Big Ten 2010
The Big Ten has five, perhaps six, solid programs that can trade knocks with the best in the country on any given Saturday. Not that they’d win at more than a fifty percent clip, but still, the upper half of the conference is pretty strong this year … Ohio State is the alpha male in the conference. The title is theirs to lose.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes. Jim Tressel has the Scarlet and Gray beginning to hum like a Maserati as they head into conference play. Their last three games of the season are Penn State, at Iowa, and Michigan. Any one of those could prove to be a stumbling block, but their Oct 16 road game vs. Wisconsin might be the toughest mountain to climb.
2. Wisconsin Badgers. Besides the mid-October clash with Ohio State, the Badgers have three tough road games at Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan. If Wisconsin can upset the Buckeyes, they have an excellent chance of running the table. Despite getting by Arizona State on a blocked extra point in Week 3, the important juice to extract from that sugar lemon is the Badgers had the speed to limit a lightning quick and dangerous ASU squad to 19 points.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa’s prospects rest on the backs of Ricky Stanzi and soph running back Adam Robinson. If either gets injured, they can kiss their Pasadena dreams goodbye. They have the schedule primed to pull off the conference title this year. Despite a tough 4-game stretch with Penn State, at Michigan, Wisconsin and then Michigan State, they also get Ohio State at home on Nov 20.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions. The Big Ten’s 4-5-6 teams are practically interchangeable. I’m giving the conference dean of coaches the benefit of the doubt that he can navigate the schedule better than Dantonio and RichRod. PSU’s schedule is not kind this year with Iowa and Ohio State on the road, but they do get to do a Pennsylvania shuffle to sidestep Wisconsin on the calendar.
5. Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are a bit of a mystery and the real dark horse in this year’s race. They hold the wild card with a Buckeye-free schedule and could send shock waves through the conference with a win over Wisconsin on Oct 2. After that, their two toughest contests are road games at Iowa (Oct 30) and Penn State (Nov 27).
6. Michigan Wolverines. Michigan’s hopes live and die with Denard Robinson. I’ve had him #1 on my Heisman list since the first game of the season, but I’m really concerned about the load he carries as QB and featured running back. It’s his ground yards that have been driving opponents absolutely crazy. Will his body hold up through a grueling Big Ten schedule when he’s logging over 20 carries a game and taking some hits as a signal caller? The Wolverine defense is the Swiss cheese variety this year and that adds even more pressure on Robinson to carry the team.
7. Northwestern Wildcats. Pat Fitzgerald is working miracles in Evanston. The Wildcats are just two wins short of heading to a bowl game for an unprecedented third straight season, which indicates PF has the program reloading more quickly than ever before. Look for NU to go 8-4 or 7-5 on the regular season, and 4-4 in conference play.
8. Illinois Fighting Illini. Of all the teams in the Big Ten, Illinois has drawn the toughest three games to begin conference play (Ohio State, at Penn State, at Michigan State). They shouldn’t be an easy win for any of their opponents, but those three games will define their conference season. I see the Illini rebounding from an 0-3 start to finish 3-5 in the conference. A 5-7 record and another post-season at home might spell doom for Ron Zook’s reign in Champaign.
9. Indiana Hoosiers. I’m really impressed with the Hoosiers’ three straight wins to open 2010, but that shiny zero in the loss column is going to get marred quickly in games 1 and 2 of the conference campaign (Michigan, then at Ohio State). They’ll get a bit of a break with a non-con game vs. Arkansas State, and then it’s back to the Big Ten grind. Indiana doesn’t look to be an easy win for anyone in the conference. Depending on where their wins fall in place, they’ll end up 3-5 in conference, in a tussle with Illinois for the numero ocho spot.
10. Purdue Boilermakers. The Boiler’s Brew this year hinges on the health of Robert Marve. Without him, Purdue lost handily at home to Toledo. That means the Boilermakers are 1-1 with Marve and 1-1 without him. I see the Black and Gold going 2-6 in conference. They are playing without their leading receiver and running back from last season, and their #2 ball carrier has already missed two games with a toe injury. This isn’t going to be the year they thought it would be with Marve behind center.
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers. It’s pretty sad to see the state of affairs in Golden Gopher football. Their new stadium is absolutely beautiful and there’s a rich tradition to tap into if you care to go back to the early 1960s. In fact, Minnesota is the only program that can claim three national titles in a row, but you have to time travel to the late Thirties for those heady days. Unfortunately, Tim Brewster is not getting the job done in the Twin Cities and the 2010 version of Maroon and Gold football looks like a 1-7 conference team, 2-10 overall. Buh-bye Brewster.
The final pre-game press conference with TCU head coach Gary Patterson and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema took place today in Los Angeles. This is the first of two parts featuring select quotes from Bret Bielema. Questions were posed by a variety of sportswriters in attendance.
You talked a little about your own personal experience in losing the Rose Bowl that you came out here for. For this team and how it will define the season, what is the difference between winning and losing the Rose Bowl game?
“Well, it’s a lot of memories that come with this week, but those memories will never be the same if it doesn’t have a win behind it. Coach Alvarez set the standard for the University of Wisconsin coming out here three times, winning three times in the same decade has never been done before in our conference.
So for him to do that, when I took over the job, I knew that record and what it all meant. More >