There won't be any college football games played for quite a while but that doesn't mean we are going to stop talking about the sport we love. Each week during the off-season we will bring you the top stories and we will also be discussing a variety of topics in our weekly roundtable. Over the next several weeks we will be touching on all of the BCS Conferences and also taking a look at the non-BCS teams.
We started with the ACC, hit the Big 12 last week and this week we will be talking Big Ten football. Agree, disagree or want to chime in to the conversation then let us know in the comments. If you want to pose a question for us to answer then e-mail it to us at collegefootballzealot at gmail.com or just drop it in the comments section. Joining us this week on our panel of College Football Enthusiasts are a couple of very knowledgeable Big Ten guys.
First we have Joe Lucia who is most well known for his outstanding coverage of the Atlanta Braves over at Chop-N-Change but he also has a passion for football. In addition to his work covering the Braves he also is the lead editor over at the new Big Ten blog Delany's Dozen and also writes for the Northwestern based blog Rise Northwestern. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeCNC and you can follow Delany's Dozen @DelanysDozen. If that's not enough Big Ten muscle for you we also have Ross from the great Iowa Hawkeyes based SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants giving us his take on this weeks questions. Follow Ross on twitter @RossWB. Enough with the chit chat, let's talk college football!
The biggest off-season story in the Big Ten has been Jim Tressel and the "Tattoo Five". How big of an impact will the suspensions have on Ohio State's season?
Joe (Delanys Dozen): During the initial suspensions, I think the Buckeyes go 4-1 or 5-0 (with the only possible loss being to Miami). But if the NCAA slams the hammer down on Tressel and increases his suspension? All bets are off. The Buckeyes are definitely a talented team, with or without the tattoo five. Their coach though, is one of the best in the game and losing him for an extended period of time during the grueling Big Ten schedule could be murder on the Buckeyes.
Ross (BHGP): As much as other fans of other Big Ten teams want to believe this will cripple Ohio State next year, I'm not sure it will and in apart that's because of the timing of the suspensions. From Ohio State's perspective they could hardly come at a better time next year: four of the five games are at home, two are against MAC opponents (Akron and Toledo) and one is against a rebuilding BCS club (Colorado). Given the level of talent in the OSU program, they should be able to beat those teams without the "Tattoo Five" or Tressel. The other two games are more challenging -- a road trip to Miami and a home game with Michigan State -- but they still happen at the front end of the season when any damage can be mitigated. Unless things change between now and September, they'll have Tressel and the "Tattoo Five" for the stretch run of games in October and November -- and those will be the meaningful games that decide whether or not they can make it to the Big Ten Championship Game next December.
That said, it will be interesting to see how Ohio State works the suspended players back into the mix after their five games suspensions are up -- new players are bound to have stepped up and produced in the interim and there could be some friction between them and the former stars when the latter group returns. Ultimately, I don't expect Ohio State to go any worse than 4-1 during the suspension streak (maybe 3-2 if the replacement players really struggle), but lingering tension could undo the rest of their season -- or all the drama and conflict could galvanize the team and get them to play well with an "us against the world" mentality. Either possibility seems very possible.
Kevin: I think the Buckeyes will lose to either Miami or Michigan State. Miami will be looking for an early statement game under new HC Al Golden and Michigan State looks like they could be just as good as they were last year (blow-out loss to Bama not included). Like Joe, I'm concerned about the loss of Tressel and how the Buckeyes will react to that. I think with Tressel the Buckeyes still could go 5-0 but without him I think they slip up somewhere. The Nebraska game is also key and I think Ohio State losses that one. As a fan of Georgia I watched our best player, AJ Green, sit for the first four games last year and then despite being dazzling at times in the first game he came back he cramped up late and Georgia was not able to win without him. These guys will be coming back and will be thrust right into the mix against a nasty Nebraska defense and it will be interesting to see how ready their bodies are to play. This will be an ugly game and Nebraska loves to win ugly. That could be the pivotal game in the Big Ten this year. Win and the Buckeyes could run the table, lose and you are looking at another nasty team in Wisconsin in just a couple of weeks in a must win game.
