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The Road To Indianapolis – Week #1

October 4, 2013

 

 

BTN Trophy

This is something I wanted to post before the Big Ten season officially kicked off, but since Michigan didn’t play and neither did half of the league, I think it’s still relevant.

Just a quick overview of the conference and how things stack up.  I’ll update this every week based on the previous weekend’s results.  For now, here’s a general preview of the league and my handicapping of each team’s chance to end up in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game.

LEGENDS DIVISION

Michigan

4-0 (0-0)

The case for Michigan: Despite a shaky couple of games, Michigan still has one of the Top 3 defenses in the conference and an offense that is capable of being explosive.  Assuming they can get the punting game to be more consistent, they also have one of the most well rounded special teams units in the league.  MSU and Northwestern on the road will be tough, but OSU and Nebraska should offset that.

The case against Michigan: A turnover plagued non-conference plus an offensive line that has struggled against the likes of Akron and UConn are huge red flags.  If both areas can improve from very bad to serviceable, Michigan will have a shot at Indy.  If not it may look a lot more like last season.

Prediction:  The division is tough, but I think Michigan will be playing Ohio State after Thanksgiving for the chance to play them again the following week.

Iowa

4-1 (1-0)

The case for Iowa: A stingy defense and a balanced offensive attack makes this look like a vintage Kirk Ferentz team.  With Michigan, MSU, Northwestern and Wisconsin all visiting Iowa City, the Hawkeyes will have a chance to prove they belong in Indianapolis.

The case against Iowa: Though the defense is good and the offense is improved from last year, there still aren’t enough game breakers to make Iowa scary.  Slow and steady may win the race, but Iowa’s race includes games against Michigan, MSU, Northwestern, Wisconsin as well as road trips to OSU and Nebraska.   That will be too much to overcome.

Prediction: Iowa is better than most thought they would be, but that schedule is brutal.  4-4 in conference would be a very good effort.

Northwestern

4-0 (0-0)

The case for Northwestern: If not for a 4th quarter collapse against Nebraska and a late game miracle by Michigan, the Wildcats might’ve finished 11-1 last year and gone to the Rose Bowl.  And they might be a better team this year.  A high octane offense and a solid defense have fans in Evanston dreaming of Indy and beyond.  We’ll know more after the next two weeks with the Wildcats getting Ohio State at home and traveling to Wisconsin.

The case against Northwestern:  This team is good, but they are going to have to earn it.  OSU and Wisconsin are on the schedule this year in addition to Michigan, MSU, and road trips to Iowa and Nebraska.

Prediction:  Like I said, we’ll know more after the next two weeks.  I think the Wildcats start off 0-2, which is a tough way to get to Indianapolis.

Michigan State

3-1 (0-0)

The case for MSU:  As has become par for the course, MSU’s defense is as good as any in the conference and can win any game for them.  The Spartans slipped to 7-6 last year after back to back 10 win seasons, but you can’t count them out with that defense.

The case against MSU: As good as the defense is, the offense may be that bad.  It’s the 5th game of the season and as of the last series of the last game (Notre Dame) MSU was still playing quarterback roulette.  I’m not convinced that even with a defense that good they can score enough points consistently to get to Indy.

Prediction: If they only played defense, MSU would be heading to Indy, but unless that defense can continue to pitch shutouts, MSU will struggle to win games.  They probably end up better than last year, but that won’t get them to the title game.

Nebraska

3-1 (0-0)

The case for Nebraska:  A potent rushing attack led by QB Taylor Martinez allows the Huskers the opportunity to score on anyone.  The passing game isn’t as strong, but Martinez is better than he was a year ago.  Offensively the Huskers are a tough matchup for anyone.

The case against Nebraska: Where do I start?  First, the vaunted “black shirts” defense is nowhere to be found in Lincoln, as the Huskers are giving up an average 27 points a game to the likes of South Dakota State, Wyoming, Southern Miss and more respectably, UCLA.  Throw in that as of 2 weeks ago it didn’t look like Bo Pelini would be the coach by the start of the Big Ten season, let alone the end of the season, and it’s tough to jump on board with the Huskers.  Oh, and to top it all off, Taylor Martinez will miss his 2nd straight game with turf toe, an injury that could linger all season and would neuter the Nebraska offense.

Prediction: Without Ohio State or Wisconsin on the schedule, the Huskers will have an advantage over the rest of the league, but there is still too much to overcome.  A string of 3 straight 10 win seasons probably gets snapped.

Minnesota

4-1 (0-1)

The case for Minnesota:  Despite a strong non-conference run, it’s tough to get on the Minnesota bandwagon.  This division is just too stacked for the Golden Gophers to emerge as the champion.  History tells us the Gophers aren’t smart bet. 

