I intended to continue this trend earlier in the season, but it seemed odd to be doing so when the league season was only one or two weeks old. Well, now we are five games into the conference schedule (at least), and we have a clearer picture of the players and pretenders in the Big Ten (plus one).
Whatever your views of the league, I think we can all agree it has been better.
Here’s my take.
1. Penn State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten)
Penn State is, without question, the best the Big Ten has to offer. Like we said in the intro, you can decide what that is worth.
At this point, the Nittany Lions need three wins to complete an undefeated season, which would most likely yield a trip to the BCSCG. Penn State has a road trip to Iowa this weekend followed by home tilts versus Indiana and Michigan State. I just feel like something crazy is going to happen.
Final Three Games: @ Iowa, v. Indiana, v. MSU
Predicted Losses & Record: Michigan State/11-1 (7-1)
Projected Bowl: Capital One
2. Ohio State (7-2, 4-1)
It is hard to rank Ohio State here, but it is hard to place anyone else in this position. Ohio State’s offense makes it difficult to gauge the true quality of this squad. Sure, Ohio State crushed at Michigan State, but even Tressel admitted that the score was more lopsided than the game.
What will Terrelle Pryor do in response to his first big loss at the helm? Will he throw caution to the wind or button it up? More importantly, what will Tressel and co. allow him to do?
Final Three Games: @ NW, @ Illinois, v. Michigan
Predicted Losses & Record: @ Illinois/9-3 (6-2)
Projected Bowl: Breakfast Bowl
3. Michigan State (8-2, 5-1)
The Spartans made a terrific comeback against Wisconsin, which hardly qualified as a look-ahead, but a win is a win. That means Michigan State gets a porous Purdue defense this weekend and then a weekend off prior to facing Penn State in the last week of the season.
In some ways, the schedule lined up well for MSU as they will get Penn State in the last game where PSU will have everything to lose and MSU can pull every trick in their hat. At the very least, the Spartans figure to end up playing on Jan. 1.
According to people smarter than me, if Michigan State wins out they would receive the league’s automatic bid because they did not play any Div I-AA teams.
Final Two Games: Purdue, @ Penn State
Predicted Losses & Record: none
Projected Bowl: Rose Bowl
4. Northwestern (7-2, 3-2)
Uh, does anyone else think Kafka should remain the starting quarterback? How do you bench a guy who ran for more than 200 yards in a road win against a ranked opponent (albeit Minnesota)? The Wildcats almost always get blown out by Ohio State except when they win in overtime, but they have at least a chance in their remaining three games.
Final Three Games: v. Ohio State, @ Michigan, v. Illinois
Predicted Losses & Record: v. Ohio State, v. Illinois/8-4 (4-4)
Projected Bowl: Alamo
5. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2)
While Minnesota’s play thus far indicates that they can win their three remaining games, you have to wonder about their other late season collapses. Do you really think they will win nine, even 10 games? I can respect that opinion, but I do not share it, especially after that loss to NW.
Final Three Games: v. Michigan, @ Wisconsin, v. Iowa
Predicted Losses & Record: @ Wisconsin, v. Iowa/8-4 (4-4)
Projected Bowl: Champs
6. Illinois (5-4, 3-3)
Most of the country and Big Ten country could forgive losses to Missouri and Penn State, but Minnesota and Wisconsin? Really? Illinois barely got a win against Iowa because of big turnovers, but the Illini have only won back-to-back games once this season. I will not predict a loss at Ford Field, but look out Illinois fans.
Final Three Games: @ W. Michigan, v. Ohio State, @ NW
Predicted Losses & Record: none/8-4 (5-3)
Projected Bowl: Insight
7. Iowa (5-4, 2-3)
For a hot second Iowa had me fooled. Sure, they have only lost to ranked teams, but they face two more before the season concludes, and I cannot see them winning more than one of their final three. Honestly, I can see them losing all three. There is a real chance that they will not make a bowl game because the Big Ten will only send one to the BCS.
Final Three Games: v. Penn State, v. Purdue, @ Minnesota
Predicted Losses & Record: Penn State, Purdue/6-6 (3-5)
Projected Bowl: TBD
8. Wisconsin (4-5, 1-5)
Is there a bigger disappointment in college football? From ninth in the country to nowhere in sight? Wisconsin cannot hold a lead and seems to be a program without leadership, as an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Bielema contributed largely to their collapse at the end. Wisconsin still has a bowl game in range, but it is hardly the bowl they had in mind.
Final Three Games: @ Indiana, v. Minnesota, v. Cal Poly
Predicted Losses & Record: none/7-5 (3-5)
Projected Bowl: Motor City
9. Purdue (3-6, 1-4)
Purdue played well against Michigan, but that belies their overall season. Nothing seemed to go right this year, and in an interesting irony, an injury to Painter led to the best surprise of the season.
Final Three Games: @ MSU, @ Iowa, v. Indiana
Predicted Losses & Record: MSU/5-7 (3-5)
Projected Bowl: NA
10. Indiana (3-6, 1-4)
Perhaps there was reason to believe that the Hoosiers would be better this season (at least on Sept. 7) but those hopes never came to fruition. How did they beat NW? I have no idea—I did not watch—but unless they conjure that same magic every week for the next three weeks, they are finishing in the basement...again.
Final Three Games: v. Wisconsin, @ PSU, @ Purdue
Predicted Losses & Record: Wisconsin, PSU, Purdue/3-9 (1-7)
Projected Bowl: NA
11. Michigan (2-7, 1-4)
I am not placing Michigan here to be inflammatory. They have defeated a bad MAC team and the most disappointing team in America, and that does not count for much. I am sure this team will be very competitive in the coming years, but this year has to be considered far worse than most Wolverines fans’ imaginations. Wow.
Final Three Games: @ Minnesota, v. NW, @ OSU
Predicted Losses & Record: Minnesota, NW, OSU/2-10 (1-7)
Projected Bowl: NA
[Ed. Note: I apologize if this contains mistakes regarding wins and losses, but it is late tonight and I have been watching the election since I came home.]