Big Ten: BT best-worst rewind 09

The best case-worst case rewind series finally wraps up with ... Michigan.

In case you missed it: Michigan's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Rich Rodriguez continues his tradition of Year 2 turnarounds, as his freshmen quarterbacks blossom and the defense improves under new coordinator Greg Robinson. Senior Brandon Minor leads a talented group of running backs, and the receiving corps helps the young signal-callers with their transition. Michigan starts the season 5-0 and rides the defense to a strong finish. The Wolverines snap their losing streak against Ohio State to finish 10-2 before beating Mississippi in the Capital One Bowl.

Worst-case synopsis: The quarterback position falls apart again and a beleaguered defense regresses as Michigan once again misses a bowl game. None of the quarterbacks truly establishes himself as the starter, and opposing defenses load up to stop the run. Michigan's pass rush suffers as Brandon Graham constantly faces double- and triple-teams, while punter Zoltan Mesko is the team's only true star. The Wolverines lose the opener to Western Michigan and finish 4-8. Rodriguez is retained for a third year but enters 2010 on the hot seat.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "Rodriguez's spread offense starts to take shape around the freshmen quarterbacks, who are suited to the system." ... "Michigan begins by doing something it last accomplished in 2006 -- win the season opener. The defense holds off Tim Hiller and Western Michigan." ... "Loaded with confidence, the Wolverines complete a 4-0 start." ... After a loss at Iowa, Michigan handles Delaware State easily." ... "More mistakes crop up on defense." ... "Michigan misses a bowl for the second straight year." ... "Golden Tate and Michael Floyd make Michigan's secondary look silly." ... "The Wolverines see their home win streak against Penn State end at five games." ... "Rodriguez's future seems very much in doubt."

Lies, lies, lies: "The defense rebounds under Greg Robinson." ... "Senior Brandon Minor headlines a strong stable of running backs and earns first-team All-Big Ten honors by rushing for 1,400 yards." ... "The team hits the road for the first time and regains in-state bragging rights by rallying to beat Michigan State in the fourth quarter. Michigan vaults into the top 20." ... "Fans finally embrace Rodriguez and his style, forgetting 2008 and all the player departures during the transition." ... "Despite more experience elsewhere on offense, the quarterback position dooms the Wolverines again." ... "The Wolverines get booed as they head to halftime down 28-7 and never get within 14 points of the Irish." ... "Michigan fails to get on the scoreboard against the talented Hawkeyes defense."

Reality check: Michigan finished one game ahead (5-7) of the worst-case scenario, but after a 4-0 start, the Wolverines looked like a lock to make a bowl game. Rodriguez's offense certainly made strides in Year 2, and quarterback Tate Forcier showed a lot of promise before struggling with injuries and inconsistent play down the stretch. The big problem was Robinson's defense, which regressed despite boasting the league's most dominant lineman in Graham. Michigan didn't beat an FBS team after Sept. 26 and wasted opportunities against both Illinois and Purdue. Rodriguez will enter the 2010 season with a new boss (David Brandon) and a mandate to make a bowl game, at the very least.
The best case-worst case rewind marches on with ... Northwestern.

In case you missed it: Northwestern's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: The Wildcats reload at the offensive skill positions and actually increase their production on that side of the ball. Led by pass rusher Corey Wootton, the defense improves in Year 2 under coordinator Mike Hankwitz and NU surges out to an 8-0 start. Northwestern wins its third straight game against Iowa and finishes with a 10-2 regular-season record. The Wildcats advance to the Outback Bowl and beat Arkansas for their first postseason victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl.

