2008 Big Ten Predictions
by Doc - 08/24/2008
Here at Doc's Sports the Big Ten has been our bread and butter since the early 1970s. Our main office is located in Badgers Country in the proverbial heart of the Big Ten. This is the conference that we specialize in and the one where most of our big predictions will come from this season, as has been the case for many seasons past. Our Big Ten Game of the Year is what put us on the map (we won this pick a record 19-straight years at one point and moved the Las Vegas line a touchdown at the height of the streak). Here are my 2008 Big Ten predictions on how I see the conference shaping up:
1) Ohio State 7-1 Big Ten (11-1 Overall)
2) Michigan State 6-2 (10-2)
3) Penn State 6-2 (9-3)
4) Wisconsin 6-2 (9-3)
5) Illinois 6-2 (8-4)
6) Minnesota 3-5 (7-5)
7) Purdue 3-5 (6-6)
8) Indiana 2-6 (6-6)
9) Michigan 2-6 (4-8)
10) Northwestern 2-6 (6-6)
11) Iowa 1-7 (4-8)
Ohio State Buckeyes 7-1 (11-1 overall)
Once again this could be the best team in the country. The Buckeyes return 19 starters and are loaded at the skill positions, and everywhere else, it seems. The defense had a tremendous season in 2007 and this group has the chance to be even better. On the other side, the offense should be a lot stronger in 2008 with both quarterback Todd Boeckman and RB Chris "Beanie" Wells returning. They also return most of their offensive line and they should be able to create some holes for Wells and give Boeckman all the protection that he needs. Ohio State also has all of their receivers back lead by Brian Robiskie, the son of former NFL Coach Terry Robiskie.
Strength - Plain and simple; the strength is EVERYWHERE! They have a great leader in Boeckman and may have the best defense in the country, especially at the linebacker position.
Weakness - It's very difficult to find anything that may set them back. The schedule may be the only thing that causes them to slip-up, as they must travel to USC, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Illinois.
Best Bets - Sept. 13 at USC. This will be the game of the year in college football as this will be a two-year series with the Trojans coming into Columbus next year. USC usually reloads instead of rebuilds but they did lose heavy to graduation on the offensive side of the football. They also lost QB Mark Sanchez and will likely start Mitch Mustain, the transfer from Arkansas. Tradition keeps this line low, but it will be the Buckeyes making the case for being the No. 1 team in the land.
Nov. 15 at Illinois. It will be hard to find good value with the Buckeyes at home since they will usually be a double-digit favorite. However, being on the road should allow us to get a favorable price. Illinois handed the Buckeyes their only regular season loss in 2007 and you can bet they have this one circled. Illinois once again has a nice outfit, but will not be ready for this step up in class.
Play Against - Oct. 18 at Michigan State. Will be the game of the year for the Spartans as they have not beaten Ohio State since 1999 when Nick Saban was still their head coach. The Spartans have the talent to win this game and their offensive line will have seven games under them in 2008 by the time this one kicks off. How big of a home dog they will be remains to be seen but you can bet my most improved team in the Big Ten has a chance for the upset here. Depth is a concern for MSU but when this game is played they should be free of this worry.
Michigan State Spartans 6-2 (10-2)
I'm sure very few people will have this team as high in the standings as I do. I could be totally wrong if they do not improve in a couple of key areas, with the main concern being the offensive line. Their record was 7-6 in 2007 but you must remember that six of their losses came by seven points or less. I really like their coach in Mark Dantonio, who came over from Cincinnati, and expect great improvement to be shown in his second season. Key personal at the skill positions will be the difference and I am going to step out on a limb here and say that this squad will be the surprise team in the Big Ten.
Strength - The offense is in the hands of a solid QB in Brian Hoyer and running back in Javon Ringer. Those two alone can make this team very dangerous provided that they can stay healthy. Their defensive line should be better then what most people expect; however, my biggest strength for Sparty is their head coach. He has been a winner wherever he has been, including coaching the defense for the national champion Buckeyes in 2002.
Weakness - No question it comes on the offensive line. Hit by injuries last year and a switch from zone blocking to a power blocking scheme, this unit struggled in 2007. They must improve and with the talented skill players around them they may be able to be successful by just being average. The other question comes at wide receiver where they must replace Devin Thomas, a player that had more than 1,200 yards last season. This squad has produced some high draft picks in years past and will likely be young at this position.