What is the most intriguing position battle in the Big Ten this spring?
Joe (Delanys Dozen): Call me completely insane, but I am morbidly fascinated by the battle for the starting QB job at Penn State. Matt McGloin played brilliantly in the second half of the year for the Lions, and then dropped a steaming turd in the Outback Bowl. Rob Bolden didn't play all that great when he was starting, but he's the highly touted recruit entering his second year with the team and everyone wants him to win the job. And then, there's Kevin Newsome, who can't get playing time to save his life and has never really gotten a chance. I think Bolden wins the job coming into the year, because Penn State fans are a very fickle bunch and McGloin's horrendous performance in the bowl game could linger throughout the spring and summer.
Ross (BHGP): QB at Ohio State. This is only a part-time job since Terrelle Pryor will almost certainly take over the spot once his suspension is up, but there's no other team in the Big Ten that will be breaking in a new QB next year who also has the expectations that Ohio State has. Even with the suspension issue, they have such a loaded team that they'll be dreaming of a potential national title (or at least conference title) next year -- but for that to be possible, whoever fills in at QB for the first five games will need to keep the ship afloat. A loss in one of those five games won't kill the conference title ambitions, but it could cripple the national title hopes -- which means Ohio State's hopes of playing for the crystal football could come down to some little-used veteran back-up or a talented-but-raw freshman.
Kevin: The Ohio State QB battle is very intriguing but I'm going Nebraska on this one. Nothing says Big Ten quite like Nebraska. In a previous roundtable our Nebraska guy, Brandon, brought up the QB battle between Taylor Martinez and Cody Green. Long-term Martinez is probably the guy who can get Nebraska to the next level but short-term Green might be the best chance for them to win this year. Nebraska has changed their offense this year and are opening things up more. New OC Tim Beck has trimmed down the playbook but also wants the offense to be more open and less systematic which I think will help both QBs. I think we will see both guys see action this year as well as Jamal Turner possibly getting some looks in different formations. Nebraska is going to be a factor this year in the Big Ten because of their defense, who wins the QB job could be the key as to how big of a factor they will play.
Which new coach will have the biggest immediate impact on his team this year?
Joe (Delanys Dozen): Out of the three new coaches, Hoke has the best team right now. He inherits an offensive juggernaut with a defense that has more holes than your average block of Swiss cheese. It's worth noting that the defense Hoke nurtured at San Diego State allowed 13 points per game fewer than Michigan did last season under Rich Rodriguez. He's more of a balanced coach than Rodriguez, and I think that's what Michigan needs at this point. Let Denard do his thing, and worry about fixing the defense. As for the other two coaches, Wilson has completely revamped the staff of a bad Indiana team last year and I don't think they compete, as is the norm for the Hoosiers. And for Kill? Well, Minnesota was also a terrible team last year, and the fact that Marqueis Gray is switching positions again just makes me chuckle and wonder what the hell is going on up there.
Ross (BHGP): Brady Hoke at Michigan will have the biggest immediate impact because he steps into the best talent situation of those three newbie coaches. Kill and Wilson are both looking at fairly depleted rosters at Minnesota and Indiana -- they have new starters at QB and lots of work to do on defense. In comparison, Hoke returns the Big Ten Player of the Year in Denard Robinson and a slew of other offensive players. There's still some mystery about how well Robinson will be in a system other than Rich Rodriguez's "spread 'n' shred," but he's enough of a phenomenal talent that it's hard to imagine he still wouldn't be very productive under Hoke. The Michigan defense still needs a lot of work, but (a) they can hardly be much worse than they were last year and (b) I put a little more faith into the sort of defensive talent that a place like Michigan has been recruiting than a place like Indiana or Minnesota has been recruiting.
