Big Ten Preseason Media Poll, Player Honors
Has the Big Ten become the Big One, the Little Three and the Insignificant Seven?
Ohio State has won or shared the conference title for five consecutive seasons. The Buckeyes are picked to repeat as conference champions, with Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State filling the 2nd through 4th-place slots for the second year in-a-row.
Those four schools are all projected to be Top 25 teams, with the remaining seven ranked 43rd or worse.
Ohio State (11-2, 7-1) claimed the 2009 Big Ten title in a close race as Iowa and Penn State tied for second with records of 11-2, 6-2. The Buckeyes needed a 27-24 overtime win over Iowa in Columbus to clinch the crown. Their lone conference loss came in a shocking upset at Purdue which finished 5-7.
Iowa's only Big Ten setbacks came in back-to-back weeks as the Hawkeyes fell 17-10 at home to Northwestern, the week prior to the close loss at Ohio State. Iowa had positioned itself at the top of the standings when it knocked off Penn State 21-10 at Happy Valley in the 4th game of the year.
Wisconsin (10-3, 5-3) would have also tied for second were it not for their 33-31 loss at Northwestern on November 21. The Badgers dropped consecutive games to Ohio State and Iowa in October and did not meet the Nittany Lions.
Northwestern (8-5, 5-3) tied Wisconsin for fourth, but kept its bowl futility streak alive with a heartbreaking 38-35 overtime defeat to Auburn in the Outback Bowl. The Wildcats own the nation's longest bowl losing streak at 7 games and haven't won a postseason contest since a 20-14 Rose Bowl victory over California concluded the 1948 season.
Michigan State was a major disappointment in 2009, finishing 6-7 overall after a 41-31 come-from-ahead loss to Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl. The Spartans were picked by the computer to win the conference race, and 8 major preseason previews had them finishing 2nd or 3rd. But Michigan State fizzled early and just 1-3 after close losses to Central Michigan, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. The bowl loss was made more puzzling by the fact that Texas Tech was playing without head coach Mike Leach who had been dismissed just three days before the game amid allegations that he mistreated a player.
So how does 2010 shape up?
An argument can be made that it looks best for Iowa. The Hawkeyes get Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin at home, and play four of their first five games in Kinnick Stadium. Iowa journeys away from home just twice in its first eight games.
But it's still difficult to imagine Ohio State as anything less than the frontrunner. The defending conference champs return all of their top offensive weapons, led by dual-threat QB Terrelle Pryor. The soft nonconference schedule is expected to provide double-digit home wins over Marshall (-24.52), Ohio (-24.89) and Eastern Michigan (-42.94). The Buckeyes are even a 13.12-point favorite in the intriguing matchup with Miami (FL).
Ohio State's toughest games appear to be conference trips to Wisconsin and Iowa. The Buckeyes are favored by 7.08 at Madison, but by less than 4 at Iowa City. Ohio State is an 8.41-point choice over Penn State at home, though Joe Paterno's bunch won the last time they played in Columbus.
Penn State has the second-highest power rating among Big Ten teams, but the Nittany Lions travel to Ohio State and Iowa, and don't face Wisconsin.
Wisconsin gets Ohio State at home and Iowa on the road. The Badgers are one touchdown underdogs in both games for their only projected losses of the season.
Michigan's season will come under close scrutiny as Rich Rodriguez enters his third season as head coach with a dismal record of 8-16 overall and just 3-13 in the conference. The Maize and Blue faithful never imagined their team would follow a next-to-last-place finish in 2008 with a last-place finish in 2009. Michigan enters 2010 on a 7-game losing streak to FBS schools after starting 4-0 a year ago.
The computer has the Wolverines opening 2010 as a 6-1/2-point computer home underdog to UConn in the Big House, and then losing by 5 at South Bend the following week. The other four losses in Michigan's 6-6 forecast are to the projected top four teams of the conference. Big Blue is a projected 1.74-point winner over Michigan State to end a 2-game losing streak to the Spartans.
As for Michigan State, the computer sees a 4-0 start to the season with home victories over Western Michigan (-11), Notre Dame (-2) and FCS member Northern Colorado (-25), and a win over FAU (-13) at Ford Field in Detroit. The computer's 7-5 forecast includes the narrow loss to Michigan and a 5-point setback at Northwestern.
Expect Ron Zook to get the hook as the head coach at Illinois if the computer’s forecast holds true for his squad. The 2007 Rose Bowl appearance already seems like a distant memory and Zook was forced to retool his staff to keep his job after going 6-16 vs. FBS schools over the last two seasons. A 3-9 computer forecast for 2010 would be a repeat of last year’s performance. It includes a pair of 1-point home losses to Northern Illinois and Minnesota which could easily turn into victories, but projected home wins over Indiana and Purdue are by less than 5 points. Illinois opens with Missouri in St. Louis for the fourth straight season and the Illini are 0-3 in that series. Illinois wraps up the year as a 14-point underdog at Fresno State which beat the Illini 53-52 in last year's season finale in Champaign.
The November 20 Illinois-Northwestern rivalry game was moved to Wrigley Field where it will become the first football game played there in nearly 40 years. The Chicago Bears beat the Green Bay Packers 35-17 in the last football game at the 96-year old ballpark on December 13, 1970. The Illini and Wildcats last played there on October 27, 1923 and no college game has been staged at Wrigley since 1938 when DePaul used the "friendly confines" as its home field. Northwestern is a 12-point computer favorite.
Minnesota's schedule is difficult from start to finish. The Golden Gophers open at Middle Tennessee where the Blue Raiders are 9-2 over the last two seasons and defeated Maryland in 2008 (they also won at Maryland last season). USC is the opponent for Minnesota's home opener before the Golden Gophers host Northern Illinois and Northwestern. Following trips to Wisconsin and Purdue, Minnesota returns home to face Penn State and Ohio State. To wrap up the year, Minnesota goes to Michigan State and Illinois before closing at home to Iowa. The computer's 4-8 projection almost seems kind.
Purdue will try to rebound from its first back-to-back losing seasons since 1995-1996. However, the prospects are slim that the Boilermakers will improve on last season's 5-7 mark as the computer has Danny Hope's crew going 4-8 with a lone conference win over state rival Indiana. Purdue opens at Notre Dame, but then gets 3 straight forecasted wins at home over Western Illinois (FCS), Ball State and Toledo.
Indiana is projected to start 3-1 before closing with just one win in the last eight games for a third consecutive last-place finish in the Big Ten standings. A super-soft nonconference schedule (FCS member Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron and Arkansas State) provides all four of the computer's projected victories.
The conference announced on June 11 that Nebraska would begin playing in the Big Ten in 2011. With the expansion to 12 teams, the conference later announced on August 5 that Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts) would host the conference championship game next season. Division alignments had not yet been announced at the time of this writing. But commissioner Jim Delany has stated that the league will always be known as the Big Ten no matter how many teams it has.