Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Big Ten Power Rankings – week of 10/24

27 Oct

We’ve crossed the half way point in the season, so it’s time to start looking ahead to the division races, and who can make it to a bowl game.  As always, I make no apologies if you feel your team is too high (or too low), but feel free to let me know in the comments.

  1. Michigan.  Ohio State’s loss means the Wolverines move up to the penthouse.  More importantly, it means Michigan can afford a slip up in one of their remaining non-Buckeye games.  Path to Indy:  Win out, beat Ohio State, or hope for a second OSU loss.
  2. Ohio State.  All is not lost for the Buckeyes, who still control their destiny to win the East and yes, make the Playoff.  But they cannot afford to make any more mistakes.  Path to Indy:  Win out or beat Michigan and pray the Wolverines drop a game.
  3. Wisconsin.  The Badgers stayed alive in the West race by knocking off Iowa.  Next up is another do-or-die game against the Huskers.  Very little that the Badgers do is pretty, but for the most part it is effective.  Path to Indy:  Beat Nebraska and hope the Huskers trip one more time.
  4. Nebraska.  Don’t hate on me for having unbeaten NU fourth.  The Huskers get two straight opportunities to prove themselves worthy of a promotion, starting with a trip to Madison.  The Huskers can all but wrap up the West with a win.  Path to Indy:  Beat the Badgers.
  5. Penn State.  Unfortunately, I never published last week’s rankings so you’ll have to trust me that I said “PSU is coming off a bye week, and gets to host Ohio State who played a physical overtime game against Wisconsin.  I’m not going to call the upset, but it would be tough to script a better scenario”.  Regardless, a big win for PSU.  Path to Indy:  Win out, and hope for Michigan to lose twice.
  6. Northwestern.  The Wildcats are silently playing some good football, rattling off three straight conference wins.  But their road gets much tougher, starting with a trip to Columbus to face an angry bunch of Bucks.  Path to Indy:  Just keep winning and pray Nebraska loses twice.
  7. Iowa.  This is the point in the rankings where we have teams with chances of winning the division should be categorized as “mathematically possible, realistically improbable”.  Iowa is a great example.  With only two losses, they could technically still win the West, but considering the losses are to division foes ahead of them (Northwestern and Wisconsin) it means the Hawkeyes have to root for every upset.  Meanwhile, the Hawks get the week off to get ready for a tough stretch run.  Path to Indy:  Win out, let chaos reign.
  8. Minnesota.  The Gophers also have two losses (Penn State and Iowa), and have yet to play most of the teams in front of them (Wisconsin and both NU’s).  But when you allow Rutgers to score 18 more points than they did in their previous four games combined, I wouldn’t go making any hotel reservations.  Path to Indy:  Win out, hope everybody else loses.
  9. Maryland.  The Terps are also technically alive, with games to come against Michigan and Ohio State.  But let’s be realistic, their focus should be on getting bowl eligible.  Path to bowl game:  beat Indiana or Rutgers.
  10. Indiana.  Since their dramatic win over Sparty, the Hoosiers have dropped three straight and will need to kick-start the offense if they want to go bowling.  Path to a bowl game:  find three wins in their remaining five games.
  11. Purdue.  In their first game post-Hazell, the Boilermakers showed some fight, but could not hang with the Huskers at home.  I think the Boilers are good enough to sneak out at least one more win.  Path to a bowl game:  Like Indiana, they need three wins in five games, but Purdue has a much tougher schedule.
  12. Michigan State.  I really, really, really want to have the Sputtering Spartans lower than 12, but Michigan State’s last win (at Notre Dame, five weeks ago) is better than either of Illinois’ two wins (Murray State and Rutgers).  Path to a bowl game:  Surprisingly still open, but as MSU needs to win four out of five (including at least one over Michigan or Ohio State) it is not likely.
  13. Illinois.  It’s hard for me to justify a lot of words on a team whose best win is over FCS Murray State.  Path to a bowl game:  Hope four of their next five opponents don’t show up.
  14. Rutgers.  The Knights broke 30 points for the first time since September 17 – a day when #12 Michigan State beat Notre Dame, Indiana and Maryland were undefeated, and Northwestern improved to 1-2.  This  week allows me to use one of my favorite Lee Barfknecht one-liners:  “Rutgers is idle – and should remain that way.”  Path to a bowl game:  Not out of the question, but they would need to win out against Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, and Maryland.

