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Sports Then and Now

Sizing Up the Big 10 Conference: Preseason Football Power Ranking

Posted on August 02, 2010 by JA Allen

It's the best time of the year - football season in the Big 10 Conference.

Throughout the month of August, Sports Then and Now will be looking at major college football conference through a series of previews. We start off with the Big Ten:

It is August and we have waited long enough for college football to get underway.  It is time to begin announcing the winners and losers––then explaining why and how we went wrong the following week.

The life of a forecaster is not an easy one.  At least until the first of September we will be safe with these Big Ten Football Power Rankings.

The Big Ten Conference gets some grudging respect after winning a few Bowl Games in post-season play after the 2009 season––four wins to be exact after sending seven teams to bowl games.

Two BCS wins by Ohio State whacking Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Iowa knocking back the Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl enhanced the Big 10 aura heading into 2010.

This year the Big Ten enters the foray with four teams in the top 25.  The exact placement depends on the particular poll you chose to believe.  But it is safe to say that most expect Ohio State to be in the top five, Iowa in the top fifteen, Wisconsin in the top twenty with Penn State in the top twenty-five.

This is how the teams fall within the Conference…

Who Will Win the Big Ten?

  • Iowa (46%, 11 Votes)
  • Michigan (17%, 4 Votes)
  • Ohio State (17%, 4 Votes)
  • Wisconsin (8%, 2 Votes)
  • Michigan State (8%, 2 Votes)
  • Penn State (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Purdue (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Northwestern (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Minnesota (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Indiana (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Illinois (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 24

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In 2010 Illinois is rebuilding from top to bottom on offense and defense.

No. 11: Illinois Fighting Illini

To say last year was a disaster for the Fighting Illini is being too kind.  There existed all kinds of expectations heading into the 2009 season under the leadership of Juice Williams, quarterback with a patented spread option offense.

Everything fell apart from the opening loss to Missouri to the final loss on December 5th by one point to Fresno State.

The Illini will start 2010 without an established quarterback and without a tested offense under the direction of a new offensive coordinator, Paul Petrino.  Illinois will return three starters on the offensive line, offering a degree of experience and expertise.  The rest of the offense remains a mystery to be unveiled as the season gets underway.

On defense, the Illini return five starters from 2009 including stalwarts at linebacker and corner.  Last year’s pass defense was weak but with some experience returning, the Illini have hopes of improving.  New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will have his work cut out for him.

Ron Zook is starting his sixth year in Champaign.  He has his marching orders.  Improve or else.  The die is cast in Illinois.

Minnesota Gophers expect to improve upon 2009.

No. 10: Minnesota Golden Gophers

The good news for Minnesota is that they return 11 starters from last year’s team on offense.  The bad news is that the Gophers were dead last in the Big Ten in 2009 on offense––scoring, rushing and total.  So the experience is there but it all comes in losing efforts.

The entire offensive line returns and new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton will attempt to mold this Minnesota offense into a winning unit.

The defense returns only two starters, both at the safety position.  They will be highly inexperienced on total defense but talented according to head coach Tim Brewster.  It will have to be a fast turnaround if the Gophers are to find success in 2010.

With a new stadium in place and expectations high, this is Brewster’s last chance to move this program forward into the upper echelons where Minnesotans feel the program belongs.

The Indiana Hoosiers have to improve their defense in a big way.

No. 9: Indiana Hoosiers

In 2009, the Hoosiers started the season winning their first three football games.  Of course, the opposition was not top-rated.  Then Indiana lost their next three.  Their only Big Ten win in 2009 came against Illinois.

What Indiana could do well was score.  They return seven starters on offense including last year’s quarterback Ben Chappell who comes back for his senior season alongside his favorite receivers Delmarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss, both deep in experience.

Bill Lynch needs to fortify the running game to make this offensive unit shine.

Defense is where most of the question marks arise.  The defense returns only four starters from last year’s team.  While the linebacker corps seems strong, the line has some gaps.  If Indiana cannot stop the run this year, their offense will find itself unable to keep up.

Lynch and his coaches offered plenty of excitement last year but Indiana was under 500.  That needs to turn around big time in 2010 if Indiana’s football fortunes are to improve.

