Monday, June 27, 2011

Conference Blast: Big Ten (but really twelve) Leaders Division

UPDATE: It's official: Russell Wilson is headed to Madison. I am now even more confident in my Wisconsin pick.
Why isn't Michigan in the Leaders division? I mean, it's right there in their damn fight song. Oh, well. Moving on...

I don't even know anymore - what's the point of keeping the one? Like, 'we're number one'?
Why not sneak a twelve in there. Or make an official name swap with the Big 12.
Or maybe everyone should go geographic, like the SEC.Or...fuck it.

1. Wisconsin - The Badgers' biggest problem this season will be playing road games b2b weeks against Michigan State and Ohio State. I've already called for Wisky to beat Nebraska in their conference opener, so this 2-game stretch could be the tone-setter for all of 2011. Two wins is a possibility, but I think a split is more likely. Still, a one-loss conference record will be enough for the Badgers to win their division and punch their ticket for a likely rematch with Nebraska.

2. Penn State - Man, this Ohio State scandal has done some strange things; I'm actually picking the Nittany Lions second in their division because of how unsure I am of the mess in Columbus. I don't like to out trust in the Lions, I'd rather be surprised when they win ten games. But now, I've got to pick them here. Headed into last season, PSU averaged ten-wins a season for five years. Last year's 7-win total was a let down, but I'm hoping a rebuilder as well. There are questions at QB, but I feel they'll be settled by the time the schedule gets tough (Iowa 10/8). They'll need to be firing on cylinders by season's end, as they slate wraps up with b2b away games at Ohio State and Wisconsin. Even if they lose both - which is highly likely - I feel they'll finish ahead of the Buckeyes in the standings...barely.

3. Ohio State - Oh, man - how the mighty are fallen. This should have been a team picked to win their division, conference, and an outside BCS Title shot. Instead, they've lost their coach, QB, and must sit 5 starters for 5 games. Luke Fickell and the Joe Bauserman will have their hands full early on - but at least they don't start conference play until week 5. I see them losing that game to Michigan State and following that with a road loss to Nebraska.  Even going to Illinois will be a challenge for the Bucks as they try to figure everything out in the first half of the season. They do a get a much needed bye after the Illini, but it won't help much heading into a game with Wisconsin. OSU could finish out the season with four straight wins after that, but the Penn State will be a close one.

4. Purdue - What's it gonna take to get the Boilermakers relevant again? A returning QB? Check. An improved defense? Check. Time to settle into Coach Hope's systems? Check. But I'm not sure all that will be enough to push Purdue past the heavy hitters in the Leaders division and Iowa's a tough draw from the Legends. By season's end, four conference losses seems realistic and should have the Boilermakers tied with Illinois, but should have the head-to-head advantage with a homecoming win.

5. Illinois - This team should honestly be competing for a division title. But I think we all know they won't, and I think we - especially Florida fans - know why. Zook will be on a pretty warm seat in 2011 and I don't know how many wins is enough to cool things down. Nathan Scheelchase will be a good leader and if the Illini outperform expectations, it'll have more to do with him than the head coach. The schedule's manageable, but they won't beat the top-tier teams and I see classic slip-ups, possibly even at Indiana or Minnesota. 

6.Indiana - OK, Kevin Wilson, let's see what you got. A new head coach and the loss of the top tackler, passer, and rusher makes for a tough year in Bloomington. Not that there's really any foundation here, but 2011 will be a rebuilding season for sure.

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