Posted on: July 19, 2010 10:17 pm
Although I have been spending most of my time preparing for Thursday’s addition of a new daughter, “baby” isn’t the only “B” word that has been consuming my thoughts lately.
Although the first college football game is still more than a month away, much of my focus has been on predicting how the Big Ten Conference will pan out in 2010.
Will the conference champion boil down to a game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Ohio State Buckeyes? Does Wisconsin really have the team to pull off a 10-2 record? Who will Illinois share the bottom of the Big Ten barrel with?
All of these questions and more have been sharing time with pink infant décor in the corner of my bedroom, along with stocking up on burp rags and two different sizes of diapers.
Before my Big Ten dreams become broken by early-morning cries, I wanted to put together a breakdown of how I see the 2010 season panning out:
When you think of Big Ten football, the Indiana Hoosiers are usually the last team to pop up. However, I think this team has the talent to make a tremendous turnaround this season. Although the team only went 4-8 (1-7 in the Big Ten), the team’s losses show just as much as the wins.
In the Big Ten, defense is vital. Many games from this conference are labeled as boring, because they are often low-scoring, grind-’em-out affairs. To put up points in the mid-20s and low 30s against the conferences powerhouse teams is no easy task. Yet the Hoosiers were able to do just that last year.
Forget about the 36-33 loss to Michigan in last year’s conference opener. God answered my, and many other, prayers that day. Two defenseless teams battled it out in a game, which pretty much came down to final possession. Both teams, though, demonstrated scoring capabilities.
The Hoosiers lost 29-28 to a decent Northwestern team, continuing to put up high numbers. And defenses like Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin didn’t do much better in keeping Indiana off the board. The team put up 28 points against a tough Wisconsin defense, only losing by three points; they put 20 against Penn State, and 24 against Iowa. Only one other team put up 20 against Penn State, while two teams scored more than the Hoosiers against Iowa. They put up more points against Wisconsin than a high-scoring Miami team did in its bowl game with the Badgers.
The point is – Indiana can put up some numbers. This year, they are shifting to a new defensive formation, which should help them cut down on giving up so many points. Since their losses to tough teams were so close, I think Indiana continues to put up the points and change a couple of those “Ls” to “Ws.” I predict they take all four out-of-conference games and win at least two or three conference games. This will put them at 6-6 or 7-5, making them bowl eligible this year.
This category, similar to the one above, also involves similar theories to this year’s turnaround season.
The Michigan Wolverines came out of the gate hot last year, picking up their easy non-conference games, beating a solid Notre Dame team and starting out the season with a 4-0 record. The first loss came to the hands of the Michigan State Spartans, a game that was decided by a Michigan missed opportunity in overtime.
After this tough overtime loss, they responded by traveling to Iowa and playing the Hawkeyes to within two points. I also remember this game vividly. Michigan was steps away from field goal range, when starting quarterback Tate Forcier suffered a concussion, and back-up quarterback Denard Robinson threw an interception late in the fourth quarter. The way Forcier was moving the ball, this could have easily been a one-point loss for Iowa.
Michigan has those same key offensive players, and they are all much more comfortable in coach Rich Rodriquez’s new system. Forcier threw for over 2,000 yards, despite sharing time with a fellow freshman quarterback. The team gives a new offensive look for its Big Ten opponents, and I expect them to keep putting up high numbers.
Greg Robinson is in his second year at the defensive helm, and although the team lost all-conference star Brandon Graham to the NFL, there are many returning players who are also more familiar with this system. I see Michigan keeping the score down a little better than they did last year and finishing out no worse than 7-5. This is a big jump from the 5-7 team, which ended the season with five consecutive losses. They definitively lost four games last year — all of the other three games could’ve went either way.
I see a respectable bowl game, a fourth-place standing in the Big Ten and a job-saving season for Rodriguez, who is yet to have a winning records in his two years at the top spot.
I have already had many eggs tossed my way by fans of the Wisconsin Badgers for saying this, but I believe this team will be the biggest disappointment. As a Michigan fan, I would consider an 8-4 record decent, but I have been told by many Badger fans that 8-4 is absolutely unacceptable for their Wisconsin program.
My problem with the Badgers — I see them as one-dimensional. If you can stop the run game at the line of scrimmage, they don’t have the depth to develop an outstanding passing attack. Sure, they have Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chris Borland, but both of these gentlemen watched spring practices from the sidelines due to injuries.