The case against Minnesota:  The Gophers are already behind the 8-ball following a loss to Iowa last week, and it won’t get any easier with Michigan, Nebraska, MSU and Northwestern (not to mention Wisconsin and Penn State) still on the schedule.  They’ll need to go 6-1 the rest of the way, and its more likely they’ll go 1-6. 

Prediction: The Gophers  will probably steal at least one game they shouldn’t and end up bowl eligible, but Indiana is the only game left I see as a probable win.

LEADERS DIVISION

Ohio State

5-0 (1-0)

The case for Ohio State: Ohio State went 12-0 last year and is probably more talented and definitely more experienced than last year.  Until proven otherwise they are the class of the Big Ten.  They struggled in their opener for a bit, but have basically steamrolled everyone else so far, including their toughest division foe, Wisconsin. After their game at Northwestern this Saturday, they should be a double digit favorite in every game until they come to Ann Arbor.

The case against Ohio State:  With Penn State not eligible and Wisconsin already defeated, I can’t see how the Buckeyes don’t end up in Indy.  I suppose they could slip up once and lose to Michigan while Wisconsin runs the table, but that’s about the only scenario that will keep them out of the title game right now.

Prediction:  Barring something shocking, OSU will be in Indianapolis.

Wisconsin

3-2 (1-1)

The case for Wisconsin: If not for a officiating mishap in the desert against ASU, the lone blemish on the Badgers record would be a defeat against OSU.  Despite a new coaching staff, Wisconsin hasn’t lost a step, with a mauling offensive line and stable of running backs averaging 300 yards per game on the ground.   Throw in a schedule that doesn’t include Michigan, MSU or Nebraska, and the Badgers could run the table from here out.

The case against Wisconsin: Even if the Badgers run the table, they still need OSU to lose twice.  That probably isnt’ going to happen.   Given the remaining schedule, Wisconsin will have a good shot to take advantage should that be the case.  The Badgers will be rooting hard for the Wildcats on Saturday night.

Prediction: It’s probably too much to ask Wisconsin to reel off 7 straight, even with a cupcake schedule remaining.  New Year’s Day in central Florida seems about right.

Illinois

3-1 (0-0)

The case for Illinois: The Illini are much improved over a year ago and boast one of the better offenses (so far) in the Big Ten.   This team has already surpassed last year’s win total (2) in just four games.   They aren’t title contenders, but I bet they surprise somebody at home this year (watchout MSU and Northwestern).

The case against Illinois:  Turning a 2-10 season into a Leaders Division Champions season would be one of the greatest turnaround seasons in history.  Which is why it isn’t happening.  Illinois may be improved, but they still aren’t int he same class as OSU and Wisconsin.  Let’s see how they look after taking on Nebraska, Wisconsin and MSU in the next month.

Prediction: With 3 wins in the books and a manageable schedule, the Illini might sneak their way to 6 wins and a bowl game, which would be a very nice improvement from last year.

Penn State

3-1 (0-0)

The case for Penn State:  PSU is not eligible for postseason play, but if they were you could hang your hat on their strong start and consistent play in all facets.  The Nittany Lions don’t do anything great, but they do a lot of things well, including keeping opponents from scoring.

The case against Penn State: Though they’ve started out well, the schedule is brutal with Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State still left.  Throw in some scholarship restrictions and a true freshman quarterback, and PSU may see the latter part of this season fall off a cliff.

Prediction:  Lucky for Bill O’Brien every year right now is about preparing for the future.  I think PSU probably wins 7 games and has a chance to play spoiler, that’s about it. 

Indiana

2-2 (0-0)

The case for Indiana:  The only case to be made for Indiana is that their offense and passing attack is good enough to scare anyone in the Big Ten.  Notice I said scare, and not win.

The case against Indiana: Where to start?  How about the first three games (PSU, @MSU, @Michigan) – after that we won’t be discussing Indiana in the division race other than the one or two times they keep it close until the 2nd half.

Prediction: Indiana was better than their 4-8 record a year ago with several close losses.  I expect that to be the same case again, with the Hoosier proving to be a game opponent, but not good enough to post the W’s.  Without a perfect non-conference slate, they’ll be home for the holidays.

Purdue

1-4 (0-1)

The case for Purdue:  Please don’t make me do this.

The case against Purdue:  The highlight of the season for Purdue was staying close with Notre Dame for 3 quarters.  And sadly, that’s probably going to remain the highlight.  An inept offense and porous defense make the Boilermakers the cellar dweller of the Big Ten.

Prediction: The Boilermakers probably won’t come close to win #2 until the last week of the season when they travel to Indiana.

 

Week #1 Legends Division Champion Prediction: Michigan

Week #1 Leaders Division Champion Prediction: Ohio State 

 

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