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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Big Ten

2009 Standings
Ohio State Buckeyes 11-2 (7-1)
Iowa Hawkeyes 11-2 (6-2)
Penn State Nittany Lions 11-2 (6-2)
Wisconsin Badgers 10-3 (5-3)
Northwestern Wildcats 8-5 (5-3)
Michigan State Spartans 6-7 (4-4)
Purdue Boilermakers 5-7 (4-4)
Minnesota Golden Gophers 6-7 (3-5)
Illinois Fighting Illini 3-9 (2-6)
Michigan Wolverines 5-7 (1-7)
Indiana Hoosiers 4-8 (1-7)

Returning Leaders: Passing
Ben Chappell, Indiana, Sr (268 of 428 for 2942 yds, 17 TD, 15 INT)
Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin, Sr (211 of 328 for 2705 yds, 16 TD, 11 INT)
Kirk Cousins, Mich St, Jr (198 of 328 for 2680 yds, 19 TD, 9 INT)
Adam Weber, Minnesota, Sr (191 of 267 for 2582 yds, 13 TD, 15 INT)
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa, Sr (171 of 304 for 2417 yds, 17 TD, 15 INT)

Returning Leaders: Rushing
John Clay, Wisconsin, Jr (287 carries for 1517 yds, 18 TD, 5.2 ypc)
Evan Royster, Penn State, Sr (205 carries for 1169 yds, 6 TD, 5.7 ypc)
Ralph Bolden, Purdue, Jr (200 carries for 935 yds, 9 TD, 4.6 ypc)
Adam Robinson, Iowa, Soph (181 carries for 834 yds, 5 TD, 4.6 ypc)
Terrelle Pryor, Ohio St, Jr (162 carries for 779 yds, 7 TD, 4.8 ypc)

Returning Leaders: Receiving
Keith Smith, Purdue, Sr (91 rec for 1100 yds, 6 TD, 7.6 rec/game)
Tandon Doss, Indiana, Jr (77 rec for 962 yds, 5 TD, 6.4 rec/game)
Damarlo Belcher, Indiana, Jr (61 rec for 770 yds, 5 TD, 5.1 rec/game)
DeVier Posey, Ohio St, Jr (60 rec for 828 yds, 8 TD, 4.6 rec/game)
Nick Toon, Wisconsin, Jr (54 rec for 805 yds, 4 TD, 4.2 rec/game)

Returning Leaders: Tackles
Greg Jones, Mich St, Sr, LB (154 total, 11.8 tackles/game)
Ross Homan, Ohio St, Sr, LB (108 total, 8.3 tackles/game)
Ian Thomas, Indiana, Jr, LB (95 total, 7.9 tackles/game)
Brian Rolle, Ohio St, Sr, LB (94 total, 7.2 tackles/game)
Eric Gordon, Mich St, Sr, LB (93 total, 7.1 tackles/game)

Returning Leaders: Sacks
Adrian Clayborn, Iowa, Sr, DE (11.5 sacks)
Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue, Sr, DE (11.0)
Greg Jones, Mich St, Sr, LB (9.0)
Cameron Heyward, Sr, DE (6.5)

Returning Leaders: Interceptions
Tyler Sash, Iowa, Jr, SS (6 interceptions)
Ross Homan, Ohio State, Sr, LB (5)
Brett Greenwood, Iowa, Jr, FS (3)
Brian Peters, Northwestern, Jr, SS (3)
Kyle Theret, Minnesota, Jr, S (3)


Illinois Fighting Illini

Chris (Prediction: #10): Bloop de bloop, de bweedley deep de deep de derk. Ron Zook is A COACH! For those of you who don't watch South Park and didn't understand the Rob Schneider joke reference, you're missing out. But the point is, Zook is a person masquerading as a coach. The only thing that we have to do now is figure out how long the act is in town. Newsflash: It's over at the end of this year. Also, I'm not even going to explain why I think the Illini will finish in 10th. It's Ron Zook isn't it? That's explanation enough.

