The Big-10 is ridiculous for two reasons. One, there are four teams that legitimately can compete for at least a share of the conference title. Two, this conference knows how to pad a schedule. The teams of the Big-10 only play eight conference games. Meaning, each year every team will not play two teams within the conference. This is random luck. In fact, this setup allows the possibility of two to three teams going undefeated in conference play. A poor team could get lucky and not play either of the top two teams in the conference. Even with this conference schedule, all of the teams play four out-of-conference games, most of which are against very poor, D-1AA competition. This conference is the king at getting many teams into the bowls based solely on their lack of scheduling. Nonetheless, there are some quality teams this season.
- Penn State 11-1 (7-1)
- Iowa 10-2 (7-1)
- Michigan St. 10-2 (6-2)
- Ohio St. 9-3 (6-2)
- Illinois 6-6 (5-3)
- Northwestern 8-4 (4-4)
- Wisconsin 7-5 (4-4)
- Michigan 5-7 (2-6)
- Minnesota 2-10 (1-7)
- Purdue 3-9 (1-7)
- Indiana 3-9 (0-8)
Penn State takes the Big-10 this year. Joe Paterno, in his one millionth year as head coach, has all of the stars aligned for a breakout season. The Nittany Lions have always produced top notch linebackers. This season is no different as Sean Lee will be back to lead a defensive unit that that ranked in the top 10 in total defense last season. Just like last season, Penn State will be one upset loss away from playing in the National Championship game. This year’s loss: the very last game of the year at Michigan St. What a heartbreak that will be.
Iowa is good. They could have been really good if Shonn Greene had not left. They will surprise the nation and Big-10 this season. The Hawkeyes where the only team to beat the Nittany Lions last season and many more big wins are on the horizon for this season. Starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi returns with three starting offensive lineman on an offense that is reloaded and ready to go. Stanzi completed nearly 60 percent of his passes last season for 1956 yards and 14 touchdowns. With a leader like Stanzi, a tough schedule is the only thing holding this team back: road games at Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Michigan St. does not play Ohio St. this season. This is a huge advantage for this team’s conference title aspirations. The Spartans are notorious for having high expectations fall flat. This season could be a repeat. However, Iowa and Penn State both come to East Lansing. The schedule is very favorable. An early make-or-break game is in week three when the Spartans travel to Notre Dame. I am excited for this game. Both teams are looking to make national noise, and the winner of this game should be well on the path to breaking the top 10. Michigan State did lose their two best players, quarterback Brian Hoyer and runningback Javon Ringer, which is a strong enough concern to keep me from picking this team higher. This team will still be a scary.
I am going to get grilled for putting Ohio State tied for third in the conference. The Buckeyes are the most overrated team of the last five years. They coast through a relatively weak conference and out-of-conference games, and then lose the important games against actual competitive teams. Let’s look at last year for instance. Ohio St. goes 10-3 on the season. The three losses come to USC, Penn State and Texas. The only three teams they played that where actually good. This year, the Big-10 has a few more teams that are actually good. The Buckeyes will lose against USC, Penn State and Iowa this year thanks to the unreliable arm of quarterback “prodigy” Terrell Pryor. Even with a year under his belt, Pryor just isn’t the leader OSU expected. He is fast, agile and a playmaker, but the Buckeye system does not allow for much creativity out of its quarterback. This season is all on the young arm of this kid. If he can step up to the challenge, this team is BCS bowl bound. If Pryor struggles, this team is right where I put them.
Illinois could also be pesky, possibly upsetting a few teams along the way. Quarterback Juice Williams is now in his senior season and his legacy is about to be set in stone. Two years ago, he led this team over Ohio State in Columbus on his way to a Rose Bowl appearance. Last year, there was disappointment all around as Juice collapsed, throwing 16 interceptions. The Illini could be a real problem in the Big-10.
The only other team really worth mentioning is Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines. After the whole debacle of leaving West Virginia 1 game before the season was over, the state of Michigan has a lot invested in Rich. The result of his first season as the Wolverine coach: a dismal 3-9 record. This was the first time Michigan failed to make a bowl in 33 years. Rodriguez still needs at least one more year to get his recruits into the spread offense, which has the potential to be devastating in the Big-10, but will fans and administrators be satisfied when a 5-7 record and no bowl appearance is considered an improvement? He has two seasons maximum to get to the top of the conference or he is done.
The next conference to be broken down is the Big-12. Check back tomorrow to see what I think about Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State! Just seven more days until college football begins.