Worst-case synopsis: The offense takes a major step back as new players struggle in premier roles. Quarterback Mike Kafka can't avoid interceptions and never gets comfortable as a passer. The defense struggles with injuries and poor production, making 2008 look like the exception rather than the rule. Northwestern notches no impressive victories and drops its final four games to miss the postseason. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald strongly considers leaving for Notre Dame, raising doubts about his future in Evanston.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The Capital One Bowl predictably passes over Northwestern, but the Outback Bowl, which snubbed the team last year, selects the Wildcats." ... "The defense keeps pace." ... "Northwestern heads back to the postseason." ... "Wootton and several other contributors go down with injuries." ... "Northwestern heads to Syracuse and performs much like it did at Duke last year, except with a worse result." ... "A week later, Minnesota avenges back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Northwestern." ... "The Wildcats rebound against Purdue and Miami (Ohio)." ... "Attendance struggles again at Ryan Field."

Lies, lies, lies: "Northwestern gets through a season without special teams costing it a game." ... "Surprisingly good crowds turn up at Ryan Field to watch Northwestern crush Towson and Eastern Michigan. The team heads to Syracuse and thumps the Orange for the second straight year, as Corey Wootton sacks Greg Paulus four times. Northwestern then delivers more heartbreak to Minnesota." ... "The Wildcats start 6-0 by trouncing Miami (Ohio)." ... Northwestern wins its first bowl since the 1949 Rose and winds up 11-2." ... "Northwestern finalizes a 2011 game at Wrigley Field and sees home attendance increase by 25 percent." ... "Once again, Northwestern takes a major step back on offense with a new quarterback." ... "Northwestern drops its final four games, including a heartbreaker to Wisconsin at home, to miss the postseason despite a cushy schedule."

Reality check: Northwestern ended up somewhere in the middle record-wise, but a 3-0 November (two wins vs. ranked teams) and a surprising invitation to the Outback Bowl created a best-case feel around the program. Kafka, known more for his legs than his arms before the season, blossomed into an All-Big Ten quarterback and led an offense with other surprise stars like wideout Zeke Marskhausen. He didn't get much help from the run game, which had been a strong point in past years. An injury plagued defense struggled early but got it together down the stretch, as Wootton, quiet for most of the fall, made the biggest play of the season at Iowa. The Wildcats couldn't complete a furious rally in the Outback Bowl, as their kicking game let them down again.

Best case-worst case rewind: Iowa

January, 11, 2010
1/11/10
5:00
PM ET
The best case-worst case rewind continues with ... Iowa.

In case you missed it: Iowa's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Iowa picks up where it left off last fall, overcomes a brutal road schedule and shows improvement on both sides of the ball. The team's young running backs fill in after the loss of Shonn Greene, and an improved pass rush helps a playmaking defense slow down opponents. Iowa goes 3-2 on the road, including an upset of Penn State, reaches the top 15 and finishes 10-2 before going on to a win against LSU in the Capital One Bowl.

Worst-case synopsis: The personnel losses combined with the rough road schedule proves too much for Iowa, which tumbles to a 5-7 finish. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi throws too many interceptions but gets little help from a Greene-less run game. Iowa struggles with injuries and doesn't many nearly as many plays on defense. Iowa goes 0-5 away from Kinnick Stadium and drops home contests against Northwestern and Minnesota. Off-field problems continue to hurt the program.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The Hawkeyes pave the road in black and gold, the defensive line holds together and 'Stanzi is the Manzi' T-shirts are worn all across the state." ... "Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos gets the message after his depth-chart demotion." ... "The defense misses tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, but an improved pass rush combined with more playmaking from linebacker Pat Angerer, safety Tyler Sash, cornerback Amari Spievey and others more than makes up for it." ... "Iowa then ruins Mike Stoops' homecoming and takes care of Arizona." ... "Iowa doesn't flinch in front of the 'Whiteout' crowd, upsetting the Nittany Lions." ... "Stanzi records double digits in picks." ... "The season begins with a too-close-for-comfort win against Northern Iowa." ... "Iowa recovers against Indiana but drops its third consecutive home game to Northwestern." ... "[Bryan] Bulaga and Spievey bolt for the NFL."

