2011 Big Ten Media Days are coming up fast, and the media won't be formally picking a preseason order of finish, leaving many B1G fans wondering what to expect. That's what preseason polls are for - generating interest in teams and players - and if you get some silly idea that it's about predicting the future and being accurate, well, shame on you, sir, you're taking the fun right out of the end of July.
They've done away with picking Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, too, and are instead going to come up with a "Ten Players to Watch List" while simultaneously adding water to their chili, buying Mild Pace Picante sauce (forgive me father, was I supposed to say Rotel?) to go with their chips, and leaving the tabasco out of their Bloody Marys (Maries? What's the plural of that? Maybe I could say "BM's", but that doesn't sound too good, does it?) .
CN is here for you, and after the jump you can get some of our preseason predictions, all for fun, of course, we wouldn't want to push expectations on anyone because their multi-million dollar jobs are already tough enough.
If you need proof of that, consider that last year's Division I head coach Tim Brewster will now be doing sideline reporting. A fall from grace? Of course not! Any honest Gopher would tell you the man never deserved a head coach position in the first place, and unlike Kevin Cosgrove, who keeps getting hired to coach bad defenses, doesn't have enough friends in the business to keep him around.
1) Wisconsin - But I'm not quite ready to pick them in the runaway that everyone else is. Russell Wilson fills a need at QB, but they are still losing the Big 10's most efficient passer, Scott Tolzien. Being the biggest name of the transfers doesn't mean much historically. Remember Greg Paulus & Robert Marve? Me either. They lose 10 starters and play Mich St, Illinois and Ohio St. on the road. However, they do return 2/3 of a pounding running game and Nick Toon at wideout. A mid-season 4 game stretch that includes Nebraska at home and the previously mentioned Spartan and Buckeye road games will determine their fate. They lose 2-3 in conference and win the division.
2) Penn St - The Ninnies lose Evan Royster but return just about every other skill player on offense including Rob Bolden who announced his transfer, got denied by JoePa, got really, really pissed with his dad, then decided to stay announcing he's happy as a clam. Uh huh. On defense, 8 starters return and they are especially talented at linebacker. A double road game finish in Madison and Columbus will determine if they can nose by the Badgers.
3) Illinois - If nothing else, these guys might be the most fun to watch. With Nathan Scheelhaase at QB, the offense averaged 32.5 points and almost 400 ypg. Mikel Leshoure is gone at RB, but with Scheelhaase a year older, look for the offense to be just as dangerous. The defense will give up lots of yards and approach suck level. Most importantly, they get Northwestern, Ohio St., Michigan and Wisconsin at home. They may win 3 of those. The Texas Bowl Beatdown of Baylor was an eye opener.
4) Ohio St. - This may seem a bit low, but this is a situation that has Texas written all over it. They won't finish last, because the Leaders division is much, much shittier than last year's Big 12 South. But a worshipped head coach out in disgrace, 4 starters suspended for 5 games, the starting QB bolting out ahead of the posse and a 1st time head coach expected to keep a bunch of kids' heads on straight under the cloud of an investigation that will likely result at minimum in penalties as harsh as those leveled on Southern Cal? There's still plenty of talent in Columbus, but this season could be a mess.
5) Purdue - Injuries abounded last year and some out there expect the Boilermakers to be much improved. I don't.
6) Indiana - The new coaching staff may improve this squad over time but not this year. They lose Ben Chappell and his 3300 yards passing as well as their best defensive player. 0-8 is not out of the question.
1) Nebraska - The schedule is a bear and there are questions on offense with a new OC and QB issues. The line will have 4 new starters, but depth will actually be improved. Martinez is back at 100% and there appears to be a reliable backup in Carnes for the 1st time since Joe Ganz. Burkhead will carry a load at RB and there appear to be playmakers at WR finally as well. On defense, the talk is that the smaller faster Blackshirts will be run over by the bludgeoning offenses with big backs like Wiscy. Yeah sure, just like we steamrolled Miami with that strategy in the 80's & early 90's. There may some growing pains on offense, but the D will dominate enough to bring the Huskers to the title game.
3) Sparty returns Kirk Cousins and Edwin Baker but loses 10 other starts from their best team in recent memory. However, 49-7 asskicking by Alabama did not appear to be the performance of a top ten squad. Things like that linger. (2001 Colorado - Nebraska anyone?) I see a good year, but not a great one.
