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Friday, August 22, 2014
Best case/Worst case: Big Ten

By Brian Bennett

Over the past several days, we have presented our best- and worst-case scenarios for every team in the Big Ten.

They weren't predictions but instead a broad (sometimes comically so) look at the potential highs and lows for each club. Now that we've examined each individual team, let's take a look at the best and worst scenarios for the Big Ten as a whole in 2014.

Best case

It's like 2006 all over again.

The Big Ten makes immense strides as a conference and asserts itself once again as a major power in college football. The season gets off to a promising start when Wisconsin beats LSU in Houston in Week 1, establishing the Badgers as a national title contender and dinging the SEC along the way.

Melvin Gordon
Melvin Gordon and the Badgers can get the Big Ten off to a bang with a victory over LSU in the season opener.
Week 2 brings a confluence of positive developments. Michigan State scores a key road victory at Oregon to make the Spartans an early College Football Playoff contender. On the same night, Ohio State thrashes Virginia Tech and Michigan beats Notre Dame, the first win in a 3-0 mark against the Irish for the conference.

Nebraska easily handles Miami at home, and Indiana notches an upset on the road at defending SEC East champion Missouri. Meanwhile, new members Rutgers and Maryland sweep their nonconference games, leading to Big Ten fever on the East Coast. Penn State learns in September that its bowl ban has been lifted, and James Franklin leads the Nittany Lions to their first postseason game since the 2011 season.

"GameDay" has no choice but to set up shop for two marquee Midwestern matchups: No. 1 Michigan State hosting No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 8 and 11-0 Wisconsin at 11-0 Iowa on Nov. 22.

Both Michigan State and Ohio State -- the latter of which suffers little dropoff without Braxton Miller -- make the Playoff field and win their semifinal games to set up a rematch for the national title. The Big Ten also does very well in its other bowl games, as Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan and Minnesota all defeat Power 5 conference opponents. Maryland and Rutgers both reach bowls, too, proving naysayers wrong about their ability to compete in their new league. New York City goes gaga for the Scarlet Knights, as Kyle Flood guest hosts for a week on Jimmy Fallon's show. President Obama leads a wave of new Terps fans in Washington.

The SEC fails to place a team in the Playoff, and Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin all leave for NFL jobs after the season. Using the new NCAA autonomy measures, the Big Ten is able to force major recruiting changes that favor its schools.

Global warming and drought in the South and on the West Coast lead to millions moving to the Midwest, as steel mills and auto plants crank back up. The Big Ten plays in two regions and owns the attention of America. Notre Dame asks to join the conference. Jim Delany says thanks, but no thanks.

Worst case

People are already predicting doom and gloom for the Big Ten after Miller's injury. They are not wrong.

Mark Dantonio
Mark Dantonio will lead the Spartans into Autzen Stadium in a huge early showdown against Oregon.
The Big Ten is a significant underdog in its two major nonconference matchups, and LSU and Oregon both show why by blowing out Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively. Ohio State, a different team without Miller, loses to Virginia Tech and is upset by Cincinnati. Nebraska loses at Fresno State and to Miami. Iowa falls to Pitt. Michigan gets snakebitten in South Bend, part of an 0-3 mark for the league vs. Notre Dame.

With so many teams struggling in nonconference play, the Big Ten is basically irrelevant nationally before October. Maryland and Rutgers have rough first years in the league; the Scarlet Knights go 2-9, while Maryland finishes 4-8. Worse, no one on the East Coast cares, as they are swept up by the surprising ACC success of Pitt and Syracuse and a resurgent Notre Dame.

Penn State stays on probation, and depth issues make it a long first season for Franklin. The West Division beats up on each other, and as November rolls around, none of the teams on that side is ranked. The showdown between Michigan State and Ohio State fizzles as they bring a combined five losses into the game and play to a lackluster 10-7 final score.

Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers are all embroiled in heated debates about their head coaches' future. Northwestern is split apart by the union movement after it's revealed that the final vote was an even 50-50 split. The league's highest-rated team in the selection committee's final poll is No. 14.

Three SEC teams make it to the inaugural playoff, with two of them squaring off in the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten finishes 0-10 in its bowls, the best of which was the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

Autonomy serves to allow only leagues like the SEC and ACC to conspire and change even more rules in their favor, like oversigning. They push through a ban on all official visits when it's not snowing north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Mike Slive is named commissioner of college football.

Another polar vortex grips the upper Midwest, and freezing temperatures continue well into June.