Breaking Down The Big Ten Conference
Almost all of the Big Ten teams (with the exception of Purdue) will begin their respective seasons on Aug. 30. Like most college football fans, I have enjoyed looking through the various preview magazines, listening to podcasts, and catching glimpses of ESPN's College Football Live.
Among the websites (and magazines) I have truly enjoyed reviewing this summer is collegefootballnews.com. In its preview, Ohio State was chosen as the No. 1 team in the country, predicted to go 12-0.
While I truly hope that the above prediction comes true, I want to pass along how I believe Ohio State will do, as well as the other teams in the Big Ten. (One of the nice things about this blog is everyone will be able to look back to this post and see how well or how poorly I predicted this season.)
1. Ohio State: 11-1 (8-0 in conference play), with a loss at USC on September 13 keeping OSU from the BCS Championship Game. The motivation for Ohio State's vaunted senior class will be to become the first-ever Big Ten Champion three years consecutively. Ohio State winds up in the Rose Bowl. (Again, I hope I am wrong re: USC).
2. Wisconsin: 10-2, with losses at Fresno State on Sept. 13 and at home to Ohio State on Oct. 4 (7-1 in conference play). Camp Randall will be rocking on Oct. 4, but Ohio State pulls out a close one, and that is enough to deny Wisconsin the Big Ten title. Nov. 1 at Michigan State should be a good one. A name to watch out for this year: redshirt freshman running back John Clay.
3. Penn State: 10-2, with losses at Wisconsin on Oct. 11 and at Ohio State on Oct. 25 (6-2 in conference play). With quarterback Darryl Clark running a spread offense similar to what Penn State ran in 2005, I look for the Nittany Lions to be tough offensively. The non-conference schedule sets Penn State up nicely for a good season. This is the year Penn State finally defeats Michigan.
T4. Michigan State: 8-4, with losses at California, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and at Penn State (5-3 in conference play). Michigan State is a team on the rise under the leadership of Coach Mark Dantonio. If Michigan State can defeat California in the opener, I look for Michigan State to be undefeated when Ohio State comes into town on Oct. 18.
T4. Illinois: 8-4, with losses at Missouri, at Penn State, at Wisconsin, and Ohio State (5-3 in conference play). Illinois' young talent will make them competitive in the Big Ten. The loss of running back Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL will put more of a burden on quarterback Juice Williams offensively, but I look for Williams to be able to carry the load. The defense should be solid. Defensive end Martez Wilson will evoke memories of Simeon Rice.
T4 Purdue: 7-5, with losses to Oregon, Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State. This is the last go-around for Coach Joe Tiller, but with senior QB Curtis Painter back, Purdue should be again in the middle tier of The Big Ten.
T5. Minnesota: 7-5, with losses at Ohio State, at Illinois, at Purdue, Michigan, and at Wisconsin (3-5 in conference play). Probably my biggest surprise team. Look at Minnesota's cupcake non-conference schedule, and you'll see why I believe Minnesota has a decent shot at a bowl berth. I still am not sold on Coach Tim Brewster, but I believe quarterback Adam Weber will keep Minnesota in contention for a bowl berth.
T5. Iowa: 6-6, with losses at Pitt, at Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, and at Minnesota (3-5 in conference play). Considering how Iowa misses both Ohio State and Michigan on the schedule this year, one could almost think they would be a dark-horse Big Ten candidate. Iowa's inconsistent quarterback play, as well as all the off-field issues, will keep Iowa on the border of missing a bowl again. Kirk Ferentz's seat is starting to get a little warm for his lack of results considering his big salary.
T6. Michigan: 4-8, with losses to Utah, at Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Illinois, at Penn State, Michigan State, at Purdue, and at Ohio State (2-6 in conference play). I can practically see the e-mails and comments on this one. I am not going to reiterate why I believe Michigan will struggle in 2008 again, as I have previously done so. When I tell Michigan fans that the Wolverines will struggle offensively due to the personnel on hand for Coach Rodriguez's spread option offense, I am told that the defense will be the shining point for Michigan. While this may turn out to be true, I do not believe Michigan's defense, despite its vaunted new strength-and-conditioning program, will be enough to offset the offensive problems if they are continually on the field. And I would still like to know how Michigan's defense will be better after losing outside linebacker Shawn Crable. Michigan's offensive-line depth is already becoming a concern in Ann Arbor.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: This is a major transition year for Michigan. With another year of experience, and, more importantly, recruited personnel in the system, Michigan will be a top contender for the Big Ten championship in 2009.
T6. Northwestern: 6-6, with losses at Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota, at Michigan, and Illinois (2-6 in conference play). Similar to Minnesota, Northwestern's non-conference schedule may be enough to get the Wildcats into bowl eligibility. Even better for Northwestern, they miss Wisconsin and Penn State in league play.
7. Indiana: 4-8, with losses to Michigan State, at Minnesota, Iowa, at Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, at Penn State, and at Purdue (0-8 in conference play). Last year, the death of Coach Terry Hoeppner was enough of a motivation to get Indiana into bowl eligibility. On one hand, Indiana misses Ohio State and Michigan, which should help it stay in contention. On the other hand, and where I feel Indiana will be hurting, is the loss of its best player, star wide receiver James Hardy. The crucial test for Indiana is to come out of the non-conference cupcake schedule undefeated, then to defeat Minnesota and Iowa at the onset of league play. If they can do that, Indiana could again be in contention for a bowl bid.
As always, I am excited to hear from as many of you as possible. I have no doubt that several of my picks will be heavily mocked and debated, but that is what this is all about.
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