Big Ten Conference
Bottom Line: The Big Ten was once a symbol of power perched atop the college football conference hierarchy. However, in recent years, the league that is best characterized by the phrase “three yards and a cloud of dust” has failed to buy into the wide-open offensive philosophy that has so captured the rest of the nation, and in doing so, it has relinquished its title as the nation’s premiere conference.
Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1): Much has been said about the Buckeyes’ consecutive poor showings in the BCS title game, and rightfully so. After running back the opening kickoff in the 2006 game against Florida, OSU was thoroughly dominated the remainder of the game, outscored 41-7 over nearly four full quarters. A year later, Jim Tressel’s crew at times looked overmatched by LSU en route to a 38-24 defeat. In 2008, with the country’s overall top-rated recruit, Terrelle Pryor, providing the coaching staff with another offensive pawn with which to work, expect Ohio State to stray a bit from the norm by spreading things out and putting Pryor in space.
Wisconsin Badgers (9-3): Mackey Award candidate Travis Beckum is perhaps the best tight end that no one talks about, while Bret Bielema is one of the country’s top young coaches. Should the Badgers fail to dethrone Ohio State, they should be a virtual lock to end up in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State (8-4): With the upheaval that is currently taking place in Ann Arbor, you have to believe those in Lansing are relishing this season as their best chance to beat in-state rival Michigan in recent memory. The last time Michigan State beat the Wolverines was in 2001, when Carlos Rodgers was catching passes and T.J. Duckett was chewing up yards.
Penn State Nittany Lions (8-4): It seems as though with each passing season, the lenses of Joe Paterno’s glasses get thicker and thicker and his frame, now 82 years old, becomes increasingly fragile. By 2012, the coaching legend will be nothing more than a shrunken head roaming the sidelines. We’ll find out what kind of team Joe Pa has the second week of the season, when Penn State takes on an underrated Oregon State team Sept. 6 at Happy Valley.
Illinois Fighting Illini (8-4): Those of you in Champaign still waiting for Ron Zook to turn so-called fabulous recruiting classes into actual fruition: say “aye.” And those who back Zook, have no problem with the Illini getting dismantled in the Rose Bowl two weeks after beating the no. 1 team in the land on the road and, therefore, believe that those recruiting classes will finally reach their potential this season: keep waiting.
Michigan Wolverines (7-5): It’s nice to know that Rich Rodriguez’s hypocrisy goes only so far. After pledging he would not leave his post as head coach of his alma mater, West Virginia, due to unfinished business, Rodriguez spurned his home-town team and chased the money northward to Michigan. Introduced as the Wolverines’ newest coach last December, Rodriguez stated his intentions of bringing his spread offense to a program historically known for excelling at a more pro-style scheme. Well, simply judging by the difficulty that accompanies instituting a drastically different offensive philosophy and the current personnel he has at his disposal, it seems as if Rodriguez will get his chance to settle in for an extended stay in Ann Arbor—and make good on a new pledge.
Purdue Boilermakers (7-5): An explosive offense led by senior quarterback Curtis Painter will provide plenty of fireworks during head coach Joe Tiller’s final year in West Lafayette. If the Boilermakers can come up with a few unexpected wins, it’s possible they could be in the running for a January bowl game, but don’t count it.
Indiana Hoosiers (6-6): Last season, Indiana rode a wave of emotion in the aftermath of the death of former head coach Terry Hoeppner to a 7-5 regular season and a bowl appearance. But with its best player now gone to the NFL—WR James Hardy—can the Hoosiers turn to team leaders QB Kellen Lewis and DE Greg Middleton for the fire and passion needed for another successful season?
Iowa Hawkeyes (4-8): What the hell has happened in Iowa City the past few years? From 2002-04, Iowa averaged ten wins a season and played in a January bowl game each of those three seasons. Since then, the once esteemed Kirk Ferentz has had the program in an ugly tailspin. After posting a 7-5 mark in 2005, the Hawkeyes’ win total has slid to six each of the last two seasons, including a sub-.500 record in ’06 and a bowl-season snub a year ago.
Northwestern Wildcats (4-8): Okay, so the record may be a tad harsh for a Northwestern team that managed to win six games in 2007. But considering the Wildcats probably won’t win as many close games as they did a year ago (they beat Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan State by a combined eleven points), four wins wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario for head coach and former Northwestern star linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, who will have to spend much the 2008 season developing a young roster, half of which consists of freshmen.
Minnesota Gophers (2-10): Second-year coach Tim Brewster faces the daunting task of improving a team that won only one game during his nightmarish inaugural season in Minneapolis. With so many issues to address, it’s hard to determine exactly where to start. How about a putrid defense that allowed nearly 40 points and over 400 yards per game?
Champion: Ohio State
Team on the rise: Michigan State
Team on the fall: Michigan, for at least one season
Player to Watch: Besides Terrelle Pryor, it’s gotta be Michigan State RB Javon Ringer
Bowlers: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue