When Dick Stanzi is what qualifies as an “experienced veteran quarterback” in your league, you know that your league is in trouble.
But that’s how things are rolling this year in the Big Ten, as quarterback turnover is the one thing that could undercut what could be a stellar season for the nation’s most overrated conference. Only six of 11 starting quarterbacks from 2009 are back with their respective teams this year, and just two – Iowa’s Stanzi and Minnesota’s Adam Weber – are three-year starters. That could create some inconsistency throughout the league this year, especially with clubs like Illinois, Michigan and Penn State probably starting freshmen under center.
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Further, it’s no surprise that Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State are the prime candidates to win this year’s Big Ten title and earn a spot in a BCS bowl game. Not only do they have exceptional coaches, strong and tough defenses and stellar offensive line play, but they are also four of the six teams with veteran signal callers.
Here is some college football predictions for the 2010 Big Ten Conference with betting odds and picks for wagering:
The Favorite: Ohio State
There is no secret here. The Buckeyes are the conference favorite and a true national title contender. Terrelle Pryor would be a very good player in the SEC or Big 12, but with the lack of athletes in the Big Ten he is essentially a Superman. He should single-handedly provide the Ohio State offense, with help coming from a mammoth offensive line that is talented and experienced. Defensively, the Buckeyes always come to hit and always come to play. They have just six returning starters on that side of the ball and no All-Americans, but this program hasn’t fielded a defense that’s allowed more than 15 points per game in the last five years, so its an area I know I’m not worried about. OSU will get a chance to prove its mettle with a home contest against Miami on Sept. 11. Ohio State has an absurdly easy schedule beyond that, with six of their first eight games at home and two of their last three at The Horseshoe. But the two road games they have – at Wisconsin and at Iowa – will be battles.
The Challenger: Iowa
See, there is not a ton about Iowa that I really like this year. But the one thing that they can hang their hat on – the defense – is just absurdly good. Iowa fluked, lucked, and bumbled its way to an exceptional 11-win season last year. The same team that barely held off Northern Iowa and Arkansas State by a combined four points also used last-second plays to beat Michigan and Michigan State. But you have to give them credit: the Hawkeyes were tough as nails and just found ways to get the job done. And with eight starters back from one of the top defenses in the country there’s no reason to think that they couldn’t ring up 10 wins this year. Swingin’ Dick Stanzi is an accident waiting to happen, but he should have enough help with the running game to still be somewhat effective. But his inconsistency will cost them at least one game this year. Iowa has the benefit of getting Ohio State and Wisconsin at home. But they have tricky revenge games on the road at Michigan and at Arizona. I think Iowa will be a league challenger but not a national one as they have another solid year, minus all the lucky bounces from 2009.
The Dark Horse: Wisconsin
The Badgers aren’t exactly flying under the radar, as many bobbleheads are calling for UW to rise up as a surprise Big Ten champ. But we’ve heard that before and I don’t know if UW has it in them this year. The Wisconsin running game should be able to overwhelm about half of the defenses on their schedule and John Clay is following in the legacy of Ron Dayne and P.J. Hill. Defensively, this team is average for the league, and other than Chris Borland and maybe J.J. Wyatt there aren’t many difference makers or high-end talents in the front seven. That is a weakness, without the D being “weak”. Wisconsin has the misfortune of playing their two most important games of the season, a home contest against Ohio State and then a trip to Iowa, in back-to-back weeks. What’s worse is that those games come before a bye (rather than after). I think that this will be another typical Wisconsin year: nine wins, close-but-not-close-enough losses to the other top teams in the league, and a quiet bowl win.
The X-Factor: Michigan State
I’ve entered each of the past two seasons waiting for that breakout season from Mark Dantonio’s charges, only to be left unsatisfied at a 9-4 and 6-7 finish. Could this be the year? Michigan State has the best pure passer in the league (Kirk Cousins) under center and one of the fiercest linebackers in the country (Greg Jones) leading the defense. There is a load of athleticism and talent on this team, and their 10 senior starters is the second-highest total in the league. Also, the Spartans don’t leave the state until their eighth game of the year and they only have four away games. Ohio State isn’t on the schedule, and three of the last four games on the schedule have major revenge angles in play for Sparty. This could finally be that breakout season for the Spartans and with a couple fortuitous bounces they could end up in play for the conference crown.
