Big Ten Football officially returns in three days with Minnesota kicking off the season late Thursday night in the desert at UNLV. The goal of the Big Ten is to go a spotless 48-0 outside of conference then hope everyone has enough to get a pair of conference wins so all 12 teams can be bowl-eligible and go 12-0 one more time. This is a highly unlikely goal, especially given the state of the conference every year with at least one putrid team. Penn State and Ohio State's current situation prevent them from going to a bowl, anyway.
There are some very good non-conference games out there. Notre Dame has its usual trifecta with the conference. Michigan faces Alabama. Wisconsin and Illinois make dangerous road trips out to Pac-12 country. Friday's home game against Boise State will also be a huge test for Michigan State.
It should be another fantastic season of Big Ten football. Since I usually look back at the previous week on Mondays, but there is nothing to look back at, let's look ahead. here is how I see each team in the Big Ten fairing:
Illinois Fighting Illini - 6-6, 3-5
Last season Illinois was a mess after starting 6-0. this year there will be some balance, but this team lost a tone of talent on defense and is still in a coaching transition. The offense took half the season off even with a solid mobile QB like Nathan Scheelhaase. Teams rarely pull a Tiller and come out of nowhere in the first year of a coach, so I am not expecting a lot out of the Illini and Tim Beckman.
Wins: Western Michigan, Charleston Southern, Louisiana Tech, Penn State, Indiana, Minnesota
Losses: at Arizona State, at Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Ohio State, Purdue, at Northwestern
Indiana Hoosiers - 3-9, 0-8
Indiana can't possibly be worse than last year, right? The good news is that if this team shows ANY promise at all there could be a breakthrough next season. There are only eight scholarship seniors on the roster, which is the lowest total in FBS. The opening of an FCS team, a team in its first FBS year, and Ball State make a 3-0 start possible, but Indiana State is good FCS team that runs the ball well. Since the last time Indiana stopped the run was never the Hoosiers will always be vulnerable to teams with a good running back. Shakir Bell at ISU is pretty damn good too.
Wins: Indiana State, at Massachusetts, Ball State
Losses: at Northwestern, Michigan State, Ohio State, at Navy, at Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, at Purdue
Iowa Hawkeyes - 8-4, 4-4
Iowa is a hard team to figure. Their running back position is a disaster on a good day, but they have one of the league's best quarterbacks. Iowa State is the only team with a pulse they face out of conference, so they could have a deceptively strong record without really beating anyone. I almost had them at 7-5 instead of 8-4, but I gave them the game against us because we haven't won in Iowa City in 20 years. That is one of the biggest toss-ups I called, however.
Wins: at Northern Illinois, Iowa State, northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, at Indiana, Purdue
Losses: at Michigan State, at Northwestern, at Michigan, Nebraska
Michigan Wolverines - 10-2, 7-1 (Legends Division Champion)
The Legends Division should be a very exciting three-team race, while the Leaders Division is pretty much Wisconsin's to lose. In the end I see Denard Robinson and his free-wheeling style catapulting the Wolverines into the title game in Indianapolis. The two toughest road games are at Nebraska and at Ohio State. OSU has nothing to play for, so a spoiler role in that final regular season games could be very interesting, especially with Nebraska playing the day before in Iowa City.
Wins: Air Force, Masscusetts, at Notre Dame, at Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, at Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, at Ohio State.
Losses: vs. Alabama, at Nebraska
Michigan St. Spartans - 9-3, 6-2
Last season Sparty ended up in Indianapolis thanks to beating Michigan in East Lansing. This year I see the tables turning with the Wolverines winning in Ann Arbor Sparty has won four in a row over Michigan for the first time in decades, but five is pushing it, especially given Michigan's historical dominance. Michigan State still has questions at quarterback, but the defense should be among the best in the conference.
Wins: Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Ohio State, at Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, at Minnesota.