Big Ten Power Rankings – Week of 10/10

13 Oct

Here are this week’s Big Ten Power Rankings:

  1. Ohio State.  Did what championship teams do – pull away from a team not on their level.  The Buckeyes have won each of their games by at least 21 points.  Can Wisconsin break that trend?
  2. Michigan.  Holy Harbaugh, that 78 point win over Rutgers is the absolute definition of “domination”.  So many eye-popping stats came out of that annihilation, that picking one doesn’t do justice to the totality of that victory.  The Wolverines will face a tougher test this week when they are idle.
  3. Wisconsin.  Coming off of their bye week, the Badgers get Ohio State at Camp Randall.  In classic “something’s gotta give” matchup, Ohio State is averaging 53 points per game.  Wisconsin has not allowed more than 14 points to FBS competition.
  4. Nebraska.  Back in the Top Ten for the first time in five years, are the Cornhuskers for real?  I dunno.  The argument can be made that Wyoming is their best win.  Coming off the bye week, Nebraska will be battling Indiana and injuries – and not necessarily in that order.
  5. Penn State.  The Nitany Lions handled previously unbeaten Maryland 38-14 for their best win of the year.  Now, they get a week off to prepare for Ohio State.  After that, the rest of their schedule (Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, Rutgers, Michigan State) looks doable.
  6. Indiana.  The final score of the Ohio State loss doesn’t show that the Hoosiers played the #2 Buckeyes pretty close for a good chunk of the game.  That fact should not be lost on the top ten team Indiana faces this weekend (Nebraska)
  7. Iowa.  Since blowing out Iowa State, the Hawkeyes are 2-2, with four unimpressive outings.  Is this a long hangover from how their 2015 season ended?  Or after a magical season where almost everything went their way, are they returning to the norm?
  8. Maryland.  Last week, we speculated that Maryland’s (then) undefeated record might be a mirage, a theory proven emphatically by Penn State.  A tangle with Minnesota should help confirm or debunk that notion.
  9. Northwestern.  The Wildcats are 2-3 overall, but don’t count them out of the West race yet.  They come off of their bye week with an intriguing matchup against Michigan State (as much as a game featuring two 2-3 Big Ten teams can be intriguing)
  10. Michigan State.  What is going on in East Lansing?  The Spartans are 2-3 and have lost three straight.  If they are going to salvage a bowl game out this season, beating Northwestern this weekend will be huge.
  11. Minnesota.  The Gophers are not technically out of the West division race, but to keep their hopes alive, they better not lose another game in the next month (at Maryland, Rutgers, at Illinois, Purdue).
  12. Purdue.  It wasn’t pretty, but give credit to Purdue for earning a rare conference road win.  With Iowa coming to town, the Boilermakers have an opportunity to keep moving up.
  13. Illinois.  Illini fans are probably the only people in the conference happy that Rutgers is a member of the Big Ten.  My condolences to whomever has to broadcast the Illinois – Rutgers game this week.  I recommend drinking heavily.
  14. {open}
  15. {open}
  16. Rutgers.  After losing back to back games by scores of 58-0 and 78-0, I cannot in good conscious put Rutgers at 14.  Last place just doesn’t do this team justice.  I don’t care that both teams are in the Top 5.  I’ll lay down a gauntlet for the Scarlet Knights:  Beat Illinois, and you may get #13 next week.  Lose to the Illini, and I’ll consider promoting you to #14.  Get blown out, and I’ll run these rankings all the way to 50.

Big Ten Power Rankings – week of 10/3

7 Oct

With the first full week of Big Ten play in the books, it’s time to roll out the weekly Power Rankings.  These are no specific by division, but rather reflect where each team is from week to week.  I make no apologies if you feel your team is too high (or too low), but feel free to let me know in the comments.

