Usually the most intense craziness in college football is reserved for the SEC and it’s ridiculous fan base. But over the last 18 months there hasn’t been a bigger circus in the sport than the Big Ten.
Last year Ohio State was embroiled in controversy and was the scourge of the college football world. Then late in the fall the Penn State scandal hit the front pages and it has been one seedy, disgusting mess after another while that program slowly oozes its way into the depth of the NCAA cesspool.
As we head into the 2012 Big Ten season the off-field issues of the last year have definitely overshadowed any anticipation about the actual play. But Urban Meyer’s return, Wisconsin’s attempt to really claim the throne as top dog in the league, and a three-way horse race for the Legends Division title offer some intriguing on-field storylines as we head to the season.
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Here is a look at my 2012 Big Ten football predictions and futures odds, with the college football odds courtesy of 5Dimes:
The Favorite: Wisconsin (+165)
The Badgers are almost the favorites to win the Big Ten by default. Neither Ohio State nor Penn State is eligible for the postseason this year. So, in theory, the Badgers could finish in third place in the Leaders Division and still play in the conference title game. That certainly takes some of the pressure off.
Montee Ball’s return was crucial for an offense that lost its quarterback and most of its mammoth offensive line. But Wisconsin grows 320-pound linemen like corn. New quarterback Danny O’Brien won’t be as good as Russell Wilson was. But he will be good enough.
The defense was No. 15 in yards allowed and No. 13 in scoring last year. I don’t think anyone believes it was really that good. But it will need to be in that range again if this team wants another crack at the Rose Bowl.
The Challenger: Nebraska (+500)
The Huskers were spotty in their first trip through the Big 12 and were, to me at least, a pretty big disappointment last year.
It really is all about Taylor Martinez with this team. He throws like a girl and just isn’t a very good passer. Can this team overcome that? Can he and thumper Rex Burkhead make enough plays in the running game to make Martinez’s passing moot? We will see.
But Nebraska’s defense has to improve – a lot – if they want to win the Legends Division. They weren’t ranked higher than No. 7 in the conference last year in any primary defensive stat line. They have seven starters back on that side of the ball, but that doesn’t mean much if they don’t show marked improvement.
The Dark Horse: Illinois (+1700)
Remember: Florida took off after Ron Zook was forced out of town. Zook was excellent at stockpiling talent but terrible at preparation and actual coaching. New Coach Tim Beckman is working with a full deck and has a lot of talent and experience back from one of last year’s disappointments.
Nate Scheelhaase triggers an offense that boasts five three-year starters. They need to take care of the ball better and find ways to score after finishing just No. 91 in the nation with 22.6 points per game. Beckman’s offensive creativity will help there.
The defense was massively underrated last season, finishing No. 7 nationally in yards allowed and No. 3 in passing. Seven starters and 11 of their top 16 tacklers are back.
Illinois does have to travel to Wisconsin, to Michigan and to Ohio State. But a pair of upsets wouldn’t stun me.
The X-Factor: Ohio State (NA)
The Buckeyes aren’t eligible for the postseason. But that just means that they will put all of their focus, determination and energy into winning a Leaders Division crown. This is Urban Meyer’s first year in Columbus and you know he wants to lay a foundation for long-term success.
The Buckeyes host Nebraska and Michigan – two of the favorites in the Legends – and they get shots on the road against Michigan State and Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes are focused and determined after a sketchy 2011 that was over before it began. They have 10 senior starters and one of the most experienced rosters in the league.
They may not be able to claim the Big Ten crown for themselves, but they will go a long way in determining who does take it home this year.
The Disappointment: Michigan (+250)
Mark my words – Michigan is starting the season in the Top 10 but they won’t even be in the Top 25 by the end of the season. And I am the only college football handicapper in the country making that prediction right now!
This team erupted for an 11-2 season last year and a big bowl win over Virginia Tech. I thought it was a fluke and more the result of a cupcake schedule than their actual ability.
I am firmly on record as saying that Denard Robinson is the most overrated player in college football. And I think he is going to cripple this team this year with either his massive amount of turnovers or an injury.
They could start the season 2-2 with losses to Alabama and at Notre Dame (huge revenge game for the Irish). And then they still have trips to Nebraska and to Ohio State on the docket, as well as tough home games against Illinois and Michigan State. Even if they avoid any other upsets I see four losses on this team’s slate.
They aren’t winning the Big Ten and they will end up in a mediocre bowl. Bank it.
I have a ton of respect for Pat Fitzgerald. I think he is a really sharp, tough coach and has done a good job with this program. But I think Northwestern stinks right now and I don’t see a lot of upside for this team this year.
