2014 Big Ten Predictions

The Big Ten conference season kicks off in full today.  It’s time to predict how the teams will finish in each division.

This is an exciting year for the conference.  Not because of the two new teams (I want to say Maryland and Rutabaga?), but because we are finally done with the very pompous – and incredibly unhelpful – Legends and Leaders divisions.  Giving in to common sense at last, Jim Delaney has gone with simple, geographic divisions.  Let’s start in the West.

West Division

  1. Wisconsin.  I don’t necessarily think the Badgers are the best team in the division, but they do have some good talent led by RB Melvin Gordon.  Most importantly, the de facto division championship game against Nebraska is in Madison.  That game will likely decide who gets to go to Indianapolis.
  2. Nebraska.  The Cornhuskers have strong candidates for Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year (RB Ameer Abdullah and DE Randy Gregory, respectively).  They have strong talent as most of the other positions, and Bo Pelini appears to be turning a corner as a coach.  So why is NU not in the top spot?  There are concerns about depth (the defense looked rather ordinary without Gregory), but mostly it is about Big Red’s schedule.  Road games at Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all will prove challenging.
  3. Iowa.  Speaking of schedules, the Hawkeyes likely have the easiest path to the title.  The concern with the Hawkeyes is they may not have the arsenal to match Wisconsin and Nebraska.  That said, Iowa tends to be a much better team in November than they are in September.
  4. Minnesota.  The Gophers took some big strides in 2013, including an impressive win over Nebraska and bowl appearance.  The next step is to finish in the top half of the division.  I don’t know if Minnesota has the pieces to do that, but they are capable of beating anybody in the division.
  5. Northwestern.  Admittedly, the last three spots are a bit like picking the prettiest wart on a frog.  I’m not sure that Northwestern is the prettiest, but I think Pat Fitzgerald is the best coach of the bottom three.  That counts for something, right?
  6. Illinois.  The Illini have not been very impressive so far in 2014, and their 3-1 record has been done largely with smoke and mirrors.  Yet, they get the benefit of the doubt for not  being Purdue.
  7. Purdue.  This team was the worst of the Leaders, and I feel confident in saying that they will be the lest of the West – unless Illinois is really, really bad.

East Division

  1. Michigan State.  The Spartans are easily the best team in the conference, and despite the loss to Oregon, they should not be ruled out of the CFB playoff – especially if they dominate the conference offensively and defensively.
  2. Ohio State.  Truth be told, I’d really like to put Penn State here, but Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have a stellar conference record the last few years.  Until it’s proven they cannot keep winning Big Ten games, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Penn State.  New coach James Franklin is the rock star of the conference, and his team is playing with his confidence and swagger.  QB Christian Hackenberg is developing into a top flite quarterback, but the sanctions will hurt depth over the long haul of a season.
  4. Rutgers.  Admittedly, I know very little about the new kids on the block.  But Rutgers (I want to say they are the Scarlet Pumpernickels?) has played well in their first four games, including a narrow loss to Penn State.
  5. Indiana.  Here’s something you don’t see every day:  The Hoosiers easily have the best win in the B1G non-conference season (a victory over a ranked SEC team, no less).  Even if that SEC team is Mizzou, it’s still a big feather for a conference that needs all the positive praise it can get.  Now, will that translate into conference success?  I’d like the Hoosiers’ chances much more if they were in the West.
  6. Maryland.  Like Rutgers, I’m not very familiar with Maryland (if only I had done that ACC power ranking last year…).  Like Rutgers, Maryland has also played well in their first four games, although losing to West Virginia may be telling.
  7. Michigan.  The good news from Michigan’s non-conference slate:  they did not lose to FCS Appalachian State.  The bad news:  pretty much everything else.  Things are going to get much worse in Ann Arbor before they get better.  Big Ten fans outside of Ann Arbor should try to stifle their smiles.

Big Ten Championship:  If these predictions hold to form, we’re looking at Michigan State and Wisconsin matching up in Indy.  I like the Spartans to win by 17 points.

Dark horse prediction:  Nebraska and Ohio State face off in an epic battle ending in a heartbreaking loss for Husker fans.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 11/18

Throughout the 2013 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-12.  Click here to see where your team was ranked last week.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State.  Buckeye kicker Drew Basil should be icing his leg now in preparation for all of the kickoffs and extra points he’ll attempt against Indiana’s horrific defense.
  2. Wisconsin.  This year’s battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe might be one of the most evenly matched contested in 10-20 years.

    Adrenaline fueled 20 year olds and axes. What could possibly go wrong?