Costly turnovers cost the Boilers in 2009. In 2010 they need to hang onto the ball.

No. 8: Purdue Boilermakers

There was something great happening at Purdue under new head coach Danny Hope in 2009.  From September 12th through October 10th the Boilers lost five in a row.  They were all close games and you just felt that this team was inches away from being very good.

Then they beat Ohio State.  Purdue was the only Big Ten team to do so during the regular season.

Mistakes killed the Boilermakers in 2009 mostly in turnovers.  This offense must learn to hang onto the ball.  There is much expectation riding on Robert Marve, Purdue’s latest quarterback who transferred in from Miami and who is returning from surgery for a torn ACL.

With a questionable line and a skimpy running and receiving corps, it could be rough going early on for the offensive unit.

Luckily they will be aided by the strong leg of kicker Carson Wiggs and some key returning starters on the line and at linebacker.  The defensive line must jell first to allow the secondary some breathing space.  On defense Purdue returns six starters.

It could prove to be another exciting season for the Boilers.  But it is way too early to predict any significant success for Danny Hope and crew.

The Northwestern Wildcats will not be slowed down by the cry of "rebuilding."

No. 7: Northwestern Wildcats

The Wildcats ended 2009 on a winning note despite losing the Outback Bowl in overtime to Auburn 35-38.  Down the stretch they defeated Iowa and Illinois on the road and Wisconsin at home.

But last year’s starting quarterback Mike Kafka has departed and the Wildcats are starting over again with new quarterback Junior Dan Persa.

Under Kafka, the Wildcat’s attack relied mainly on the pass.  This year, they will attempt to integrate a more productive running game into the offense.

Northwestern returns six starters from last year’s offensive unit as well as All Big Ten kicker Stefan Demos.

The defense should prove to be an asset in this year of retooling.  The Wildcats have a strong linebacker corps and a sturdy line.  They look to be weak in the secondary but are hoping to build in that area of their game.

For most teams, this would be a year to step back and cry “rebuilding!”  But under Pat Fitzgerald that just is not done.  You go on the field expecting to win, knowing the coach expects nothing less.

Will this be the year Michigan can turn their program around?

N0. 6: Michigan Wolverines

The Michigan Wolverines cannot possibly be as bad as they were last year––in fact, they may be considerably better.  If they settle early on the starting quarterback and if they develop a more potent running game, the Wolverines could finish well ahead of where they ended in 2009.

They return seven starters on offense and there is real potential in the receiving corps led by Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms.  The Wolverine attack, however, needs improved consistency and much more time on the field.

Problems still exist on special teams and especially on defense.  It is hard to admit that vaunted Michigan has produced its worst two defensive efforts in school history under Rich Rodriguez’s watch.

If the coaches, however, cannot shore up the defense, it could be another very long season and perhaps Rodriguez’s last…

The Nittany Lions enter 2010 without a tested offense.

No. 5: Penn State Nittany Lions

The Nittany Lions are starting from scratch on offense without a tested quarterback in place.  It is a difficult position to retool in a hurry.  Those playing behind QB Daryll Clark didn’t spend much time in the pocket in 2009.

The offensive line is also questionable at this point.  An inexperienced QB coupled with an untested line might spell disaster for Joe Paterno’s squad.

Even though the Lions are replacing five of their top seven starters on defense, they have experience in those positions and some top-rate talent stepping in. There are also some returning from injury like middle linebacker Michael Mauti. The defense could be in far worse shape.

Penn State travels to No. 1 ranked Alabama right away on September 11th before the coaches really have time to let a quarterback settle in and make adjustments to an untested line.

Later, the Lions must travel to Iowa on October 2nd and to Ohio State on November 13th.  Not a pretty prospect.  But such is life in the Big Ten.

Loyal fans will have faith that Jo-Pa will find a way again to produce another stellar season for the folks in Happy Valley. But, he has his work cut out for him this year.

2010 could be a record-breaking year for Michigan State.

No. 4: Michigan State Spartans

Led by returning quarterback Kirk Cousins, still only a junior, the offensive trauma this team inflicted on the rest of the Big 10 Conference in 2009 remains branded in opposing defensive coaches’ memories.

Cousins led the Spartans to the No. 1 spot in the Big Ten Conference in passing efficiency as well as taking Michigan State to No. 2 in passing offense.  The Spartans promise to be even better this year if their line develops early and if they improve on their short yardage attempts.

While Michigan State has some impressive individual talent on defense like linebacker Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, their pass rush remains suspect.

Should they find that magic bullet on defense who can fill their need for consistent pass rushing in the front four, Michigan State could be standing in first place in the conference at the end of the season.

Without Ohio State on their schedule, the Spartans still must travel to Iowa, Michigan and Penn State to secure that spot at the top.

Their game with Notre Dame on September 18th should reveal just how substantial their claim on the Big 10 title might be.

Wisconsin has all the necessary ingredients for a successful year in the Big 10.

No. 3: Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers welcome back a host of offensive starters from last year’s team whose overall output was pretty spectacular.

The team finished with a 10-3 record after polishing the season off with a bowl win against Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl 20-14.  Their depth and experience on offense should make them true contenders for the Big Ten title.

Their true test will come in replacing key players lost on defense.  Even though the Badgers are returning five starters from last year’s unit, they have some big holes to plug in the front four.

Defensive strength could prove to be Wisconsin’s Achilles heel this season.

The Badgers play on the road at Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue and Michigan while hosting Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana and Northwestern.  Luckily for the Badgers this will be another down year for Michigan––although not as “down” as last year––and Penn State is not on their schedule.

The Badgers will prove to be true contenders for the Big Ten championship if they can harness and direct a potent defense to stay in step with their offense.

Iowa leads the nation in defense. Can that lead them to the Big 10 title?

No. 2: Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa may well have the best defensive unit in the nation.  They return eight starters from a defense that was stingy and unflappable in 2009.

Led by preseason All American selection Adrian Clayborn, Iowa appears to be locked and loaded on defense.  There is no doubt in anyone’s mind but that the “D” will hold up their end when it comes to notching victories in the upcoming season.

On offense, the Hawkeyes will have senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi back in the pocket. Stanzi generally brings home a win but all too often accompanied by heart-stopping last ditch heroics. It is hard, however, to argue with success because the Iowa QB is 18-4 in games he started in 2008-2009.

The offense returns five starters in addition to QB Stanzi.  The 2009 freshman running back corps gained much experience trying to shore up the hole left by RB Shonn Greene who dominated the conference in 2008––but who left to play for the NY Jets.

Also returning to the run game is Jewel Hampton who was expected to fill in for Greene in 2009.  Unfortunately, Hampton was injured and missed the entire season last year. Returning receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos will no doubt add to his tremendous 2009 results.

Where Iowa remains suspect is their offensive line after losing three starters from last year, including the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, Bryan Bulaga.

Look for the Iowa vs. Ohio State game this year to be held in Iowa City to once again determine the Big Ten Champion.  Did you hear – in Iowa City!

Ohio State - another year of high expectations for Tressel and his team.

No. 1: Ohio State Buckeyes

It gets tedious, picking Ohio State, year after year, to finish first in the Big Ten Conference and then having them finish first.  So who am I to “buck” tradition.  Ohio State will enter the 2010 College Football season ranked in the number one spot in this listing and in everyone else’s.

The reasons are experience, power, speed, talent, depth and all the other intangibles that seem to jell for this program.  Their six returning defensive starters will add to a team that prides itself on selfish defense.

But Ohio State did lose five starters from last year’s team and their defense does rank slightly behind the Iowa Hawkeye’s unit.

The Buckeyes return eight starters on offense including quarterback Terrelle Pryor who promises more passing and less scrambling in 2010.  The ability to fulfill that promise will depend on the offensive line with four returning starters from 2009.  They are big and powerful; but they could be a step short on speed.

The offense also offers returning wide receivers DeVier Posey and Duane Sanzenbacher as well as returning running back Brandon Saine––all to serve as Pryor’s weapons in the 2010 campaign as Ohio State tries for the BCS Championship game once again.

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