RedZoneAction.org Blog
2016-08-18 07:46

This conference is at the moment on a high note, even when a team out of the Big10 did not win the national championship.
Many teams are good on a national scale and some are adjusting to get into that group.

Big Ten Conference

No changes to the list of teams inside the conference, still 14 teams.
It looks highly unlikely that the Big12 expansion will have an effect on the conferences regarding leaving teams. The penalties are quite high and the money can’t be that much higher in the Big12 than in the Big10, if even possible.

So the 14 teams are:

East Division:
Indiana University Hoosiers
University of Maryland Terrapins
University of Michigan Wolverines
Michigan State University Spartans
Ohio State University Buckeyes
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) Nittany Lions
Rutgers University–New Brunswick Scarlet Knights

West Division:
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (Illinois) Fighting Illini
University of Iowa Hawkeyes
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
University of Nebraska–Lincoln (Nebraska) Cornhuskers
Northwestern University Wildcats
Purdue University Boilermakers
University of Wisconsin–Madison (Wisconsin) Badgers

I think both division will be heavy fought over and we might see surprising participants in the conference championship game.
We might also see some coaches falling from grace, once the season gets on or is finished.
Several coaches were brought in a few seasons ago and did not deliver a quick turnaround, in some cases no real progress at all in terms of wins.

My way-too-early-TIP is:

East Division:
Ohio State Buckeyes
Michigan State Spartans
Michigan Wolverines
Indiana Hoosiers
Penn State Nittany Lions
Maryland Terrapins
Rutgers Scarlet Knights

West Division:
Iowa Hawkeyes
Wisconsin Badgers
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Northwestern Wildcats
Purdue Boilermakers
Illinois Fighting Illini

East Division

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Knights do have a new HC, Chris Ash, former Co-DC at Ohio State in 2014 and 2015.
He will have to rebuild the team, which went a bit downhill under Kyle Flood.
The season will not be pretty, in best case will Rutgers score some upsets and will play some kind of spoiler for the contenders.
Non-conference games are against Washington (on the road), a FCS team and New Mexico.
I don't think they will be able to win against the Huskies, the 2 other games are sure or possible wins.
Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota are the West teams to play against and honestly they will have a hard time winning a game in this list.
It depends a bit how Illinois and Minnesota do adjust to their new coaches, a win over Iowa would be a major upset.
Inside the division they are clearly the underdog in every game.
Best bet is they will challenge Maryland at season final for the eventual still open last place in the division.
Knights fans have to hope for the future, since I don't see the team better than finishing last this year.

Maryland Terrapins
The Terrapins are under a big change in culture and expectations, based on their cooperation with Under Armor many people are talking about the “Oregon of the East”.
D. J. Durkin, former Michigan DC and LB coach, did become the next HC here and will have to make Maryland a winner.
That won't happen overnight, but with the support of under armor they will likely get better recruits and that way a better team.
If the coach can bring that team together, Maryland can become big, if he can't I think a coach change will happen fast.
For now I think the new coach in his first year can adjust and nobody will expect a miracle for 2016.
The 3 non-conference games will help to eventually exceed the 3 wins of 2015 already in 2016.
A FCS team and 2 low level teams from the AAC and CUSA should be winnable.
UCF could be a sleeper to come out better than expected.
Purdue, Minnesota and Nebraska will be the West teams to play against and except Nebraska those games should also be winnable.
Most crucial game regarding standings will very likely be the home game against Rutgers at season final.
Indiana and Penn State have to be played on the road, which is not a good combination this season.
My pick is, they will win enough games to see an improvement on the wins, but not enough to win the division, not even close.
Long term this team could become at least a contender for the division crown, in 2016 we will not see that team.
I pick them 6th in the division.

Penn State Nittany Lions
James Franklin is now in his 3rd season and so far he had two 7-6 seasons to show for.
I expected a much better season last year, about 10 wins, which was too much to ask for so it seemed.
This season I expect them to get again around 7 to 8 wins, maybe they can exceed it, when you believe in such psychological tricks.
Facing Pitt, Temple and Kent State should help to get a few wins, I expect that Pitt game to be the most interesting one, even they did lose to Temple last season and we have a rematch.
Temple will play now at Penn State and the Lions should be better prepared than last season.
Out of the West the play Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa.
A nice mix, with a hard game against Iowa, at home.
Since I see the Hawkeyes as one of the strongest teams this season, I think the Lions can get 2 wins out of those 3 games.
Penn State will likely play for a mid-field position inside the division and they will have to challenge the Michigan teams and Ohio State for a better spot than that and Indiana and Maryland to secure a better mid-field spot.
Losing all those games will result in a duel for last place with Rutgers.
Fine, I don't see them really challenging the top 3 teams, but if they want to win a game against one of those team, the game against Ohio State is a home game as is the season final against Michigan State.
They face Indiana on the road and Maryland at home.
Not the best combination.
My pick is, they will fall to Indiana and will settle as 5th team.