Lies, lies, lies: "Running backs Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson find plenty of daylight." ... "The Hawkeyes easily handle Northern Iowa in the opener." ... "Stanzi makes sure the team avoids a letdown against Arkansas State." ... "Iowa overcomes its recent demons against Northwestern." ... "After squeaking by Arizona, Iowa heads to Happy Valley and pays the price for last year's upset at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State rolls the Hawkeyes by 20 points, giving Nittany Nation bragging rights on the Big Ten blog." ... "A bowl-bound Minnesota team then comes to Kinnick Stadium and rolls to a win." ... "The run defense crumbles without King and Kroul." ... "Left tackle Bryan Bulaga returns for his senior season."

Reality check: Iowa actually exceeded the best-case scenario, not only going 10-2 but reaching the FedEx Orange Bowl rather than the Capital One Bowl. A win against Georgia Tech capped a storybook season for the Hawkeyes, who overcame tons of adversity and went 4-1 on the road, including wins in State College and Madison. Stanzi was a mixed bag, throwing 14 interceptions in the first three quarters of games but coming up huge in the fourth. The defense continued its playmaking ways as end Adrian Clayborn became a superstar. The Hawkeyes restored themselves among the Big Ten's elite and set up a potential league title push in 2010.
As promised, the best case-worst case rewind will resume with ... Illinois.

In case you missed it: Illinois' best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: The Illini avoid the chemistry issues that plagued them in 2008 and ride a high-powered offense to a 10-win season. Quarterback Juice Williams reclaims the form he showed early last season and capitalizes on the nation's best wide receiving corps, led by Arrelious Benn. Illinois surges into the top 20 midway through the season and finishes 10-2 before beating Ron Zook's old team, Florida, in the Capital One Bowl.

Worst-case synopsis: The team falls apart again, starting with Williams at quarterback. Benn is a nonfactor, and the defense once again can't stop the run. Special teams remains a a major weakness and linebacker Martez Wilson doesn't blossom into a star. Illinois stumbles to a 1-4 start and misses the postseason for the second straight year despite a talented roster.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The inconsistency that has plagued the program throughout its history surfaces again." ... "Opposing defenses constantly double-team Benn and keep him out of the end zone." ... "An iffy defensive line generates no pass rush and struggles against the run for the second straight season. Special teams continue to hurt Illinois." ... "Missouri beats the Illini in yet another St. Louis shootout, setting the tone for a shaky season." ... "Zook energizes his critics who say he's simply a recruiter, and he enters 2010 on the hot seat. Benn goes bye bye."

Lies, lies, lies: "Wide receiver Arrelious Benn adds touchdown catches to his already impressive résumé and headlines one of the nation's best receiving corps." ... "Illinois starts things off by finally beating Missouri. Williams breaks his own total offense record in the Edward Jones Dome and makes pulp out of Tigers linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. The Illini hang 50 on Mizzou and enter Big Ten play riding high." ... "The upset of Penn State sparks a winning streak, as Illinois' offense overwhelms Michigan State and steamrolls Indiana and Purdue." ... "Head coach Ron Zook answers his critics by maximizing his talent." ... "Illinois finishes No. 12 in the final polls." ... "Despite winning the Biletnikoff Award, Benn decides he loves Champaign too much and shocks everyone by staying for his senior season."

Reality check: How bad did it get for Illinois this fall? Reality (3-9) was worse than the worst-scenario (5-7) by two games. After an encouraging preseason, things went downhill for the Illini from the get-go. A miserable performance against Missouri in the season opener set the tone. Williams struggled for much of the year, losing his starting job midway through Big Ten play. Wilson suffered a season-ending neck injury after appearing in only one game. The offense took too long to click, and by that point the defense had fallen apart down the stretch. Illinois ended up retaining Zook, but the coach dismissed four assistants and demoted two others, creating a win-or-you're-done mandate for 2010. Benn bolted for the NFL, and recruiting took a hit.

Best case-worst case rewind: Indiana

December, 22, 2009
12/22/09
3:30
PM ET
My look back at the best case-worst case series continues with ... Indiana.

