5 Big Questions Surrounding the Big Ten

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There is a 4-way logjam at the top of the Big Ten (Mich State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State). Who is the best team?

Alex: Even after tanking against Iowa, Michigan State has a chance to slip into the Rose Bowl. Iowa/Ohio State is the toughest game any of these teams have to face, with Michigan State/Penn State a close second. If Michigan State were to blow the game Wisconsin is Pasadena bound. However to answer the question I still feel Iowa is the best team in the Big 10 in the slimmest of margins over Wisconsin.

J Martin: My instinct is to say Ohio State is still the "best" team by virtue of having the most talent of anybody in the conference.  However, they lost convincingly to by far the best team they've played and haven't been challenged otherwise, so I feel like I don't really know this team as well as the others.  Conversely, there's a fair amount of empirical evidence supporting Wisconsin as the best of the bunch.  They thumped OSU at home, then went on the road and edged out Iowa on the road in consecutive weeks.  That's awfully impressive.

Kevin: I've got Wisconsin. They lost to Michigan State but since then they have beat Ohio State and Iowa. Ohio State hasn't beaten anybody and Iowa has 2 losses. If Iowa routes Ohio State I might be persuaded to change my opinion.

Ross: TBD until after the Iowa-Ohio State game, but right now it's either Iowa or Wisconsin.  Wisconsin went 2-1 against the other three teams, losing fairly badly to MSU but getting an impressive win over OSU and winning a squeaker over Iowa.  Iowa has the most impressive win of the lot with their 37-6 beatdown of MSU, but they also lost that game to Wisconsin.  Gun to my head right now I'd probably say Wisconsin by a hair.

RichRod is 6-3 and Ron Zook is 5-4. Will they be retained or shown the door?

Alex: I do not feel as if either coach should be shown the door. They have beaten the teams they should have, and lost to the upper echelon of the Big 10. I have never felt that either team was ready to break out of the middle tier. Illinois can still be an 8-win team as it has a better defense and no offensive juggernauts left in the schedule. Giving Michigan 65 points was just an anomaly, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Fresno State will not touch that figure. Michigan is looking at a 7 or 8 win season. Wisconsin is a loss, Purdue is a win and Ohio State is an unknown. Michigan is tired of getting beaten on by the Buckeyes and they might just make a big splash in the Ohio State pond, which would lock RichRod in for another season.

J Martin: I think both of those guys are going to stick around.  Rodriguez probably needs to beat Purdue this weekend just to be sure, but he's at least done the minimum amount necessary to keep his job.  Plus, he's got Denard coming back, and he can sell his ability to maximize his talents as opposed to starting over with a new coach and a new offensive philosophy.  Zook isn't quite there yet, but I feel pretty good about his odds of beating Minnesota and maybe even going out west and beating Fresno.  They should probably just make Paul Petrino head coach, though.

Kevin: I do think they both deserve a chance to come back and build on what they have accomplished so far this year (barring a complete collapse at the end of the year). 

Ross: Both will be retained.  Rodriguez should win at least seven games this regular season (they ought to beat Purdue this week) and they could certainly win a bowl game for an 8th total win, depending on the match-up.  It's also not completely unreasonable that they could pull off an upset of Wisconsin or Ohio State, given their incredibly explosive offense.  Either way, 7-8 wins and one of the nation's best offenses should get Rodriguez another year -- provided he agrees to make some changes on defense.  Zook will be retained with a few more wins -- which seems like with three more games against Minnesota, Northwestern, and Fresno State.  With a bowl game, they could win nine games, which would be remarkable.  As it is, a 7-5 regular season seems like a good bet -- and that's good progress after the last two disastrous seasons.

Who is the Player of the Year in the Big 10 so far?

Alex: Denard Robinson from Michigan. This will change by years end but he got Michigan off to a rocketing start which may well help Rich stay in Ann Arbor. Robinson is currently 1st in Rushing, 2nd in Total Offense, 6th in Passing and 7th in scoring. There is not one Big 10 player that can boast such numbers. The fact that he is out with an injury is what will cost him this title by years end, but there is no way to deny him the pole position as we stand in early November.

