Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Take Two: B1G's best chance to rebound
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
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.
It's been a rough start to 2012 for most of the Big Ten, but there's still plenty of time to turn things around as league play kicks off next week. Today's Take Two topic is this: Which Big Ten team has the best chance to rebound this season?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
Unfortunately for the Big Ten, there are quite a few options here. I'm tempted to go with Penn State, but the Lions' overall lack of depth at certain skill positions (running back, cornerback, quarterback) scares me. Wisconsin could get its act together, but I just don't like the karma around the UW program right now. I'm going with Iowa. Yes, the same team I picked to lose to Northern Iowa last week. The same team dealing with its own depth problems at running back and that is leaning on a walk-on fullback no one heard of until last Saturday (Mark Weisman) to carry the load. Why do I like Iowa? Let's start with the defense, which is allowing just 14 points per game and keeping teams out of the end zone. The Hawkeyes have looked good against the pass, and their inexperienced line looks better than expected. I also anticipate senior quarterback James Vandenberg to soon start playing like the guy we saw for most of last season. He's still getting comfortable with the offense, and he has three potentially good targets in Keenan Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manley and C.J. Fiedorowicz. Finally, Iowa's schedule remains beneficial for the team to gain some confidence. The Hawkeyes have recent nemesis Minnesota at home and also get Penn State at Kinnick Stadium, where the Lions have struggled for years. Nebraska and Purdue also are much more winnable games for Iowa at home this year. There are some tough road trips -- Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern -- but without Ohio State, Wisconsin or Illinois on the slate, Iowa still has a chance to win eight games or so.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
I'm probably relying too much on recent history here and not enough on the current evidence before my eyes. Still, I just can't believe Wisconsin is actually this bad. This team still has a whole bunch of talent on offense, with guys such as Montee Ball, Jared Abbrederis, Ricky Wagner, Travis Frederick, Jacob Pedersen and James White. Maybe new offensive line coach Bart Miller will get the Thick Red Line back in order, or a quarterback shake-up will change things up. Sooner or later, the Badgers have to start scoring more points. Their defense has been overlooked through the offensive struggles but actually has played quite well most of the season. This is no longer a team that's going to roll over people by lighting up the scoreboard, but it is much better than it has shown so far. I could easily see Wisconsin getting blown out at Nebraska at the end of this month, but after that the schedule is far more manageable with games against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota before the showdown with Michigan State. Even if this ends up being just an 8-4 type of team, the Badgers could still make it to Indianapolis out of a weakened and probation-riddled Leaders Division. Right now, they don't look anything like a division winner. But I'm relying on recent history to say they will snap out of it soon.