This is the first full weekend of Big Ten action, which means it is time for some predictions* on how the teams will finish in the respective divisions.
*Or, given some of my history with prognosticating, blind guesses.
For today, we’ll predict by division. Throughout the season, we’ll do a power ranking 1-14. Let’s dive right in with the East.
- Ohio State. I know, I know. They have looked pedestrian (by their standards) in the first few weeks, and they have a quarterback controversy brewing. But…you pick against an Urban Meyer team at your own risk. They’ll get it figure out, and when they do – watch out. Plus, they get Penn State at home.
- Penn State. Arguably the best offense in the league, but they have the hardest set of cross over games (at Iowa, at Northwestern, Nebraska) in addition to that trip to Columbus. If they repeat as division champs, they will definitely have earned it.
- Michigan. The Wolverines have Ohio State at home, but they drew the suddenly competent Purdue and perennial power Wisconsin, along with the boat rowers from Minnesota.
- Maryland. The Terps made a splash with a convincing win at Texas, and it wouldn’t shock me to see them climb up into the top 3. But until they beat one of the teams above them, they’ll be middle of the pack.
- Michigan State. After a nightmarish 2016, the Spartans are back and…well, nobody really knows yet. The only thing we really learned from their two non-conference games (35-10 over Bowling Green and 28-14 over Western Michigan) is they would be a title contender in the MAC.
- Rutgers. I started out with a bit of a stunner, and let’s continue that down at the bottom. Yes, the Scarlet Knights are a familiar 1-2, with the lone win coming against an FCS school. But they have been competitive in those losses – including nationally ranked Washington. More importantly, they have an ideal draw from the West to steal some conference wins: at struggling Nebraska, at Illinois, and Purdue. Win two of those – and probably the game against Indiana – and Rutgers could escape laughingstock status.
- Indiana. The Hoosiers are a decent team, and in the West they might be middle of the pack. But in the East, Indiana has two options: pull some big upsets or wait for basketball. You’re just under 50 days, Hoosier fans.
- Wisconsin. Heading to Indianapolis at 11-1 or maybe 12-0 is a decent possibility for the Badgers. Michigan is by far their toughest crossover game, but they have to come to Madison, as do West contenders Iowa and Northwestern. Sconnie could have the division wrapped up by Veteran’s Day.
- Iowa. Predicting the Hawkeyes second is more about my uncertainty about the rest of the division than my confidence in Iowa’s chances. Iowa has two convincing wins and an OT comeback against Iowa State. But their conference schedule is brutal: Penn State, at Michigan State, at Northwestern, Ohio State, at Wisconsin, and at Nebraska. Still, do you trust and of the other teams more?
- Nebraska. This may be a homer pick, or maybe I’m scared off by a flaky Northwestern team and PJ Fleck’s hyper enthusiasm, but I’ll take Nebraska third. Questions – and drama – abound in Lincoln, but if Mike Riley can get things settled, NU has the talent to compete.
- Northwestern. The perennial trendy pick to win the division has already been blown out by Duke. But maybe this is the year? If so, we’ll know by November 1 as the Wildcats open at Wisconsin, followed by Penn State, at Maryland, Iowa, and Michigan State.
- Minnesota. I’m going to have to pace myself on the P.J. Fleck “row the boat” references, so I’m not high and dry (sorry) by Week 8. Fifth is a realistic spot for a first year coach building his cult…I mean culture.
- Purdue. The surprise team of the West, the Boilers gave Louisville a scare and beat Ohio and Mizzou convincingly. Will they finish out of the cellar? I’d guarantee it. Can they make some noise in the division? Probably, but not enough to be a legit title threat. By Thanksgiving, I may want to flip this pick with Northwestern.
- Illinois. In Indiana, they have basketball to look forward to. At Illinois? Well, by falling on Jim Delany’s “Friday Night Lights” sword multiple times, they have a couple of extra Saturdays free. So that’s something.
Big Ten Championship: Give me Wisconsin 34, Ohio State 31 in a thriller.
Under the radar pick: Michigan surprises everyone by rolling to a 42 – 10 win over the Badgers.