Twelve Bold Predictions

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Last updated: 08/01/2011 2:33 AM
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Football
Twelve Bold Predictions for the Big Ten Season
By Tony Gerdeman

It is now August, and that means the preview pieces will begin flying fast and furious. Team previews, positional previews, conference previews, from wall to wall.

In very few of those previews, however, are you likely going to find anybody predicting what is predicted below, and for good reason.

While what follows are indeed (self-described) "bold predictions", they are all based in some semblance of reality, even if they don't seem like it at the time.

I don't expect all of these predictions to come true, or even a good portion of them, but I would be pretty surprised if none of them did.

1 - Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will rush for more yards than Denard Robinson this season.

Nathan Sheelhaase could be one of the Big Ten's leading rushing threats this year.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Nathan Sheelhaase

Last season Scheelhaase rushed for 868 yards as a redshirt freshman and Robinson rushed for 1,702 as a sophomore. This season the Illini lose 1,697 rushing yards from the departed Mikel LeShoure, and will be looking to find it somewhere else. That should be Jason Ford, but Scheelhaase will be asked to do more in this offense than he did last year as a pup. Robinson won't touch his 1,702 yards because Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has a conscience. Robinson is no good to the Wolverines beaten and broken down, so his carries will diminish. Combine the need for Scheelhaase to do more, and the desire for Robinson to do less, and you have Scheelhaase rushing for more yards than Robinson.

2 - The Indiana Hoosiers will go to a bowl game this season.

Indiana's schedule could help them to a bowl game this year.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Indiana could be much improved.

Yes, I realize there is a difference between bold and stupid, but that doesn't mean it isn't a very thin line. New Hoosier head coach Kevin Wilson is a bit of an offensive guru, so Indiana should be able to score enough points to win six games, but it will obviously come down to schedule and defense. Fortunately for the Hoosiers, it looks like the schedule has come to save the day. Indiana's toughest non-conference opponent is Virginia, and they have to come to Bloomington. Granted, Mike London returns nearly everybody from last season's 4-8 team, but they've never gone against a team who was defending The Rock before. (Does Clemson defend their rock? I'm not sure.) If Indiana can go 4-0 against Ball State, Virginia, South Carolina State and North Texas (on the road), then they'd only need to win two Big Ten games to become bowl eligible. None of those wins will come on the road, but there's a chance they could split two of their four home games against Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue.

3- Iowa running back Marcus Coker will finish with the second-best rushing and touchdown total in Iowa Hawkeye football history.

Shonn Greene holds the current Hawkeye record with 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2008, so I can only be bold enough to say that he'll finish second in both categories. Tavian Banks currently holds the second spot with 1,691 yards and 17 touchdowns back in 1997. For Buckeye fans, their lasting memory of a platinum Tavian Banks is being repeatedly engulfed by Andy Katzenmoyer at the beginning of the 1997 matchup between 7th-ranked Ohio State and the 11th-ranked Hawkeyes. That won't happen this year because Coker is neither blonde nor on the Ohio State schedule, and that bit of good scheduling news is another reason Coker could be set to explode into the Iowa record books. While he finished strong last year with 219 yards rushing in the bowl game against Missouri, he was virtually non-existent until late October. Yes, his three best games came against Indiana, Minnesota and Missouri, so things need to be tempered, but Coker is what a Big Ten back looks like, and with a new quarterback at the helm, expect Iowa to get their money's worth with Coker this season.

4 - The Michigan Wolverines won't give up 35 or more points to any opponent this season.

This may not sound impressive, but keep in mind that only three Big Ten teams fit this description last season: Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. So even though you may not think this is a bold prediction, given Michigan's recent defensive past, there may be none bolder. The Wolverines gave up 35 or more points to eight opponents last season. They gave up 35.2 points per game on average, so clearly something needs to change. Fortunately for everybody involved, everything has changed. For one, the Wolverine defenders are now going to be enjoying the added benefit of film study. That's right, they didn't have any under Rich Rodriguez. For two, one of the goals of this year's offense will be to take time off of the clock, which foolishly was never part of Rich Rodriguez's plans last year. The combination of actual defensive teaching, and a defense that isn't exhausted from being on the field could actually make for a non-terrible defense.

Michigan's defense could spend less time chasing down big plays this year.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Michigan's defense should be improved

5 - Michigan State will field a better team than last year, but won't win a single road game.

The Spartans are coming off of a Big Ten Championship and return all kinds of offense, and enough defense to win a second consecutive conference title. However, they are also coming off of a season that saw them win four games by eight points or less, and get blown out by 30 or more points twice. Despite the blowout losses, things somehow went the Spartans' way last season. That can't happen two years in a row, right? Regardless of the Sparty curse, the reality is that the road schedule is a bit of a nightmare for Michigan State this season. They travel to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. Each of those teams will certainly be expecting a win over the Spartans, and so will many others, and we're not even talking about the home game against the Wolverines or Badgers. This is going to be a tough season for Michigan State.

6 - Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray will be the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award.