  1. Ohio State.  Still the best in the league, by a wide margin, but playing Rutgers makes that gap look bigger than it probably is.  Indiana should be a good gauge for how the Buckeyes truly are.
  2. Michigan.  Held off one of the toughest teams in the league, thanks in part to this super-human interception. For a reward, the Wolverines get two straight bye weeks…oh wait…they play Rutgers, then the bye week.
  3. Wisconsin.  If not for one of the craziest interceptions you’ll ever see, the Badgers are easily #2 in these rankings.  So forgive me if I don’t punish them too much for a seven point loss.  A well-deserved week off before the second half of their gauntlet.
  4. Nebraska.  The Huskers entered the fourth quarter trailing Illinois by six.  A year ago, the Huskers lose that game.  This year, they win by 15.  That said the Huskers are literally limping into their bye week with the meat of their schedule still to come.
  5. Indiana.  It’s possible I’m rewarding the Hoosiers for Michigan State being overrated – and/or melting down in overtime, but who would you put ahead of them?  We are going to learn a lot about the Hoosiers in their next two games (at Ohio State, Nebraska).
  6. Maryland.  Yes, the Terps are 4-0, but arguably their best win is a six point victory over Central Florida, who has a new coach.  If Maryland is for real, the next two games (at Penn State, Minnesota) should be wins.
  7. Minnesota.  It is way too early to consider the Floyd of Rosedale game to be a West Division elimination game.  But it may be tough to overcome two conference losses before the middle of October.
  8. Iowa.  Who is Iowa?  Are they the team that beat up on MAC-level competition (Miami of Ohio and Iowa State) by a combined 87-24?  Or are they the team that lost to an FCS school, Northwestern, and only beat Rutgers by seven?  All I know is I feel like I have the Hawkeyes too high.  What I said about Minnesota applies here too.
  9. Penn State.  This is probably as good of time as any to note that while I do consider head-to-head results, they are not a necessarily the final word.  In this case, while Penn State’s three point win over the Gophers was duly considered, it doesn’t overcome the Lions’ 39 point loss to Michigan.
  10. Michigan State.  I have a very hard time putting the defending conference champions this low.  But then I realize that they are 2-2, with only one win over a FBS team (an equally disappointing 2-3 Notre Dame).  It was shocking to watch the overtime period of the Indiana game.  Michigan State looked sloppy, undisciplined, and clueless – adjectives rarely connected to MSU in the last five seasons.  The harsh reality is Sparty’s visions of a repeat may already be dead.
  11. Northwestern.  Give credit to the Wildcats for taking the battle to Iowa, and having the ability to close out the victory.  I’m looking forward to their next game (at Michigan State on 10/15) as a measuring stick of both schools.
  12. Illinois.  With back to back games against Purdue and Rutgers, the Illini have a golden opportunity to distance themselves from the dreaded teen spots (13 & 14) in the rankings.
  13. Rutgers.  For those who like to compare teams using common opponents, Rutgers – fresh off a 58-0 drubbing by Ohio State – hosts Michigan this weekend.  Of course, you could also compare the Buckeyes and Wolverines based on how they fared in their spring scrimmages.  Probably the same difference.
  14. Purdue.  They say bad things come in threes:  First was a 50-7 beating by Maryland.  Second was this blistering column by Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, saying that he can’t be care enough to be mad about Purdue because nobody cares about Purdue.  Finally, a burst pipe caused a sinkhole in one of Purdue’s end zones.  I’ll let you make your own joke for that one.

Big Ten Predictions – 2016

30 Sep

My lovely wife works in the financial industry, specifically with retirement plans.  And whenever you discuss retirement plans and investment options you often come across a specific disclaimer:  Past performance does not necessarily predict future results.  In other words, just because that fund heavily steeped in dot com startups grew exponentially in the early years, you shouldn’t purchase that vacation home just yet.

The same thing hold true when attempting to predict how the teams in the Big Ten will finish the season.  It’s easy to look at Wisconsin’s two big wins, or Iowa’s loss to a FCS school and make quick assumptions on who will win the West.  But past performance does not necessarily predict future results.  Iowa may improve, dramatically, from their loss and folks will realize that North Dakota State is, regardless of their “lower tier” status, a pretty damn good football team.  Michigan State may have looked inept against Wisconsin, but you count out a Mark Dantonio team at your own risk.  Past performance does not necessarily predict future results.  Indiana football has stunk for most of this century, but past performance does not necessarily predict future results.  The Hoosiers could challenge for the upper half of the East.

Really, there are only two exceptions to “past performance does not necessarily predict future results”:  Purdue will continue to suck, and there will definitely be a “what the hell was I thinking?” prediction that will look foolish in two months.

So with the first full weekend of Big Ten conference games kicking off this weekend, what will the standings look like on December 1?  What will each team need to have happen in order to make it to the conference championship game in Indianapolis?  Let’s take a look:

East Division

1. Ohio State.  The Buckeyes have the best talent in the conference, a coaching staff that has proven they take talent and produce championships, and Michigan playing in the Horseshoe.
To make it to Indy, Ohio State will need to:  Beat Michigan.  Start preparing yourself now, because the hype for that game is going to be ridiculous.