J Martin (Prediction: #9): I never bought into the Juice Williams hype, but even I was astounded at just how badly the Illini fell on their face in 2009. I’m even more astounded that Ron Zook still has a job. I guess you can line up Illinois next to Maryland and Colorado as the schools that don’t care about football. But they’re still going to field a team this year, so I guess I’ll talk about them. It’s looking like a total reboot on the offensive side of the ball with new OC Paul Petrino needing to find a new QB, a new top receiver, and a consistent rushing attack, which they’ve lacked since Rashard Mendenhall bolted. (I really wish Daniel Dufrene had panned out, if only because my “Dufrene! Party of 6!” TD call was a big party hit.) Defensively, they’re a really underwhelming group, even though they return a fair amount of experience. Basically, it’s just a lame duck team. And they have two lower division teams on their schedule, so they’ll have to win 7 to get to a bowl. And that ain’t happening. I think everybody here will be through and waiting for the new coach by November.

Ross (Prediction: #9): The good news is that they return 3/5 of the offensive line and one of the league's most underrated running backs (Mikel LeShoure) and don't have to deal with the Juice Williams Experience anymore. On the other hand, they're on yet another new offensive coordinator and Ron Zook is still there. There are a few more faces back on defense, but really the last two years have made it crystal clear that it doesn't matter how much returning talent the Illini have; so long as Ron Zook is there, he'll find a way to screw it up. Skipping Iowa and Wisconsin on the schedule is a plus, but a three-game stretch against Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State could crush their season.

Indiana Hoosiers

Chris (Prediction: #9): Indiana should improve gradually on offense as the year goes along, bringing back a lot of key pieces to the puzzle in the way of skill position players and just enough on the offensive line. As for defense...yeah, well...there's always next year.

J Martin (Prediction: #10): Indiana finished 1-7 at the bottom of the conference for the second straight season in 2009, but if just a handful of plays had gone the other way, they could have easily been 3-5 and playing in a bowl game. Because of that, they seem to have the most upward momentum of the worst programs in the conference. Unfortunately, when you’re at the level of an Indiana, progress isn’t always a straight line because you don’t have the talent on deck to pick up where the departing seniors left off. This year, Indiana will be feeling that the most on the defensive side of the ball, where they lose 9 of their top 13 contributors from last season. Not that the Hoosiers were world-beaters on D last year, but they were experienced, plucky guys who helped Indiana win the turnover battle in 7 of their 12 games (while their quarterback was busy throwing 15 interceptions). So its definitely a rebuilding year on that side of the ball. And the offense is simply not good enough to make up the difference. Their 4 patsy non-conference games should allow them to match 09’s win total, but beyond that, the going gets tough. This won’t be the year they take a step forward.

Ross (Prediction: #10): Indiana should have a very strong offense, considering they return nine starters -- everyone but a pair of linemen. QB Ben Chappell was pretty productive a year ago and he has all of his primary targets back again this year. So that's good. But an already bad defense returns only four starters and loses virtually all of its best players, too. That's a problem. They'd better get their wins early, too, since the schedule has them close with games against Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Purdue. A year ago Indiana was good enough to hang in there for a while against Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State; they were also bad enough to choke away all those games and get destroyed, 47-7, by Indiana. Their offense might be good enough to steal a game or two in the Big Ten, but they're going to need to score a lot of points to overcome their leaky defense.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Chris (Prediction: #2): My bonehead prediction of 2009: "Iowa does not stand a chance against GT's triple option in the bowl game. They're going to get throttled." Whoops...looks like I've got some splainin' to do on that one. 1. I was wrong. 2. Did I mention I was wrong? Like WAY wrong? So yeah, my bad in my failed attempt to pick against the Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz is an amazing program coach. He might not be flashy or in a league of his own, but he knows how to year in and year out put a good football team on the field. Defensively they should be among the nation's best again, returning 8 starters on that side of the ball. The concern is on offense, while returning Ricky Stanzi and some skill position guys, they have a completely revamped O-line. This team was a couple of injuries away from an undefeated season, although if you look at the first game, this team was a point away from being beaten at home by Northern Iowa too. So I'm not ready to call a team that loses so much from a sub-par offense a world-beater. The truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes...and that's why I think that Iowa will finish second to Ohio State and its arsenal of weapons on offense.

J Martin (Prediction: #2): I love this Iowa team. On defense, they look set to pick up right where they left off in 2009. Yes, they lost two very good linebackers and a good cornerback, but virtually everyone else who made a significant contribution to last year's unit is back. On offense, I expect them to be better than in 09. The offensive line doesn't look as dominant on paper, but OL's are Kirk Ferentz's specialty, so I have no doubt he'll put a quality line on the field. The main area where they need improvement is turnovers, particularly Ricky Stanzi's interceptions. If he can cut his 09 number in half, the Hawkeyes will be tough to beat. And I think he can do that. I think when presumptive running back starter Jewel Hampton went down with a preseason injury, thrusting that job into the hands of a couple of freshmen, it put the offense into a situation they weren't entirely comfortable with. Namely, it required Stanzi to make more plays than maybe he needed to at that point in his development. This year Hampton is back, and those freshmen (who didn't play half bad as the season progressed) now have a year's worth of experience under their belts. That's going to create more of a comfort zone for Stanzi and allow him to be more efficient with the football. I have this team below Ohio State right now, but just by a hair. The schedule definitely plays into their favor as they get their top 3 conference opponents at home. Iowa just needs to prove to me that they can win the lesser games consistently, like say against Northwestern, right along with the big games before I ever put them at #1.

Ross (Prediction: #2): Everything hinges on the development of the offensive line and the team's ability to stay healthy. The defense looks absolutely loaded and the offense is strong at the skill positions. But if guys start going down, there isn't a huge amount of depth at most positions. And the offensive line is still a big question mark, given that they have to work in three new starters who haven't had a lot of experience thus far. Still, if the injury gods smile upon them and the offensive line develops into a respectable outfit, this is a team built to go far. They get all of their toughest foes at home and the schedule is fairly manageable. On the other hand, their history against OSU is absolutely miserable, which makes it hard to pick them over OSU for now.

Michigan Wolverines

Chris (Prediction: #5): So Michigan started the season 5-2, and because of his stellar play everyone was lapping up the Wolverines and true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier. EHHHHHHHHH! Wrong answer. Survey says...the Wolves lost their remaining five games, and with exception of Purdue, they weren't close. So Michigan, what's up? Let's talk. For one, I have absolute faith that Forcier is a gamer and that if anyone is going to elevate that program back to where it was, it's him. The way he played as a true freshman coming into a situation that bad and with such moxie, WOW! Matt Barkley played like dog excrement compared to Forcier, especially considering that Barkley had skill position talent galore around him. Also, how long can Rich Rod and Michigan really be bad? I mean really? The guy's a winner. He may do it illegally, but he does win. The question is how will the ongoing NCAA probe affect the Maize and Blue? I think this is the year though, all things considered, that Michigan gets it right. I'm either way wrong or way right on this one. Here's to hoping I'm way right that one of college football's true traditional powerhouses comes back strong. Even Buckeyes fans want to see the rivalry game actually be somewhat competitive again!

J Martin (Prediction: #7): I’ll admit it’s really difficult for me to get a handle on Michigan this year for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t know who the quarterback is going to be. RichRod’s offense is totally dependent on who the trigger man is. In his heart of hearts, I think he wants Denard Robinson to be the QB because he’s the most dangerous runner of the two, but Forcier has shown more as a passer and doesn’t seem to be going away (unless he gets his feelings hurt and transfers, as rumored). If Forcier is the QB, Michigan is probably going to be in the .500 range, like last year, and maybe go to a bowl. If Robinson is the QB, they could go anywhere from 4-8 to 9-3. Secondly, I just don’t know how this team is going to respond to the axe hanging over Rodriguez’s neck. Are they going to rally around him and fight for a bowl, or are they going to quit and wait to start over with the new coach? Last year began under a similar cloud, and they started out inspired, but then they seemed to give up after dropping games to Michigan State and Iowa. If this year’s team doesn’t have more heart, this season could get REALLY ugly, because I think UConn has the team to show up in Ann Arbor and clean their clocks in week 1. I'm kinda on the fence, but I hate the 3-3-5 defense that Rich is bringing back, so I guess I'll be on the side of pessimism.

Ross (Prediction: #7): It seems increasingly unlikely that the Michigan defense will be able to stop a soul in 2010 (especially through the air), which means that the offense is going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting to win games. Luckily, they return a pretty fair amount of talent on offense (3/5 of the OL, QB, a pair of receivers, and a tight end) and showed signs last year of evolving into the sort of high-powered offense that's been a staple of most Rodriguez-coached teams. But that defense... that defense is scary (and not in a good way), especially the secondary, which is an utter wasteland after multiple injuries and defections of highly-ranked talent. The schedule doesn't do them any favors, either; four of their final six Big Ten games are against Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.

Michigan State Spartans

Chris (Prediction: #6): My logic here? Good coach, okay team...not as good as at least four of the teams ahead of them in the Big Ten (may be faltering on my Michigan prediction already), but is definitely not as bad as the 5 teams below. Middle of the road Michigan State can knock people off, or lose to questionable teams. But in the end it all equals out and the Spartans should improve at least one game from their 6-7 season a year ago. You know they should really make some kind of rule with 6-6 bowl teams that if they lose and go 6-7 than they should have to play another 6-7 team that lost and the winner gets back to .500. The loser is disqualified from playing in a bowl the next year because there is no way a team like that should have ever played in a bowl in the first place. Who's with me?

J Martin (Prediction: #6): The Spartans suffered somewhat of a let down in 2009. Despite some turnover on offense, the defense was expected to carry the team to another 9 or 10 win season. But early in the year, the secondary completely imploded, and MSU ended up with one of the worst pass defenses in the conference. That exacerbated issues with a young offense, and the next thing you know, they’re struggling to make a bowl game. Well, the defense is slightly less experienced, with many of their losses coming in the secondary. Your first instinct might be to expect another bad year, but my opinion is that when you’re as bad as the Spartans were in 09, a bunch of fresh faces can be just what you need. I’m looking for a big rebound, led by returning senior linebacker Greg Jones. I also expect more out of the offense now that they’ve settled in on one quarterback and all those freshman running backs have had a year to mature in the system. They still won’t be ready to compete with the best in the conference, but they should return to 8-9 win form.

Ross (Prediction: #5): MSU looks a lot like Iowa on offense: lots of returning talent at the skill positions and a lot of question marks along the offensive line. QB Kirk Cousins might be the best quarterback in the Big Ten and he has a slew of returning targets to throw to, which should lead to some impressive passing stats for MSU. They also have some talented RBs in Larry Caper and Edwin Baker; they saw a lot of action last year as true freshmen and that experience should serve them well this year. Still, all of that offensive firepower could be for naught if the new look offensive line can't open holes for the backs and keep Cousins upright -- and that's a definite concern for now. The defense is stacked at LB with veterans Greg Jones and Eric Gordon and newcomers William Gholston and Max Bullough. On the other hand, they'll need to find a pair of new starters along the defensive line and in the secondary. Still, if they get some quality play from the newcomers in the defense and the offensive line gels quickly, this could be a surprise team in the Big Ten.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Chris (Prediction: #11): Gone are the days of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney rushing for 1,000 yards in the same year (in fact gone are those days in the NFL too, apparently...despite the fact that they are on different teams). Minnesota's offense will improve by way of returning a whopping 9 starters (which isn't saying much, it's hard to get worse than 109th in have to try pretty hard to do that). YAY! Whew. Wait, but they're still ranked 11th in the Big 10 (that sounds funny even to this day, I know, I chuckle)? So what's the bad news? Oh yeah, they return two on a D that was below average a year ago, including none in their front 7. YIKES! All Gophers fans can do is sit back and think about the days of their dreadlock tandems of running backs. Those were the days...

J Martin (Prediction: #11): It’s going to be a rough year in Minneapolis. I haven’t thought much of the Gophers for the past two seasons, but they’ve managed enough hocus pocus with the schedule to get bowl eligible in both. This season, the schedule is brutal, as they play USC and draw the consensus top 4 teams in the conference, and four of those games are at home (basically wasting home field advantage on teams they have no chance of beating). Even if they were good, they’d struggle. But despite returning nearly the entire offense, they lose their best player by far (Eric Decker), and Adam Weber is not a good quarterback at all. The defense was actually respectable last season, but they return only 2 starters in 2010. Minnesota has a nice new stadium. After this season, it might be time for the administration there to bring in a coach who can field a football team to match it.