Best Bet - Oct. 4 vs. Iowa. I have two reasons for this play: Revenge is the first, as the Spartans were beaten by Iowa, 34-27 in double overtime in 2007. MSU had 185 more yards and totally shut down the Hawks passing attack. The other reason is Iowa should not be great as a team, as I will be going against this Hawkeye squad numerous times in 2008. You will definitely see Iowa a lot in the going against column!
Play Against - Oct 11 at Northwestern. I think this is a perfect spot to fade the Spartans as they will likely be 6-0 or 5-1 and enter Evanston as a favorite. Coming into 2008, Sparty has won just eight road games this decade and this is a win the Cats definitely need in order to go bowling. Their last two meetings have been close and this one will be as well.
Penn State Nittany Lions 6-2 (10-2)
The Nittany Lions should once again be in the fight for a Big Ten Championship. Despite the off field issues, Coach Paterno has stated that this has been one of the most fun teams to coach. He will likely start 13 seniors and should have a good chance to get revenge on two clubs that defeated him in 2008 (Illinois and Michigan State). A very tough road schedule playing at Ohio State and Wisconsin may be all that dooms them.
Strength - No question the two solid corps are at the receiver position and on the defensive line. Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, and Jordan Norwood are all big play threats and should allow this offense to be very productive. They also return their front four on defense from 2007 and this unit should once again anchor a strong D.
Weakness - Gone is QB Anthony Morelli and they will likely start Daryll Clark in hopes that he can fill his shoes. Pat Devlin may see some action as well but regardless; this will be a major question mark. If either one of them plays well this squad will be very tough too beat.
Best Bet - Oct. 18 vs. Michigan. The Lions have lost nine straight to Michigan and if they don't get them in 2008, it may never happen. This is the longest losing streak to an opponent in Paterno's career and State will have revenge, homecoming, and playing a team under a major rebuilding project. Mark this one down on your calendar; this will be a blood bath for the visitor.
Play Against - Oct. 4 at Purdue. The Lions should be 5-0 when they make the trip to West Lafayette. That will make them a huge road favorite and with Coach Joe Tiller in his last season on the sidelines, he will want to make every game special. QB Curtis Painter of Purdue has the ability to light up the scoreboard on anybody.
Wisconsin Badgers 6-2 (9-3)
As a Badgers fan, I was not a big supporter of Brett Bielema as head coach, especially the way the whole hiring process went down. That being said, I have to give him credit because a 21-5 record the past two seasons speaks for itself. The victories should once again fall into place in 2008, as this team is loaded. Their defense should be much improved provided that they can stay healthy, as this was one of their downfalls in 2007. They have much more experience in 2008 and they should be able to stop teams when they need to.
The offense is always in good hands with Coordinator Paul Chryst back despite being rumored for some head coaching jobs. That being said, he will have his hands full trying to break in a new quarterback. Stud tight end Travis Beckum, however, may help ease that transition.
Strength - They may have the best backfield in the country despite losing Lance Smith. P.J. Hill has put up big numbers when healthy and he has two good players behind him in John Clay and Zach Brown. They should find some big holes since the offensive line will feature three seniors led by Kraig Urbik. They also have a favorable conference schedule, playing Ohio State and Penn State at Camp Randall.
Weakness - I mentioned before that they will once again be breaking in a new quarterback in senior Allan Evridge, a player with little experience. He has been banged up a little during fall camp, but this former K-State Wildcat may end up being a strength once he takes the reigns under center. Beckum will be the focus of most defenses' game plan and thus it will be important for some of their other young wideouts to step up and make plays. After two pasties to open 2008, the schedule becomes very difficult including two road games at Fresno and Ann Arbor.
Best Bet - Oct. 25 vs. Illinois. Bucky will want revenge after their 14-game winning streak was snapped last season in Champaign. Wisconsin will likely have a couple of losses when this one kicks off and, thus, the line will be low, but Wisconsin will win in a big way.
Play Against - Nov. 1 at Michigan State. The Badgers will be coming off some emotional games and playing on the road in November is never a good thing. Wisconsin is just 3-8 in November road games since 2001 and got pounded, 49-14, the last time they played in East Lansing. I would not be surprised if this happened again.
