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Unscientific Unempirical Unscientific Unempirial Totally Ridiculous but Halfway Serious CFB Predictions: Big Ten Conference

In 2009, I went through all the major BCS conferences and created some semi-amusing, totally off-base and (eventually) inaccurate predictions and bowl projections for the upcoming college football season. In 2010, I was working nonstop throughout the summer without a break and never had the chance to put together some predictions. So now that I have some free time on my hands, it’s time to do some predictions – here’s the newly expanded Big Ten Conference and its Legends and Leaders “breakdown”. 

The 2011 edition of the Big Ten strikes me as a league with a lot of surprises and parity. Outside of Indiana and Minnesota, everyone should have a shot of making a bowl game. Ohio State’s fall from grace will continue, while their hated rivals Michigan will have a surprisingly excellent season. My champions of each “B1G” division: Leaders – Wisconsin, Legends – Michigan.

Leaders Division:

  1. Wisconsin 12-1 (7-1) – The Badgers’ won’t win their division because of Russell Wilson – instead, its their excellent defense and running game that will put a chokehold on opposing teams. Their one loss will come at a raucous Spartan Stadium in week 7. I have the Badgers headed to the Rose Bowl as Big Ten Champions if their BCS rating isn’t high enough to put them in the BCS National Championship game. And of course, now the Big Ten gets to enjoy having a conference championship game, and in its inaugural edition, I have Wiscy beating Michigan.
  2. Penn State 11-1 (7-1) – No one is talking about the Nittany Lions’ defense, but I think it’ll be fantastic. Last year’s 17 sacks were the fewest by a Penn State team since 2004 when the Lions went 4-7. The next year…Penn State went 11-1 and played in and won the Orange Bowl. Their D will propel them to wins over Alabama and Nebraska at home, but not enough to knock off Wisconsin in Madison – the final game of their Big Ten season. PSU will head to the Capital One Bowl unless a BCS bowl decides to take them as an at-large, which could be very possible if PSU’s one loss comes to Wisconsin in the final week and the Lions don’t end up playing in the Big Ten Championship game a la Kansas 2007.
  3. Purdue 7-5 (4-4) – The Boilermakers’ tough road schedule – @ Ohio State, @ Penn State, @ Wisconsin – prevents them from getting more wins, but in Danny Hope’s third year in West Lafayette, I see the Boilers headed back to a bowl game. PU had so many injuries last year, their depth should be much improved for 2011 and with a healthy Ralph Bolden, Purdue should be solid this year and earn a bid to the Insight Bowl to face Kansas State in a rematch of the Boilermakers’ enormous upset in the 1998 Alamo Bowl.

    Ron Zook will once again waterski through a season with the Illini

  4. Illinois 7-5 (3-5) – The Fighting Ron Zooks will once again rely on a dynamic running game and with QB Nathan Scheelhaase in his second year, I like their chances to go back to a second-straight bowl game. Illinois’ schedule is WAY easier this year too – their first six games are either in Champaign or within a few hours’ drive to Indiana, and with no silly late-season non-conference road games, the Illini’s path to the six win plateau should be reasonable. They’ll hit a mid-season swoon with consecutive losses to OSU, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but should finish with a win at Minnesota. I have Illinois headed to Dallas for the TicketCity Bowl with the Big Ten’s seventh slot – they would go higher but bowls don’t like to pick teams in back to back years unless their fans travel well, so a game in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium looks to be their fate.
  5. Ohio State 6-6 (3-5) – I project the Buckeyes will actually finish third in the Leaders Division thanks to wins over Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana, but I have a feeling August’s sure-to-come NCAA sanctions will have them banned from postseason eligibility for a year or two, so for purposes of this post I’m putting them 5th and below Illinois and Purdue, both bowl eligible teams. I think the departures of Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor, and co. along with the negativity surrounding the program right now made this team an absolute mess. I feel bad for the guys (and gal on the SID staff, namely Shelly Poe) who played by the rules at OSU and will now suffer because of Tressel’s indiscretions. The guys on the team now will play hard and with more dedication/class than Mr. Pryor’s crew, but their depth has clearly taken a hit, hence I have the Buckeyes at 6-6.
  6. Indiana 2-10 (0-8) – Sadly, new head coach Kevin Wilson inherits little talent or depth in Bloomington and this will be a very tough year for the Hoosiers. But give him time, and he’ll begin to pull recruits from areas he used to cover at Oklahoma.

