Big Ten forecast: Scarlet and Gray

August, 21, 2008
8/21/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I predict I'll regret some of these in November, but here goes:

1. Ohio State will make history

Really 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). It's possible Ohio State could get tripped up once during a tough Big Ten road slate -- Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois -- but it will still be enough to claim the league title and a rare trip to the Rose Bowl.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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