Friday, August 26, 2011

Around the Big Ten and the Other Two

ed. This season we are featuring some new contributor here at Productive Sweatpants. We have three guest contributors covering different conferences. Here is the first B1G entry from our B1G contributor. 

With all the talk about change in the B1G, you might think it will be spread offenses and Tampa 2 defenses for everyone. It won’t be. However, the changes are significant.

Let’s start with Nebraska. Welcome Cornhuskers. I honestly think this is a good move for Nebraska for all the obvious reasons. Their fans are excited about seeing new venues and a conference that respects them as equals. However, don’t let us fool you.  We don’t expect this to be a return to your glory years of the Big 8 when it was Oklahoma and Nebraska every year. You’ll have to earn your respect, not rely on your tradition. See: Penn State.

We also welcome division play and a championship game. The Leaders and Legends names should have joined the new Cy-Hawk trophy in redesign, but apparently they are here to stay. It’s really easy though. If you team starts with an M or and N or is Iowa, then they are in the Legends division. If it doesn’t- then they are in the Leaders. Logical, its not.

Let me say this in defense of Jim Delaney and the corporate boys: the divisions appear to be well-balanced. The B1G clearly wanted to avoid what happened to the Big 12 when one division became top heavy. The SEC model of balance is clearly better.

Indianapolis was the obvious pick for the championship game because of its central location and its indoor venue. If Jim Delaney and the corporate boys had wanted something with tradition they would have picked Soldier Field, but lets be honest. Indianapolis will mean more money and a sterile environment- its all the things corporate America loves.

Other than that, it’s the same old B1G. Here’s an update from Around the League in advance of next week’s kickoff edition.

Illinois- Nathan Scheelhaase returns for the Fighting Illini, but so does Ron Zook. They open up with 4 non-conference home games- South Dakota State? Really? The floor is 4 B1G wins. The rest are 3 games at home against Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State, plus a road trip to Penn State. They get one of them and go to a good bowl game again. It’s the right direction, but frankly they should do better with a Chicago recruiting base.

Indiana- Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A lot people think Indiana’s new coach, Kevin Wilson, will turn the program around. Wake me if they hit .500 in November.

Iowa- Kirk Ferentz’s charges had a very disappointing year after they were a popular dark horse pick a year ago. This year? No pressure, but they have a lot of questions. Still, Iowa performs at its best when they sneak up on people. They could be in Indianapolis if the ball bounces right. If it bounces wrong, they will be in Iowa City for the holidays.

Michigan- What do you do about a problem like Michigan? The RichRod experience ended because of the defense- specifically the lack thereof. Brady Hoke has promised to revamp it. Denard Robinson returns and, save Dan Persa, there may not be a better playmaker in the League. They have a great schedule with winnable road trips to Michigan State and Iowa. Does Michigan get to Indy? No. But they do win 8-9 games and Hoke starts to right the ship.

Michigan State- Mark Dantonio is very good coach. They lost only one B1G game last year ago and return QB Kirk Cousins. They can and frankly, should win the Legends Division. Still, the schedule is tough- at Notre Dame, at Ohio State, at Nebraska and at Iowa, who humiliated them a year ago in Iowa City, 37-6. I just have this sneaking suspicion that the Spartans are not going to get it done.

Minnesota- Jerry Kill, welcome to Minneapolis. The Gophers open up at USC. That’ll be fun. The Gophers won two B1G games a year ago; they will be hard-pressed to repeat that feat this year. Kill may well get the program turned around, but it won’t be this year.

Nebraska- Husker fans are not yet sold on Taylor Martinez. The inaugural schedule is brutal. The Bug eaters though have talent and anything other than an appearance in Indy will be a disappointment. We will know early on as they go to Wisconsin and then host Ohio State back-to-back to open up B1G play. I think the Legends Division winner is going to have two losses. The Huskers are very much in contention, but cannot lose their confidence early.

Northwestern- Dan Persa is the offense. The bad news- no one is playing defense. It might be an upgrade if head coach and former two-time Nagurski and Bednarick winner Pat Fitzgerald suited up. If Persa gets hurt- game over. If he stays healthy, they go 4-4 and beat some people they shouldn’t and lose to some people they shouldn’t. That’s what happens when you have an inconsistent football team that is dependent on one very talented player.

Ohio State- No one is more excited to snap the football than the Buckeyes. I’m not going to detail their off-season because I don’t really care about tattoos for autograph’s scandal. In 2008 and 2009 they had the #3 and #4 ranked recruiting classes. In 2011, it was #11. In their down year of the 2010- it was #25. They have too much talent to not be the favorite in their division (the non-M, non-N, non-Iowa one).  Luke Fickell is coaching for his job and I would not bet against a talented and motivated team.

Penn State- Joe Paterno hasn’t been this excited since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Okay, he’s not that old. The Nittany Lions get a severe test in Week 2 when #2 Alabama comes a callin’. Other than that, it could very well be smooth sailing until the final 3 weeks of the season. They finish with Nebraska at home and trips to Ohio State and then Wisconsin. Ouch. Still, they have talent and a strong start could propel them to Indianapolis. I don’t think it will happen, but it would be a nice script for what I think is JoePa’s last year.

Purdue- They just lost their starting quarterback Rob Henry. Danny Hope was hoping to start the turnaround this year, but this is a significant setback. The good news is that they have Middle Tennessee State and SE Missouri State on the schedule. They will likely have the distinction of being the Leader’s cellar dweller in the inaugural year. No word on whether there is a trophy for that. Maybe a sewage hose?

Wisconsin- This really shouldn’t be allowed, but it is. Russell Wilson will finish up in Madison this year. After transferring from North Carolina State, he will not sit out a year, but suit right up and play. Wisconsin will have a good defense and a good run game. Wilson was dynamic at State, will that continue? Maybe. However the system and offense are different. Wisconsin is going to be good and if all goes well with Wilson, they could well be headed back to Pasadena. I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon though…at least not yet.

Its going to be a great year in the B1G. If there is anything better than the pagentry of college football and the excitement of an upcoming season I'm not aware of it. I'm excited to be along for the ride with you here at Productive Sweatpants. From the highlights to the lowlights every week we will cover it all. Until next week, that's this week.

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