In case you missed it: Indiana's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Indiana has no trouble replacing the dismissed Kellen Lewis and shows greater depth on both sides of the ball as it returns to a bowl for the second time in three years. ... Junior quarterback Ben Chappell flourishes in the pistol formation, and wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher become stars. ... IU faces some challenges on defense, but ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton lead a formidable pass rush and linebacker Matt Mayberry dominates. ... Indiana starts 6-1 with wins against both Michigan and Virginia and reaches the Insight Bowl, where it beats Colorado to finish 9-4.

Worst-case synopsis: The Hoosiers' depth concerns turn out to be true and the offense falls apart in another lost season. ... Chappell struggles as the full-time starting quarterback and spends most games trying to avoid the pass rush. ... Indiana once again has no running game, and the defense shows its warts in the interior line and the secondary. ... After a 2-2 start, Indiana drops its final eight games and the university drops Bill Lynch as head coach. ... Home attendance declines and new athletics director Fred Glass searches for the team's fifth head coach since 2001.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "Lynch's confidence in quarterback Ben Chappell pays off." ... "Heralded recruit Darius Willis blossoms to become the team's featured back. Left tackle Rodger Saffold anchors an improved offensive line, and young wideouts Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss torch opposing secondaries." ... "Indiana survives its opener against Eastern Kentucky." ... "A much improved defense then shuts down Tim Hiller and Western Michigan in Week 2, gaining confidence before a tricky trip to Akron. Indiana improves to 3-0 by zipping through the Zips." ... "Despite a veteran presence on defense, Indiana's holes on the interior line and in the secondary doom the unit."

Lies, lies, lies: "The pistol formation energizes Indiana's rushing attack." ... "The Hoosiers send an early warning shot to new Purdue head coach Danny Hope by thumping Hope's former team, Eastern Kentucky, by 30 points in the opener." ... "A 4-1 Hoosiers team heads to Charlottesville and knocks off a beatable Virginia team, pushing head coach Al Groh further out the door." ... "In the regular-season finale, the Hoosiers avenge their 52-point loss last year at rival Purdue and pound the Boilers 40-10." ... Indiana caps a surprising season by beating Colorado in the Insight Bowl. The Hoosiers win nine games for the first time since 1967." ... "With a 2-10 mark, Lynch's fate is sealed."

Reality check: Indiana's 4-8 record seems fairly close to the worst-case scenario, but the team showed obvious improvement for much of the season. Chappell certainly validated himself as a legit Big Ten quarterback, while Doss will 2010 as one of the league's best wide receivers after a great year this fall. Yet once again, Indiana couldn't get over the hump in winnable games against Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin. The defense received strong performances from several individuals but once again struggled as a unit, raising some concerns for 2010. Glass made the right call in giving Lynch one more year, but next fall will be pivotal for the program.
My look back at the best case-worst case series continues with ... Penn State.

In case you missed it: Penn State's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Penn State proves it can reload and receives repeat performances from its stars, as well as several breakout showings from younger players. ... Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster lead the charge on offense, while wideout Derek Moye emerges as a star. ... Penn State's defense steps up big in wins against Iowa and Illinois, setting up a showdown between two top 5 teams when Ohio State visits Happy Valley on Nov. 7. ... The Lions beat the Buckeyes in a defensive struggle and advance to the national title game, where they fall to Florida. ... Royster and linebacker Navorro Bowman stay in Happy Valley for their senior seasons, and Joe Paterno sets up a succession plan for D-coordinator Tom Bradley.

Worst-case synopsis: The Nittany Lions are out of sync from the get-go and fall to Iowa after three unimpressive wins against subpar competition. ... Clark suffers a season-ending injury in the Iowa game, turning things over to freshman quarterback Kevin Newsome, who experiences expected growing pains. ... Illinois' Juice Williams lights up Penn State in a big win, and Michigan hands the Lions another loss at the Big House. ... Penn State finishes 7-5 despite a cushy schedule. ... Bowman and Royster declare for the draft, and Paterno retires.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The dominance Penn State showed for most of last season returns, as the Nittany Lions handle their business against inferior opponents." ... "Quarterback Daryll Clark and Evan Royster do their thing against Akron, but Derek Moye emerges as a playmaker at wide receiver." ... "[The Lions] take out years of frustration at the Big House by throttling Michigan 35-10 on Oct. 24." ... Penn State survives a trap game at Northwestern." ... "Penn State brings in the Big Ten's top recruiting class."

