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Monday, August 11, 2008

Big Ten 2008: Middling 4

#4 Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois was the feel good Big Ten team last year. No one saw them beating #1 Ohio State in the Shoe or getting a BCS bid. However, everyone saw them get spanked by USC. The lesson is that all feel good stories come back down to Earth at the end and the end was back in January.

Zook was able to build Illinois from cellar dweller to threat with great recruiting that hinged on the ability to offer highly rated HS players the chance to start as a freshman. For example, Juice went with the Zooker over Tressle because he could play from day one in Champaign vs. red shirting behind Troy Smith. The flaw with this recruiting method is that after the first few years there are no more spots to give way to youngsters that want to play form day one.

This is the wall that Illinois has hit. Zook has turned the Illini into a team that can threaten to win the Big Ten, which isn’t quite the same thing as being a team that can win the Big Ten. Add into the mix a tough schedule and the Illini might be hard put to get the 9 wins I am predicting.

Prediction: 9-3 (6-2) @ Mizzou, @ Penn State and @ Wisconsin leads to a second 9-3 season.

Best Case: 10-2 (7-1) Seriously, the Illini aren’t getting away with fewer than 2 loses from the above 3 games.

Worst Case: 7-5 (4-4) The lose of players like Leman and Mendenhall might hurt more than the Illini faithful are hoping.

#5 Michigan State Spartans

‘Lil brother looks to claim coup over the big bad Wolverines this year as Coach Mark Dantonio enters his second year at the helm of the Spartans with a full cupboard (for MSU anyway). With players like Hoyer and Ringer on offense and a solid linebacker core this is a MSU squad that is looking to make a lot a noise and finally put the late season collapsitis behind them.

With a lot of talent, a good coach and a very nice schedule this is a Michigan state team that has the chance to swell Spartan nation with great pride. If Dantonio can play power ball in their opener at Cal and beat a flaky Bear team then Sparty may be setup for a great year.

Prediction: 9-3 (5-3) Yes, the schedule is that easy.

Best Case: 10-2 (6-2) Yes, this could be a 10 win team.

Worst Case: 6-6 (3-5) Yes, this could be the Michigan State we have all come to know and love.

#6 Michigan Wolverines

Before the season started last year Michigan was considered to be a legitimate contender for the national title. Wolverine fans had their hopes crushed right out of the gate and then watched as one of their most talented teams ever wandered through a season of mediocrity. Michigan fans this year can relax without any fear of having their hopes dashed again, as there is little hope for this team, at least not by Michigan standards.

RichRod (Michigan’s 3rd choice for coach) enters his first season in Ann Arbor after an embarrassing departure from WVU and a massive defection of players who knew they didn’t want to be part of the new régime. We are 19 days away from Michigan’s opening game with Utah and no one has any idea who will be standing in the QB slot wearing Maize and Blue. What we do know is that they will be true freshman green, have questionable skills, may not fit in well with RichRod’s offensive scheme and be surrounded equally unproven skill players. Jr RB Brandon Minor is the only bright spot.

Meanwhile things aren’t so bad on defense, except for the fact that last year Michigan’s defense wasn’t all that good. All these negatives aside Michigan will still be heading to a bowl game, after all, a bad year for Michigan is still better than most.

Prediction: 7-5 (3-5)

Best Case: 9-3 (5-3) If RichRod is the wizard Michigan hopes they have purchased then he might be able to out coach and out fox his young guys into a great opening year finishing with a win over the Buckeyes leading Michigan fans to say, “Lloyd who?”

Worst Case: 4-8 (2-6) Yes kids, the concerns at Michigan are this big. If things don’t jell and opposing teams smell blood then this year could see the end of Michigan’s winning season and bowl appearance streaks.

#7 Northwestern Wildcats

As coach Pat Fitzgerald enters his 3rd year with the Wildcats the long shadow left form Randy Walker’s death is finally fading. This is the year when Fitzgerald will be looking to fully begin his era and put his influence into the team. That influence begins and ends with QB CJ Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton. Both are veterans and both have the ability to put up all Big Ten numbers. This will be the key to the team’s success this year and where Bacher and Sutton lead the Cats will follow.

Combine this potential with a favorable schedule that misses both Wisconsin and Penn State and you should get a season that will put Fitzgerald into his first bowl game. That said I wouldn’t be fully shocked if the wheels fall off as this is still Northwestern and their coach has yet to prove he can win.

Prediction: 7-5 (3-5)

Best Case: 9-3 (5-3) If Bacher and Sutton have superb seasons and the defense tightens up this could be a shocker top 25 team at the end of the season.

Worst Case: 5-7 (2-6) If there is no improvement over last year this is more likely to be the outcome.


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