Big 10 Football Predictions
2011 was a season of firsts for the Big Ten Conference. It was the first season with Nebraska as a member of the league. It was also the first season two division winners squared off in a conference championship game.
Nebraska had high hopes of representing the Legends division in the inaugural title game but Michigan State earned the honor with a 7-1 conference mark. Wisconsin, which won the Legends division with a 6-2 record, avenged a regular-season loss to the Spartans with a 42-39 victory in the championship game.
Big Ten Predictions
1. Wisconsin: Wisconsin entered 2011 with national titles hopes but saw those dashed with a loss at Michigan State on a Hail Mary. Unable to leave that defeat behind, it went down at Ohio State the following week. The Badgers still finished the season 11-3 for their fourth straight season with 10 wins or more and earned a second consecutive Big Ten title. With the Badgers drawing Michigan State and Ohio State at home, they will have a great opportunity to play for a third conference title in as many seasons.
2. Ohio State: Because Ohio State is not eligible to compete for a conference championship, it will have to settle for playing the role of spoiler. Excluding vacated victories, the Buckeyes had won at least 10 games and earned at least a share of the Big Ten title for six consecutive seasons before finishing 6-7 in 2011. It will be up to Urban Meyer, who has a gaudy 104-23 career record, to bring the Buckeyes back to glory.
3. Illinois: Illinois found its way into the record books in 2011, but not for a good reason. It became the first FBS school to finish the regular season 6-6 after winning its first six contests. The Fighting Illini were able to put their losing streak behind them with a 20-14 victory over UCLA in the Fight Hunger Bowl. That win gives them some momentum heading into 2012. Games at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State look like losses but the rest of the schedule is manageable. The defense has the potential to be dominant, which means this team could exceed expectations if the offense surprises.
4. Penn State: Penn State went 9-4 in Joe Paterno’s last season as coach, but that was hardly the talk in Happy Valley. The Jerry Sandusky scandal was an embarrassment on the program, and it took Paterno down in its wake. New head man Bill O’Brien in an offensive genius, but that doesn’t mean wins will come easy. Sometimes things must get worse before they get better, and things have certainly gotten worse foe the Nittany Lions.
5. Purdue: Purdue has momentum on its side entering the 2012 season following a winning campaign that was capped with a 37-32 victory over Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl – its first bowl game since 2007. The Boilermakers should put a better football team on the first this year, but they will likely finish with less wins in conference action because of a challenging schedule.
6. Indiana: The Hoosiers went 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten in Kevin Wilson’s first season. They played Penn State and Purdue tough but were kicked by 14 points or more in every other conference game. I think you’ll see some improvement from Indiana this year, but the wins won’t come with it.
1. Michigan: The Wolverines have returned to national prominence under coach Brady Hoke, who led them to an 11-2 mark and a BCS bowl win over Virginia Tech. He also led them to a victory over Ohio State, which may have been the biggest win of the season for the Michigan faithful. This year’s non-conference slate is tough and could keep the Wolverines from a BCS title shot, but they should be one of the elite teams in the Big Ten.
2. Nebraska: Nebraska can be considered a national power again thanks to Bo Pelini, who has led the Cornhuskers to four straight seasons of nine wins or more. With seven starters returning on both the offense and the defense, I like Nebraska’s chances of a fifth consecutive campaign with at least nine victories.
3. Michigan State: Michigan State has joined the Big Ten’s elite in recent years. It earned a share of the conference championship in 2010 and won the Legends division last year. It is 22-5 over the past two seasons and is one of just seven BCS programs with at least 11 victories each of the past two years. The defense should remain top-notch in 2012, but the offense will take a step back after losing some star power.
4. Iowa: Under the direction of Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has won at least seven games in nine of the last 11 seasons. The returning personnel must adjust to new coordinators Greg Davis and Phil Parker, but the seven-win mark looks very attainable again in 2012 because of a very favorable schedule.
5. Northwestern: While Pat Fitzgerald has led Northwestern to four straight bowl games, he is yet to win one. In fact, the Wildcats haven’t won a bowl game since 1949. The offensive side of the football hasn’t been an issue, but the defense has. It’s the stop unit that is keeping Northwestern from being able to seriously contend for a conference crown.
6. Minnesota: The Golden Gophers finished 2-6 in the Big Ten in Jerry Kill’s first season. Unfortunately, I don’t see them doing any better than that in 2012. Home games with Northwestern and Purdue are winnable, but I don’t see the Gophers getting it done against Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan or Michigan State. Minnesota visits both Iowa and Illinois this season and both schools will be out for revenge.
Conference Championship Game Prediction: Michigan over Wisconsin