Did these players take a step back by missing spring drills? Will Clay’s ankle surgeries allow him to continue dominating the run game, an can Borland recover enough strength to force as many turnovers as he did on defense in the latter part of the Badgers’ schedule?
If they aren’t 100 percent for the whole season, all of the pressure lies on the back of quarterback Scott Tolzien. Tolzien had some good passes to wide receiver Nick Toon (54 catches, 805 yards, 4 TDs), but this was merely a compliment of the run game established by Clay. If Clay can’t pick up the yards he posted last season, it is highly unlikely Toon will get the looks and the high passer rating he achieved last year.
Wisconsin lucks out by not playing Penn State, but I still see them picking up losses to Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State for sure. They also have problems with Indiana and Michigan, which can go either way for them this year. The team gave up too many points for me to feel comfortable with that 10-2 label.
So, while the Badgers will boast a winning record, it will be a far cry from that 10-2 Wisconsin fans are expecting.
Two teams that have demonstrated their ability to win close games — both through defense and high-pressure offensive drives — are the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Iowa Hawkeyes.
If Ohio State can handle a visit from Miami, while Iowa makes it past a rising Arizona team, these two teams will likely be undefeated when they face each other on Nov. 20.
Iowa took a 3-point, overtime loss to the Buckeyes in last year’s matchup. Again, a game that could have went either way. They somehow took a touchdown loss to Northwestern, as well. A surprise that kept them out of the Top 5 rankings.
The Buckeyes’ two losses were a 3-point loss to USC in one of the most boring games of the year, and also suffered an unlikely loss similar to Iowa’s fall against Northwestern when they played Purdue.
This will be the intangible. Can a team like Indiana or Michigan throw one of these teams out of whack for conference contention? If not, it will all come down to Nov. 20. Both teams have the potential to run the table — until they meet each other, of course — and last year’s two losses for both teams don’t point to any major weaknesses.
Buckeye quarterback Terelle Pryor will be more seasoned, while Stanzi will be back at the QB helm for the Hawkeyes, pulling out amazing fourth-quarter drives that put the team on top in late games, such as the last-second, 15-13 win against Michigan State.
One small defensive slip, though, could mean the separation of the two for the Big Ten title.
If you want to show off Big Ten football to a non-conference fan, stay away from showing games from Illinois and Minnesota. Although they played Wisconsin tough, showing the Badgers’ inability to defensively dominate a game, Minnesota fared poorly on both ends of the field when playing the Big Ten powers that be. They suffered miserable losses to Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State. They couldn’t even handle a half-way decent Iowa State team, failing to put up more than 13 points.
Minnesota’s schedule is too tough. They play an early out-of-conference game against the USC Trojans, and the nine following games, will likely only pick up a win against Illinois.
And sure, I’ve heard about this tremendous revamp of the Illinois coaching staff, but what about the players? They lost the biggest talent they had last season, and they couldn’t even really do too much with that talent.
Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase is supposed to be as good with his legs as Juice Williams, but that’s not saying much — Williams himself couldn’t do much with Zook’s system last year. It’s fine to hang your hopes on the guy, but he’s untested. Do you really think this will be a breakout guy who will carry the Illini to five or six wins? I don’t think so.
Looking at Illinois schedule, I don’t see a team they can easily beat. Sure, some might put down an automatic “W” next to the Illini’s contest with Southern Illinois University, but it may be Champaign’s version of the Appalachian State disaster Michigan suffered a couple of years ago. The new coaching staff is good, but the right personnel won’t be in place for a couple years.
The great unknown
Losses at the linebacker position for Penn State have never been a big deal — head coach Joe Paterno keeps his roster packed with highly-recruited athletes. There are intangibles on the offensive side, as well, with the loss of quarterback Daryll Clark.
The Nittany Lions are still unsure about who will fill these big shoes. Whoever it is, he will unlikely put up Clark’s numbers.
There will be too much fresh meat on the table for Penn State to take another 10-2 record. They blew out many of their opponents last year, but won’t be able to match what they did on offense. With a second-week game against National Champion Alabama, it may be a hard start for the Nittany Lions.
Northwestern and Purdue are two other unknowns. Northwestern gained some Big Ten pride last year with a victory over an Auburn team that pushed champion Alabama to its limits. On the other side of that, though, they took losses to Syracuse, Minnesota and the other Big Ten powerhouses. Before beating Auburn, they did end the season with an impressive victory over Wisconsin. This team can go either way.
