough for the Nittany Lions to win at Alabama, Iowa, and Ohio State this season, but they should win more than six games which would give Joe Pa 400.
The Spartans got off to a tough start last season going 1-3 with losses against Central Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin, after winning their next three it looked like things were alright until off the field issues help the team skid to a 6-7 record. The Spartans have some talent returning, especially in QB Kirk Cousins and LB Greg Jones, but it will still be tough to see more than eight wins this season.
At least the Tennessee coaching situation isn't as bad as the one in Ann Arbor. Back to back losing seasons and the first NCAA investigation in program history has made the coaching tenure of Rich Rodriguez very shaky. It is definitely a make-or-break year. The potential is there with more experience at QB whether it be Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson. There is some good depth all over the roster but questions abound on defense, especially at linebacker and in the secondary. The Wolverines better make a bowl and/or beat Ohio State for Rich Rod to have a future in Ann Arbor.
The Wildcats lost three players to the NFL and have not won a bowl game since 1949. They came within three points of ending that streak last season against Auburn but couldn't do it in the end. This season the Wildcats should make a middling bowl game and have a chance to finally win one. OSU and Michigan are not on the schedule and their non-conference slate is a breeze. The Wildcats should score enough points with their spread and with that schedule get to eight wins.
Miami transfer QB Robert Marve seems to be the real deal to lead the Purdue passing attack. He has a great target in WR Keith Smith, but there is zero experience at running back after 2009 starter Ralph Bolden tore his ACL in the spring. As it seems to be the case every season at Purdue the defense, which finished seventh in the conference last season will have to improve if the Boilermakers are to get past mediocrity.
In 2007, Ron Zook had the Fighting Illini in the Rose Bowl. That seems ages ago for the Zooker as the past two seasons have been dismal. Zook always seems to recruit good talent he just doesn't get the best results out of them. QB Nathan Scheelhaase is seems to be one of those players. Illinois has to probably finish .500 or better for Zook to keep his job.
You know things are weird when it seems to be more fun to watch football at Indiana than the basketball team. That may change this season as the Hoosiers on the hardwood may be back, but the football should at least be exciting too. The offense can score points, but the defense cannot stop anyone so scores might resemble ones you would see on the basketball court.
The offense returns almost intact which might not be a good thing since they were 109th in total offense last season. Add a young defense and a tough schedule and the onus is on QB Adam Weber and that offense to pick things up.
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