I gave in, not sure to whom, but I gave in nonetheless, and previewed the SEC first despite my allegiance to the Big Ten and my beloved Indiana Hoosiers. This year is going to be either a very interesting year for the Big Ten, or totally unwatchable from start to finish. Every team is a question mark heading into the season except Ohio State, who could be crippled by the overall awfulness of the conference.
It’s a pretty depressing time for Big Ten football. Half the conference is rebuilding, and the other half is hoping they’ll be as good as they were in 2007, but they have no idea how to make it happen. I’m still going to attend the games and watch them on television, but by the end of the year, everyone else might not be. But hey, the Big Ten doesn’t suck nearly as badly as the ACC. At least that’s something.
1. Ohio State
Obviously, they’re the best team in the conference and they have the perfect Ohio State formula for winning, namely: team defense around a great leader (Laurinaitis), great running back (Wells), caretaker quarterback (Boeckman), big offensive line, and have one overrated receiver/playmaker (Robiskie). Even worse for some, they are a real threat to make their third straight BCS Championship Game. They’re going to win the conference for sure.
I’m totally exasperated with people getting mad at Ohio State for making the last two title games. It’s absolutely insane for people to be angry at a team for succeeding at the highest level. They’ve been well-recruited, well-coached, and they’ve been the second-best team in the country for a good while now. It’s not their fault for doing exactly what the system asks of them and simply running into teams better than them. It’s the BCS that sucks, not Ohio State. Well, Ohio State fans suck, but I don’t blame the football team for that.
Wisconsin is Wisconsin. I love the Badgers for always being exactly the same. Year in and year out, they run the ball and (at least attempt to) play defense. If it works, great, if not, well, there’s always next season. Plus their fans are easily the most miopic in the conference, and that includes Buckeye Fan.
This year is pretty much more of that. The fans are as lame as ever, Travis Beckum is good, and PJ Hill is a monster. I know this because I’m not sure Indiana has ever successfully tackled him in a game. The hitch in their plans this year is two-fold. First, they have a small quarterback controversy between two different mediocre players. Second, their defense was beyond atrocious last season. They’ve changed coordinators, but that doesn’t change talent level, so we’ll see.
3. Penn State
Apparently, Anthony Morelli was nearly as much of a program-killing quarterback as Zack Mills. It says a hell of a lot about Penn State quarterback play that Mills hold as many school records as he does. Except for the one year with Michael Robinson in 2005, the Nittany Lions have spent six years being totally ravaged by awful quarterback play. Might have helped recruiting if they weren’t running the same offense as when JoePa first got the head coaching gig, but still, pretty sad. Will they be good this year? Who knows? It’s a totally nondescript team, nothing special about them at all. And that might be the way JoePa likes it. Boring works in the Big Ten. Always has. Always will.
I hesitate to suggest a team will succeed again with two rotating quarterbacks who can’t throw worth a damn. Plus, they lost Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL, the heart and soul of that hackey shotgun offense they run. Arrelious Benn is awesome, but he’s gonna need help and I’m not sure there is any. They’ve got some recruits coming in that are good, but none on the level Benn was last year. In my opinion, the bigger loss than Mendenhall was linebacker and all-around leader J. Leman. He was the only reason that defense stopped anyone last season, so I’d say Zooker has some coaching to do if he wants the Illini to be as successful as they were last season. That is to say, get their asses handed to them by the Pac-10 Champs again.
I know, I know, this is awfully high for the Hoosiers to be finishing in the conference but bear with me. They don’t play Ohio State (or Michigan, which would have been a nice win) this season and have an absurdly easy schedule aside from that. Oh, they’ll lose some games, but they can fall out of bed and be 4-4 in the conference, which would have been good enough for sixth place last season when the conference wasn’t half bad.
OK, so Kellen Lewis was suspended and no one has any idea what they’ll have on offense now that James Hardy is gone. But Greg Middleton and the defense might actually be respectable this season, and this team can play with every spread-offense team in the conference. Only Ohio State (who they don’t play), Wisconsin (guaranteed loss), and Michigan State (at home in 2008) give them serious problems defensively. Every other spread team actually helps the Hoosiers because it means they won’t have to be physical. Those four conference losses could be their only losses the entire season because their schedule is so absurdly easy. So watch out, world, the Hoosiers are coming. We hope.
I respect the Boilermakers, but they’ve been getting steadily worse since Kyle Orton’s senior season. After last year, the major gossip around Indiana (the state) is wondering how the program can get rid of Joe Tiller without embarrassing him. They’ve already named his successor, whenever Tiller should retire, and it’s looking like that will happen within the next couple of years.
Has anyone ever noticed, despite how effective he is, Curtis Painter kind of sucks? Purdue hasn’t won a freaking thing with him at the helm, yet their offense is as effective as ever. It’s crazy. The real problem for the Boilermakers is how terrible their defense has been the last couple of years. That used to be a respectable unit, but now it’s a mess. A bad season could lead to full-blown rebuilding time for the Boilermakers.
7. Michigan State
Sparty is basically becoming Ohio State Lite. They’re building a decent defense, slowly, and do the whole “run the ball, have an unspectacular quarterback, and pray they’ll get two big catches out of their play-making receiver” thing. It works in the Big Ten, right? I also love how they’re really excited they could finally beat Michigan this season because the Wolverines are going to suck. They could be winless, and that win could save Dantonio’s job.
I don’t think the Wolverines are going to be as bad as everyone seems to believe. I’m sure they’ll lose a bunch of games, but I bet a lot of them are close and I don’t think it’ll be as many as it seems now. Then again, I just can’t rank them any higher. The kind of overhaul Rich Rodriguez is undertaking is extremely disruptive the first couple of years. He’s basically going to try to run his offense, you know, the one Pat White and Steve Slaton used, with Lloyd Carr’s recruits. Should be, uh, interesting. But they’ll still be able to play defense. At least Carr could always get that together.
If Michigan State is a mini-OSU, then Minnesota is becoming a mini-Purdue. I have no idea if that’s a good thing, but it makes them a pain in the ass to play every year. Even last year when they weren’t any good, it was still a really awkward matchup for pretty much everyone. They managed to recruit some talent, but that program…I mean…biggest mess ever after Glen Mason was fired. I respect Tim Brewster for even wanting this job.
You’ve gotta love those plucky Wildcats. You also have to beat them every year. I said earlier that Indiana can play with any spread team in the conference, but that also means they can play down to them too. Minnesota and Northwestern are that kind of problem for the Hoosiers. Keep the game from becoming a shoot-out and your guys are in good shape. If things get interesting, it could be bad times and an embarrassing loss to the smart kids in purple and their fantastic Sports Medicine Program.
This is the year Kirk Ferentz is fired by Iowa. He kept lobbying for an NFL job, didn’t get one, and (it seems) stopped recruiting much talent. They’ve been getting steadily worse for the last few years, worse than Purdue by far, and this season they bottom out. Take a look at the next Big Ten rebuilding project.
Conference Champion: Ohio State
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Chris Wells – Ohio State
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Greg Middleton – Indiana
Newcomer of the Year: DeVier Posey – Ohio State