How Purdue beat Ohio State is a mystery, and it’s more of a knock on Ohio State not showing up that game, rather than Purdue’s awesome skills. They took losses to every major Big Ten team besides the Buckeyes, and took a non-conference loss to Northern Illinois.
Both of these teams are inconsistent. Every once in a while, they will go toe-to-toe with the best, but most of the time, they will falter.
Games to watch
If you’re a college football fan, Sept. 11 will actually be a good day for you. Miami visits Ohio State, Penn State travels to Alabama and Michigan travels to Notre Dame. Other games to watch will be the Nov. 20 contest between Iowa State and Ohio State. Even if this game doesn’t decide the Big Ten title, it will feature two high-profile quarterbacks and vicious defense.
On Sept. 18, Iowa’s late-night game in Arizona will also be a good way to cap off the night. And you can’t forget “The Game,” Michigan at Ohio State on Nov. 27. This game is usually very physical, dating back to a 100-plus year rivalry between the two teams, and Michigan may have a chance to pull off a late-season upset that could change the landscape of the Big Ten’s conference champion.
Join me for a wider look at college football, when I return with a look at some teams — living outside the eye of the mainstream media — that may make an appearance in the Top 25 this year.
Posted on: November 11, 2009 5:08 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2009 5:28 pm
Notre Dame fans are up in arms. Their coach hasn't produced, the players are outperformed by quality teams. The Irish's only success has been against mediocre programs.
The Michigan loss was a shot in the heart, USC was just a heartbreaker, but this last week's loss to Navy has been labeled a disaster.
I just heard Jim Rome say: "Notre Dame should have never lost to Navy."
Here goes our first culprit in Notre Dame's rash of national negative feelings.
"Notre Dame should have never lost to Navy." Really? Why is that? Is the college football media so stuck in the past that they find it possible for the Midshipmen to have success against a just-decent Notre Dame team?
The last time Navy played the Irish in South Bend, the Midshipmen won. Of course, because of the history of the two teams, this was labeled a fluke. But, let's look at what the Navy has done in the past few years: Led college football in rushing yards, dominated games without completing one pass, advanced its triple-option offense to become on of the most original schemes in college football. This is a Navy team, who at the beginning of the year as 22-point underdogs to Ohio State, was just a few yards and one pass away from beating the Buckeyes. They've made bowl game appearances consecutively over the last few years. This is a team that has been on the up-and-up and has been the most dangerous under-the-radar team in FBS football.
Less was said about Notre Dame's loss to a rebuilding, struggling Michigan football team. Why? History dictates that Michigan should win this game ... it's not and has never been out of the question for Notre Dame to lose in Ann Arbor. Michigan, being the winningest football team in college history and having the same amount of national championships as Notre Dame, is having a worse season than the Irish ... yet, we hear a lot less about this. Although Michigan fans abound by the millions, the Irish's following even trumps the Wolverines.
So, it's not just the national media picking on a Notre Dame's performance - it's the national media's historical perception of the program. Instead of realistically evaluating the makeup of this team, they have used historical standards to hold them to unreasonable expectations. The fans are the same way, which is exactly the energy fed on by the national media.
Notre Dame is a decent team, but they are not championship caliber, and labeling them as a BCS bowl team with unrealistic expectations is what is putting so much heat on the players and the coach. It doesn't help gifting them into the national standings either. ND has lost to every decent team they have played, before losing to Navy, yet the wins over mediocre programs were enough for the pollsters to justify a Top 25 standing.
College football and its programs are everchanging. Florida, who has been considered one of the most dominant teams and a team we're told is one of the best historically, isn't even in the Top 10 in wins for college football. The Gators going undefeated used to be a joke. Until the national media releases its 'this is supposed to happen' mentality, due to its attachment with history or obsession with team popularity, teams like Notre Dame will be held to unreasonable standards, while teams like Navy will go unnecessarily unnoticed. Truth for the sake of truth means seeing teams for what they are, and not what we want them to be.
Who's to blame for Notre Dame's negative attention. Simply, it is our attachment to history.
Posted on: October 24, 2009 2:14 am
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Posted on: October 1, 2009 4:53 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2009 5:50 pm
1. Michigan @ Michigan State
Let the predictions roll in.