Indiana Hoosiers
Last season did Indiana attend a bowl the first time since 2007, but they lost and finished 6-7.
Still the best record Kevin Wilson had so far with Indiana in all the seasons.
Now in his 6th season is it a valid question to ask for more or to expect less because of a reloading phase?
The good news is, it's possible for Indiana to win all the 3 non-conference games, FIU, Ball State and Wake Forest are not really powerhouses.
More interesting is, how many games they will win against conference teams.
Northwestern, Nebraska and Purdue are not the worst combination possible, in fact it's a quite good one.
That Wildcats game is on the road, which might cost them a win, the Huskers are always a threat, I pick here a loss and Purdue will likely be the worst team in the Big10, so the Hoosiers better win that one.
Inside the division they should aim for the games against Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State, since the other 3 teams will likely not only be much stronger, but also heavily involved in national rankings, while the mentioned 4 teams including Indiana might crack the TOP25, but not consistently and not all of them.
Penn State and Maryland are home games, Rutgers is on the road, but they might be the weakest team in the East, so they have the chance to win all those 3 games.
Indiana could improve their record compared to last season, they will likely face a strong Penn State team for the 4th or 5th spot in the division.
My pick is they will win against Penn State and finish 4th.

Michigan Wolverines
Jim Harbaugh found a way to make some noise this off-season participating in felt 1000 satellite camps around the world.
Satellite camps are basically training camps on non-Michigan-sites where young kids can do training under Michigan coaches participation.
The camps do basically invite the Michigan coaches to show players some stuff.
It's of cause a good way to get in touch with promising high school players.
The NCAA is investigating this way of recruiting and it might come down to not allowing such camps or to limit such camps to states or to certain distances to the universities.
Harbaugh did use the press and the current missing strict regulation on such camps to recruit basically everywhere.
Of cause he wanted to get at least as good players as rival Ohio State did get in the past and their recruiting class was one of the best in the nation.
Last season they finished 10-3, including a bowl win.
That was way more than expected and that means automatically that this season the sky is the limit regarding expectations.
The road to a division title and then eventually a conference title and a playoff spot is quite clear.
Win games!
The non-conference games are almost a joke, playing Hawai'i, UCF and Colorado, all at home!
All 3 had negative records in 2015 and together the 3 teams had 7 wins, 3 less than Michigan had alone.
I think it's safe to say the Wolverines will win all 3 games.
On the other hand they have with Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa one of the toughest set of opponents out of the West.
They play Iowa as a road game, the rest are home games and with Iowa expected to repeat last year’s division title season, this game will be a real test.
It's in mid-November, so many game have to be played before that.
Of cause the team could lose to any other mid-level or lower level team during the season, but the most critical ones will be against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State.
Last season they lost both of these games, against MSU with the miracle last-second-snap-fumble-return-TD and against Ohio State with a 29 points margin, both at home.
That means, this season they will face both teams, which are expected to take a small step back, on the road.
The outcome of those games are wide open, especially because of this constellation.
My pick is, Michigan will win 1 of those games, but not both.
In addition I'm not sold on a win against Iowa, which does push Michigan very likely of the top spot in the division.
After looking at the other contenders, I pick Michigan at 3rd.

Michigan State Spartans
Last season did Michigan State again exceed the expectations.
Based on two incredible wins, the last-second-punt-snap-return-TD against Michigan and the last-second-FG-win against Ohio State, both on the road, did MSU get into the conference final, where they did beat Iowa in a close one.
The Spartans went to the College Football Playoffs and lost quite high against later National Champion Alabama.
Not many did see the Spartans to reach the playoffs and winning the conference, so regardless the Alabama-game result, the Spartans had a great season.
Now Mark Dantonio has to get the team back on track after some personal changes on the roster, like a new QB, a new #1 WR and some key OLs.
With his 10th season the team will likely take a step back, but you never know with them.
The FCS team will be no challenge at season opener, the road trip to Notre Dame will be a big one.
I expect a close game, but my gut feeling is, they will have too little found themselves under a new QB to beat the Irish.
Last non-conference game is against BYU which is more likely a win.
From the West they play Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern.
I think the closest game will be the Badgers game, and that's at home.
Inside the division they play Michigan at home and Ohio State also at home, so in theory this should help to push for a division title, right?
It's hard to think they might lose both games, due to the changes inside the team, but 1 loss is plausible.
My pick with them is, they will eventually have to settle with 2nd place inside the division.