Illinois Fighting Illini 6-2 (8-4)
Head Coach Ron Zook finally lived up to his potential in 2007 and took Illinois to the Rose Bowl, finishing 9-4 on the season despite being pounded in Pasadena by USC, 49-17. The Illini probably didn't deserve to be in the Rose Bowl, but it was a remarkable turnaround as they went 2-10 in 2006. Will they be able to follow that up in 2008 since QB Juice Williams is still under center? In this writer's opinion that will not happen, as the talent is still there but a much tougher schedule will become a problem. Road games against Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a neutral site game with Missouri will certainly spell trouble and might give them four losses. Williams can carry this team a long way but the real key will be how well the defense improves. Some experts feel this could be one of the best in the Big Ten and if that happens lookout Big Ten and lookout Missouri on Aug. 30.
Strength - No question it's at the quarterback position as this will be Juice Williams' third season under center. He is very difficult to defend and he helped lead the Illini to a victory in Columbus in 2007. He has the option every play to run or pass and this double threat makes him as good as any quarterback in the country. Their defensive ends may be the best in the conference as Will Davis, who was second team All-Big Ten in 2007, leads the defense.
Weakness - Losing Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL will create a major void in the backfield since he was the team leader in 2007, rushing for more than 1,700 yards. His replacements have talent, but it has yet to be proven how effective they can be. Having a strong running back allows the Juice to be much more efficient and, therefore teams cannot just key on him. Illinois also has a tough road schedule and will be an underdog in three of their first five games.
Best Bet- Aug. 30 vs. Missouri. This will be a neutral site matchup in St. Louis, but I have to question the line if Illinois is more than a touchdown underdog. I think this will be a much closer game then the experts predict, as Illinois lost by just six points in 2007 despite Williams getting injured in the second quarter. I look for this to be a much lower scoring game then the 2007 battle and it would not surprise me if Illinois pulls the upset.
Play Against - Oct. 25 at Wisconsin. As a previously stated, Wisconsin will be looking for revenge as Illinois won last year for jus the third time in their last 14 matchups. Illinois should be coming off two blowouts at Memorial Stadium against Minnesota and Indiana and, thus, the line should be low. This is generally a home-dominated series and I look for no change here.
Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-5 (6-6)
A 1-11 record in 2007 certainly means that the Gophers can only go one direction and that is up. This will be Tim Brewster's second year as coach and major improvement is needed in order to justify his hiring and the firing of Glen Mason. I have been getting mixed reports about how this team will fare, but we will not know much until their conference games occur since their non-conference schedule is full of cupcakes. With four likely victories out of conference I predict that this team has a chance to become bowl eligible. But they do open with three of their first four Big Ten games on the road and will be lucky to win one of them. After that it lets up a little bit and with a lot of new faces I am positive we will find some great spots to go with and against this outfit. They still are a year away but a team you should look out for in 2009.
Strength - Their best strength might be a complete attitude adjustment. Looking at their games last year in the Big Ten, three of the losses came by six points or less. Coach Brewster is an offensive-minded coach and should be able to input his system much easier in year two and he does have some young talent that can make plays. Their quarterback this season will be sophomore Adam Weber, who will be in his second season after being thrown to the wolves in 2007. Assuming the receiving corps steps up, he should be able to lead the offense to the next level. With seven home games and a chance to win them all, I would not be surprised if they go 6-1 at the Dome.
Weakness - No question it will be the defense. Last year this unit could not even stop the opposing cheerleaders and because of that they brought in a new defensive coordinator in Ted Roof. He is a former head coach at Duke and had a decent defense at Durham despite terrible results in win/loss column. Three players have already been dismissed from this unit and this will be a major concern for them in 2008.
Best Bet - Nov. 8 vs. Michigan. Since 1968, the Gophers have had little success against the Wolverines, winning just three of 38 games. It's payback time, as this will be one of the many teams that kick Michigan when they are down. This will be the second-straight home game for Minnesota and they will hit Michigan off of three-straight difficult games (at Penn State, Michigan State, at Purdue). Talent gap is not that much of a difference and getting points makes me believe an upset is in the cards.
Play Against - Sept. 27 at Ohio State. This line will certainly be in double digits. However, the Gophers will likely be 4-0 at this point and thus it may not be as high as it should be. With the Buckeyes' punishing defense, I feel there is little chance for Minny to score points. I would not be surprised if it was a shutout. The score will be 42-0, mark it down.