Lies, lies, lies: "Clark picks apart Iowa's secondary down the stretch. The game is tight for a half, but Penn State turns the tide by blocking a Daniel Murray field-goal attempt early in the third quarter and goes on for a 27-17 victory. Penn State fans flood the blog to gloat." ... "Illinois punishes the Penn State secondary the next week, as Williams channels his inner Mark Sanchez and tosses five touchdown passes." ... "With a chance to finally gain some national respect, the Lions edge the Buckeyes in a defensive struggle, as [Sean] Lee picks off Terrelle Pryor late in the fourth quarter to seal the win." ... "Penn State clinches its second straight Big Ten title and establishes itself as the league's third powerhouse." ... "As the only undefeated BCS team, Penn State heads back to Pasadena and faces Florida."

Reality check: Penn State ended up closer to the best-case scenario in wins, and the Lions will play in a New Year's Day bowl game for the second straight year. But given the soft schedule, Penn State could have done better. The Lions faced only two ranked teams (Iowa and Ohio State) and lost both games, with each loss coming in Happy Valley and each featuring mostly inept offense. The defense stood tall behind Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick and standout linebackers Bowman, Lee and Josh Hull. Clark had a solid season and Royster rushed for 1,104 yards behind an offensive line that took some time to jell. As predicted in the best-case argument, Penn State beat Michigan 35-10. The Capital One Bowl will go a long way toward determining the ultimate success of Penn State's season. A win sends Clark, Lee, Odrick and the seniors out on a good note. A loss would have many labeling the season as a disappointment.
My look back at the best case-worst case series continues with ... Wisconsin.

In case you missed it: Wisconsin's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Wisconsin gets back on track by reclaiming its core values, namely the power run game and stout defense. ... Scott Tolzien is a pleasant surprise at quarterback and provides balance in the offense with wide receiver Nick Toon and others. ... The Badgers start 5-0 and complete a 9-3 regular season before heading to the Outback Bowl and beating Mississippi. ... Head coach Bret Bielema regains some goodwill among Wisconsin fans, and the Badgers head into the 2010 season with legit BCS bowl hopes.

Worst-case synopsis: There's no clarity at quarterback for the second straight year and the defense falls apart as heat continues to rise on Bielema. ... Despite a soft nonconference slate, Wisconsin only manages to go 2-2. ... Penalties once again hurt the Badgers in a loss to Michigan State, and Wisconsin loses Paul Bunyan's Axe to Minnesota. ... Needing to win two of its final three games to reach a bowl, Wisconsin drops all three contests and misses the postseason for the first time since 2001. ... Running back John Clay can't keep his weight down. ... AD Barry Alvarez brings Bielema back for 2010, but season-ticket sales drop and both coordinators are fired.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The Badgers get back to the basics, running backs John Clay and Zach Brown punish defenders, the quarterbacks limit mistakes, the defense remembers how to finish and head coach Bret Bielema's seat cools down." ... "The Badgers retain Paul Bunyan's Axe the next week in Minneapolis." ... "The Badgers drop games to Ohio State and Iowa but respond against the Indiana schools to go 7-2, as wideout Nick Toon becomes a star." ... "Wisconsin splits its last two games to finish 9-3." ... "A week later, former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz avenges his surprising dismissal by helping Northwestern to a [win]." ... "The Badgers get some clarity at quarterback and enter 2010 with BCS bowl hopes."

Lies, lies, lies: "The downward slide continues, a lack of discipline shows up again, the quarterbacks crumble, the defense caves and the head coach gets more heat." ... "Wisconsin needs no drama to beat Fresno State." ... "The Badgers go through another year with below-average quarterback play." ... "Wisconsin suffers another mental meltdown against Michigan State, drawing 12 penalties in a 30-17 loss." ... "After building a 21-point halftime lead against Michigan, the Badgers collapse for the second straight year as Tate Forcier rallies the Wolverines in overtime." ... "Wisconsin heads to Hawaii and sleepwalks through a 44-20 loss. Clay can't stay below 250 pounds. The wide receivers continue to drop passes."

