I intend to take a close look at each Big Ten team over the coming weeks, and provide a rundown of returning starts, schedules, predicted records and more. I reserve the option to change these predictions prior to our 2009 Iowa football preview issue of Hawkeye Nation magazine that will hit the newsstands in six months.
Without further adieu, here it goes:
YOUR 2009 BIG 10 KICKOFF LUNCHEON TOP THREE: Each August, Big Ten media members vote on the preseasons favorites to win the Big Ten. Unlike the Big 12 and some other leagues, the Big Ten only shares the Top Three teams. I believe that Ohio State will be picked to win the league, followed by Penn State, with Iowa in third. Perhaps the Nittany Lions will be picked to repeat, with Ohio State second, but I feel fairly confident that the Hawks are not going to fly under the radar next summer and fall the way they did this year.
IOWA IN THE POLLS: On the heels of the previous prediction, you are going to see Iowa in most of the preseason magazine Top 25 polls. I will also throw this out there; Iowa will receive very favorable press in Phil Steele's magazine. Not that Phil has a soft spot in his heart for the Hawkeyes, but his power rankings, which is how he arrives at his predictions, tend to show favor to Iowa. Iowa is going to have a lot of experience returning on defense and several returning performers on the offensive line, so I think the Hawks will crack Steele's Top 20. In the AP, Iowa will begin the season somewhere between 21-25.
WE WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN: Minnesota started this season 7-1 and went on to finish 7-6. Tim Brewster has lost both of his coordinators this off season, and the Gophers were hardly a juggernaut this year. Brewster has brought some recruiting buzz to Minneapolis, but it might be the same kind of buzz you get from chugging down a few caffeinated drinks; a quick high, but it doesn't last. Minnesota is also upgrading their out of conference schedule a bit; they start out at Syracuse, under a new coaching staff. They will then host Air Force and California in back to back home games. After that, they start out Big Ten play at Northwestern, with back to back winnable home games against Wisconsin and Purdue. Then it's off to Penn State and Ohio State before returning home to face Michigan State, Illinois and South Dakota State. They close at Iowa and do not play Michigan or Indiana. I can't say that I see any more than seven wins out of this schedule. Why was it that they fired Glen Mason? I will give them major kudos on their new stadium, however. If you would like to see the latest photos of the new Kinnick North, CLICK HERE
BEATEN & BADGERED: Wisconsin and Bret Bielema finished with the same record as Minnesota this year, 7-6. This was a team that had preseason top 15 rankings in some publications. They lose some key contributors off of this year's team, namely Travis Beckum, who missed much of the season with injuries, and we saw what that did to the Badgers. Garrett Graham returns at that position, but he is not the dangerous weapon that Beckum was. Wisconsin loses three starters along the offensive line, plus their fullback, which is another offensive lineman in their offense. Dustin Scherer returns at QB, but is that great news for Wisconsin fans? They return all of their running backs and receivers of note. The defense will be hit hard by graduation; they lose three of their four starters on the defensive line, two of three linebackers plus cornerback Allen Langford. They open the season with three straight at home against Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Wofford. Then it's on the road for two; at Minnesota and Ohio State, before hosting Iowa (their homecoming) and then a bye week. Purdue, at Indiana, Michigan and at Northwestern round out their league schedule, and they do not face Illinois or Penn State. They have a bye week after Northwestern before traveling to play Hawaii on December 5th. With this schedule, I could see them getting to 8-4 best case, but that would include a win at Hawaii, which is not a given. This also assumes they will figure something out at quarterback better than what Dustin Scherer had for them this year. Another 7-5 season could be in the offing; will that be enough for Bielema to keep the Badger fans at bay?
BIG BLUE REBOUND? Michigan has to do better than 3-9 next year, don't they? I don't think anyone on the planet predicted they would be as bad in 2008 as they were. They start out 2009 with four home games; Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan and Indiana. They HAVE to go 3-1 against that schedule, but the game against Western Michigan will not be a gimmee, and I say that without a clue as to what WMU has coming back. Then it's on the road to Michigan State and Iowa, then an open date that will be filled with a non-conference patsy. Penn State comes calling after that, then a roadie at Illinois, home against Purdue, at Wisconsin and home against Ohio State to close out the season. I can't see them doing worse than 6-6, with maybe 7-5 being the high end of expectations for a team that returns roughly 60 lettermen. But if they start another first year quarterback, the growing pains will be there. That being said, I only have them down for three, surefire losses; at Iowa, home against Penn State and home against Ohio State. Motor City Bowl bound? George Perles would love that now, wouldn't he?
WHICH WAY, ZOOKER? The Illini lose three offensive linemen and receiver Will Judson on the offensive side of the ball, returning most of their playmakers for next year. They lose three key defensive linemen and two linebackers, plus one of the league's best corners in Vontae Davis to the NFL, so the defense, which was a big disappointment this year, will be down a notch. They start the year in St. Louis against a Missouri team that will be doing some reloading, then home against Illinois State. Then a well timed bye week before playing at Ohio State and hosting Penn State on back to back weeks. Then they host Michigan State, travel to Indiana and Purdue, home against Michigan, at Minnesota, home against Northwestern and Fresno State with a game to be determined on November 28th. As much as I hate to say it, Illinois could be looking at an eight or nine win season with that schedule, one that doesn't include Iowa or Wisconsin.
BIG TEN & THE BCS: There are a lot of college football fans outside of Big Ten country that are whining about the Big Ten continuing to get two teams into the BCS. As it stands now, three leagues are going to get two teams into the BCS. The Big Ten has the most TV sets of any conference in the country, plus Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan have three of the largest alumni bases in the nation. Iowa and Wisconsin have stellar traveling reputations, so there are a lot of teams there for the taking. This year, it came down to the Fiesta Bowl choosing Ohio State, or someone taking a chance on a second team from a non-BCS conference, in Boise State. The BCS Bowls are like any other bowl; they have an obligation to put as many fans in the stands as they can to help bolster their local economies. They also want a decent TV draw for sponsor considerations. If a second Big Ten team is there with a 10-2 record, that team is ALWAYS going to get major consideration from the BCS. Now, if that 10-2 team is an Iowa or Wisconsin, perhaps a Boise State could get more of a look from a Fiesta Bowl, but probably not from the Rose, Sugar or Orange Bowls. So once again, I say that it's good to be in the Big Ten.
HE'S NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Of course, I am talking about Kirk Ferentz. He will be right back on the sidelines in Iowa City next fall, which is right where I want to see him.
COMING SOON: A look at the rest of the league, their returning starters and 2009 schedules.