Ross (Prediction: #11): As it stands, they're slated to return all of two starters and they'll be breaking in a new defensive coordinator, too. Expecting the Gophers to stop too many teams is a fool's errand. On the bright side, they return nine on offense, including fourth-year starter Adam Weber at QB. Of course, Weber is also working under his third or fourth different offensive coordinator, has regressed each year he's been there, and is without his safety blanket target (Eric Decker). Aside from Decker, they also return most of his top receivers, their leading rusher from a year ago, and their entire offensive line. But like Zook, Tim Brewster has managed the art of getting less out of his team and it's hard not to see them crumbling under the weight of a tough schedule (they entertain USC, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa at home this year).

Northwestern Wildcats

Chris (Prediction: #7): Take your pick. It will be Purdue or Northwestern. Just like the middle of the Pac-10, this is truly hard to decide. Neither team brings much back, but Northwestern brings back 12 starters off of a surprising 8-5 team vs. Purdue bringing back 10 starters off of a decidedly average team a year ago. It's a fight to the finish, the only difference is, the winner only wins 7th place.

J Martin (Prediction: #5): Pat Fitzgerald has a really good thing going at Northwestern. And while I don’t see his program ever breaking through to contend for the Big 10 title, I also don’t see why he can’t keep winning about 8 games a year. He accomplishes the things that Bobby Johnson used to get credit for almost doing at Vanderbilt. The past 2 years, his Wildcats have finished 4th in the conference at 5-3. He generates this kind of consistency because his teams are always going to be focused around playing sound defense. This season, they return their entire starting linebacker unit. Their biggest challenge will be replacing the underrated Mike Kafka at QB, but presumptive starter Dan Persa gave Kafka a run for his money last off-season, and as a junior, he’s very familiar with the system. Their schedule divides neatly into two halves, and Northwestern could easily be 6-0 at the break. That could make them an extremely dangerous opponent to face late in the year, because they’ll already be bowl eligible and playing with house money, as they say. Revenge-minded Iowa should be wary heading into Evanston.

Ross (Prediction: #6): On the flipside of Michigan State, you have a team like Northwestern, who returns 4/5 of their offensive line but will be breaking in new starters at QB and two of the three starting WR spots. Still, Northwestern has usually done a fine job of finding unheralded players to come in and play at a high level at those spots. The defense features a lot of returning experience at LB and CB, but will be fielding new faces in the secondary and along the defensive line (where some newbie has the unpleasant task of trying to replace stud DE Corey Wooten). But Fitzgerald has proven himself to be an excellent coach, so it's not wise to bet against them too much. They'll probably lose to a team or two that they shouldn't, but they'll also beat a team or two that they shouldn't and will probably be a pesky out for each team on their schedule.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Chris (Prediction: #1): The Buckeyes are the prohibitive favorite to win the Big 10 and possibly even exorcise their demons by winning a national championship (though the Buckeyes do NOT want to see an SEC team meeting them there. Oh please, oh please, oh pretty please football gods! We knew you'd understand, we just can't beat the best of the best). Terrelle Pryor has been lambasted from the beginning of his sophomore year, the time in which fans thought he should have arrived and reached his potential. Instead, Pryor took baby steps until the Rose Bowl and then blew up. Fluke? I don't know, but I doubt it. I think some part of that guy has turned the corner. We'll see how much Pryor has grown when the Bucks go to Iowa for what will probably decide the conference champion. The defense lost some key cogs, but when does a Jim Tressel coached team not play good D? And they will again. Also running back is a concern. Nobody screams the next Beanie Wells. But I think Ohio State is a safe bet to at least take the Big 10, although I'm choosing not to speculate beyond that right now.