  3. Michigan State.  Why is the (presumptive) Legends champ third?  Having just watched Sparty in person, I’m not terribly impressed with them.  Put it this way:  if Nebraska reduces their five turnovers down to say, three, the Huskers are sitting in the #3 slot.
  4. Minnesota.  Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type in late November:  the Gophers are still alive to win the division.  Granted they must beat Wisconsin and Michigan State (and have Sparty lose to Northwestern), but stranger things have happened – like Minnesota having the third best record in the league.
  5. Nebraska.  It’s 2003 all over again as Husker Nation is divided on if Bo Pelini should stay or go.  But if the team isn’t ready to play against Penn State or Iowa (or has another five turnover game) the decision A.D. Shawn Eichort faces becomes a lot easier.
  6. Penn State.  The home finale for the Nittany Lions and arguably their best chance to finish the season with a winning record.
  7. Michigan.  Who is this team, and what have they done with Michigan Football?
  8. Iowa.  In a normal year, Iowa’s best chance of beating Michigan would be to hope the Wolverines were looking ahead to Ohio State.  This year it is more about whichever team shows up.
  9. Indiana.  A fun two week stretch as the Hoosiers will see the best team in the conference (Ohio State) and arguably the worst (Purdue).
  10. Northwestern.  At what point does the Northwestern narrative switch from being “unbelievably unlucky” to “just not that good”?  The craziest part is with two wins (over Michigan State and Illinois) they could make the entire Legends Division bowl eligible.
  11. Illinois.  Brace yourselves and avert your eyes as Illinois and Purdue clash in the Bottom Feeder Bowl.  Personally, I’ll be rooting for Purdue just for the sake of preserving 0-7 Illinois vs. 0-7 Northwestern next week.
  12. Purdue.  Okay Boilers, I’ve had you in the cellar all year long.  Here is your chance to escape.  Try not to trip, get lost, or walk into the wall.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 11/11

Throughout the 2013 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-12.  Click here to see where your team was ranked last week.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State.  I’m pretty sure the game of “how many style points will Urban try to score” will be more interesting than the game of “Ohio State vs. Illinois”.  Anything under 50 is likely a disappointment.
  2. Wisconsin.  The Badgers move back up to #2 after winning one of the best non-conference games by a B1G school.  (Other finalists, btw:  Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30; Illinois 45, Cincy 17; Ohio State 40, Buffalo 20)
  3. Michigan State.  If MSU can win in Lincoln, they win the Legends.  But a loss doesn’t put them out of the running.  Fortunately Sparty got an extra week to get ready.
  4. Minnesota.  Give the Gophers a week off to savor and enjoy their four game run and national ranking.  They may will not win again until their bowl game.
  5. Nebraska.  Yes, the Huskers did not beat your father’s Michigan, but that is a game the Big Red would have lost a month ago. Now, can they find a way to beat Sparty to take control of the division?  Or will they need to recruit healthy offensive linemen from the crowd?
  6. Iowa.  Since beating Purdue tells us nothing about how good (or not good) Iowa is, the Mendoza line climbs up to #6 this week.

    Purdue is best known for: a) World’s largest drum, b) Being my largest punchline?

  7. Penn State.  The Nittany Lions have a Purdue walk-thru to help them get ready for two big games with Nebraska and Wisconsin.
  8. Michigan.  Have the Wolverines really lost three of their last four conference games?  If Michigan played Minnesota again tomorrow, the score would still be 42-13, just with Michigan on the losing side.
  9. Northwestern.  The Wildcats must beat Michigan to have any hope of not finishing last in the Legends.  There is a good chance that might happen.
  10. Indiana.  It’s rare to see such separation between the #10 and #11 teams in a twelve team conference.  But a 52-35 win by the Hoosiers does just that.
  11. Illinois.  If I’m Illinois, I completely look past the Ohio State game and focus on beating Purdue for the right to finish 5th in the Leaders.
  12. Purdue.  I’m tempted to include Rutgers and Maryland in the rankings this year, just so I can put Purdue even lower than 12th.

Big House, Big Win

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B1G Power Rankings – Week of 11/4

Throughout the 2013 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-12.  Click here to see where your team was ranked last week.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State.  Since there is no conceivable way that Ohio State could possibly lose two out of their next three games, I’m calling it:  The Buckeyes are your 2013 Leaders Division champions.
  2. Michigan State.  I’m not quite ready to call the Legends, but a huge win over their “big brother”, all but seals the division race.  Michigan State doesn’t need to win out, they just need to either beat Nebraska or have the Huskers lose at Michigan, at Penn State or against Iowa.
  3. Wisconsin.  Quick – somebody tell the Badgers that they should not have an attractive non-conference game in November (BYU).  Instead, they should be playing a boring divisional game against Illinois at 11 am on BTN.
  4. Minnesota.  Let the Gophers enjoy their run for another week (and potentially more if they can beat Penn State).  Reality (in the form of Michigan State and Wisconsin) is coming to close out the season.
  5. Nebraska.  In an under-appreciated trophy game, Nebraska earned the right to use “NU” for the next 12 months (suck on that, NW!).  Oh yeah, the Huskers’ final pass was a rather decent play.