Legends Division:

  1. Michigan  11-2 (8-0) – Call me crazy, but I have a feeling Michigan will be insanely good this year. Everyone saw how good QB Denard Robinson was last year. With one more year of experience under his and the rest of the team’s belts and new coach Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor, I like the Wolverines to win the Legends division. Hoke did a pretty amazing job at San Diego State and, to me at least, has proven he can win. The knock on Rich Rod seemed to be that he had a ton of talent, but couldn’t do anything with it. Well, Hoke did a lot with not-so-good talent in San Diego, and I expect an immediate improvement, as wild as that may sound. I have UM losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, but earning a BCS berth assuming the Wolverines don’t get “2007 Missouri Syndrome” where they are highly ranked, lose the conference championship game, and miss out on a BCS Bowl.
  2. Michigan State 10-2 (6-2) – The Spartans return a ton of talent and Mark Dantonio is a helluva coach. They’ll win some big games – Wisconsin at home, Notre Dame at home – but drop a few they could win, namely to Nebraska and intrastate rival Michigan. Because of the Spartans’ recent bowl trips to Orlando and the Capital One Bowl, I have MSU dropping to the Gator Bowl, the Big Ten’s fourth bowl slot.
  3. Nebraska 8-4 (5-3) – There’s no doubt to me the transition to the Big Ten for NU will result in some good wins, but also some losses Husker fans do not expect. Clearly Nebraska’s defense will be productive – Lavonte David earned Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors last year, while Jared Crick was a devastating force on the defensive line. I just feel the Huskers’ offense will sputter at crucial times like it did last year. Sure, Taylor Martinez is a great talent at QB, but showed last year he can get rattled and lose all ability to throw the ball. I’m also concerned about the Huskers breaking in three new offensive linemen. Nebraska will lose a shocker at Wyoming (Dave Christensen, former Missouri offensive coordinator, has the Huskers’ number), while traveling to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan will result in Ls as well. I do think NU will knock off Ohio State in its Big Ten home opener in Lincoln. I have Nebraska headed to the Outback Bowl with the Big Ten’s third slot selection, ahead of Michigan State. The draw of an SEC opponent against Nebraska and its rabid, always road-tripping fanbase prompts the leap above MSU.
  4. Iowa 6-6 (3-5) – Seems like every year people think Iowa will go through a rebuilding season, but to me, that WILL be the case this year. Iowa has to break in several new offensive and defensive starters at key positions, but I fully expect them to wrangle their way to six wins and a bowl berth. A shocking loss to Iowa State in week two will set the tone for the season, as Iowa will win just one game on the road, at Minnesota on Oct. 29. Iowa will head to the Bowl Formerly Known as the Bowl, now the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, and face Oklahoma State.
  5. Northwestern 6-6 (2-6) – A very winnable non-conference schedule for the Wildcats should mean the school’s eighth bowl game in the last nine years provided they knock off their easiest Big Ten opponents, Minnesota and Indiana. But, if QB Dan Persa rebounds from an achillies rupture better than he played last year, he’ll put Northwestern in a position to reach eight or nine wins. Clearly Pat Fitzgerald knows what he’s doing in Evanston, but their defense must improve from last year if they want to win more than six games. I have Northwestern headed to the Little Caesers Bowl in Detroit to face a MAC opponent.
  6. Minnesota 3-9 (0-8) – New coach Jerry Kill was a great hire for the Gophers but he needs a season or two to rebuild. An easy non-conference slate should see them earn wins against Miami OH, New Mexico State, and North Dakota State, but drop all their Big Ten games. If the Gophers pull off a surprising win at Southern Cal in week one, Minnesota could have a better season.

So there you have it. A shocking pick of Michigan to play in the first Big Ten Championship game, and the Badgers to head to Pasadena.

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