The Surprise Team: Michigan
No matter what happens for this team this year it’s going to be somewhat of a surprise. I mean, if they busted out and won nine games would you really be surprised? What if they stumble out of the gate and just hang around .500, would that be a surprise? I actually think that Michigan could have a decent year. They have 15 starters back, are in the third year of Rick-Rod’s systems, and are under such scrutiny that they could rise up to the challenge and take on an us-against-the-world mentality. There is some skill and athleticism here. But there are three problems. First, the pressure on Rodriguez is too much. The vultures are already swirling and if they lose to Connecticut to start the year he could get canned on Monday. Second, they don’t have a quarterback. Third, the schedule is killer, with five tough road games and rough home games against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa. Whatever happens to the Wolverines this year will be both surprising and not surprising at all.
The Disappointment: Penn State
I may be in the minority here, but I’m expecting a bit of a crash and burn year out of the Nittany Lions. They’ve gone 22-4 in their last two seasons and haven’t won less than nine games in the last five. For the second straight year they do only have four road games (and a weird trip to Landover, Md.) but three of them come against Alabama, Iowa and Ohio State, and I don’t think they will win any of them. I felt PSU overachieved last year in part due to extraordinary play out of Daryll Clark and LB’s Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman. All three are gone and they lack experience at key spots on both sides of the ball. Penn State wasn’t nearly as good as they seemed last year – the beneficiaries from a cupcake schedule. So I expect things to even out this time around and for them to stay under expectations this time around.
Northwestern – Pat Fitzgerald is quietly becoming a great coach with a solid program out in Evanston. Northwestern has gone 17-9 the last two years and have covered the spread in back-to-back bowl games against marquee opponents (Auburn and Missouri). They lose Mike Kafka at quarterback and most of the skill people. But the core of the team will be four three-year starters on defense and an offensive line that brings back four of five starters. The Wildcats have a challenging, but manageable schedule to start the year. And if they can get a win over Vanderbilt to start the season there is a decent chance that they could be 6-0 coming off a bye in a key game against Michigan State. Don’t be stunned if they match last year’s eight wins.
Purdue – This has been a dangerous, tricky team the last two years. They have been much better than their 9-15 combined mark, and two tight losses to Pac-10 power Oregon are the perfect microcosm. This year they again only bring back 11 starters but I have a hard time betting against them. Miami transfer Robert Marve is going to take the reigns of the Boilers’ quick-trigger offense. But if this team is going to improve they’ll have to plug some holes on a defense that allowed nearly 30 points per game last year. They open with three of four at home and close with three of four at home, and if they can pick up a couple wins in between they could hit their first bowl game since 2007.
Indiana – The Hoosiers won’t be very good this year but they could be dangerous. IU is loaded with experience on offense, including underrated quarterback Ben Chappell. He’ll be working with four other three-year offensive starters and every skill position starter is back from an improving group. IU had close losses at Michigan (by 3), at Northwestern (by 1) and against Wisconsin (by 3), as well as a misleading final against Iowa. They only have three conference home games (I guess that’s why Penn State and Ohio State only have four road games every year) but I think the Hoosiers could be good for another upset or two, despite a wretched defense.
Illinois – What a mess Ron Zook has made of this program. And it really shouldn’t be all that stunning, seeing as he was a failure as a coach in Florida as well. The man can recruit and can find talent. But he can’t coach it. They have just 11 starters back from a train wreck of a 3-9 team, and the offense is essentially starting from scratch. They open conference play with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State right in a row. Zook’s seat could go up in flames if they get swept in an ugly fashion there. I think Illinois can cause some people some trouble, but without any experienced playmakers on offense they have a pretty specific ceiling: six wins.
Minnesota – Minnesota has the most experienced quarterback in the conference in Adam Weber and has six total offensive players that are three-year starters. Obviously they will miss Eric Decker, but they should still find a way to move the ball. The issue is going to be that they only have two returning defensive starters and just two senior starters on that side of the ball. The Gophers are also the only team in the conference that doesn’t have a bye week to work with before November. If any injuries start to creep up they’ll be in trouble. One rough stretch has them playing four of six on the road, with back-to-back road trips sandwiched around two home games against Penn State and Ohio State. It could be a long season.
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional college football and NFL handicapper for Doc’s Sports. Last year he brought home +62.5 Units for his clients for NFL picks and he is regarded as one of the top totals players in the sport. He guarantees a winning football season this year or he will work for free until you turn a profit. You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.