The Big Ten's going to be big-time this year. After one of the best seasons in its history, this conference might well be strong from top to bottom.
First, let's talk about Ohio State Does a tremendous performance against Oregon in the Rose Bowl erase memories of dreadful National Championship performances in 2007 and 2008? No. But it sure erases memories of a heartbreaking losses to USC and Purdue in 2009. This year, Ohio State - as usual - are stacked. And when we mean stacked, we mean stacked. Athletic quarterback Terrelle Pryor will once again prove to be the danger man, but running back Brandon Saine and wide receiver Devier Posey's also going to prove a threat. Oh, and they can also call on a pretty darned good defense, too. While the schedule isn't that easy (banana skins may be Miami at home and road trips to Wisconsin and a potential Big Ten decider at Iowa), but it's manageable.
Sorry, Wis-who? We tried to stifle a giggle when Mark May said that his pick to go to the National Championship game (hrumph) was (ha!) Wisconsin (cue hysterical laughter). We get that the Badgers have got running back John Clay, 15 returning starters, and a joke schedule, but they've still got to play Ohio State and Iowa, who last time I looked were better teams. They may well also lose at Michigan State, who's got a strong offense coming into this year. If they beat Iowa or Ohio State, they'll be worthy conference winners. But we don't think they will. Sorry, Mark.
Iowa, anybody? Iowa scared the crap out of Ohio State fans at the Horseshoe, and if luck had gone for them, they may well have been playing for a Rose Bowl last season. After a superb start to the year, Iowa stumbled somewhat going into Ohio last year - probably after the stunning home loss to Northwestern. This year, they've got one of college football's best defensive players in Adam Clayborn, a strong wide receiver in Derrelle Johnson-Koulianos, and a soon-to-be-super running back in Adam Robinson. Combine that with returnee running back Jewel Hampton, a superb coach in Kirk Ferentz and a schedule that includes home games against the 'biggies' (OSU, Wisconsin and Penn State), and this team's scary.
A few Penn State guarantees Firstly, Joe Paterno WILL reach his 400th victory. He WILL not retire after this season - despite what members of the media might think. As for the team, the offensive line WILL be better than we think it will be (the VFA says, touching wood). The quarterback situation WILL get sorted by the start of the Youngstown State game. And the other guarantee? That's a horrible road schedule the Nittany Lions have there.
A tale of two Michigans The only thing I don't hate about the University of Michigan is their colours - maize and blue's a pretty good combination. We've also really enjoyed the demise of Michigan Football since Rich Rodriguez took over, and it's safe to say that if Michigan isn't a couple of games over .500, he'll probably be shown the door. Which is a pity, because the Big Ten NEEDS a strong Michigan. RichRod has Tate Forcier, who's an exciting quarterback, but the defensive loss of Brandon Graham is going to mean that things aren't going to be wonderful on the other side of the ball this year. The schedule, which sees tricky trips to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State aren't going to make things fun either.
But funnily enough, Michigan State fans might have something else to smile about (other than Ann Arbor's collapse). Kirk Cousins will anchor the offense, which has 7 returning starters, while on the other side of the ball, 7 more starters return. Like Penn State, there are still question marks about the offensive line, but the greens could cause some headaches to teams in 2010.
Northwestern: Continued Improvement? In a word, no. While some people might have good feelings about new incoming quarterback Dan Persa, we think he's too experienced to be great in 2009. But Pat Fitzgerald has a knack of proving us wrong, so you never know. We just don't think so. Unbelievably, they've managed to avoid Ohio State (lucky, lucky purpleshirts), but we think they'd rather play Michigan than face Iowa, who will be up for revenge after last year.
'I' in the gutter? Frankly, we're pretty stunned that Ron Zook is still the coach of Illinois after back-to-back poor seasons, but Bill Lynch must feel pretty unlucky after a heartbreaking loss to Michigan early in the season. This year, both sides will be ecstatic if they reach a bowl. Frankly, we think neither of them will.
BEST FANS: Penn State (of course)
BEST CHEERLEADERS: Ohio State (although PSU's got the best mascot in the Nittany Lion)
BEST GAME OF 2009?