Okay, I’m cheating a little bit because I waited until 3 games into the season to roll out my conference preview. A man’s gotta ____! Fill in the blank, kinda like the old Match game – can’t wait to see what Charles Nelson Reilly writes down.
Anyway, here’s my prediction/preview of the Big 10 by division in order of finish:
- Michigan: It’s going to be a neck and neck race with the Gophers for the top spot, but I like rc’s Wolverines by a hare. They may have the strongest defensive front 7 in the conference that should compensate for the lack of a true shut down corner. Injuries in the secondary could hurt, as beyond the top 5 things get a little dicey. Offensive line should be good enough – not elite, but very solid. A very dynamic running back corps, led by redshirt senior Hastings and dynamic redshirt freshman Stanley, this ground game will be tough to stop. Only thing that could lead to the demise of the Wolverines is a below average receiving group – two very good tight ends, but no WR in the top ten of the Big 10. If their running game gets stuffed, offense could be tough to come by.
- Minnesota: An excellent offensive line anchors a Gopher offense that could be explosive if the young quarterbacks come through. Three strong running backs will share the ground game, while WR Browne could be unstoppable and the TEs will be a force. The WR corps drops off after Browne, so need him to stay healthy. Defense isn’t as strong as the Wolverines, which will make the difference. LB corps is average, so could be susceptible to the short passing game. Two stud DL in Kendall and Allen anchor the line and need to perform well to protect the LBs. Secondary is good but not great. An experienced team with 16 seniors, they’ll need that IQ advantage to overcome a little less talent on defense.
- Northwestern: My Wildcats are due for a down year. A strong back seven on defense will need to generate turnovers – junior LBs Blair and Dunham have to be monsters against the run and TE passing to keep us in games. DB talent drops way off after the top 3 – good performance out of the 2nd safety and nickel back will be huge. DL is okay – talent drops off after the seniors. The offensive line is finally Big 10 quality and will need to open holes for a stable of young RBs that is not terribly explosive – best RB is a freshman being redshirted for the future. QB Nelson needs to step up his name – surprisingly inaccurate so far during his career. WRs and TEs are average at best. If the Cats can control the clock, they could pull some upsets, but turnovers could be their downfall.
- Michigan State: A potentially potent passing game will have to carry the Spartans. Senior redshirt QB Garcia is a stud who can light it up if he can find his top two WR targets in Pacheco and Smith. WR depth drops significantly after the top 2, and TEs are good but not great receivers but below average blockers. Defensive talent is an issue – one excellent DB and DL, but the rest of those units are average. Not a great LB group, lacking elite speed and strength.
- Wisconsin: A tough recruiting season takes its toll on the Badgers. QB situation is dicey, lacking DIA GI and strength. A couple good RBs in Huff and Clark will need to grind out the yardage and control the clock. Three good WRs and an excellent tight end, remains to be seen if QB Allen can get them the ball consistently. OL lacks top talent beyond the first four. Defense appears soft - weak secondary and DL, and only one playmaker at LB, could lead to a lot of high scoring games if the offense doesn’t control the clock. A challenging situation for a very good coach in Rudy.