On the other hand, Michigan could play better and still only finish with a marginally better overall record (8-4). In that sense, Minnesota may be the best bet to make the biggest immediate improvement: they went just 3-9 last year and it's not hard to see them improving to at least 5-7 this year with more competent coaching. Outside of a roadtrip to USC, they have a very manageable non-conference schedule (Miami (OH), New Mexico State, North Dakota State) and stealing 2-3 wins against Big Ten foes isn't a huge stretch.
Kevin: I really want to say Jerry Kill at Minnesota. Minnesota only won three games all of last year but did go out strong by beating Illinois and Iowa (sorry Ross). But looking at Minnesota's schedule it looks like they got roughed up a bit in the scheduling department by not being able to play Indiana and Minnesota. Oh wait, they are Minnesota (doh!). But seriously, they have a five-game gauntlet in the middle of the season that looks rough (Nebraska, Iowa, at Mich State, Wisconsin and at Northwestern). I think Minnesota will have a better record this year but I don't see them making a big leap in year one. Against my better judgement I'm going to go with Michigan and Brady Hoke. I think the schedule sets up nicely for the Wolverines this year. They play Notre Dame and 3 very winnable games to start off and then they play Mich State and Northwestern. They probably start off 5-3 or 6-2 and then they have games at Iowa and at Illinois. Iowa is such a wild-card this year. They lose so much on offense it's tough to tell how good they will be. Predicting how the schedule plays out is such a tough thing to do but I think there is a good chance it falls positively for Hoke and Michigan this year.
Who are your "way too early" picks to win the Leaders and Legends divisions?
Joe (Delanys Dozen): The Legends division looks like the weaker one on paper, with three of the bottom four teams in the conference last season residing there. The best player in that division is probably Taylor Martinez of new addition Nebraska, and I think the Huskers and their stout defense takes the crown there. As for the Leaders division, the Buckeyes are always an easy bet. But if Tressel's suspension is extended, it's a whole new ballgame. I still like Ohio State to win, but I think a Wisconsin team that has consistently shown an ability to reload could knock them off. And if you want an overall surprise team: Northwestern. Yeah I know, a homer pick. But if Dan Persa doesn't get hurt against Iowa, the Cats have a chance to finish 2010 at 9-4 instead of 7-6. The Wildcats don't lose a ton of talent, and could make a move in the Legends division if Nebraska struggles in their new conference and Iowa's off the field troubles continue during the season.
Ross (BHGP): These are hopelessly boring picks, but my early prediction is that Ohio State wins the Leaders division and Nebraska wins the Legends division. Nebraska has a murderous schedule, but they should have an incredibly stout defense as well as some key playmakers back on offense; they'll also benefit from the fact that Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern all have a lot of holes of their own to fill next year. Iowa has to rebuild their defense and find a new quarterback. Northwestern and Michigan can't be taken seriously until they field competent defenses. And Michigan State loses key players on both sides of the ball, too. Ohio State will benefit from getting Tressel and the "Tattoo Five" back for the stretch run in conference play -- and from the fact that their two biggest rivals (Penn State and Wisconsin) have a lot of questions to answer. When in doubt, it rarely fails to default to Ohio State.
Kevin: In the Liars division, oops sorry must have had a Tressel slip there so let's start over. In the Leaders division I'm going to go Wisconsin. I think Wisconsin beats Ohio State head-to-head again and that gives them the division. The Legends division is much tougher. While I really can only see Ohio State and Wisconsin coming out of the Liars Leaders division, I could see Michigan State, Iowa, Nebraska or Northwestern coming out of the Legends division. My gut is telling me Nebraska but then I took a look at the schedule and they have both Wisconsin and Ohio State. So does my next pick Michigan State. I'm going with Northwestern because they don't play Ohio State or Wisconsin and they have the best player in the Big Ten in Dan Persa. I know that sounds crazy and I will be scorned in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Iowa City and Lincoln but it will be worth it when I'm right (*crosses fingers*).