2. Michigan State.  The loss to Wisconsin was surprising, but it says here that the Spartans have the second best coaching in the conference, and an underrated pool of next-level talent.  Like an 18 play drive to win the game, you don’t count the Spartans out until the bitter end.
To make it to Indy, Michigan State will need to:  Win out.  The rest of their schedule is very manageable.  Both Michigan and Ohio State are at home.  Their remaining West games are Northwestern and Illinois.

3. Michigan.  I remain skeptical of Jim Harbaugh and his ability to restore Michigan as a legitimate power.  He seems to be more distraction than savior.  Let’s put it this way:  if the Wolverines’ on-field success approaches the off-field media attention Harbaugh draws, it could be a special year in Ann Arbor.
To make it to Indy, Michigan will need to:   Beat Ohio State in Columbus, and avoid last second meltdowns.

4.  Indiana.  It should be noted that there is a significant gap between 1-3 and the rest of the East.  I think the Hoosiers are ready to make a step up – six conference wins is not out of the question.  Of course, I’m pretty sure I said that last year…and probably the year before that.
To make it to Indy, Indiana will need to:  Play out of their minds, and root for chaos to open the door.

5.  Maryland. I’ll be honest, I have no idea if Maryland will be good, bad, or indifferent.  In the Big Ten East, that gets you 5th place.
To make it to Indy, Maryland will need to:  Hypnotize teams with their hideous “pride” uniforms and steal a couple of wins.

6.  Penn State.  I’ve seen where James Franklin is referring to this as “season one” with full scholarships, which sounds to me like he’s keeping expectations low.  I think when November rolls around PSU will be wishing they could trade the 9th conference game for another non-con cupcake to get themselves bowl eligible.
To make it to Indy, Penn State will need to:  Fly so far under the radar that nobody knows what is happening until they run out of the tunnel at Lucas Oil Stadium.

7.  Rutgers.  As you read this, Jim Delaney is furiously Googling “conference expansion return policies”.
To make it to Indy, Rutgers will need to:  Go full Jersey mafia on teams 1-6.

 

West

1. Iowa.  Do I think the Hawkeyes are the best team in the West?  No.  So why do I have them #1?  It comes down to what they have (a proven quarterback, experience winning the division, Wisconsin and Nebraska at home) and what they don’t have (Wisconsin’s schedule).
To make it to Indy, Iowa will need to:  Realize that North Dakota State would be picked no worse than 3rd in the West.

2. Nebraska.  The Huskers are off to a best case scenario 4-0 start, with a very manageable road to 7-0.  The challenge for the Big Red is getting past Wisconsin (one win in six tries since joining the league, zero in Madison), Ohio State (they’re kinda good), and Iowa (when the Heroes Trophy  – sponsored by Hy-Vee – is on the line, you throw the records out the door!!!).
To make it to Indy, Nebraska will need to: Keep Tommy Armstrong healthy and win their road games – all three of the games mentioned above are on the road.

3. Wisconsin.  With the Badgers, it’s more about why they won’t win as opposed to why they could win.  Those reasons are:  at Michigan State, at Michigan, (bye), Ohio State, at Iowa, and Nebraska.  They aced the first exam, but that is as brutal of a stretch as anybody in the conference.
To make it to Indy, Wisconsin will need to: Win the head to head contests in division, and brush up on other tiebreaker rules.

4.  Minnesota.  If Wisconsin has the hardest schedule in the league, the Golden Gophers may have the easiest.  When you draw Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers as cross-over games, you’ll have a fighting chance at the division title.
To make it to Indy, Minnesota will need to: Handle their business in the West, and let Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State help them out.  Having Mitch Leidner live up to his hype as a first round NFL quarterback certainly wouldn’t hurt.

5.  Illinois.  Sheesh, the bottom of the West is a mess.  Three teams combined for four wins in September.  I’ve seen Northwestern play (and lose) twice, and I have no confidence in Purdue, so that leaves us with Illinois at #5.  Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the Illini’s chances.
To make it to Indy, Illinois will need to:  Have Lovie Smith pretend he’s still the head coach of the Chicago Bears and get the Illinois players in the stadium when the Bears play the Colts on October 9.