Purdue Boilermakers 3-5 (6-6)
Look for the Boilers to play with a lot of emotion, as this will be Joe Tiller's last season as head coach. They will have one of the better quarterbacks in the league in fifth year senior Curtis Painter. They also have great balance in the backfield with Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor. Both had over 500 yards rushing in 2007 and should give this team great balance on offense. The defense has always been a problem under Tiller, but if they can prevent big plays, this team has a chance to be atop the Big Ten standings. The schedule is loaded with tough teams including road trips to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan State and they will host Oregon in the second game of the season. Look for them to struggle on the road and be in every home game.
Strength - With a proven QB in Painter, this team has a chance to light up the scoreboard and thus will never be out of any game. The defensive line should be much improved, especially since most of their front four return. If the other seven on defense (DBs and LBs) stay healthy and play up to their potential this team will upset some of the top-echelon squads in the country.
Weakness - Injuries have hit this squad hard as five of their offensive linemen missed spring practice and it will be unknown until games take place how well they come back. With the offense putting it in the air a lot, their defense will be on the field a lot and could wear down at the end of games.
Best Bet - Nov. 22 vs. Indiana. It's very difficult to gauge a game this far ahead. However, this will be Tiller's last home game and emotions will be running high. They will also have revenge on their minds, as Indiana won the Old Oaken Bucket Game in 2007 and thus the Hoosiers qualified for a bowl game. Indiana should have a better record then Purdue when this game kicks off and, thus, we should great a favorable line. The team sends Tiller and company off with one of his better showings of the season.
Play Against - Sept. 27 at Notre Dame. Purdue (like everybody) kicked Notre Dame while they were down last season, winning in West Lafayette, 33-19. The Irish were coming off a four-game losing streak and were at their low point of the season. Notre Dame will be much better in 2008 and this will be Purdue's first road game. Coach Weis will be sure to remind the Irish about last year and expect them to roll.
Indiana Hoosiers 2-6 (6-6)
This is the one team in the Big Ten I have the most trouble evaluating . Coach Bill Lynch has nine games this season at Memorial Stadium (eight of them home) and their non-conference schedule is full of cupcakes. They play four road games and I do not believe the Hoosiers will win any of them. However, if they beat Minnesota on the road they could have a remarkable record and improve upon the success of 2007. The last three games of the season are brutal and they will likely not win any of them (Wisconsin, at Penn State, at Purdue). The offense lost a big-time playmaker in James Hardy and the defense could not stop anybody in 2007. Look for more of the same in 2008.
Strength - The skill positions for the offense are in good hands with QB Kellen Lewis under center. He lead the team in passing and rushing last year and went over 1,000 yards on the ground. He will also have his main man in the backfield in Marcus Thigpen and these two would like to resemble William and Mendenhall from Illinois last year. They also have one of the best place kickers in the league in Austin Starr and he could become the difference in close games.
Weakness - The real question mark for the offense will be at the receiver position. James Hardy was their all-everything player and he now plays for the Buffalo Bills. They also lost TE Nick Sexton to baseball and WR James Bailey transferred. The offensive line also lost three starters and this unit certainly has some holes to fill. All these new players should be able to get their legs since their non-conference schedule is home-heavy and poor.
Best Bet - Oct. 11 vs. Iowa. Indiana beat the Hawks last year, 38-20, in Iowa City and I feel that they have better talent in 2008. They were a double-digit underdog in 2007 and should open as a favorite in 2008. Iowa is way down this season and will likely be coming off a loss at Michigan State. This will be their second-straight road game and will prove to be Iowa's undoing.
Play Against - Nov 15 at Penn State. The Hoosiers will likely have an inflated record at this point and will be coming off a tough game with Wisconsin. Indiana is 1-26 the last 27 years straight up prior to playing Purdue. The Lions will roar again and hopefully we get a reasonable line to attack.
Michigan Wolverines 2-6 (4-8)
It's hard to imagine the great Wolverines being this low in the Big Ten standings. Putting Michigan and Iowa at the bottom could be an invitation for me to eat crow for Thanksgiving dinner. That being said, this squad lost heavy to graduation. Household names like Long, Hart, Henne, Manningham, and Arrington have all moved on. They also lost 11 underclassman on scholarship who decided to leave the program. Coach Rodriquez has his work cut out for him. However, his offensive system is tough to defend. I believe it will take this year to implement it before they become sufficient in it by 2009.
