The Big Ten has enjoyed two bids into the BCS in eight of the eleven years of the alliance. They have sent two teams in each of the last four years, and six of the last seven. I think there will be at least two teams from the league with 10 or more wins this year, something that has amounted to a near lock for the Big Ten getting the ‘two up' scenario nearly 75% of the time.
That being said, I think the 2009 college football landscape is stacking up against the Big Ten getting two teams into this year's BCS lineup.
First, will there be two teams from the Big Ten that get 10 or more wins? I believe that Ohio State is a lock for this, and unless USC beats them in the second week, and as long as Terrell Pryor stays healthy, the Buckeyes have a pretty decent road to being 12-0 at this early juncture of the year. They have proven time and time again that they just do not rebuild, they are at the reloading stage. So there is one team.
The second team is going to be harder to pin down. I think Iowa is the second best team, on paper, in the league this year. I think Penn State, on paper, is going to be overrated to start the year and I think that Michigan State has a few question marks, too. I actually think Illinois fans could make a compelling case for their team getting to ten wins this year, but that's the limit.
Penn State: returns just five starters on offense, loses every top receiver and three first team all Big Ten offensive linemen, two NFL-caliber defensive ends and every member of their secondary. But they have a Charmin-soft schedule, which will keep them in the mix. However, look out for them on the OL; they return fewer than 40 offensive line starts, the least in the league.
Michigan State: They return 17 starters from a team that won nine games. Javon Ringer is gone, along with his 390 carries. He was a good back, but I think they will get similar production out of a dual tailback set. He was no Shonn Greene, is what I would say. Brian Hoyer moving on might actually be a good thing at quarterback. They return just 47 offensive line starts.
Illinois: Their offense should be very formidable again this year, but they have questions on defense. They should beat Missouri to start the year and their Big Ten docket is very favorable with PSU, MSU and NW at home, with roadies at Indiana and Purdue, the two worst teams in the league. They avoid playing Iowa and Wisconsin, to boot. But they also have a late October home game against Fresno State and a December roadie against Cincinnati. Illinois made it to the Rose Bowl two years ago with just nine wins, but that won't happen this year.
Iowa: Five road games at Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State make this a tough call, plus they don't play Purdue which would be a lock win. They return 98 offensive line starts, the most in the Big Ten, however.
So while each of these teams has some question marks in getting to the 10-win mark to be a serious contender for a BCS game, there is even a bigger roadblock in their path.There are likely four at large BCS bids…one team each from two of the six BCS conference will be playing for the national title, which leaves four at large bids. I think two from Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State will take up two of those slots. Recent history tells us that a BYU, Boise State or a Utah will get another, and this year it appears likely that Boise State will be that team. That leaves one at large bid left. I don't think it comes from the Big East or the ACC. The SEC is always in the mix and Alabama or Ole Miss could be in the hunt. If LSU figures out its QB situation in the positive, they might be right there, too. So already, things are congested, but the Big Ten boasts huge traveling fan bases for the most part.
However, Notre Dame does as well. Remember that road block I talked about?
Here it is, in the form of a weak sauce schedule:
Sept. 5 NEVADA
Sept. 12 at Michigan
Sept. 19 MICHIGAN STATE
Sept. 26 at Purdue
Oct. 3 WASHINGTON
Oct. 10 Open Date
Oct. 17 USC
Oct. 24 BOSTON COLLEGE
Oct. 31 vs. Washington State (at San Antonio, Texas)
Nov. 7 NAVY
Nov. 14 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 21 CONNECTICUT
Nov. 28 at Stanford
As I see it on this day in may, I am having a hard time convincing myself the Irish will have more than three losses. Can Michigan rise up? Doubtful, given their youth. Michigan State? Possibly. USC? That is the best bet, but it's in South Bend, as is the Michigan State game. BC? They lose BJ Raji and another DT, plus they will break in a new QB, however their offensive line is back. At Pitt? Wanny. UConn will drop off. At Stanford? Maybe.
Perhaps I am finally buying into the Notre Dame kool-aid a bit too much, but I think they will get at least nine wins. If they do, they likely get an at large BCS bid. If they don't, Charlie Weiss is probably toast.
Could a 10 win team from the Big Ten be left out of the BCS picture this year? Keep an eye on the Irish during September, October and November…and root for everyone on their schedule. Also, be rooting against Boise State this year, too. If they lose one game, that likely opens another door if the Hawks can get to 10-2.
So in short, if you are an Iowa fan that wants to go to the Rose Bowl this year, you have a few things to root for: Iowa to win every single game, or win the Big Ten title. If not that, then Ohio State to play for the national title and Iowa to go at least 10-2. Then one of either Notre Dame winning fewer than nine games, or Boise State/Utah/BYU/TCU to have one loss.