Now that the conference schedule is underway, I thought I'd run down the conference and rank them from top to bottom as I see it and adjust weekly as necessary. Here goes nothing:
1. Ohio State - I've read and heard a lot of the same two things this year from various blogs and media outlets....1) Ohio St is overrated and 2) I had a "sneaking suspicion" Penn State was the better team. I'm here to say that these statements are both incorrect. Yeah, Ohio St got blown out by USC. They also lost this game on the road...not just on the road, but across the country...at night...on National TV....without their best player. Despite the struggles with Ohio and not blowing the doors of Troy and Minnesota, I still think they're the best team in the Big 10. This for sure....Terelle Pryor scares the hell out of me. I guess we can eliminate the "Pryor's a dummy he could have started from Day 1 at Michigan!!!" argument from our repertoire. It took him all of 3 weeks to take over for a QB that led his team to the BCS Championship game a year ago. He's not sharing the job either. Boeckman got a grand total of 1 snap against Minnesota and I've got 3 new ulcers typing this paragraph.
2. Penn State - Yeah, yeah, they suh-moked Oregon St who beat USC who beat Ohio St. By the way, can we stop these type of comparisons?!?! It's lazy effing "journalism" and it's just flat out flawed....Now if you want to look at a body of work of one team, I'm ok with that. Say Oregon St ends up 9-3 with a win over USC...then I'll be impressed with this victory. Anyhow, Penn St managed to turn their moribund offensive attack into a high-flying circus act in less than a year (are you paying attention Rodzilla?). Shedding Anthony Morelli had to help this cause, but something seems amiss here. I mean it's Jay Paterno right? I'm so sick of hearing about the "Spread HD" that I'm actually starting to hate watching HD programming on my TV. Last note, I hope someone on the Penn St staff writes an expose about Paterno some day. He doesn't wear a headset on the sidelines, so he's not talking to any coaches in the boxes. He's not calling plays. He doesn't talk strategy in any sideline huddles. Outside of some rah-rah BS in the lockerroom and playing the role of pylon to oncoming players, I'm not sure this guy has done dick since about 1985.
3. Michigan State - This is where it gets tricky. Is MSU setting themselves up for their typical collapse down the stretch? It might seem that way, but MSU's committed to running the ball this year with Javon Ringer and that should help cut down on the crazy Northwestern-type loss. What remains to be seen is if they have enough defense to stay in the upper echelon of the Big 10. They're looking to be 6-1 prior to hitting the tougher part of their schedule, when they have Ohio St, @ Michigan, Wisconsin in 3 consecutive weeks. If they can win two of those games they'll remain up here.
4. Wisconsin - Despite the loss to Michigan, I'm sticking them at #4. Michigan had a lot to do with Wisconsin's loss, but let's remember they played without their top 2 receivers (TEs Garrett Graham and Travis Beckum) for most of the game and some untimely drops and penalties kept Michigan in the game. Wisconsin has Ohio St this weekend and Penn St next weekend, both at Camp Randall. They also get Illinois to come to Camp Randall before having to travel to East Lansing for Michigan St.
5. Michigan - Call it homerism...wishful thinking....whatever you want. I think Michigan deserves this spot. Yes, they need to beat Illinois this weekend to prove it, and I obviously think they will. I'm stating the obvious by saying they've been killing themselves with turnovers. Now that Threet is unquestionably the QB, I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of numbers the offense can put up without coughing up the ball every other posession. There are going to be many more rough spots with this team, but I think the defense has turned the corner and has become the strong unit we expected to see from Day 1. If they can't stop giving the ball away Michigan will find themselves 4-5 spots lower quickly.
6. Illinois - I've seen enough bad defense from Illinois thus far to justify putting them down here. Juice Williams has looked better than I expected to this point, Daniel Dufrene has surprised many with a 7 yards per carry average to date, and Arrelious Benn has been solid but not spectacular...yet. I just don't think Ron Zook is a good enough coach to keep Illinois consistently playing at high levels week in and week out.
7. Northwestern - Northwestern (5-0) gets their first big test this weekend when Michigan St comes to town. Seniors QB CJ Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton are solid players who will scare some of the Big 10 elite this year, but struggling with Iowa and Duke is all I need to know to put them down in the lower half of the Big 10.
8. Purdue - Hard to figure the Boilers to date. Are they the team that dominated Oregon for 3 quarters? Or are they the team that needed some late heroics to beat CMU and couldn't stop Notre Dame. One things for sure, they haven't put together 4 quarters of football yet. They start their Big 10 schedule with Penn St, @ Ohio St, @ Northwestern. If they don't get out of Evanston with a win the Tiller era will probably come to an end with way more bark than bite.
9. Indiana - Indiana will score points all year with Kellen Lewis running the show, but they're still Indiana and most teams will have their way with their defense. They miss OSU and Michigan this year but finish with Wisconsin, @ Penn St, and @ Purdue. Playing a 13th for a second consecutive year seems unlikely to me.
10. Minnesota - Tim Brewster's team is 4-1 and has looked much better than last year. You know you've been bad when staying within 20 points of Ohio St is actually a good sign. Minnesota might be a better than a lot of people expected this year, but I'm not ready to put them higher just yet. They don't have to play Penn St or Michigan St this year, 2 sure losses, so a 7-5 record is not out of the question.
11. Iowa - I haven't seen enough of Iowa yet this year, but I know they're going back and forth between 2 QBs who aren't very good. How long before Kirk Ferentz is fired? What a strange career arc it's been for him. Maybe he should have taken one of those NFL jobs when they were actually calling.