Reality check: The best-case scenario looks pretty spot on for these Badgers, who certainly got back on track after a very disappointing 2008 campaign. Though Wisconsin ended up in the Champs Sports Bowl for the second straight year, there's a totally different feeling around the program this time around. Tolzien was the Big Ten's surprise player for much of the season, while Clay won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and linebacker Chris Borland won the league's Freshman of the Year award. The offense showed good balance, while pass rusher O'Brien Schofield led a more assertive defense. Wisconsin lacked a signature win but can still get one against Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Win or lose, the Badgers will be in the Big Ten title mix in 2010.
My look back at the best case-worst case series continues with ... Ohio State.

In case you missed it: Ohio State's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Terrelle Pryor starts to figure it out and joins forces with a dominant defense to lead Ohio State to the BCS title game. ... Pryor dissects USC's defense in a 28-17 win and Ohio State surges into Big Ten play. ... Ohio State's defense squeezes Juice Williams in a rout of Illinois, and the run game gets rolling as the Buckeyes head to Penn State and edge the Nittany Lions 21-20 in a dramatic win. ... Left guard Justin Boren leads a dominant rushing performance against his former team in Ann Arbor. ... Ohio State goes to Pasadena and upsets No. 1 Florida in the title game to complete a perfect season.

Worst-case synopsis: Ohio State continues to struggle in big games, and Pryor still can't develop as a pocket passer. ... Matt Barkley outshines Pryor as USC rolls over the Buckeyes on their home turf Sept. 12. ... Ohio State loses its second game to Illinois and records five straight ho-hum wins before falling to Penn State in Happy Valley. ... Things get worse as Ohio State loses to both Iowa and Michigan, which snaps its losing streak in The Game. ... The Buckeyes miss a BCS bowl for the first time since 2004 but still beat Kansas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "Ohio State struggles for a half against Navy, and much like last year's game against Ohio, no one leaves The Shoe feeling good about the team's chances against USC." ... "Ohio State's big-game blues continue." ... "Cognizant of what happened the last time Juice Williams visited Columbus, Ohio State's defensive line puts Williams on his back throughout a Sept. 26 game." ... "The Buckeyes clear another hurdle the next week against Iowa to clinch at least a share of their fifth-consecutive league title." ... "A trip to Ann Arbor follows, and Ohio State continues its dominance of the archrival Wolverines. Buckeyes left guard Justin Boren, a Michigan transfer, manhandles the Wolverines defensive tackles." ... The defensive front mirrors the 2002 version."

Lies, lies, lies: "USC visits Columbus the next week and Pryor steals the show, throwing for three touchdowns and bulldozing Taylor Mays in a 28-17 win." ... "Daryll Clark leads the game-winning touchdown drive as Penn State ends Ohio State's Big Ten road win streak at 17 games. Ohio State's run of Big Ten titles ends the next week as Iowa prevails in Columbus." ... "Jim Tressel wins his second national title at Ohio State. Pryor finishes third in Heisman voting and enters 2010 as the frontrunner." ... "The defense takes a step back." ... "The Buckeyes give up their Big Ten crown."

Reality check: The Buckeyes seemed headed toward the worst-case scenario until making a U-turn following their stunning loss to Purdue on Oct. 17. Considered an afterthought in the Big Ten title race, Ohio State won its final four Big Ten games to win the league title outright. Pryor had his ups and downs but limited mistakes down the stretch as the running game finally got going behind an improved offensive line. Despite losing multiple national award winners, Ohio State's defense was the single-most dominating unit in the Big Ten. Ohio State now heads to its first Rose Bowl in 13 years and tries to snap a three-game slide in BCS bowls against a dynamic Oregon squad.

