The new stadium should be both a blessing and a curse for Minnesota in their first year at home. The benefits will obviously be bigger in the long run, with a jewel for fans and recruits and a true home-field edge in the elements. But those things take time. In the short term, the new stadium won't feel like home yet and it will hurt what could have been the league's best passing attack in Adam Weber to Eric Decker – especially with three of the last four at home in the strange, non-Metrodome elements. Coach Tim Brewster started to prepare Minny with a more ground-oriented attack in last year's bowl game, but this too will take time. Unfortunately for Gopher fans, the early schedule isn't kind for all this changeover – Air Force, Cal and Wisconsin are the first three home games and all spell danger for home fans. Throw in road games to OSU, PSU and Northwestern before Halloween and the pumpkin may already be in need of smashing. The future looks bright, Gopher fans, but you may have to take a step backwards before taking off in the new era.
* Key game: vs. Michigan State – Most of the Gophers' big games are on the road this year, so if they get a big win at the new home stadium, it will either be the Cal nonconference game or this one, and a victory over MSU would be far more meaningful. Especially since it comes right after back-to-back trips to Columbus and Happy Valley and they will need a win for their confidence.
* Bowl outlook: Motor City Bowl vs. Central Michigan – Whoever slips to Detroit this year is in danger of facing either Buffalo and a hot coach or CMU and a hot quarterback. Minny might be the best matchup for the fans and you could see a wild shootout.
9) MICHIGAN (5-7 / 2-6)
It's going to be a very interesting two-year span in Ann Arbor beginning this fall. I have no doubts that Rich Rodriguez, despite his lack of likability, is a smart coach who will bring the Maize and Blue back. I do have doubts, however, that the Michigan boosters will allow him much more time to get them back if he fails to produce a winning record this year – especially if there are three more embarrassing losses to the Irish, Spartans and, worst of all, Buckeyes. The 2009 Wolverines should be better at just about every area, but it's tough to count on any one area consistently or see anyone that will step up as a rock-solid leader to build around on offense or defense. The result could be an Illini-type season where Big Blue gets an upset win one week and totally blows a game the next week. Whatever the case, it's still going to be a year before they're back in a bowl, maybe more if patience with RichRod's ego runs thin and he gets canned.
* Key game: vs. Notre Dame – If the Wolverines have any hope of making a minor bowl and announcing that they're back, they need to beat the Irish early on. If they let it slip away at home, they will lament it at the end of the year and fans everywhere may also lament it when a 10-2 Irish team sneaks into the BCS and gets crushed.
10) INDIANA (4-8 / 1-7)
Things are tough in Bloomington these days – there may be some light peeking in at the end of the tunnel on the hardcourt, but over on the football field it's getting darker. Bill Lynch is nice guy and took over in some tough circumstances, but the program just can't shake their snake-bitten past. The schedule does start off in typical creampuff fashion and there's no MSU or Minnesota, but everything is going to have to break right for Indiana to be close to the bowl bubble in November.
* Key game: vs. Wisconsin – Aside from the Bucket game, this is the Hoosiers best chance for a home win in league play and if they can get this and a road win at NU or Michigan, they could sneak into a bowl. But that's the rosiest of outlooks.
11) PURDUE (2-10 / 0-8)
Danny Hope has a tough task in West Lafayette, not only is he replacing a legend in Joe Tiller who worked miracles, he must try and do what even Tiller couldn't – make Purdue into a football school. The Boilers had some solid seasons and one big breakthrough year, but they still couldn't fill the stadium consistently and once basketball practice begins over in Mackey, fans will be talking about the 2010 Final Four in Indy more than anything over in Ross-Ade Stadium. Making the task tougher? Tiller didn't exactly leave a full cupboard like Alvarez did at Wisconsin. Purdue had been going downhill in Joe's final few years and there's not much talent here on either side of the ball. The schedule is a mixed blessing, with no PSU and the toughest road game being at another school in transition (but with far more talent) in Oregon … but the home slate is tough with visits from OSU, MSU and Wisconsin, plus those pesky Irish.The Middle of the Pack Next time....
* Key game: vs. Northwestern – It's the Boilers' best chance for a league win. They'll be coming off the home game with Notre Dame and need to start the league lineup off right if they have any hope for bowl contention.