Losses: Boise State, at Michigan, at Wisconsin
Minnesota Golden Gophers - 4-8, 1-7
Every year the MAC seems to win one game against the Big Ten. This season there are only 11 chances for our little brother conference to rise up and get a pelt. When Alex Carder and a good Western Michigan team visits Minneapolis I think we will see that upset. That's not to say this is the same old Minnesota. They'll be better, but I think the rest of the conference is really good and Minnesota has farther to go than almost everyone.Of course, "better' for Minnesota means "Not losing to an FCS team".
Wins: at UNLV, New Hampshire, Syracuse, Northewstern
Losses: Western Michigan, at Iowa, at Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, at Illinois, at Nebraska, Michigan State
Nebraska Cornhuskers - 10-2, 6-2
Nebraska is a little bit like Iowa, only better. The non-conference schedule is more of a joke because even a trip to UCLA will not be that difficult. It does lead to the possibility of the Huskers playing in Pasadena twice in one season. The three toughest games are against Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State. They will have to win at least two of those to have a chance at winning the division.
Wins: Southern Miss, at UCLA, Arkansas State, Idaho State, at Ohio State, at Northwestern, Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, at Iowa
Losses: Wisconsin, at Michigan State
Northwestern Wildcats - 7-5, 4-4
This will likely be another year where justNorthwestern putts along and wins seven or eight games before dropping a bowl game in agonizing fashion. Nothing really blows me away about them and because they are off Purdue's schedule for another two years after this one I have not given them a lot of thought. They be another "bad, but not really good" team in the middle of the conference.
Wins: at Syracuse, Boston College, South Dakota, Indiana, at Penn State, Iowa, Illinois
Losses: Vanderbilt, at Minnesota, Nebraska, at Michigan, at Michigan State
Ohio St. Buckeyes - 8-4, 4-4
I am not in the camp of URBAN MEYER IS THE GREATEST COACH EVER AND OHIO STATE IS GOING TO WIN EVERY GAME TWICE! this was a team with a sometimes suspect defense last season and virtually no passing game. One dimensional teams are easy to figure out. You sell out against the run and dare Braxton Miller to beat you with his arm. Until he can do that Ohio State will not be the monster the media declares them to be.
Penn St. Nittany Lions - 4-8, 1-7
We now have a better idea of how Penn State is going to look, and it is not good. An offensively challenged team lost its best weapon by far in Silas Redd. Special teams was dealt a severe blow when Anthony Fera left. The top seven receivers are gone, so a team that was already offensively challenged and barely scored enough to win games got worse offensively and does not have a kicking weapon that can even reliably get three points. This doesn't bode well, no matter how well the defense plays.
Wins: Ohio, Navy, Temple, Indiana
Losses: at Virginia, at Illinois, Northwestern, at Iowa, at Ohio State, at Purdue, at Nebraska, Wisconsin
Purdue Boilermakers - 7-5, 4-4
I have tried to temper my expectations, but honestly little could surprise me at this point. The only games that I view as sure losses are Wisconsin and Michigan. It is only the fact that I know Purdue and our history of never truly having a breakthrough that has me picking a 7-5 season. In my mind the Notre Dame game is a huge litmus test. Yes, it is not a conference game, but we're not given a chance by anyone there. If we roll over and die with little to no game plan up there (again) we'll know all we need to know about this team.
Wins: Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Marshall, at Minnesota, Penn State, at Illinois, Indiana
Losses: at Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, at Ohio State, at Iowa
Wisconsin Badgers - 12-0, 8-0 (Leaders Division Champion)
Yes, I am picking the Badgers to go unbeaten and even defeat Michigan in the Big Ten title game. Danny O'Brien won't make them as one-dimensional as other teams and when you have Montee Ball and James White running behind a massive offensive line like that it will erase a lot of small mistakes. I am certainly not picking against them in Madison, making their toughest game at Nebraska against a team they dismantled last year.
Wins: Northern Iowa, at Oregon State, Utah State, UTEP, at Nebraska, Illinois, at Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State, at Indiana, Ohio State, at Penn State.