Best case-worst case rewind: Purdue

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
10:30
AM ET
My look back at the best case-worst case series continues with ... Purdue.

In case you missed it: Purdue's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: The Boilermakers receive good production from both their veterans and their newcomers and surprise opponents with greater team speed. ... Purdue surges to a 5-1 start behind sophomore running back Ralph Bolden and a stout defensive line. ... The Boilers upset Notre Dame and run over Wisconsin to finish 8-4. ... They advance to the Valero Alamo Bowl and beat Kansas. ... Defensive tackle Mike Neal earns first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Worst-case synopsis: Purdue can't find an offensive rhythm or stop the run, as the program gets mired in transition. ... The Boilers fall to Toledo in the opener and stumble out of the gate. ... First-year starting quarterback Joey Elliott can't prevent interceptions. ... The defense never contains the run and allows too many big plays, especially to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. ... Purdue goes winless in Big Ten play for the first time since 1993.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The team is faster and more athletic on both sides of the ball, as Ralph Bolden sparks the rushing attack in an easy win against Toledo." ... "Purdue then heads to Eugene and paces Oregon before losing." ... "[Purdue] crushes Indiana for the second straight year." ... "Purdue loses a close one to Michigan State." ... "[The Boilers] miss the postseason for the second straight year."

Lies, lies, lies: "Purdue improves to 5-1 with wins against Northwestern and Minnesota before losing a defensive struggle against Ohio State." ... "The Boilers fall the next week against Illinois but bounce back in Madison as Bolden and Jaycen Taylor combine for 250 rush yards against a questionable Wisconsin front seven." ... "Oregon remembers last year's near upset in West Lafayette and thrashes Purdue 42-7." ... "Terrelle Pryor then runs wild as Ohio State hands Purdue its fourth straight loss." ... "Indiana avenges last year's blowout with a 35-point victory at Memorial Stadium that secures bowl eligibility for Bill Lynch's crew." ... "The Boilers go winless in the Big Ten for the first time since 1993."

Reality check: Purdue entered the season as the Big Ten's mystery team, and not surprisingly, the Boilers followed an unpredictable path this fall. They started 1-5, as a wave of turnovers eclipsed any progress being made on both sides of the ball. No one predicted a win against Ohio State, but Purdue snapped its long losing streak against ranked teams by stunning the Buckeyes. Elliott exceeded most expectations in his only year as the starting quarterback, and both Bolden and wideout Keith Smith emerged as stars. The defense had its ups and downs, but Ryan Kerrigan turned in a great season at end. Purdue ultimately made too many mistakes to reach a bowl, but it went 4-4 in Big Ten play and notched some nice wins along the way.

Best case-worst case rewind: Minnesota

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
10:30
AM ET
Our look back at the best case-worst case series continues with ... Minnesota.

In case you missed it: Minnesota's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: The Golden Gophers recapture their dominant rushing attack, while the defense continues to force takeaways at a high rate. ... Minnesota surges to a 6-0 start that includes a dramatic victory against Cal. ... The Gophers win both of their trophy games, against Wisconsin and Iowa. ... They advance to the Outback Bowl and beat Georgia for their first New Year's Day bowl win since 1962. ... Wide receiver Eric Decker wins the Biletnikoff Award.

Worst-case synopsis: The scheme changes on offense slow production and the run game stalls. ... The defense can't stop the run or generate much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. ... Minnesota stumbles to a 1-4 start as the heat begins to rise on third-year head coach Tim Brewster. ... The team goes 4-8 and misses a bowl for the second time in three seasons and recruiting begins to suffer. ... Brewster shuffles his coaching staff yet again.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "Despite returning more experience than any Big Ten team, Minnesota struggles with the scheme changes." ... "Despite the emotions of the stadium opener and a tricky opponent (Air Force), Minnesota keeps its composure and improves to 2-0." ... "Wisconsin retains [Paul Bunyan's] axe as [John] Clay and Zach Brown combine for 310 rush yards." ... "[The Gophers] end the season on a down note against Iowa, which posts another shutout against its archrival." ... "Athletic director Joel Maturi decides to give Brewster one more year, but it's clear that a winning record must be posted. The team's recruiting takes a step back." ... "Minnesota splits against Michigan State and Illinois."