J Martin (Prediction: #1): I vacillated back and forth between the Buckeyes and Iowa as to which team was the best in the conference. It was a tough call. Both are loaded. Ultimately, I went with Ohio State. There isn't much negative you can say about this team on paper. They return a wealth of talent and experience on both sides of the ball. The only real question is which Terrelle Pryor is going to show up this season. The one from the Rose Bowl, or the one that had people calling for him to be moved to receiver? My guess is that he ends up close to Rose Bowl form. And if that's the case, the only thing standing in their way is a conference schedule that sees them go on the road to face their two biggest challenges this season, Iowa and Wisconsin. That almost tipped me in favor of the Hawkeyes. But then I remembered: these guys have developed into Big 10 road warriors over the past few years. Barring their epic brain fart against Purdue last year, the Buckeyes haven't lost a Big 10 away game since losing to Penn State in 2005. Kirk Ferentz does a great job at Iowa, but Jim Tressel has this program humming along on a much higher level than anybody else in the Big 10, and they know how to take care of business. They should win their 6th straight conference title, and maybe play in the BCS title game for the 4th time in the past decade if they can avoid another early season big game letdown against The U. They will then, of course, lose.

Ross (Prediction: #1): They return nine on offense and six on defense and have been so consistently dominant in the Big Ten that it's difficult to pick against them, no matter how much I'd like to. If the progress Pryor showed in the Rose Bowl was more than a one-game blip, the offense should be truly terrifying, as they'll have a dangerous passing game to go along with one of the nation's best rushing attacks. The defense has some key holes to fill (mainly, three spots along the defensive line), but OSU has done a better job of reloading than anyone else in the league, especially on defense... so it would be foolish to bet against them. Particularly since the guys they have starting this year are not fresh-faced newbies; they've seen a fair amount of action. The main potential red flag from them is the schedule, which has them facing their two toughest league rivals, Iowa and Wisconsin, on the the road.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Chris (Prediction: #4): The Big 10 is really a 3-team race (sorry if this is the first you've heard of this JoePa), but Penn State is right behind that group. Kevin Newsome should be a capable replacement for Darryl Clark in the athleticism department, but Clark brought such intangibles and leadership to the position that I think it is unlikely to expect Newsome to come right in and resume that role. In fact, he may never reach that level. To be honest, I don't know whether to be more worried about the offense or the defense. Neither will be bad, but neither will be spectacular. Because of Evan Royster I will go with the D. Royster's workload will probably increase, which is cause for concern because his statline DRAMATICALLY decreased a year ago, to the tune of 500 or so yards. However, I myself am in love with Royster's game, and I think he'll recover this year, posting equally as gaudy stats as two years ago.

J Martin (Prediction: #4): On paper, this looks like a very mediocre Penn State team to me. They have the schedule to still win 9 games and play in a nice bowl, but I don’t think they’re a threat to Iowa or Ohio State. Obviously, the main problem on offense is quarterback. They have no one with any experience. They have a couple of incoming freshmen who are promising (I hear Robert Bolden is impressing in camp), but knowing Joe Paterno, he’s going to go with the most steady upper classman until the wheels fall off. Of course, the “upper classmen” in question are sophomores, so regardless, the passing game is going to be WAY down. That means it’s going to fall to Evan Royster to carry the offense on the ground. And while he’s a talented guy, that’s going to be somewhat of a new role for him, and its difficult to say if he’s cut out for it. Defensively, they should be typically stout, which will be their saving grace. However, with the loss of their top 3 linebackers, as well as Jared Odrick on the line, they may not be an elite defense in 2010.

Ross (Prediction: #4): PSU returns plenty on offense (the majority of the offensive line, all their top receivers, and Evan Royster and Stephon Green at RB)... but they have a major question mark at QB, where they still haven't settled on a starter to replace Daryll Clark. That's definitely a concern, especially since they have to go on the road to Alabama and Iowa in their first five weeks. The defense returns just five and will need to find a pair of new starters along the defensive line and a trio of new linebackers. Fortunately, aside from OSU, no one in the Big Ten has done a better job of just reloading on defense than PSU; they have some highly-talented players waiting in the wings to step in and start at LB and along the defensive line. Really, the thing that damages this team the most might be the schedule: they should be a team that improves as the season progresses, but their schedule features some of their toughest games at the start of the season. That could be difficult to overcome.

Purdue Boilermakers

Chris (Prediction: #8): Take a look at Northwestern for my logic. If I'm wrong, see Robert Marve as the reason.

