Take Two: Who will exceed expectations?

August, 25, 2011
8/25/11
1:06
PM ET
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two topic is this: Which Big Ten team is most likely to exceed its expectations this season?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

Iowa fans always have high expectations for their team, but the bar is being set lower outside the state. People look at the three Hawkeyes defensive linemen drafted in April (Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug), and the departures of standout quarterback Ricky Stanzi, safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood, and others. There are holes to fill in Iowa City, but things set up well for the Hawkeyes this fall. The schedule certainly looks favorable with no Ohio State or Wisconsin and several of the top division opponents coming to Kinnick Stadium (Michigan State, Northwestern, Michigan). If Iowa takes care of business at home, it will be in the Legends division race. And while the offensive backfield is new, both James Vandenberg and Marcus Coker have had success in games. The defense will be tested in certain spots, but Iowa typically finds players to answer the bell, especially along the line. Many predictions have Iowa in the 7-5 range, but I'd expect the Hawkeyes to win eight or nine.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

Iowa is a good choice, and maybe we should all just stop trying to figure out in the preseason what the Hawkeyes are going to do. I'm going to take a slightly different approach to this question and choose another Legends Division team: Michigan State. Now, the Spartans have high expectations, but they're ranked just 17th in both polls, and the over-under line for wins in Las Vegas for them was only seven. Of course, most of that is based on the brutal road schedule. But this is still a team that won 11 games in the regular season last year and returns the most veteran quarterback in the Big Ten in Kirk Cousins, plus terrific running backs, solid receivers and a first-round NFL talent on the defensive line in Jerel Worthy. Are we really prepared to say the Spartans won't finish in the top 15 simply because their toughest games are on the road? Yes, they may backslide a bit after getting some breaks last year. But I'd say it's also very possible this team exceeds somewhat lowered expectations this season.

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