Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Big Ten Snapshot

With the non-conference warm-up games out of the year, 2009 doesn't look to be a stellar year for the Big Ten. Brace yourself now for the conference to be much-maligned. But that's understandable, given what we've seen so far. Here's a quick snapshot of each team.

Illinois: The Illini got off to a very disappointing start with the inability to score against Missouri, a game where they were favored. Benn and Juice have been banged up, and linebacker Martez Wilson is out for the season. The running game against Illinois State was nice, but the next few games will be a challenge.

Indiana: The Hoosiers are off to a relatively strong start, given their football history. They are 3-0, with directional wins over Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan. Last week they beat Akron. Definitely games a "power" conference should handle, so Indiana is holding their own. They open conference play against Michigan this week.

Iowa: Although the Hawkeyes are 3-0, they started the season with tight win over Northern Iowa. Now, yes, the Panthers are among the best in their division, but the two blocked punts in the final seconds to preserve the lead...ouch. Iowa took care of their in-state rivals, and the win over Arizona was respectable.

Michigan: At #23 in the AP poll and 3-0, Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines are trending up. They easily took care of Eastern and Western Michigan, but the win over then #18 Notre Dame gave credence to improvements in the program.

Michigan State: The Spartans played a very good game at Notre Dame, even though they lost. However, their loss to Central Michigan is one of the black marks from the Big Ten "cupcake" season. They lost the game on a second-chance field goal -- and that second chance was due to a penalty. But if the Spartans compete like they did against the Irish, they could be pleased with their season.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have contributed to the overall conference image with an overtime win against Syracuse and the 5 TD performance of Cal's Jahvid Best. However, Adam Weber to Eric Decker will likely be a common theme throughout the season. Will this season live up to the surprising performance the Gophers had last year? If the Cal game is any indication, maybe not. But they won't be conference push-overs, either.

Northwestern: A close win over Eastern Michigan didn't make the Wildcats look all that impressive, but the GPA match-up last weekend was Northwestern at Syracuse. The 'Cats lost to point guard/QB Greg Paulus. However, their QB Mike Kafka has been playing well, completing 16 straight passes to start against the Orange last week.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes sit at #13 in the AP rankings. They started off the season with a scare at home against Navy. Although they played tough, allowing USC to come from behind to win in Columbus also contributed to the image of a down Big Ten. (I would have liked to see that game, though.) tOSU should get credit for playing a top team early in the season, but a W over the Trojans would have been nice for the team and the conference, especially after the Huskies took care of them this past weekend.

Penn State: Known for a very sweet "cupcake" schedule, #5 Penn State has taken care of business to open the season. JoePa's boys turned in strong performances over Akron, Syracuse and Temple. They can do a lot for the conference image as they host College GameDay this weekend for their conference opener against Iowa, who spoiled their season last year. Oh, and it's good to see Joe Paterno run out with his team, even with the limp. He still commands respect.

Purdue: The Boilermakers and first-year coach Danny Hope have gotten off to a rough start at 1-2. The close loss at Oregon looked fairly reasonable, but their home loss to Northern Illinois last weekend hurt. A win against the Irish this weekend would be a big boost before they tackle conference play.

Wisconsin: Bret Bielema and the Badgers are 3-0, but one of those Ws was a 2OT win over Fresno State at home. They took care of Northern Illinois, and dominated Wofford as expected. The Badgers should be competitve in the Big Ten as usual.

But overall, only 3 Big Ten teams are in the top 25, and performances to date haven't been spectacular. It's a good thing I enjoy Big Ten football, regardless of quality. Could be a long season for some teams...but I'd like to see some better bowl performances out of the conference in a few months.


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