2) Northwestern - And I'm very tempted to push them past Michigan St. Persa probably throws for 3500 yards if he stays healthy last year and they likely don't lose 3 in a row to finish. 16 starters are back and they avoid Ohio St. and Wisconsin. Hmmm, screw it - flip these guys up in front of Michigan St.
4) Iowa - Picked by many to make a run at the Big 10 title last year, they responded in typical fashion by going 8-5. They lose their leading rusher in Robinson, a QB who hardly ever left the field in Stanzi and their leading tackler in Hunter. The schedule is lighter, but with only 9 starters back, it's a rebuilding year in Iowa City.
5) Michigan - The DickRod experiment is over and Brady Hoke intends to placate fans by taking a shotgun QB who accumulated almost 4300 yards rushing & passing in an offense that averaged 490 ypg and squatting him under center. Isn't this the kind of dickheaded, square-peg/round-hole thinking that got Rodriguez in hot water to begin with?
6) Minnesota - Another defensive unit requires couch time after a few years of the Cosgrove touch, but Bo wasn't available for the Gophers. New HC Jerry Kill has a cool name, but a scenario where these guys escape the basement is tough to imagine.
Offensive POY - Whatta coin flip. I'll say Dan Persa, but only because I have pick someone. With Robinson under center, split carries at Wisconin, Martinez too bipolar, and no top receiver anywhere, I'll take him as a safe pick, but any of the above could take it.
Defensive POY - Lavonte David. Crick may be a more popular pick, but I look for David to improve significantly over last year's All-American season and he'll make the highlight reel more often at linebacker.
East (no, I'm not using those stupid names)
Wisconsin - Too much back, then they get Russell Wilson to answer their biggest question mark
Ohio State - Too many holes to fill, no matter how much talent they have on the roster
Penn State - JoePa still needs to find a quarterback
Illinois - Zooker keeps treading water...
Purdue - Rebuilding process continues
Indiana - Only 12 returning starters means a tough climb up the hill
Nebraska - Yep, it's a homer pick.
Michigan State - Dantonio has this program on the way upward.
Northwestern - If Dan Persa is healthy, Northwestern could challenge.
Iowegia - Like most seasons, they'll probably win a game they shouldn't, and lose a couple they shouldn't either.
Michigan - Defense will be improved, but unless Brady Hoke swallows his system and lets Denard Robinson run free, the Weasels will be mired in the lower half of the division.
Minnesota - Digging out of the Tim Brewster mess is going to take time.
Player of the Year
Offense: Dan Persa. The only question in my mind is whether he's healthy or not. Completed over 73% of his passes, and rushed for 519 yards as well. Of course, you could make the same argument about Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez, except that Persa was more consistent when healthy.
Defense: Jared Crick. I have this sneaking suspicion that Crick is going to put up a monster season. Maybe not quite Suh-like...but still dominating.
I thought about pulling names out of a hat, but let's try to come up with a reasonable set of picks. Well, the trendy ones are Wisconsin and Nebraska so I'm going with Ohio State out of the east and Michigan State will sing "Hail to the Victor's. Hail the Champions of the West". I think it's wrong to completely ignore the Buckeyes. They are going to win games. Also, I'm going to give Michigan State two good years before they drop off next year. Kirk Cousins is going to win and Nebraska's schedule will cause enough speed bumps to keep them out of the conference title game.
The rest of the Legends:
1. Michigan State (6-2). Spartans enjoy one last year near the top.
2. Nebraska (5-3). This will still be one of the better teams in the country.
3. Northwestern (5-3). Dan Persa and a very favorable schedule. They catch a transitioning Michigan team early.
4. Iowa (4-4). Great schedule, will lose some games they should not.
5. Michigan (3-5). They will be pretty tough by the end of the year, but that's when their toughest games are on the schedule.
6. Minnesota. (2-6) They are going to win a game they shouldn't. Maybe two.
Leading the way:
1. Ohio State (6-2). Fewer tattoos equates to more losses. But they still get the job done.
2. Wisconsin (6-2). Losses the tiebreaker with Ohio State. If you think Nebraska beats Wisconsin at Camp Randall, then their game against the Buckeyes in Columbus on October 29th will make or break them.