They have just 10 starters back and they lost do-it-all quarterback Dan Persa from a team that only mustered a six-win season. They open the year at Syracuse and then at home against Vanderbilt and Boston College. They better win at least two of those games or else it is going to be a long year.
And I don’t know that this team will win a game after Oct. 14.
I actually am going to be keeping my eyes on Minnesota as kind of a sneaky team against the spread. They are in their second season with Jerry Kill, so things should be a little more fluid this year.
Marqueis Gray is one of the best athletes in the league and he can win a couple games for them all by himself.
This team has 12 starters back and the Minnesota football schedule sets up for them to start off the year 4-0. They also get Northwestern, Purdue and Michigan all at home. If they can win two of those games this team will be bowling.
I think they will be kind of spry this fall.
This is kind of a tough team to get a grasp of at the moment. They went just 7-6 last year and 8-5 the year before that. Ho-hum.
Outside of that one fluke season in 2009 – when everything broke their way – Iowa is a very mediocre 43-33 straight up and 32-40 against the spread.
They have only 11 starters back and aren’t very experienced. But that said, the Iowa football schedule is one big red carpet. They only have four road games all season.
They should open the year 5-0 if they can beat Iowa State in Week 2. They also get Penn State and Purdue at home and they have winnable road games at Northwestern and Indiana. That’s nine wins without breaking a sweat or pulling an upset.
This team’s record is going to be much better than this team actually is. They are definitely a sleeper in the Legends Division.
The Spartans will enjoy having eight starters back from the No. 6 total defense and No. 10 scoring defense in the country. They are nasty on that side of the ball and Mark D’Antonio really has this program rolling.
They also have a very good offensive line and solid specials teams. However, they have a huge question mark at quarterback with Andrew Maxwell and they have zip in terms of experienced playmakers at the skill positions.
The Michigan State football schedule doesn’t offer them any breaking-in period, either. Sparty opens against Boise State, then at Central Michigan in a tricky sandwich game prior to hosting Notre Dame. They also have to play Ohio State before they exit September. We’ll know a lot about this team early.
Things don’t get much easier. They have a brutal three-game stretch at Michigan, at Wisconsin and then hosting Nebraska. If they had Iowa’s schedule they would go 10-2 or 11-1. But they don’t.
Danny Hope has given this team just that. They went 7-6 and won a bowl game last year. And now the Boilermakers welcome back 15 starters, including their quarterback (with experienced backups) and 10 seniors on the first team. That includes five three-year starters on defense.
Purdue doesn’t have any top-end talent. But they do have cohesion and they are definitely an underrated entity in the league. The Boilers avoid Michigan State and Nebraska, two of the top three teams in the Legends, and their game with Minnesota on Oct. 27 could decide which one of these “surprise” teams ends up in a bowl game.
I like what I see with this team and I think they have some value.
Penn State (NA)
What a mess. Everyone knows Penn State’s situation by now. And my 10-cent opinion is actually that this program got off lightly. If you are going to give teams significant and comparable penalties because a kid takes some money (illustrating the hypocrisy of the NCAA in general) but you’re not going to dole out the Death Penalty for all of the crimes – outright, actual crimes – committed by the heads of this football program, then why even have the Death Penalty at all?
I thought Penn State deserved a one-year Death Penalty AND the sanctions they got. But that’s just me.
Oh, yeah, right, their team this year.
They are going to suck. But the books will overadjust to these “villains” knowing that no one wants to bet on them, only against them. They were in for a long season anyway. But the transfers, the bowl ban, and the dark cloud over this school right now mean that five or six wins is the ceiling. And it is only going to get worse.
Kevin Wilson cleaned out with this team and now he’s dealing with 15 starters back from a 1-11 team. That sounds like a lot of experience. But this group got absolutely demolished by Illinois (21), Wisconsin (52), Iowa (21), Northwestern (21) and Michigan State (52), so they have a lot of ground to make up.
Of the 14 starters back, only three of them are seniors, so this team could be setting up for a nice 2013. But that’s not going to help the bottom of the Big Ten barrel this year.
2012 Big Ten Conference Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
3. Michigan State
1. Ohio State
5. Penn State
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and has posted back-to-back profitable seasons (college and pro). Robert has turned a profit in three of four football seasons and over the last nine months his clients have earned nearly $10,000 in profit with his football selections. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here. Also, you can also get $60 worth of free Robert Ferringo member picks (no salesman, no credit card, no obligation!) by clicking here for more info.