Big Ten Conference Order of Finish
1. Penn State- QB Darryl Clark is good enough to contend for the Heisman and take the Nittany Lions and JoePa to a Rose Bowl. He lost his top three wide receivers but that will only mean the offense is more on him. I think PSU will be undefeated when they take on an undefeated in the Big Ten Ohio State at home. Penn State’s only other tough conference games are at Illinois and at Michigan State. Paterno is 82 years old this season but he still gets the most out of his players. Of course, the defense is led by three senior linebackers. Josh Hull, Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee will continue the tradition of Linebacker U. There are some holes to fill on offense and defensive line, but the talent at key positions is enough to have the Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl or better.
2. Ohio State- Year two of the Terrelle Pryor project begins in Columbus. He showed flashes of greatness last season and got valuable experience after the Buckeye’s national title hopes were dashed in a blowout courtesy of USC. The Buckeyes lose Beanie Wells, but a top program like OSU can usually reload talent quickly. Sophomore Dan “Boom” Herron is smaller than Beanie Wells (5’10’’ 193) but played well when filling in last year. Pryor needs to develop as a passer and use his legs as a secondary option this season to win. The defense loses Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurenaitis to the NFL but the young defense does not have a lot of time to gel after the season opener against Navy. Ohio State maybe another year away from being national title contenders, but can at least have a great shot to win the Big Ten.
3. Michigan State- The two biggest questions entering this season for MSU are can they find a suitable replacement for departed Senior QB Brian Hoyer (on New England’s roster) and Senior RB Javon Ringer (5th round pick, Tennessee Titans). I’ll answer those questions with cold hard facts. Ringer was a sensational leader and had a lot of tough yards for the Spartans. But, MSU only averaged 130.2 rushing yards per game. That is not a impossible number to reproduce or improve upon (I assume the mobile QB Keith Nichol will win the starting gig and add rushing yards from the QB position) and the committee of Ashton Leggett, Andre Anderson, Caulton Ray and AJ Jimmerson look to equal what Ringer did on the field. For the QB battle, I give Nichol the edge over RSo Kirk Cousins. Cousins played well in mop up duty last season and knows the offense well, but Nichol has speed and the arm to add a whole new dimension to the offense. Both QBs could see playing time early, but both also need better play from the wide out position. BJ Cunningham, Mark Dell and Blair White lead the team in the air. Cunningham and Dell have a world of talent but lack world class hands. The Spartans have been struggling with drops since the John L. Smith era. Blair White has great hands and makes big catches but lacks YAC and home run potential. The defense has a chance to be in the top 3 in the Big Ten. LBs Eric Gordon and Greg Jones lead the defense and are ferocious tacklers. The secondary lost a lot of starters and leader Safety Otis Wiley (in camp with the Detroit Lions) but Chris L. Rucker and Kendall Davis-Clark are back defend against the pass. Kicker Brett Swenson and Punter Aaron Bates are as talented as they come. They can both steal games for MSU this year. MSU should expect the program to continue to build and if the great recruiting classes keep pouring in, the Spartans can be challenging for the Big Ten title very soon.
4. Iowa- The top dark horse pick for the Big Ten Championship this season is the Hawkeyes. Despite losing Shonn Greene to the New York Jets, QB Ricky Stanzi played well enough down the stretch to give Iowa faithful hope the offense can keep clicking. Iowa upset a powerful Penn State team last season to kick the Nittany Lions out of the National Title game. Kirk Ferentz is always in contention for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors and a top three finish should have him in the hunt again. A weak non conference schedule featuring Northern Iowa, Iowa State, Arizona, and Arkansas State should give Iowa enough time to find out is RB Jewel Hampton is the answer. Only 5’9’’ he makes up for it with a strong 210 pound frame. The defense is tough, led by LB Pat Angerer. The Hawkeyes have to play at MSU, OSU and PSU, so the Big Ten title will not be this year.
5. Illinois- Juice Williams is one of the most exciting players to watch in the Big Ten. He has developed a long way since being a run first QB his freshman year. HC Ron Zook has recruited well for years at Florida and Illinois, and now we are seeing some of the results. After a disappointing 5-7 season with a huge loss to WMU will bowl eligibility on the line at Ford Field, Illinois knew it was time to step it up. RB Rashard Mendenhall was a huge loss for the offense last year, but now Juice and WR Arrelious Benn is ready to dominate Big Ten defenses. The offense line is big and experienced and the Illini will use a RB by committee approach. A huge first week matchup with a rebuilding Missouri team will show how far the Illini have really come.
