Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 College Football Conference Predictions: Big Ten

99.9% of the college football world expects Ohio State to roll through the Big 10 this season on their way to a 3rd straight BCS Title Game berth, and with good reason. The Buckeyes bring back 19 starters from last year's BCS Title Game loser. They may have as many as 5 1st team All-Americans, and a head coach that many college football fans outside of Norman OK, Los Angeles, and the entire Southeast might believe is the best in America. Throw in the fact that they are 22-2 in the conference over the previous 3 seasons, and you come to no other conclusion that Ohio State should be your Big Ten champion. Unless you are me. Contrary to popular belief, Ohio State's biggest road test won't be a trip to LA on September 13th (a game that I actually expect the Buckeyes to win, as the collective universe seems to be throwing their attention toward that one. Imagine how the Buckeye players are feeling about it.) 3 weeks later, Ohio State travels to Madison WI for a date with a Wisconsin team that seems to me to be primed to take the next step toward a BCS berth. Count me among the few, maybe the only, that likes the Wisconsin Badgers to win the Big Ten in 2008.

The Badgers return 17 starters of their own, including RB P.J. Hill and an always-stingy defense. While I'm predicting a loss in Ann Arbor the week before the OSU matchup, Wisconsin gets a really favorable schedule in the Big 10, and should be able to get through the season with no more than one loss. They haven't lost a game at Camp Randall in over 2 years, and I don't see this year being any different.

Penn State and Illinois should battle for the 3rd January bowl slot that the conference holds. Iowa, Northwestern and even Michigan will all be better than most people think. Indiana and Minnesota have such weak non-conference schedules, they may actually challenge for winning seasons and possible bowl bids, even though they are likely to finish near the bottom of the conference.

1. Wisconsin Badgers (Predicted Overall Regular Season Record: 11-1, Predicted Conference Regular Season Record: 7-1)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Fresno State 9/13
Key Conference Game: vs. Ohio State 10/4
Key Players: RB P.J. Hill, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaughnessy, LB Jonathan Casillas
The same night that OSU travels out to Los Angeles, the Badgers will be just down the road in Fresno for a game that won't carry top billing, but should be very interesting. Wisconsin gets Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois at home, and other than Fresno State, they get non-conference tilts against Akron, Marshall and Cal-Poly. That's a formula for a bloated record, and perhaps a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 7-1)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Southern California 9/13
Key Conference Game: at Wisconsin 10/4
Key Players: RB Beanie Wells, OT Alex Boone, LB James Laurinatis, CB Malcolm Jenkins
As mentioned above, the Buckeyes have it all. There really is no reason they shouldn't win the league, but I just have a feeling. For all the grief they get, this actually looks like as talented a team as there is in the country (including Athens, GA.) Their downfall in the BCS games has truly been their unpreparedness to play a team as talented as Florida and LSU were the past two years. They'll get a better taste in L.A. in mid-September, but this time they won't have the chance to win it all.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2, 6-2)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Oregon State 9/6
Key Conference Game: at Wisconsin 10/11
Key Players: C A.Q. Shipley, WR Derrick Williams, DE Maurice Evans, S Anthony Scirrotto
Joe Pa's boys are good enough on defense to be a Top 10 team. Pretty good on the offensive line as well. The issues this year are at quarterback and running back. Senior Daryll Clark only attempted 8 passes last year. Trips to Columbus and Madison will keep the Nittany Lions from making waves toward a BCS berth.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini (8-4, 5-3)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Missouri (in St Louis) 8/30
Key Conference Game: vs Ohio State 11/15
Key Players: WR Arrelious Benn, C Ryan McDonald, LB Martez Wilson, CB Vontae Davis
Where offense carried the Illini to 9 wins last year, they should be a little more balanced in 2008. Behind Ohio State and Penn State, Illinois should have the top defense in the Big 10, although they do need to replace a few key guys. The offense should be pretty good again with the return of QB Juice Williams and Benn, but replacing RB Reshard Mendenhall will be a key.

5. Michigan Wolverines (6-6, 5-3)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Utah 8/30
Key Conference Game: vs Wisconsin 9/27
Key Players: OT Stephen Schilling, RB Carlos Brown, DT Terrance Taylor, LB Greg Jones
With Rich Rodriguez bringing in the spread offense and having no quarterback to run it, defense will be the difference in whether or not the Wolverines get to a bowl this year. They have everyone back up front and should be pretty good in the secondary. Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet is the leading candidate to run Rich Rod's spread this season. He'll need 4 new offensive linemen to get it going quickly.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5, 4-4)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Pittsburgh 9/20
Key Conference Game: vs Wisconsin 10/18
Key Players: OG Seth Olsen, TE Tony Moeaki, DT Mitch King, DT Matt Kroul
Hard to believe that just 3 years ago Kirk Ferentz was a trendy pick to get some available NFL head coaching jobs. He might be on the proverbial hot seat in 2008. The Hawkeyes are 19-16 since a Capitol One Bowl win over LSU in 2004. Thanks to a light non-conference schedule, Wisconsin and Penn State at home, and not having to face Ohio State at all, this looks like a good year to get back to a bowl after missing the postseason last year. There are some issues on offense, and it comes down to quarterback play, where they need production from Jake Christensen. The defense should be good enough to stay in the middle of the conference. The two tackles mentioned above are undersized but experienced.