6.  Northwestern.  The Wildcats are not a good team.  I really like their running back Justin Jackson, who could start for most of the teams in the league.  But after that, Northwestern doesn’t have much of anything.  But since I can’t see a Pat Fitzgerald team going from 10 wins to the cellar, I’m sticking them here.
To make it to Indy, Northwestern will need to:  Find a loophole to get Trevor Siemian another year of eligibility, and bring Von Miller with him.

7.  Purdue.  With two non-conference wins, and cross-over games against Maryland, Penn State, and Indiana.  Purdue could get themselves bowl eligible this year.  But as we said at the top:  Purdue is an exception to the “past performance does not necessarily predict future results” rule.  Until they prove me wrong, they live here.
To make it to Indy, Purdue will need to:  take I-65 south towards Lucas Oil Stadium.  They arguably will be able to purchase tickets at the stadium, but I’d recommend using the secondary market to get seats below face value.  They’ll need the extra money to hire a new coach.

In the Big Ten Championship, I’ll predict Ohio State proves they are much, much better than North Dakota State:  Buckeyes 56, Hawkeyes 13.

For a dark horse prediction, let’s go with Tommy Armstrong throwing for 300 and rushing for 100 as the Huskers beat Michigan 38 – 34.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/5/2015

24 Oct

All season, I’ll be ranking the teams in the Big Ten from one to Maryland.  To see my predictions for how the season will play out, click here.

As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State.  The Buckeyes can continue to muddle and struggle along for another month as they should be heavy favorites over Rutgers, Minnesota, and Illinois.  But eventually, they’ll have to play championship level football.
  2. Michigan State.  Yes, Sparty’s win was an absolute fluke, but a win is a win.
  3. Michigan.  “Golly gee, what an unfortunate way to lose a game in the final seconds” – Mike Riley, probably.  The Wolverines are the first of four teams taking this week off, which means a lot of time to potentially dwell on that epic loss.
  4. Iowa.  The Hawkeyes continue to take care of business and get a week off to rest and prepare for a stretch run at an undefeated regular season.
  5. Wisconsin.  There is a pretty steep drop off between # 4 and #5 in the league, and one could make an argument for a handful of teams in this spot.  Wisconsin gets the nod for now, but I’m willing to drop them down if another team gets hot.
  6. Penn State.  I’ll be honest, this is probably way too high for the Nitany Lions, but their lone conference loss is to the league’s best team.  Nobody below them can make that claim.
  7. Illinois.  Speaking of being ranked too high, here are the Fighting Illini.  They were idle last week after beating Nebraska and narrowly lowing to Iowa.  Are they a legitimate middle tier team?  This week’s game against Wisconsin will go a long way to deciding that.
  8. Northwestern.  After starting out at a blazing 5-0, the Wildcats are falling apart losing to Michigan and Iowa by a combined score of 78-10.  Pat Fitzgerald’s team usually plays Nebraska tough, so they could get back on track with a win in Lincoln.
  9. Nebraska.  It’s tough to overstate just how important the 48-25 win over Minnesota was for this team.  Not only does it give them possession of the $5 Bits of Broken Chair trophy for the first time, it also takes a lot of heat off of Mike Riley and his team.  Let’s see if they can continue their momentum against Northwestern.
  10. Minnesota.  Good news:  after getting thumped at home by Nebraska, the Gophers have a week off to get things back on track.  Bad news:  their next three games are Michigan, at Ohio State, and at Iowa.  Yikes.
  11. Indiana.  The bottom tier starts out with the confusing Hoosiers.  They go into the Horseshoe and hold Ohio State to 34 points.  Then two weeks later, they allow Rutgers to score 55.  The Hoosiers have an upset opportunity if they can catch Sparty in a Wolverine hangover.
  12. Rutgers.  I missed last week, so I did not get a chance to properly mock Rutgers for losing an upset chance against Michigan State by spiking the ball on fourth down.  It’s a good thing they beat Indiana, as the Scarlet Knights may not win again for another month.
  13. Purdue.  Losers of five straight, the Boilermakers limp into their bye week dangerously close to being the first conference team eliminated from a bowl game.
  14. Maryland.  The Terrapins allowed 42 points to Idle last week.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/5/2015

8 Oct

All season, I’ll be ranking the teams in the Big Ten from one to Maryland.  To see my predictions for how the season will play out, click here.