6. Northwestern- It’s tough not to root for the Wildcats. They have such tough academic standards, a smaller fan base than other teams in the Big Ten. HC Pat Fitzgerald has this team rolling though. One of the first Big Ten teams to use the spread, the high flying passing usually keeps the Wildcats in the game except against the bigger programs. NU starts out with Towson, Eastern Michigan and at Syracuse, to break in new QB Mike Kafka and RB Stephen Simmons. The veteran defense has All Big Ten talent and a solid secondary. Northwestern has to travel to MSU, Iowa and Illinois but gets Penn State at home. Look for the Wildcats to stay in the top half of the Big Ten and go to a good bowl.
7. Michigan- Wolverine fans would like to forget the 2008 season. After enjoying years of success with Lloyd Carr with the likes of Anthony Thomas, Charles Woodson, Brian Griese, Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Braylon Edwards and Jake Long, the Michigan faithful wanted a radical change. LSU HC Les Miles turned down the offer, so the Wolverines handed Rich Rodriguez the keys to the program. He brought his spread attack he perfected in West Virginia with awful results. He did not have the players to run his system and the defense had to hold down the fort to even get to a 3-9 record. An embarrassing loss to Toledo and yet another loss to arch rivals OSU topped off an awful season. Last season is over and freshman QB Tate Forcier looks to do his best Pat White impression in Ann Arbor. Brandon Minor leads the rushing attack with Kevin Grady attack a power aspect. The defense lost many starters but looks to reload and play better with a more balanced offense to help get pressure off of them. Luckily punter Zoltan Mesko is so good. He will still be busy. The offense will need more time to get more players and install the system from a power running to a spread option. This season should see 6 or 7 wins and a return to a bowl game for U of M, and for right now, the Wolverines cannot ask for much more.
8. Wisconsin- The Badgers may be in trouble. After being such a steady program for the last twenty years, they must show now what they can do now after a down year. Wisconsin football has not changed much in the last couple of decades. Big RBs move the chains; tough defense dictates play and game managing QBs run the offense on the field. Now HC Bret Bielema looks to continue that success with the same system. QB Dustin Sherer is steady but not great and RB John Clay replaces PJ Hill who left early for the NFL. The Badgers return much depth on defense and avoid Penn State on the schedule so a bowl game is very likely.
9. Minnesota- The Golden Gophers open the beautiful TCF Bank Stadium this season, as Minnesota leaves the Metrodome to play outdoors. Going to the Insight Bowl was big for the program last season, but the Gophers lost their last five games, including a loss to Michigan. QB Adam Weber gets a lighter schedule this year with South Dakota State, Syracuse and Air Force with Cal coming to Minneapolis. WR Eric Decker is a solid wide out with good size, but the quick fix last year made with many JUCO players may not work again this season.
10. Purdue- HC Danny Hope was the only coaching change in the conference this year, with Joe Tiller retiring and announcing this would be his last year before the start of the season. Purdue will still run the spread but Joey Elliot will be running it after Curtis Painter graduated to the NFL (6th round Indianapolis) and Justin Siller was dismissed from the team. The Boilermakers are going to go through a rough patch having Oregon away and Notre Dame this season. The offensive line has four returning starters so that is a good building block, but a bowl game is a lot to ask for this season.
11. Indiana- The Hoosiers have had a tough few years. The basketball program had its first scandal in school history and HC Terry Hoeppner died before the start of the 2007 football season. Kellen Lewis is gone now, and the offense needs to find a new leader. Junior QB Ben Chappell played decently last season but is a pocket passer unlike the mobile Lewis. The running game was awful last season and must improve to take pressure off Chappell. Bryan Payton will start the season at RB but he could be demoted if the terrible play continues. Luckily, Indiana has a solid pair of Defensive Ends in Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. They need to cause havoc in the backfield to help Indiana get off the mat. The Hoosiers need to make strives all over the field to get the program back on track.
Corbitt Gutsy Guarantee: I will give you a two for one on the Big Ten. First, the Big Ten will win their big bowl game this year. I am thinking the Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl against USC. Darryl Clark can create matchup problems and USC is rebuilding a lot on defense and breaking in a new QB. The Big Ten will also win a good portion of their bowl games. Last year they went 1-6. Not so fast! I call for a .500 record this year. Secondly, I see the University of Michigan cutting their losses and firing Rich Rodriguez. They have invested a lot of money and time into him and did not get results. QB Tate Forcier is not a savior, and he will have to out recruit SEC teams for the talent style he needs. The Midwest does not produce spread players. Why do you think Michigan State and Ohio State are crushing Michigan in recruiting? Michigan has been in a tailspin (that culminated in a loss to Appalachian State, being owned by Ohio State the past decade with an exclamation point all last season) since their half national title in 1997. You really shoved Lloyd Carr out the door for this?