Lies, lies, lies: "Junior quarterback Adam Weber stays healthy, limits interceptions and operates the new scheme flawlessly with help from backup MarQueis Gray." ... "The Gophers then head to Iowa City and avenge a 55-0 loss as Decker has a big day at Kinnick Stadium. The loss drops Iowa to 6-6." ... "Decker wins the Biletnikoff Award, cornerback Traye Simmons is a finalist for the Thorpe Award and head coach Tim Brewster receives a lengthy contract extension." ... "Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best leads Cal into the Twin Cities on Sept. 19, but Minnesota running backs Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge and Kevin Whaley end up stealing the show, piling up 285 rush yards against the Bears." ... "Northwestern hands Minnesota another brutal loss, this time by blocking a 25-yard field goal attempt as time expires to prevail, 24-23."

Reality check: Minnesota won two more games than the worst-case scenario, and at 6-6 will return to the Insight Bowl. But the changes on offense seemed to decrease production, and Weber saw his interceptions total soar and his completion percentage drop. Gray didn't play as much as some envisioned. An injury to Decker on Oct. 24 at Ohio State really hurt the offense, which finished last in the Big Ten in scoring (21.6 ppg). The Gophers' defense was a bright spot, especially at linebacker with Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence. Minnesota secured some pretty decent wins, but Brewster's drought in trophy games continued as Iowa shut out the Gophers for the second straight year.
It's time to take a look back at the popular best case-worst case series, which examined the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten team before the 2009 season. Let's see who reached the ceiling and who crashed and burned.

I'll do these in random order, picking Big Ten mini helmets out of a bag, to limit the inevitable claims of favoritism.

Michigan State leads off.

In case you missed it: Michigan State's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: The Spartans start off 5-0, carry a top-20 ranking into November, finish the regular season at 11-1 and beat undefeated Boise State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. ... Kicker Brett Swenson wins the Lou Groza Award. ... Linebacker Greg Jones has a huge junior season and elects to return for 2010. ... The Spartans' secondary emerges as a play-making unit and steps up big in wins against Western Michigan and Boise State.

Worst-case synopsis: Michigan State falls short of expectations, never resolves its quarterback situation, gets very little production from the run game and the defensive line struggles. ... Jones declares for the NFL draft. ... Several top in-state recruits switch their commitments to archrival Michigan. ... The Spartans finish at 5-7 and miss a bowl.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The quarterback competition never truly gets resolved." ... "Despite more bodies in the secondary, the Spartans miss All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley." ... "With back-to-back wins against Michigan, Spartan Nation takes the high road and avoids putting celebratory billboards all over the state." ... "Wins against Western Michigan and Purdue give Michigan State a chance at salvaging a minor bowl game." ... "The Spartans stumble badly against Penn State for the second straight year." ... "Jones wins the league's defensive player of the year award."

Lies, lies, lies: "Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both perform well in a shared role before one -- we'll go with Nichol -- takes the reins for the Notre Dame game." ... "Redshirt freshman Caulton Ray leads the way at running back and gets plenty of help from true frosh Larry Caper and Edwin "The Rock" Baker." ... "The Spartans actually exceed expectations and take another step in their evolution." ... "After handling Purdue, the Spartans host Penn State with a share of the Big Ten title on the line." ... "High expectations have been the kiss of death before in East Lansing, but Michigan State proves it has turned a corner under head coach Mark Dantonio."

Reality check: Unfortunately for Michigan State, things ended up a lot closer to the worst-case scenario. Inconsistency plagued the team, especially on defense, and Michigan State started 1-3 before stabilizing a bit. Michigan State beat only one FBS team with a winning record (Northwestern) but still got into a bowl game for the third straight year. The biggest blow took place after the regular season as an incident at a residence hall led to two dismissals and 11 suspensions.

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