As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State – Yeah, I know the Buckeyes are still not clicking on all cylinders.  But a game with Maryland should be a good way to work out some of the kinks.
  2. Michigan State – What do the Spartans have to do to jump Ohio State?  For starters, they can avoid falling asleep at the wheel like they did with Purdue.  They were probably looking ahead to Rutgers.  Put away the lesser teams and move on.
  3. Northwestern.  Northwestern is off to an amazing start, and a shutout over Minnesota makes them the current best of the West.  Now the challenge is to keep that title over their next three games (at Michigan, Iowa, at Nebraska).
  4. Michigan.  I thought about having the Wolverines at #3, but gave the nod to Northwestern for their overall body of work.  Besides, blowing out Maryland isn’t exactly newsworthy.  Beat the Wildcats and we’ll talk.
  5. Iowa.  Who is this team, and what have they done with Ferentz’s Follies?  I’m not sold on Iowa in the long-term, but give them credit for what they’ve done so far.
  6. Indiana.  Was taking Ohio State deep into the fourth a sign of progress or a fluke?  For progress, the Hoosiers will need to beat Penn State this week, not just play them close.
  7. Wisconsin.  The injury bug has hit the Badgers hard.  Fortunately, their next four opponents (NU, Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers) are a combined 9-7, with Illinois having the best record of the bunch.
  8. Illinois.  Give credit to the Illini for hanging around and finding a way to beat Nebraska.  But they’ll need to play better for the other 59 minutes to beat Iowa.
  9. Minnesota.  Minnesota’s total points in 2015 (77) will likely be matched by Baylor when they play Kansas this weekend.  The lack of offense at Minnesota is startling – even by Big Ten standards.
  10. Penn State.  I continue to be underwhelmed by what I see out of Penn State.  I’m not sure if that will change this year.
  11. Nebraska.  You have to go back a long ways to find a more surprising and painful conference loss than Illinois.  The Huskers must bounce back, and quick.
  12. Purdue.  Credit to the Boilers for not quitting against Michigan State.  If they can score 21 point this week, they’ll have a great chance against Minnesota.
  13. Rutgers.  Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald had a great line on Saturday:  “Rutgers is idle, and should remain that way.”  No arguments here.
  14. Maryland.  The Terps should be thankful that Hurricane Joaquin knocked them out of prime time.  Maryland’s three losses have been by 21, 39, and 28 points.  On a related note, South Florida (who Maryland beat by 18) must be a horrible team.

Big Ten Predictions – 2015

30 Sep

The Big Ten conference schedule kicks off in full this weekend, which means it’s time to predict how the teams will finish within their division.  I purposefully wait to make my picks until the non-conference schedule is over, so I can have a better idea of who is a contender and who is a pretender.  Given my prognosticating history, I need all the help I can get.

Once conference play gets rolling, I’ll do a weekly ranking of Big Ten teams 1 through 14, but for the initial round we’ll keep it East and West.  As we’ll discuss, the two divisions could not be more different this year.  Let’s start with the East…

East Division

The second edition of the Big Ten East reminds me a lot of the Big Eight of the 1980s.  Ohio State and Michigan State play the role of Nebraska and Oklahoma – legitimate national championship contenders, who will fight for the title.  Michigan has the role of Colorado – a team with potential, but one that’s probably a few years away.  The other four teams will play the role of KU, KSU, ISU, MU, and OSU – teams that will peak at average and will pose little threat to the two big dogs.

  1. Ohio State.  I know the Buckeyes have not been clicking on all cylinders.  Quarterback is still a bit of a question, but this program has earned the benefit of the doubt until somebody knocks them down.  Also, they host Michigan State in the Horseshoe.
  2. Michigan State.  Oregon’s blowout loss took some of the shine off of what initially looked like a big Spartan win.  Regardless, it’s still the best win by a Big Ten team this year.  Michigan State has a challenging conference schedule with road games at Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State.  If they win all three of those, they will have earned the division title.
  3. Michigan.  It’s not that I think Hail to the Harbaughs are the third best in the division, it’s that nobody else has impressed me enough to be ranked ahead of the Wolverines.  If I could, I’d insert a blank space to help illustrate the gap OSU/MSU and Michigan.
  4. Indiana.  Picking the Hoosiers fourth is as much about the mediocrity of the division as it is about Indiana discovering how to play non-awful football.  They may be 4-0 now, but there is a good chance they;ll be 5-3 or even 4-4 by November 1.
  5. Penn State.  There are good arguments to be made for any of the three remaining teams to be picked last.  From what I’ve seen of Penn State, they look rather dreadful despite having one of the finest quarterback talents in the country in Christian Hackenberg (hashtag sarcasm font).  But, they already own a head to head win over Rutgers.  Expect the Nitany Lions to beat a team they have no business beating, but to lose a lot of ugly games.
  6. Maryland.  In my first draft, I had Maryland ahead of Penn State.  But as miserable as PSU has looked, they haven’t been blown out by West Virginia and – yikes – Bowling Green.  Maryland’s season may be uglier than their uniforms, which is saying a lot.
  7. Rutgers.  I’m a little disappointed that Rutgers beat Kansas.  Had they lost to the Jayhawks, Rutgers would have been locked into the #14 spot in the weekly power rankings for the season, no questions asked.    Seriously, it might have taken wins over Ohio State and Michigan State to remove them from the cellar.  As it is, the odds are very good the Scarlet Knights will have more suspensions (five, not including coach Kyle Flood) than wins.