    Nebraska’s favorite duo: Pudgy and Pornstache

  6. Michigan.  The Wolverines drop for being all but mathematically eliminated from the Legends race and for failing to get a positive rushing yard against Sparty.
  7. Iowa.  I view the Hawkeyes as the B1G’s version of the Mendoza line, separating the above average from the bottom feeders.
  8. Penn State.  The Nittany Lions are clearly the third best team in the Leaders, which is lot like being the third best Baldwin brother – after Alec, nobody really cares.
  9. Northwestern.  You know you’ve had a bad stretch of injuries when Iowa looks at your RB depth chart and goes “Damn, that sucks”.  At this rate, Michael Wilbon’s ego will be getting carries by the end of November.
  10. Indiana.  With a bowl game a remote (but not realistic) possibility, Hoosier fans may now focus entirely on basketball.  See ya next year!
  11. Illinois.  Remember back when the Illini were 3-1 and perceived to be dark horse challenger in the Leaders?  Yeah, they don’t either.
  12. Purdue.  Multiple choice:  The “black out” that Purdue held for the Ohio State game was a) the school’s excuse to trot out an all-black alternate uniform, b) a desperate attempt to gain momentum against a top five foe, c) what likely happened to the Boilermakers after having 56 points dropped on them, or d) the recommended level of intoxication for any Purdue fan choosing to attend the game?

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/28

Throughout the 2013 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-12.  Click here to see where your team was ranked last week.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State.  With a four week stretch of Purdue, bye, Illinois, and Indiana, the biggest question Ohio State faces is what will their band do in their next performance?
  2. Michigan State.  When the Spartans offense plays half as good as their defense, they are the second best team in the league.
  3. Wisconsin.  I think it says something about the strength of the conference when on November 1, Wisconsin’s toughest remaining game is against BYU.
  4. Michigan.  A pivotal game for Legends supremacy (such that it is) this weekend in East Lansing.  If Michigan wants to contend, they must win.
  5. Iowa.  The Hawkeyes are not this high because I think they’re all that great.  It’s because I think everybody else isn’t as good.
  6. Nebraska.  The blueprint for beating Nebraska:  force them to throw, and attack the defense up the middle, after confusing them with motion, shifts, and odd formations.
  7. Minnesota.  I think there were some snickers when I say this team could go on a Coach Kill inspired run.  But tell me his presence didn’t have an impact on their win over Nebraska.
  8. Indiana.  If the Hoosiers want to make a bowl game, this week’s game against Minnesota is a must win.

    For Halloween, Indiana will dress up like a Christmas tree ornament.

  9. Penn State.  Did Bill O’Brien say something to piss off Urban Meyer?  Fortunately, PSU gets a break in the schedule to lick their wounds.
  10. Northwestern.  Their next three games are against the top three teams in the Legends.  Let’s see if the Wildcats can embrace going from “contender” to “spoiler”.
  11. Illinois.  The Illini went 0 for October, but have the potential to go 4-1 in November.  That said, they will be lucky to get to a bowl game.
  12. Purdue.  Some encouraging words for the Boilers as they get ready to host Ohio State:  No matter what happens, you won’t slip in the rankings!

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/21

Throughout the 2013 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-12.  Click here to see where your team was ranked last week.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State.  The Buckeyes are in cruise control to the point where the biggest story from their win over Iowa was their marching band’s tribute to Michael Jackson.
  2. Wisconsin.  Too bad for Wisconsin that the East/West split is not in place this year, because the Badgers would be in the driver’s seat.
  3. Michigan State.  Demerits to the Spartans for only scoring 14 against Purdue.  That’s embarrassing, even for Michigan State’s offense.
  4. Michigan.  The offensive records got all of the headlines, but the defense should be raising some red flags.
  5. Nebraska.  Expect another home road game as Husker fans invade the Twin Cities to close out a very easy October.
  6. Penn State.  Penn State got two weeks to rest and prepare for the Buckeyes.  Will it be enough? 
  7. Indiana.  The good news is Indiana can score a lot of points.  The bad news is the Hoosiers give up even more.
  8. Minnesota.  Is this team getting ready for a “Win It For Coach Kill” stretch run?
  9. Iowa.  I just don’t know what to make of Iowa this year.  Are they middle tier or bottom feeder?  We’re about to find out.
  10. Illinois.  The Illini are undefeated when they score more than 33 points.  The Illini won’t score 33 against Michigan State.
  11. Northwestern.  Remember when the Wildcats were the trendy Legends Division pick?  Now a bowl game is somewhat in question.
  12. Purdue.  The Boilermakers are idle this week.  Their offense has been idle for the entire month.

Michigan Meltdown

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