Sunday, August 19, 2007

2007 Preview: Big Ten

Maybe I should call it the Big Ten-ish, though. There is something not-so-glamorous concerning the conference. Its top half as several things it has to answer for and its bottom half is in a pretty mediocre state.

The way I see it, the Midwest 11 has to account for three things this season:
1) The national embarrassment that Ohio State and Michigan were destroyed in BCS bowls.
2) Wisconsin - left out last year or overrated?
3) Is Joe Paterno really still alive?

I think the thing I'm going to be watching with the most intrigue this fall involves the Maize and Blue. I'm really interested to see if Chad Henne is going to be a leader of that club to glory. It's been talked about in the past few years and you have to wonder if he really will step up. 2500 yards last year is not a stat to sneeze at, but with the talent that he gets to throw to at wideout, you want to see more. The Wolves have so much talent in the backfield and at the skill positions that they should be the favorite in the Big Ten. Between Henne and Heisman Top Five Mike Hart, they have some firepower by land and air.

The question, obviously, is can the road to the BCS Promised Land avoid Columbus? Michigan gets the Bucks at home in the Big House which gives them a great opportunity. THE Ohio State University lost its offensive weapons, but it still returns a defense that powered its way through the Eleven last year. Take away the Florida game and that defense really was that good.

In the Big "Ten" it only takes one big road win to get the championship. Michigan goes to Camp Randall the week before The Big Game. OSU gets to travel to Penn State and Ann Arbor (but they conveniently miss the Hawkeyes and gimme-win against the Hoosiers).

The Badgers are in a great position. Wisconsin returns so many of the team last year that many believe should have had Notre Dame's Sugar Bowl spot (well, I believe that and I have no problem generalizing). If they can pull off an upset in the Horseshoe, they really might have a chance to at least go to a big game, if not win the Big Ten.

After those three, though (and Penn State lovers can just walk away, because that ranking is a gift), the Big Ten fades fast. Michigan State hasn't been good in years. The Zookster has done a great recruiting job at Illinois but the results aren't there yet. Northwestern is improving, Purdue is fading since Orton left (whatever happened to him anyway? Is he dead).

The Big Ten winner will have at least one loss and won't be traveling to the National Championship in New Orleans. Expect Michigan to make a return trip to the Roses, and the outside chance of Wisco or Ohio State picking a second BCS bid for the conference.

SEC preview coming Tuesday...

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