West Division

The West should be wild this year, as every team except Illinois and Purdue has a puncher’s chance of winning a trip to Indianapolis be blown out by a far better team from the East.  Before the season, this looked like a three horse race between Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota.  But strong starts from Iowa and Northwestern have pushed them into the conversation.  Predicting an order of finish is like flipping a five-sided coin – it’s damn near impossible.  The two biggest factors in the West will likely be a) who can protect their home field and who has favorable cross-over games with the East.  Teams that can win on the road and/or avoid OSU and MSU will have a leg up.  Regardless, I’ll be surprised if a team wins this division with fewer than two losses.

  1. Wisconsin.  Much like Ohio State, Wisconsin gets the nod based more on track record than clear potential.  The injury to Corey Clement is big (Husker fans, feel free to insert a cell phone joke here), and the NFL scouts aren’t lining up to see Joel Stave.  But the Badgers do have the easiest cross over games (Rutgers and at Maryland), have Iowa at home, and likely have a healthy mental edge on Nebraska.
  2. Minnesota.  Arguably the best defense in the division, the Gophers would likely be a strong favorite if a) their offense was better and/or b) they didn’t have the toughest schedule in the division (Michigan and at Ohio State).  Still, you underestimate Minnesota at your own risk.
  3. Nebraska.  The Huskers have the best offense in the division, a very strong run defense, and game-changing weapons on special teams.  But the Big Red has big issues with pass defense and pass rush, and is paper-thin at many critical positions.    There are other concerns with NU’s ability to avoid penalties and mental errors, and to avoid the one quarter each game where nothing goes right.  NU certainly has the talent and coaching to win the division, but this program needs to prove it can win big games again.
  4. Northwestern.  In the relatively short time I’ve been following the Big Ten, one pattern has become clear:  When Northwestern gets preseason hype, they fall apart.  When the Wildcats are ignored, they are sneaky good.  This is a sneaky good year, having beaten Stanford and Duke (thus winning the Brainiac Cup).  October is big for the other NU:  if they can go 4-0 or 3-1 against Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska, they could coast into Indy.
  5. Iowa.  Kirk Ferentz’s seat was getting very very hot, but four straight wins have the Hawkeye faithful ready for a return to glory  – or at least willing to hold off on shoving Ferentz out the door.  If he can get a program that has been mediocre (if not bad) in the last three years to Indy, he deserves a contract extension.  Cross over games with Maryland and at Indiana will help his cause.
  6. Illinois.  It’s never good when you fire your head coach a week before the season starts, yet the Illini may be better for it – especially in the long run.  The issue in Champaign is talent and consistency.  Don’t be surprised if they play a spoiler role for one of the teams above them in the standings.
  7. Purdue.  The bad news:  The Boilermakers do not currently have a win over a FBS team.  The good news:  Purdue probably could finish fifth or sixth in the East.

 

Big Ten Championship

If everything holds to form, we’ll see a repeat of Ohio State and Wisconsin in Indianapolis.  This time, the Badgers make the game interesting…for a quarter, before the Buckeyes rout them again.

Dark horse prediction:  Michigan State pulls the upset in Columbus and heads to Indy undefeated and ranked #1.  They face a Nebraska team who lost 35-17 to the Spartans in Lincoln as Connor Cook threw for 375 yards and five touchdowns.  This time, Cook goes out with an early injury and Mark Banker’s run defense shuts down the Spartans.  Mike Riley’s offense clicks on all cylinders as Nebraska shocks the nation with a 31-9 win.

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