Minnesota | Northwestern | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin
- CFN All-Big Ten Team & Top 30 Players
- Big Ten Team-by-Team Capsules
- Big Ten Unit Rankings
- Big Ten Schedules & Predictions
Bring up the Big Ten this off-season and you'll get two topics of discussion: the schedules and the perceived lack of speed. While it might be the granddaddy of the conferences, it has a lot to learn from the younger, hipper leagues when it comes to scheduling, and to some, fielding teams with fast players.
Schedule-wise, forgetting the mega-gap between the end of the Big Ten season and the bowls (Ohio State beat Michigan on November 18th and didn't play Florida until January 8th), the league that can't add up its own teams continues to have a big problem with the configuration of the slates.
Having eleven teams makes it realistically impossible to have a round-robin schedule like the Pac 10 (no way the Big Ten teams are going to give up the cash cow of a third non-conference game), and not having twelve prevents the league from splitting into two divisions and settling things with a title game. Therefore you have a situation like last year when Wisconsin and Ohio State didn't meet, and Purdue didn't have to play Ohio State or Michigan.
Talk about your unfair draws, Iowa, a very good team, but not an elite one, doesn't have to play the Buckeyes or the Wolverines meaning it'll be right in the hunt for the Big Ten title, while other teams miss some of the lightweights. That still won't change.
Team That'll Surprise
Northwestern It'll be back to a bowl after a tragic season with a more mature coaching staff, a more experienced team, and just enough talent on both sides of the ball to get to six wins. As long as there aren't any gags against Northeastern, Duke and Eastern Michigan, and if the Wildcats can pull off winnable home games against Nevada, Minnesota and Indiana, they'll be in.
Team That'll Disappoint
Michigan State Wait a year. For Spartan fans hoping to end the yearly craziness and bizarre collapses, this season could be even worse in Mark Dantonio's first year. The team needs to be rebuilt, remade and reborn, and it's going to take at least a season to make it happen. The schedule doesn't help out with three road games in the final five with the two homes games against Michigan and Penn State. Indiana will beat someone with a pulse at home, and MSU is a safe bet for the upset.
Offensive Player of the Year
RB Mike Hart, Sr. Michigan: It'll be a fight to the finish as Michigan QB Chad Henne, WR Mario Manningham, and Wisconsin RB P.J. Hill all fight it out for the honor. Hart, as long as he stays healthy, will rumble for 100 yards at will with defenses also having to deal with the Wolverine passing game.
Defensive Player of the Year
LB Dan Connor, Sr. Penn State: Paul Posluszny wasn't the only productive Nittany Lion linebacker over the last few years. Overshadowed so far, Connor will finally be in the spotlight as the league's premier defensive player. Don't be shocked if Linebacker U. has yet another Butkus Award coming its way.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...
Coach on the Hot Seat
Lloyd Carr, Michigan: Hey Lloyd, thanks for that national title a decade ago. All those Big Ten titles have certainly been fun, and starting 11-0 and missing a national title shot by a whisker certainly showed how good the program still is...now win another championship. Oh yeah, and you'd better not lose a fourth in a row to the Buckeyes. (To those fickle Maize and Blue fans hoping soon for a coaching change in the near future: be careful what you wish for.)
5 Non-Conference Games the Big Ten had better take, very, very seriously
1. Ohio State at Washington, Sept. 15
2. Ball State at Illinois, Sept. 20
3 Purdue at Toledo, Sept. 1
4. Appalachian State at Michigan, Sept. 1 – (Don't laugh … there's a two-time defending national champion in the house and it's not the one in blue.)
5. North Dakota State at Minnesota, Oct. 20 – (You're still laughing...it took a blocked kick for the Gophers to avoid being upset by the Bison last year.)
5 Best Pro Prospects
5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Todd Boeckman, Antonio Henton or Robbie Schoenhoft for Troy Smith, QB Ohio State
2. Jake Bscherer for Joe Thomas, OT Wisconsin
3. Tyrell Sales for Paul Posluszny, LB Penn State (actually, Sales is likely to step in for Dan Connor, who'll move to the middle to take over for Posluszny)
4. Brandon Harrison for Leon Hall, CB Michigan
5. Brian Robiskie for Ted Ginn, Jr. WR Ohio State
5 Bold Predictions
1. Michigan's offense won't be unstoppable like most will expect, but it'll be wickedly effective as it rolls to a 10-0 start. Forget the problems with number two receiver Adrian Arrington and the knee injury to key running back Kevin Grady, the Wolverine offense will still bomb away at will thanks to the offensive line, Mike Hart, Marion Manningham, and the underappreciated Chad Henne.
2. Michigan State won't bounce back. It's not like John L. Smith couldn't coach (remember, he set the foundation for the Louisville powerhouse), but he wasn't the right fit. Mark Dantonio is an excellent coach who'll soon make the Spartans above average again, but it's not going to happen this year. In fact, MSU will finish somewhere in the bottom three.
3. Penn State will be in the title hunt until the very end. And Anthony Morelli will be terrific. The defense will be its typical nasty brick wall, and just enough of a running game will emerge to keep the offense rolling. Losses to Michigan and Wisconsin will keep the Nittany Lions from the Big Ten title, but they'll be close.
4. Iowa will rebound, at least record-wise. Drew Tate might be gone and no one is thinking about the Hawkeyes when it comes to the Big Ten championship, but they'll come up with ten wins (helped by missing Ohio State and Michigan).
5. Illinois still won't be all that good. This year. Everyone will have a nervous eye on the Illini after a few amazing recruiting classes, but it won't be until 2008 when the young talent will finally be experienced enough to start winning consistently. There will be a big upset or two this season, but it's not going to be the breakthrough year many will expect.
What Will Happen?
Wisconsin will get out to a 9-0 start before losing to Ohio State in Columbus. The Badgers will bounce back to hand Michigan its first defeat of the year before beating Minnesota in the season-finale to go 11-1 and off to the Rose Bowl. Michigan will also finish 11-1 (helped by a win over Ohio State).
Ohio State will start out hot thanks to its defense, and then will suffer a collapse at Purdue in a shootout. Losses at Penn State and Michigan will make Jim Tressel's team an also-ran (but it'll bounce back in a big way in 2008).
Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota will go bowling.