Ohio State Buckeyes
For sure was last season not the season Ohio State fans wanted.
That close game against Michigan State did result in a tie at 1st place for the division and the direct compare to MSU did send the Spartans to the conference final, not the preseason favored Buckeyes.
Urban Meyer is in his 5th season with OSU and will aim again for a playoff ticket, a conference title and at first for the division.
The team had some major personal changes on the roster, losing their star backfield as example, but of cause the Buckeyes are loaded with talent.
The key for success this season will be, whether Meyer can bring that talent to full speed in no time.
Latest at the 3rd gameday facing Oklahoma in Norman will a full strength team be needed.
Bowling Green and Tulsa can likely be beaten with a lesser skilled Buckeyes team, but the Sooners will be strong.
I have a question mark on that game and I'm undecided, who will win this.
The West will send Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska as inter-division games.
Could have been worse, but also much easier. The likely toughest team out of Wisconsin will be played in Badgers-country.
Question mark number 2.
To make this preview a bit shorter the last 2 games are against MSU (road) and Michigan (home) and I'm undecided who will win here.
Overall the schedule looks easy enough to have better chances to win the division than Michigan and Michigan State.
It will be a 3 team contention over the whole season, I did pick the Buckeyes at 1st placed team exactly because of that slim higher chance to win games, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a different team at 1st place after the last gameday.

West Division

Purdue Boilermakers
This one I will make short.
Darrell Hazell is in his 4th season and so far he won 6 games in 3 full seasons.
Granted Purdue is not known for a winning team, but for sure the AD will not tolerate a non-progressing team.
From time to time the team should have spikes of success, right?
So it’s make or break for the Boilermakers?
They start with 3 home games against a FCS team, Cincinnati and Nevada and they will have their hands full already.
I'm undecided whether they can win against Nevada, but I fear they will win only 1 game out of the 3 games.
Not a nice start.
The East will bring Maryland, Penn State and Indiana.
Easy, compared to other combinations, but not THAT easy.
I see Purdue as the weakest team in the conference, hence I have doubts they can win here.
And inside the division, they better beat Northwestern if my picks are right, since this might elevate them out of last place.
My pick is they will not make it and will finish last.
Don’t ask me about a coaching change, Purdue is special, Hazell will likely survive another losing season.

Northwestern Wildcats
The Wildcats might take a step back from last season 2nd place finish and a 10-3 record.
I always to see the team worse than they normally are, it might happen again this season.
Pat Fitzgerald is in his 11th season and honestly he did his job very good.
With several new coaches in the league and 3 big fishes for the top spot the Wildcats will have to play either great or will fall deep compared to last year.
Western Michigan, a FCS team and Duke are the non-conference games and they could win all of them, the Duke game at home will be the most interesting one.
Eastern Division opponents are Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana. I pick the Hoosiers game a close one, played at home they might win this.
The 2 top teams from the East will beat the Wildcats, no doubts here.
Inside the division I see only Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota in range, but only the Illini game is a home game.
With a strong coach at Illinois and a strong squad at Minnesota, I fear the Wildcats will lose some games during the season.
Maybe too much to get a bowl spot.
I pick them 6th in the division, which they might prove me wrong about again.

Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illini had a rough season last year.
Their HC was axed prior the season start of the season and the interims coach Bill Cubit had all hand full to avoid a 0-12 campaign.
At the end the record was 5-7 and Cubit got 2 year contract to become the permanent HC.
The whole press was surprised, since normally nobody gets an initial contract for 2 seasons, 3 or 4 are usually the amount of seasons at least.
So nobody was surprised when a new HC was announced, only the name was a surprise.
Lovie Smith, former HC of the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers was introduced and that might become the best news for the Illini community since ages.
He will have his hands full to get Illinois back into the contender mix and with his history we might see that happening sooner than later.
This season will be an adjusting season, with eventually some upsets coming.
A FCS team, UNC and Western Michigan are the non-conference games.
Except the Tar Heels game I can see them winning those.
Rutgers and both Michigan teams are the teams from the East.
I don't think they will be able to win against the Spartans or the Wolverines. Rutgers is a different story. They might be able to win against them, even on the road.
Inside the division they need to get into position against Purdue and Minnesota and Northwestern.
Purdue and Minnesota are home games, so they are in a good position to win here, Northwestern is a road game and I expect a close game.
Summed up they will win some games, but not enough to get the team in the higher mid-field of the division.
My pick is they will finish 5th inside the division.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
It wasn't also an easy year for the Gophers in 2015.
The very much liked Jerry Kill had to resign for health reasons after 7 games and Tracy Claeys, the Gophers DC, was named interims coach and later permanent HC for the rest of the season.
The team did finish 6-7, including a bowl win and they only participated in that bowl thanks to their high Academic Performance Rating, the 5-7 record and the lack of other eligible teams to fill the gazillion bowl spots.
Now Claeys is back for the full season and this team is no longer Kills team.
He did sort his staff new and will have to get the Gophers into the winning regions again.
Not an easy task.
They will start with a 3 team non-conference schedule, facing Oregon State, a FCS team and Colorado State, all at home.
A great bonus for a start, my question mark is on the Colorado State game.
If the Rams made their homework, this can become a loss for the Gophers. I think it will be close, and the home advantage will save them here.
From the East they get Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. Wow, that is almost as soft as it can get, but only the Rutgers game is a home game.
The team will likely win 2 games out of this, I doubt Penn State losing this.
Inside the division they will have to settle the score against Illinois and Northwestern.
Illinois is a road game, Northwestern a home game.
If the transition inside Minnesota is smoothly from last season’s squad to this season’s squad, they will win both games.
The Gophers have all the tools to place themselves at 4th place, could fall to 6th.
I'm optimistic and see them at 4th.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Mike Rileys team did also get a bowl invitation despite the 5-7 record thanks to the APR value and they also won the game, finishing 6-7.
Not bad, but the expectations on the Huskers are championships.
It will be interesting to see, whether he will be able to get the Huskers to top level in this season or maybe the next, or whether patients runs out in Nebraska faster than saying "bust".
Remember they fired their last HC here at Nebraska after a 9-3 season and lack of results on such high level in his 7 seasons with the team.
Riley will need to win, fast.
Non-Conference games are played at home, facing Fresno State, Wyoming and Oregon.
Only Oregon will be really interesting. If the Huskers do lose earlier, they coach will have a hard time early on.
Oregon at home is for sure better than Oregon on the road, but I really have doubts regarding the Huskers ability to stop the fast paced Ducks.
I pick them as losers here.
If they win the season looks a bit brighter.
As inter-division games they have Indiana, Ohio State and Maryland.
The Buckeyes game is on the road, I think they will lose this, the rest looks ok.
Biggest games in the West are against Wisconsin and Iowa. Both are on the road, which does leads me to the conclusion the team will lose more games than wanted and will miss the top spot inside the conference.
Whether they really become the 3rd or the 2nd team is likely depended on direct compare, my pick for now is 3rd.

Wisconsin Badgers
This team could challenge Nebraska and of cause Iowa for the division crown.
Paul Chryst debut was 10-3 and only Iowa and Northwestern were able to beat them last season, inside the conference.
They start this season against LSU, which could be an equal beating they got last season against Alabama.
Akron and Georgia State will be wins, which would settle the non-conference games at 2-1.
More interesting are the East division games.
Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, in a row, both Michigan games on the road.
BOOM. That's the worst case scenario.
Could be a championship move, if they win all of them or at least some, but is likely doom.
I don't think they will win all of them, I don't think they will lose all of them.
Inside the West they play Iowa on the road and Nebraska at home, which does make me think they will survive the season on good shape but with less wins than needed to prevent an Iowa repeat at divisional champion.
That Huskers game will likely decide the direct compare for 2nd place.

Iowa Hawkeyes
In 2015 the Hawkeyes became a symbol for sticking to a coach for more seasons than a coach normally does get nowadays.
Now in his 18th season had Kirk Ferentz some highlights and some career lows to swallow with Iowa.
2012 was probably a very low one, with a 4-8 record, from which the team did recover with 8-5 and a year later with 7-6 in 2014.
Then came 2015 and many were sure Ferentz would finish again at mid-field and this time the school might axe him, given in on the public pressure on the decision the last few seasons to stick with him.
Well, Iowa did play 12-0 over the season, including crucial wins over Wisconsin and Nebraska.
They won the division and played Michigan State in the conference title game, which they lost in a close game.
As consequence they were invited to the Rose Bowl and lost there again against Stanford.
Still the AD looks now like a genius, the public opinion changed of cause dramatically.
THIS season all eyes are on a repeat season, at least regarding the division title.
Miami (OH) and rival Iowa State will be 2 non-conference matchups they can win, the match against FCS national champ North Dakota State will be different, even at home.
It's not 100% they will win here. Normally I would expect a FBS team to win against a FCS team any given Saturday, but this NDSU team is special.
They have a 5 season winning streak against FBS teams.
I expect this to break against the Hawkeyes, but you never know.
Rutgers, Penn State and Michigan are not really a hard schedule against the East and except the Michigan game this should be wins.
The Wolverine will be a hard opponent, my pick is still the Hawkeyes can win this at home.
Biggest challenge for the division will give Nebraska and Wisconsin, which are both home games.
You see, I think Iowa has a good chance to repeat.
For now they are my 1st team.

If I take this all into account the season looks not as clear as the preview might suggest.
In fact I think at some point 1 or 2 top teams will get into trouble and we might see a surprising team as divisional champ.
I'm really excited!

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