Quarterbacks are to Jerry Kill what buffaloes are to American Indians. He uses every last bit of them. Whatever a quarterback can do, he has a use for it, and MarQueis Gray, who came to Minnesota as a quarterback but was switched to receiver by Tim Brewster, is a whole lotta buffalo. To hear Kill talk about Gray now, it sounds like he wants to press charges against Brewster for moving Gray to receiver in favor of Adam "Diminishing Returns" Weber. When he was being recruited Gray was compared to Vince Young, which should give you an idea of his physical gifts. Amazingly, he opted for the Gophers over the likes of Oregon, Iowa and Michigan State. Considering he has spent most of his career running routes, he may not be the most polished passer just yet. However, Kill will make life as easy as possible for Gray, and that will include allowing him to make use of his tremendous athletic abilities. Considering that the Gophers lost leading rusher DeLeon Eskridge, Gray's legs may be called on plenty. The passing will come because the talent and work ethic are there. Of course, some receivers would be nice as well. And don't worry about Minnesota being terrible, Denard Robinson showed last year that the talent of the team doesn't dictate who wins the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

Minnesota's MarQueise Gray could be a difference maker for the Gophers under new Head Coach Jerry Kill.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Minnesota's MarQieise Gray could be a difference maker.

7 - The Nebraska Cornhuskers will have a losing record in Big Ten play.

I know, I know, I'm crazy and I'm an idiot. Everybody  knows that Nebraska is going to win the Legends division. It's a foregone conclusion. The rings have already been designed. They're just too good. But, just for a moment, let's humor me. Seven of the eight conference opponents for Nebraska played in a bowl game last season, and none of those seven are expecting to miss a bowl game this year. Road games against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State and Michigan could conceivably see the Huskers lose three times away from home. When you consider the Nebraska offense struggled as the season wore on last year, games late in the season at Penn State and Michigan may be tougher than they would be in early October. Games at home against Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa could certainly see a .500 split. And if Nebraska loses three of four on the road and splits at home, even a Michigan State graduate can do that math.

8 - Despite returning 16 starters, Northwestern will have a losing record this season.

Northwestern may be in for a down year despite returning a lot of talent.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Northwestern

Northwestern has gone to three-consecutive bowl games and hasn't had a losing record since 2006. So, considering where Pat Fitzgerald has the Wildcats right now, this is actually a fairly bold prediction. First off, Northwestern is banking their entire season on quarterback Dan Persa's health, which is dangerous. They have no running game, so Persa may have to be more of their running game than they'd prefer. Secondly, the schedule isn't favorable, and Northwestern's ultimate success has always relied more on schedule than talent. They open the season at Boston College, which has a very good chance to be a loss. They should still finish 3-1 out of conference, however. But the Big Ten schedule is going to prove difficult. Road games at Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Nebraska will probably net one lone win. Home games against Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan State could certainly bring four wins--and it could also bring just one. Not that these are the only two options, but losing three is more likely than winning four. And probably more likely than winning three.

9 - Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell will win Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Everything is set up perfectly for this. The winning of this "award" generally goes to the guy who does the most without it being expected of him. If that doesn't spell out Luke Fickell's situation to a "T", then I don't know what does. The Buckeyes still have more talent than anybody else in the conference, and a favorable schedule to work with. Fickell will get the benefit of the doubt because people doubt what Ohio State can achieve without Terrelle Pryor. Ironically, those same people who now doubt the Buckeyes without Pryor were the same ones who said Pryor was overrated throughout his entire career.

10 - Penn State will start the season 10-0.

A favorable schedule could get Penn State off to a great start.
Photo by Dan Harker
A favorable schedule could get Penn State off to a great start.

I know, right? I blinked twice as well, and I'm the one who wrote it. This all hinges on a winnable schedule for the Nittany Lions, provided the quarterback(s) and linebackers are better than competent. If they can get by Alabama in week two, then they'll likely be favored until the second-to-last week of the season when they head to Columbus. Road games at Temple, Indiana and Northwestern, are all winnable, and home games against Iowa, Purdue, Illinois and Nebraska are as well. I know it sounds outrageous, but stranger things have happened. Michigan went to a bowl game last year, for instance.

11 - The Purdue Boilermakers will start the season 5-0 and make it into at least one top-25 poll.

Purdue in the top 25? Lately, it doesn't get much bolder than that. The Boilermakers have been ranked just once in the last five seasons - they were ranked 23rd in 2007, and it lasted all of seven days. This season they start off with three winnable non-conference games, then a bye week precedes Notre Dame coming to West Lafayette. By the time the Irish get to Purdue, they will already have played four BCS opponents, and quite possibly found the top 25 themselves. If the Irish come into West Lafayette ranked, then Purdue will certainly get significant credit for beating them. A win the following week over Minnesota would put the Boilers at 5-0, which should be enough to be recognized as one of the 25 best teams in the nation.

Like Penn State, Purdue's early schedule could be good for them.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Like Penn State, Purdue's early schedule could be good for them.

12 - Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson will lead the Big Ten in interceptions.

Last year Russell Wilson threw 14 interceptions, which would have been the most in the Big Ten by three. Fortunately for Wilson, he played in the same conference as Jacory Harris, so it was impossible for him to lead the ACC in interceptions. To be fair to Wilson, however, those interceptions came via 40 passing attempts per game, which is something that he certainly won't approach with Wisconsin. Because his attempts will be down, he will be trying to do more with less, which is where interceptions are born. It will also take him some time to work himself into Wisconsin's timing offense, and it will take his receivers time to work into his improvisational offense. Add in the fact that the Big Ten's experienced quarterbacks should be able to minimize turnovers, and the inexperienced quarterbacks won't be given enough rope to hang themselves, and you've got Wilson leading the conference in interceptions.

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