J Martin: Denard, of course.  He's very impressive for a guy who's probably only logged about 6 games worth of field time.

Kevin: From a statistics stand point Denard looks very good but I have a problem picking a "Player of the Year" from a team that is 2-3 in the conference. So it's John Clay of Wisconsin. Leads the league in rushing TDs and is 2nd to only Denard in yards rushing. 

Ross: It's Denard Robinson and it's not even close -- 118/186, 1814 passing yards, 13/7 TD/INT, 183 carries, 1349 rushing yards, 12 TD.  And he did that despite missing time in every game this season because of injury.  He's been simply sensational and the leading reason why Michigan's offense has gone from "good" to "amazing."  

Where does Nebraska fit in next year? Will they be the pre-season favorite to win the Big 10, 2nd, 3rd, etc?

Alex: Nebraska is going to be a middle of the pack team. I would say 4th at very best but probably around 6th. The Big 12 is not as defensive minded as the Big 10, and Nebraska is not as good now as many think they are. If they get better a solid fourth is in the future, but if they get worse a battle with Michigan or Illinois for 5th and 6th place could be in store for the Huskers. Also note that many of these transitions do not go as planned. The ACC brought Miami, BC, and Virginia Tech into the fold and the one that they WANTED to contend for the title (Miami) did not. VT and BC have had very good success since the transition. In the SEC Arkansas and South Carolina were brought in before the 92 season and neither has won a conference championship. This is not Nebraska walking into an inferior conference, and the Huskers best remember that.

J Martin: They'll be one of the two most talented teams in the conference the moment they set foot through the door.  Whether they'll be the favorite to win the conference depends on if Pryor comes back to play his senior year at Ohio State.  The Buckeyes with a superstar QB will always get the benefit of a doubt.  But Taylor Martinez and that Pelini defense will give them a battle for it, that's for sure.

Kevin: I'm tempted to pick Nebraska first in the Big Ten out of the gate. If Roy Helu Jr wasn't a Jr I probably would. At this point I'm slotting them 2nd or 3rd but they have a legit shot at winning and contending for the Big Ten title next year. 

Ross: It's hard to say without knowing exactly what Nebraska returns next year, but based on their play this year, they should be a solid contender -- but not an overwhelming favorite by any means.  The schedule -- games against Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State -- will prevent that. They should probably finish in the top five of the league, though.

Who should Minnesota turn to in order to turn their program around?

Alex:You could ask me this for any struggling team in the nation and my first choice will always be Mike Leech. He has done more for the passing game than anyone in the past two or three decades. If he can bring TTech to a nationally recognized level, he can do it for any team. Other choices include Skip Holtz, and Art Briles.

J Martin:There are a lot of positives to the Minnesota job, but the program was run into the ground over the past few years.  It now safely qualifies as a "rebuilding job."  For this sort of rebuilding job in particular, I'd look for an up-and-coming head coach still looking to make a name for himself a the BCS level that will be willing to really hustle for the program.  Someone like Kevin Sumlin from Houston or Al Golden from Temple.  Both have already had their names linked and both would be good choices.  The last thing you want to do is hire some tired retread head coach or roll the dice on a hotshot assistant with no head coach experience.

Kevin: From an outsiders perspective I see Minnesota as a team that is going to have a really tough time contending for the upper echelon of the Big Ten year in and year out. Because of that I would go the Georgia Tech route. Get Ken Niumatalolo of Navy (23-12). Doing this causes Minnesota to be a difficult game for everybody on their schedule once they get some kids in to run the offense. The Big Ten is having a lot of trouble trying to stop Rich Rod and Michigan just imagine what would happen if you threw in an option type offense for them to have to deal with as well. 

Ross: That's tough to answer, since I don't exactly want to see Minnesota improve their fortunes.  That said, assuming Minnesota can't get one of the seeming home run hires like Chris Peterson or Gary Patterson or Jim Harbaugh (and they aren't going to get a guy like that), they should focus on a guy who's really hungry to prove himself and who understands the Big Ten well.  The last thing they need is a retread like Phil Fulmer or Lou Holtz.  Someone like Don Treadwell (the current Michigan State offensive coordinator) might be a good fit.

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