J Martin (Prediction: #8): The Boilermakers have been a better team than their overall record might have led you to believe the past 2 years. In 2009, they actually went 4-4 in the Big 10, and, if not for a slip-up against Northern Illinois, they would have gone to a bowl. This year’s team looks very similar to the past two, in the sense that they don’t wow you with their number of returning starters, but they’re not dreadfully undermanned either. So with their home-and-home series with Oregon coming to an end, and a much lesser opponent coming on, I don’t see any reason why this team can’t achieve bowl eligibility. They should win at least 3 of their non-conference games (Notre Dame is a toss-up), and they get three key conference “swing” games at home (Minnesota, Michigan, and Indiana). The x-factor here will be new quarterback Robert Marve. If he finally has his head on straight, look out. He has an excellent receiving target in Keith Smith, and they can make this offense dangerous.

Ross (Prediction: #8): Robert Marve is a reason for hope as he takes over the QB position (unless you remember him imploding at Miami two years ago, although Purdue fans would rather you didn't mention that), and he has some good targets to throw to (particularly WR Keith Smith)... if the rebuilt offensive line (2/5 starters back) can give him enough protection to find them. RB is a possible trouble spot; Ralph Bolden emerged as a real threat in the Big Ten a year ago, but suffered a significant knee injury in spring practice and may not be ready to go this fall. The defense features one bona fide star (DE Ryan Kerrigan, the best player in the Big Ten that no one talks about) and a number of returning starters in the front seven (3/4 of the defensive line, all three linebackers)... but a host of new faces in the secondary. So Purdue could be in line for quite a few shootouts in 2010; we'll see just how far Marve has come from his Miami days.

Wisconsin Badgers

Chris (Prediction: #3): Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema has filled in seamlessly for Barry Alvarez as the Badgers head coach. He maintained the power running game that his predecessor thrived on, with big backs like P.J. Hill and now John Clay. Expect the Badgers to be pretty amazing offensively, where they return every starter but their fullback. Defensively it might be a work in progress, but the offense has such firepower and can control the clock with their style of play that I don't think the D's flaws will stand out. Wisconsin was only one of 6 teams that averaged 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing a season ago. Expect them to be in that category again, and given a slip up by one of the two above them, they could be seeing roses.

J Martin (Prediction: #3): The recipe for success remains the same as it has for the past 15 or 20 years: take a big, fat running back, line him up behind an even bigger, fatter offensive line, and just run over people. This season, the Badgers have an incredibly experienced big, fat offensive line (109 total starts), and return the big, fat Big 10 offensive player of the year, not to mention another good one in Montee Ball. In fact, they return just about everyone of consequence on offense except Garrett Graham. Scott Tolzien wasn’t overly impressive at QB last year, but he came on strong towards the end, and this team doesn’t need him to be more than an effective game manager. If he cuts his interception total in half, Wisconsin will be tough to beat. They have a very easy non-conference schedule and a favorable conference slate, including Ohio State at home. The only trick is that they have to go to Iowa to play the very next week. But if they take care of business against the Buckeyes at home, they could very well ride that momentum to a victory over the Hawkeyes. Of course…I could also see them going into the tank against Iowa if they lose to OSU. So that’s the critical stretch. 10 wins should be the minimum expectation for this team.

Ross (Prediction: #3): The Badgers are loaded on offense, especially along the line where they return all five starters. Those five behemoths should open plenty of holes for John Clay and Montee Ball and give Scott Tolzien time to hit open receivers on play-action passes. On the other hand, their defense returns only six starters (including just one on the defensive line) and they've been banged up in preseason camp, with two of their best returning defenders (LB Chris Borland and SS Jay Valai) missing time with injuries. The schedule is also a little nasty, as they get Ohio State and Iowa back-to-back. Bielema's done a solid job of beating the teams he should beat at Wisco, but he's struggled to get over the hump and beat the top dogs.

CFBZ Predicted Big Ten 2010 Standings
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
2. Iowa Hawkeyes
3. Wisconsin Badgers
4. Penn State Nittany Lions
5. Michigan State Spartans
6. Northwestern Wildcats
7. Michigan Wolverines
8. Purdue Boilermakers
9. Illinois Fighting Illini
10. Indiana Hoosiers
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers

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