Revisiting my Big Ten preseason predictions
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As I told you back when the blog launched in July, please address e-mails to Mr. Idiot. I'm happy to claim that title today as I look back at some of the Big Ten preseason predictions I made this summer.
At least there was some truth to what I wrote: I predict I'll regret some of these in November.
OK, let's begin.
Prediction No. 1: Ohio State will make historyReally going out on a limb here, but Ohio State will become the first program to win outright Big Ten titles in three consecutive seasons. The Buckeyes are easily the most complete team in the league, with a Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield (Beanie Wells) and multiple All-Americans returning on defense (James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins).
I wasn't completely off base, as Ohio State came away with a share of the Big Ten championship -- I hate sharing, by the way -- for the fourth consecutive season. But Penn State clearly was the best team in the league, while Ohio State went nine games before discovering its identity on offense. Chris Wells' Heisman campaign essentially ended in the season opener with a right toe injury, but Laurinaitis, Jenkins and the defense performed well for most of the fall.
Prediction No. 2: At least three quarterbacks will start for Michigan
No team in the country returns less experience at quarterback than the Wolverines, who have only one player (David Cone) with a collegiate pass attempt (1) to his credit, and he isn't really in the mix. The competition between Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan will stretch well beyond the opener against Utah, with both players getting a shot to start. Whether out of necessity or curiosity, coach Rich Rodriguez also will take a look at true freshman Justin Feagin, whose skills best fit the spread offense.
Rodriguez waffled with whether to play Feagin, who clearly wasn't ready yet, and ended up using the freshman toward the end of the season. But my forecast of three different starters nearly came true because of injuries and poor performances. The good news for Michigan fans is the quarterback situation probably will never be this bad again. On the other hand, the Wolverines could see multiple starters next year with freshmen Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier entering the mix.
Prediction No. 3: Joe Paterno will win nine games and then sign a 10-year contract extension
OK, the second part is a joke (sort of). But Penn State has two of the better lines in the league and can complement its new starting quarterback with veteran wide receivers (Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood) and dynamic newcomers (Stephfon Green). Road games against Wisconsin and Ohio State look like trouble, but the Lions won't lose in Happy Valley and Paterno will return for a 44th season.
This one worked out pretty well. Penn State won two more games (11) than I predicted, but the Lions ended up having the Big Ten's top offensive line and one of the top defensive fronts. The three senior wideouts all turned in solid seasons, but Evan Royster eclipsed Green at running back and likely will enter 2009 as the Big Ten's top rusher. I foolishly didn't include Iowa on the list of tough road games for Penn State, but all signs point to Paterno returning for 2009.
Prediction No. 4: Michigan State will be a top 20 team when Ohio State comes to town
I don't see the Spartans winning their opener at Cal, but six straight victories following the trip to Berkeley would put them at 6-1 for the Oct. 18 showdown with the Buckeyes. Senior quarterback Brian Hoyer will win a game or two in crunch time and running back Javon Ringer will eclipse 1,500 rushing yards. If safety Otis Wiley facilitates improvement in the secondary, a January bowl game is certainly within reach.
Forget Mr. Idiot. Just call me Nostradamus. Michigan State lost at Cal but was 6-1 and ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll when Ohio State visited East Lansing on Oct. 18. Hoyer stepped up big to break Michigan State's losing streak to Michigan, and Ringer finished the regular season with 1,590 rushing yards. Wiley earned All-Big Ten honors as a safety, and Michigan State reached its first Jan. 1 bowl game since the 2000 Citrus Bowl.
Prediction No. 5: The Big Ten will send nine teams to bowls
Like it or not, mediocrity is rewarded in college football, and the Big Ten has plenty of teams who fall under that label. Michigan will figure it out by mid-October and keep its streak of postseason appearances alive. Indiana has an extremely favorable schedule and enough talent to win seven or eight games. Northwestern should have made a bowl last year and will take the next step behind C.J. Bacher and Tyrell Sutton. Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota are the wild cards, but one of them will go bowling. I'll go with Iowa, which will keep Kirk Ferentz employed.
OK, forget what I just wrote about being smart. The Big Ten fell two teams shy of my bowl projection. Michigan wished it was mediocre, and Indiana slipped back into obscurity after a breakthrough season in 2007. Northwestern not only made a bowl but posted its highest victories total since 1996, but it got there behind a new-look defense. And it turned out two of my three "wild cards," Iowa and Minnesota, reached the postseason, and the Hawkeyes definitely nudged Ferentz off the hot seat. Illinois turned out to be the league's biggest bust, failing to reach a bowl a year after heading to Pasadena.