Big Ten discussion begins and ends with Ohio State. They’ve won two straight Big Ten titles, but lost two straight national championship games. This year they are poised to become the first team to win three straight Big Ten titles, but will they receive an invitation to a third straight national championship game? The question could be answered on September 13th, when they hit the road to take on USC. A win would legitimize a team that people are increasingly questioning, due to their less than stellar performances in the past two championship games. If they lose that game, it would not be hard to imagine them being left out of the BCS National Championship.
In an almost annual tradition, one Big 10 team will have a favorable schedule and end up ranked higher than they should be. This year’s candidate is Iowa. Their toughest conference tests will be three straight games, at home against Wisconsin, on the road against Illinois, and back at home against Penn State. With a road game against Pitt (and stud RB LeSean McCoy) their toughest non-conference game, anything less then eight wins should disappoint Hawkeye fans hoping to rebound from a 6-6 season.
Penn State, who were (cue the cliché machine) much maligned this off season, will need to rebound from a 4-4 conference mark. If they do not, look for the “Fire JoePa” cries to reach a deafening level that could result in an ugly off-season drama on par with the recent Favre saga. Unfortunately for fans of the Coke bottle glasses, they play three of their toughest contests on the road. They have games against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Iowa will all be on enemy turf in a one month span. One of the oft-cited reasons JoePa needs to go has been his inability to beat either Michigan or Ohio State. A victory over Michigan combined with a big road win should buy him another year. If he beats Ohio State, he can coach until he’s decomposed.
Michigan fans were stunned at the beginning of last season, and while Rich Rodriguez may lead the team back to conference power, this will not be the year. They lost the Terrelle Pryor sweepstakes and will be without a QB to run Rodriguez’s spread offense for at least one season. Their soft non-conference schedule as well as games against Minnesota, Purdue, and Northwestern should allow the team to stay above .500, but if they lose any of these games, watch out. Rodriguez has allegedly eroded the family values of the program, and could do the same for the win total this season.
Wisconsin stands to have another 8 or 9 win season, but could be propelled into second place if they can solidify their quarterback position. Currently, the second highest ranked team in the league they return a solid line, bruising running back PJ Hill and tight end Travis Beckum, who should serve as a comfort blanket for new QB Allan Evridge. A tough non-conference game at Fresno State will set the tone as they enter conference play, but look for them to end the season strong.
The bridesmaid of the Big Ten stands to be Illinois, who return Juice Williams, but have lost Rashard Mendenhall. Danny Dufrene is poised to fill-in at that spot after averaging only one-tenth of a yard less per carry than Mendenhall last season (6.4 ypc v. 6.3), but in less than a fifth of Mendenhall’s carries. Illini fans better hope than it takes less time for Daniel to break out then it took Andy. While Illinois beat Ohio State last year, don’t look for a repeat performance. This year’s game will be a revenge game for the Sweater Vest and company, and could be their last test on their way to Miami. Terrelle Pryor gives OSU their own Juice Williams and could serve as a Ryan Perrilloux-like addition that pushes the Buckeyes over come January.
Big Ten picks
Conference Champion: Ohio State
Below Expectations: Michigan
Above Expectations: Wisconsin, Iowa
Player to Watch: (How do I pick just one Buckeye? Ignoring the All-American and Heisman hopefuls) Potential X factor Terrelle Pryor, QB Ohio State
Game to Watch: Ohio State @ Illinois, November 15th
Thursday, August 14
Posted by Catfish at 3:28 PM