7. Northwestern Wildcats (7-5, 3-5)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Duke 9/6
Key Conference Game: vs Illinois 11/22
Key Players: RB Tyrell Sutton, TE Eric Peterman, DT John Gill, CB Sherrick McManus
I might pick the Wildcats as a surprise in the conference if they didn't have to replace 4 starters along the offensive line. Sutton was the 2007 Big 10 Freshman of the Year, but he'll probably have to work hard to get his yards this season. This was a pass-heavy offense last season that returns a senior quarterback and a couple of decent senior receivers. The defense returns 8 starters from a group that averaged 31 points a game last year. If they can be a little bit better we'll see Northwestern in a bowl in 2008, and perhaps even pull off an upset in the Big 10.

8. Michigan State Spartans (6-6, 3-5)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Notre Dame 9/20
Key Conference Game: vs Purdue 11/8
Key Players: RB Javon Ringer, OG Roland Martin, LB Greg Jones, LB Eric Gordon
Offense is usually the calling card in East Lansing and this year should be no different. A senior quarterback in Brian Hoyer and a very good running back in Ringer, along with an experienced offensive line, should produce some good results. Defense could be a problem (seems to be a theme for the bottom feeders in the league.) They haven't won 8 games in a season since 2003, although last year could have been much different with all 5 losses coming by 7 points or less. Still, with only 13 total starters returning, I see this team finishing about where it does every year. Around .500 overall and in the Big 10.

9. Purdue Boilermakers (4-8, 2-6)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame 9/27
Key Conference Game: vs Michigan 11/1
Key Players: QB Curtis Painter, WR Greg Orton, LB Anthony Heygood, PK Chris Summers
Sadly, Joe Tiller's last season in West Lafayette might be a rebuilding year. He's got one of the better quarterbacks in the country, so the offense should be OK. The defense on the other hand, could be an issue. This group gave up points in bunches at times last season, including about half a hundred to Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. The real issue for Tiller is a brutal schedule, which includes Oregon in West Laf, a trip to Notre Dame, and a visit from Ohio State. Trips to Northwestern and Michigan State, and a visit from Michigan, will likely be the swing games that get Purdue to a bowl or not.

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-7, 1-7)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Florida Atlantic 9/20
Key Conference Game: vs Indiana 10/4
Key Players: WR Eric Decker, OG DJ Burris, LB Steve Davis, LB Deon Hightower
The good news is that this team returns 15 starters. The bad news is that those 15 starters were also part of a season that resulted in 11 losses in 2007. The Gophers remedy that by playing one of the weaker non-conference schedules I could possibly imagine, even by Big 10 standards. Northern Illinois and Montana State visit the Metrodome, and the Gophers head to Bowling Green. The Florida Atlantic game won't be a cake walk, but Minnesota should be able to squeak that one out. The Gopher defense gave up over 6,000 yards of offense in 2007, so they can really only get better you'd think. I don't expect them to be much better in conference, but the non-conference slate should prop the overall record up to be better than usual.

11. Indiana Hoosiers (5-7, 1-7)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Central Michigan 11/1
Key Conference Game: vs Northwestern 10/25
Key Players: QB Kellen Lewis, WR Ray Fisher, DE Greg Middleton, PK Austin Starr
Lewis was one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the country last season, throwing for over 3,000 yards and rushing for over 700. He was suspended this spring, and hasn't won the starting job back yet. He is without a doubt the best rushing threat on the team. WR James Hardy will be tough to replace. The defense should be good, but not great. Replacing both cornerbacks will be a key.


Anonymous said...

God, I hope your right. I can't imagine watching Ohio State ruin another National Championship game.

Anonymous said...

hahahha, i cant believe you deleted that comment.

Bop said...

I actually like your Wisconsin pick...they are a very good team imo. Getting OSU at home could have them 12-0 and playing for it all. The middle and bottom of the Big 10 is just pathetic.

Will be interesting to see what happens if OSU wins all their games except the USC one. Especially if the USC game is close. If they run the table, they will play for it all again...just don't see how they won't. I mean if they go 12-0 with a win in the coliseum they are playing for the title. And OSU is loaded with talent.

On a side note Michigan sucks, they just better beat Notre Dame.

JJ said...

Anonymous @ 4:29 PM - If you don't have anything of substance to bring to the table, I will delete you every time. This is not a chat room and will not become one. Bring something to back up your comments, and I'll leave you up there even if you call me an idiot. Have a good one.

Anonymous said...

When I think of Big Ten football, I think of all of the 12:00 kickoffs on ESPN with Pam Ward broadcasting. Nothing like some Iowa vs. Northwestern for some background noise during a big ol UGA tailgate. It really makes you feel fortunate that you went to a legit school.

JJ said...

Duvy, after this year you've seen the last of Pam Ward doing a meaningless Big 10 game right after watching Corso put on the mascot head. That game in 2009 will be something along the lines of Miss State vs Auburn, and the like. ESPN paid a nice chunk of change for that luxury.