Big Ten Preview
The Big Ten is at its strongest since 2002 when Ohio State won the national championship. As Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, and Purdue have all been named conference champs by at least one preseason publication. Not to mention Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin are all top 25 worthy with MSU and PSU capable of battling for the league title. Illinois can make a bowl with a couple of home upsets, only Indiana and Northwestern look like sure sub .500 teams, but even the Hoosiers look better. With so many great teams it is a lock the Big Ten will send two teams to the BCS, the only question is if one will be playing in Pasadena. A two, three, four, or even a five way tie is possible at the top. With so much parity, more than likely the Big Ten Champ will have two losses.
Order of Finish
t1. Iowa 9-2(6-2)- The Hawkeyes are finally getting respect after three straight top ten finishes. Iowa has many holes to fill on defense except linebacker where they should be among the best in the nation. Offensively, running back is a major concern. The Hawkeyes were 116th out 117 teams last year in rushing. Quarterback Drew Tate can not carry this team again without a rushing attack. Hosting Michigan is a huge, but road trips to Ohio State, Iowa State, and Purdue come before the second week of October. Another strong finish will be order for Iowa to gain another share of a Big Ten title, their third in four years.
t1. Michigan 9-2(6-2)- The super frosh duo of Chad Henne and Michael Hart are back to claim another Big Ten title. The Wolverines are stacked at receiver and have one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten. However, Ohio State and Texas tore through the Michigan defense with ease the last two games of last year. Was this a aberration or do the Wolverines have trouble with a mobile quarterback? If the latter is true, road games at Iowa and Michigan State are a major concern. If the defense steps up, beating Ohio State will be the difference between Pasadena or Orlando.
t1. Ohio State 9-2(6-2)- Like Iowa, Ohio State lacks a dominant running game, but unlike Iowa, Ohio State has Ted Ginn. I expect Troy Smith to assume the starting quarterback position in week two against Texas and never look back. If the last two games are any indication of this season, Ohio State might have it's second national title in four years. Defensively, Ohio State is second only to Penn State. Hosting Texas and Iowa in September will allow the Buckeyes to leap high in the rankings early with big victories. If they find a way to beat Michigan, they just might be the best team this side of USC.
t1. Penn State 9-2(6-2)- Joe Pa's back! There is not a better defense in the Big Ten or the country for that matter. Michael Robinson is ready to take the helm at quarterback and improve the most stagnate offense in the country. Penn State's success depends on the ability of the offense to score points. That is a big question mark. Speed and immediate impact is going to have to come from true freshmen, and Robinson may be better served at receiver. Paterno wants to win a another national title before he retires. He is not going to do that this year, but a share of the Big Ten title will keep the nay sayers quiet for another season.
t5. Purdue 8-3 (5-3)- The Boilermakers have been to bowl game each of Joe Tiller's eight seasons in West Lafayette including a share of a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth in 2000. This year's team is loaded defensively and have playmakers on offense. In the Tiller era Purdue has never won more than nine games and have lost at least three each year. The Boilermakers get a huge break as Ohio State and Michigan are not on the schedule and Iowa must come to West Lafayette. Last years team had some tough breaks, but should have had more than seven wins. Purdue has yet to get over the hump from perennial bowl team to perennial national title contender. If they are going to do it, it has to be this year.
t5. Michigan State 8-3(5-3)- The Spartans are poised to take the conference by surprise. Much of the preseason hype is going the way of Purdue, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State. John L. Smith's squad is under fire for getting waxed by Penn State and Hawaii to close out last year and missing a valuable bowl berth. Drew Stanton is healthy and only he can lead Michigan State back to a bowl. Mark your calendars, October 1, Michigan comes to East Lansing in what should be the one many battle of unbeatens in the Big Ten.
7. Wisconsin 7-5(4-4)- Barry Alvarez is going to retire after this season, but will remain as the athletic director. Too bad his Badgers are not going to contend for one more Big Ten title. The defense has too many holes to fill, especially up front and in the secondary. There are many options on offense. The Badgers have an excellent receiving core, but no one to get them the ball. Brian Calhoun is eager to get back into running the football this season, sitting out last year after transferring from Colorado. The schedule is very friendly, if Camp Randall is as nasty as it can be, the Badgers can match last year's nine wins.
8. Minnesota 6-5(3-5)- As long the Golden Gophers keep the non-conference schedule easy they will keep playing in bowl games. In 2002 and 2004 Minnesota breezed through the non-conference, but finished 3-5 in conference play. Expect more of the same this year. After the first three games Laurence Maroney might have near 1,000 yards rushing and be on everyone's early Heisman lists. But he might be lucky to get 1,000 yards in his eight Big Ten games.
9. Illinois 4-7(2-6)- Ron Zook can prove everyone wrong down in Gainesville by taking the Fighting Illini to a bowl game. The talent is there, but Zook has been revered by many as a great recruiter, but not the best gameday coach. At Florida he was unable to win at home, but needs to in Champaigne if Illinois has any dreams of a winning season.
t10. Northwestern 2-9(0-8)- The Wildcats missed out on a bowl game last year by losing to Hawaii on the Island. This year's team will not be as good as last year's. Northwestern had some big wins last year, it will be hard to match last year's performance.
t10. Indiana 3-9(0-8)- The Hoosiers have not been to a bowl game since 1993, the longest bowl drought in the Big Ten. From 1986 to 1993 Indiana went to six bowls and new Coach Terry Hoeppner wants the Hoosiers to return to those glory days. Expect a 3-0 start, then it's downhill from there.