Well, you have seen them all so far (or most of them). Big 10 football begins this week, so let’s add one more prediction to the pile.
6. Illinois. Fighting Illini didn’t show much fight last year. A 2-win season already has head coach Tim Beckman on the hot spot, largely because the team had virtually no offense to speak of. Offense could be improved, but the defense has to plug gaps up front and in the secondary. Moving the offensive and defensive coordinators down from skybox level to the field probably won’t help much.
4. Purdue. Darrell Hazell had success at Kent State. Will that translate to success in the Big 10? Possibly. Immediately? Um, no. Opponents ran roughshod over the Boilers as the season progressed. Boilermakers have to do better in first-down situations and have to stiffen up defensively to move up.
4. Indiana. Normally, a four-win season is cause for alarm or a big, fat yawn. In Bloomington, where football has been bad for years, four wins is cause for hope…which happens when you went 1-11 the prior year. Hoosiers have what one writer called a “ridiculously” easy schedule this year, but they need consistency at quarterback (something they couldn’t get last year or in offseason) and they desperately need defense.
3. Penn State. Any way you look at it, Bill O’Brien was the Big 10’s coach of the year last year. The 2012 season could have tanked well before the first game even kicked off, yet O’Brien guided the Nittany Lions to a season most people thought was unlikely at best. Transfers from before last season started may still provide some depth issues — notably at linebacker — and the QB slot will be occupied by somebody who didn’t take a snap last year.
2. Wisconsin. From Bret Bielema at the helm to Gary Andersen. If nothing else, this transition should be interesting to watch. Andersen totally reversed Utah State’s fortunes, bringing the Aggies to a No. 16 ranking, and the combination of him as head coach and Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator should help Wisconsin’s D, and Andersen’s run-happy style will fit in well both in Madison and in the B1G.
1. Ohio State. Urban Meyer showed what the Buckeyes are capable of with no postseason aspirations at hand, and that chip on OSU’s shoulder is even bigger this year.
6. Iowa. Kirk Ferentz’s time is just about up — or would be anywhere else in the country. Team played uninspired, unmotivated and sloppy the second half of the season. It’s up to Ferentz to fix that, and I’m not betting he will.
5. Minnesota. Things are trending in the right direction for the Gophers, but that may be put on hold this year. Key players are gone from this year’s squad, they bring a QB back who couldn’t complete half his passes last year, no returning running back carried a 3.5-yard average per rush last year…and, oh, by the way, the run defense was poor last year in what is still a running conference. Six wins may be pushing it this year.
4. Michigan State. Spartan season crumbled as it went, so Mark D’Antoni and his band of brothers have a lot to prove. Offense has to step up several notches and the Spartans face a brutal November, with Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern in that month.
3. Nebraska. I know the Huskers have a lot going for them this year. They do every year. But I’m not sold on Taylor Martinez and I’m not sold on Bo Pelini.
2. Northwestern. Of Northwestern’s three losses last year, one was by a touchdown to Michigan and one was by a point to Nebraska. Plugging in three new offensive linemen could hamper the running game, one of the Wildcats’ major strengths last year. Pass rush could improve, which would benefit an average secondary.
1. Michigan. I don’t think the Wolverines have enough to topple Ohio State as the cream of the Big 10, but there is enough talent for them to win the Legends division. Loss of Denard Robinson will likely take several weeks to adjust to, even with some experience at QB with Devin Gardner taking over, and a shaky pass defense could put Michigan further down the standings if things don’t fall into place.