Strength - As I mentioned earlier, the raw talent is there and the defense could be as strong as in prior years with Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham returning. No question about it, the defense has to play well until the offense gains experience.
Weakness - Lack of proven players at the skill positions have many fans up in Ann Arbor worrying about the offense. The quarterback and running back are questionable and they are even thinner at the wideout positions. If Rodriguez can mold this unit they might be able to surprise a lot of folks, otherwise it will be no bowl for Michigan.
Best Bet - Oct 4 vs. Illinois. This will be the second-straight home game for the Wolves and look for the defense to shut down Williams and Company. Illinois will enter this game playing off to their trip to Penn State and back-to-back road games have been killers for most teams in the Big Ten. Michigan will likely have a couple of losses at this point keeping the line reasonable.
Play Against - Sept. 13 at Notre Dame. Much like Purdue, Notre Dame will have revenge on this Big Ten opponent as well. Michigan won in 2007, 38-0, and I would not be surprised if history repeats itself in the other direction.
Northwestern Wildcats 2-6 (6-6)
This could be the other surprise team in the Big Ten, as the Cats look to move up the standings in 2008. For that to happen the defense has to be much improved and they will look to DC Mike Hankwitz, the former DC at Wisconsin, to lead them. He had very little success last year in Madison and will have his hands full with this unit. The Cats will also change their OC with Mike McCall coming over from Bowling Green to run a no-huddle offense. Much like last season the offense should be able to score points led by senior QB CJ Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton. They also have three veteran wideouts in Eric Peterman, Ross Lane, and Rasheed Ward and with an easy start to the schedule, it would not surprise me if they open 5-0. The schedule gets much harder after that and they will be lucky to win one of their last five games.
Strength - No doubt about it, the offense is loaded with numerous playmakers at the skill positions. This spread-style offense will give opposing defenses fits and this is definitely Coach Fitzgerald's best team yet. They also got lucky with the schedule not having to play Penn State or Wisconsin.
Weakness - As in past years the defense is a big question mark. They were overworked and folded numerous times in the fourth quarter last season. Under Coach Hankwitz, the defense will be much more aggressive and that may be just what the doctor ordered.
Best Bet - Aug. 30 vs. Syracuse. I cannot see the Orange being any better then in 2007, especially with a coach on the hot seat. This is a good place for the Wildcats to send a message to the conference about how explosive they can be. Why did Syracuse fire Paul Pasqualoni again?
Play Against - Nov. 1 at Minnesota. The Gophers were beaten last year in double overtime, 49-48 and expect them to have revenge on their minds. The Cats will be playing their second-straight road game and if the line is five points or less, expect the homer to win in a rout.
Iowa Hawkeyes 1-7 (4-8)
What is Iowa doing in the basement? This is a gutsy call since Iowa does not play Ohio State or Michigan for the second-straight year but time will tell. I may be one of the few but I expect Coach Kirk Ferentz to be on the hot seat come November. They should be 3-0 when they make a road trip to Pittsburgh and I would not be totally surprised if the Panthers crush them (mark down Sept. 20). After opening the Big Ten with Northwestern, the next five games are difficult and they will be lucky to win one of these games. They have a solid signal caller in Jake Christensen but after that the offensive is shaky.
Strength - The defense played exceptional at times in 2007 and could once again hold this team together. They are led by tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul and they will make it tough for any team to run up the middle against them. The punter is also solid with Ryan Donahue and expect him to be taking the field early and often.
Weakness - They lost their two top running backs in Albert Young and Damian Sims and they really do not have anyone waiting in the wings to replace their production. Someone may emerge but expect teams to dare them to run and really play the pass. Linebackers also may be a concern as two of the top three tacklers graduated.
Best Bet - Nov. 15 vs. Purdue. The home team is 10-1 in this matchup since 1993. This will be the Hawks last game at Kinnick Stadium and Purdue will be looking ahead to their matchup with Indiana.
Play Against - Sept. 20 at Pittsburgh. I personally cannot wait for this matchup. It will be Iowa's first road game in 2008 and should enter Heinz Field 3-0. Pittsburgh should be able to build off of their West Virginia upset from 2007 and come out much improved and determined to make a statement. Just a perfect spot and I already have this game marked on the calendar.