Friday, June 15, 2012
Are Big Ten's best a year away from title?
By Adam Rittenberg
ESPN Insider recently completed its rundown of "20 teams that can win it all" during the 2012 season. Defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin made the list, as did Ohio State, even though the Buckeyes are banned from postseason play this season.
Who didn't make the list? Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska. Some would say these are three of the Big Ten's best four or five squads.
Michigan and Michigan State likely will enter the season as the Big Ten's highest-rated teams, and I've written repeatedly that the Wolverines and Spartans, along with the Cornhuskers, play in what looks like the stronger division (Legends). Brian and I also have written that the Big Ten's national title drought likely will continue this season for various reasons -- Michigan's tortuous schedule, new quarterbacks at Michigan State and Wisconsin, Ohio State's bowl ban, etc.
Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders agrees, including Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska are among five hyped teams that won't contend for the national title this season (Insider). Notre Dame and Kansas State also are included.
According to the Football Outsiders projections, none of the three will make a BCS bowl, which leaves me scratching my head a bit. These projections actually have all three teams finishing 8-4, which would be very disappointing to the respective fan bases.
While I'd be surprised if one of the three doesn't end up in Pasadena on Jan. 1, all three teams have some potentially significant flaws. Michigan State must replace almost all of its major offensive skill threats. Michigan loses several key defensive linemen and star center David Molk. Nebraska loses star power on defense and needs to see more balance on the offensive side.
It's hard to see any of these squads ending up in the BCS national title game. The more interesting subplot to me is which team earns the best record in the three-team pod, which likely will result in a Legends Division title. Michigan State visits Michigan and hosts Nebraska; Michigan visits Nebraska but hosts MSU; and Nebraska visits MSU but hosts Michigan. The team that can win its road game has an excellent chance to earn a trip to Indy.