3. Illinois (5-3). They have a great schedule to make a run at the division title.
4. Penn State (3-5). I want to believe that this Nittany Lion team can do better, but they'll have to prove it on the field. Like Illinois, they have a good schedule to be contending in mid-November, but the last leg of the journey is rough.
5. Purdue (2-6). A bowl game will be a step up for the Boilermakers.
6. Indiana (1-7).
Offensive POY: Kirk Cousins. Lot's of good choices here. Montee Ball (Wisconsin), James White (Wisconsin), Dan Persa (Northwestern), Denard Robinson (Michigan), and Rex Burkhead (Nebraska) will all contribute to their teams offensive success. But a QB that carries a team to a title, will almost always win the "MVP" award.
Who wins the conference title game? Well, I'll draw that one out of a hat. Michigan State.
Division Names - I'm open to suggestion, but I'm thinking about using "Ours" and "Theirs", which is more descriptive than the real ones, until next season when I go with "Winners" and "Losers". No pressure, Huskers.
Nebraska - I'd really rather not place Nebraska here because of our schedule, but the thing is - the Huskers played themselves into championship games the past few seasons because of defense and this year should be no different. The offense doesn't have to be stellar, it just needs to not disappear towards the end of the season. Brion Carnes should be ready by then to keep it running should Martinez falter.
Michigan St - Andy mentioned the butt-kicking by Alabama, and I agree with him that things like that linger. People are slagging on Sparty because of the defense, but I'd be just as worried about the offensive line. The defense will keep them from reaching the title game, but if they can't fill the holes in the offensive line, they'll drop below NU and Michigan. (Did I just call Northwestern "NU"? Yes, I did. Get used to it.)
Northwestern - The Wildcats' success rides on Persa's recovery, but if you'll notice most people are talking about his passing. Persa was the second-leading rusher last year and it's doubtful he'll reprise that role this season. The Wildcats have a pretty complete team, and Venric Mark could provide an extra boost on special teams, i.e., scoring points and setting up a short field for the offense.
Michigan - Brady Hoke hired some exceptional coordinators, but it will take a year or two before the defense comes around. The offense should be okay, as long as offensive coordinator Al Borges doesn't try to change everything immediately (i.e., turn Denard Robinson into a pro style passer). Michigan will be a little better than most think... as long as Hoke stays out of the way of his coordinators. Just point at things and yell, dude.
Iowa - Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard are gone on the defensive line, a new starter at quarterback must be found (James Vandenberg?), someone has to back up Marcus Coker at RB and Marvin McNutt at WR. Iowa couldn't finish games last season - what they going to do this year with the personnel losses they've had?
Minnesota - First year coach Jerry Kill has to find some football players before the Gophers climb out of the basement. The defense has been bad for years and the offense isn't good enough to overcome their deficiencies. Kill is a good hire, but he'll need time.
Wisconsin - I'm not as sold on Russel Wilson being a savior as most people are as it seems uncharacteristic for Brett Bielema to bring in a new guy and have him starting right away. The Badgers have the most solid team in the other division - Wilson doesn't have to be brilliant, just serviceable as Montee Ball and James White are the best pair of running backs in the conference.
Ohio State - If the Buckeyes can do "us against the world" really well, they should contend for the division. Is Luke Fickell that good? He gets a boost from the paranoia surrounding Columbus, but I don't think he can outcoach Bielema or Fitzgerald at NU.
Penn State - Can they find a quarterback? If so, Penn State is a wildcard. Royster's loss isn't as big a deal as most will make it as his replacement, Silas Redd, should do fine. The offense disappeared at times, and the defense is missing a serviceable defensive end as Pete Massaro was lost during spring with an ACL injury.
Illinois - I keep wondering how long Ron Zook will stick around at Illinois. Whip, zing, offense. Everyone will continue to run over the defense.
Purdue - Honestly, since Nebraska doesn't play Purdue I haven't paid much attention to them.
Indiana - Kevin Wilson has a lot of work to do, perhaps even more than Kill, and even if Wilson does a good job, will anyone notice?
Offensive Player of the Year - I'd pick one of the Wisconsin backs here, but they'll split time. Dan Persa or Kirk Cousins, whichever team finishes higher. I'm wimping out here, aren't I?
Defensive Player of the Year - I'd like to put Alfonzo Dennard here, but the B1G won't have the same emphasis on the passing game that the Big 12 did. Instead, I'll go with Lavonte David, the best linebacker on the best defense - which will equal a gob of tackles.