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Big Ten Bloggers: 5 Bold Predictions, Part II
Buckeye HC Luke Fickell
CFN's Big Ten Bloggers share their second set of five outside-the-box predictions for the 2011 football season. From OSU winning yet another conference title, or the Buckeyes losing four regular season game, to Nebraska would end 2011 outside the top 25.
Phil Harrison: Ohio State will win the inaugural Big Ten Title Game.
Say what? Have we officially fallen off our rocker?
Do we really believe that the Ohio State program, so beleaguered in the off-season, has any kind of chance at competing in its own division, let alone - gasp - the Big Ten title race? How can the same team that lost its all-world, sleeveless coach and three year starter at QB, not to mention other key players for five games of the season put together any kind of a run? Isn’t this supposed to be the year that OSU starts a downward trend towards mediocrity?
Let’s get back to the basics. Talent is the number one differentiator between winning and losing. Seemingly lost in all of dirty laundry of the off-season for the Buckeyes is that they still have arguably the most talent in the conference. Sure their all Big Ten QB rode off into the NFL sunset in a nice car (sorry; too easy), and nobody really knows what kind of steering of the ship Captain Fickell will be able to do, but the reality is there are plenty of pieces for OSU to work with to wake up its Big Ten neighbors.
This year’s group of running backs may be as deep and talented as any in recent memory, the offensive line may be the best in the conference, and all of the four and five star recruits OSU has reeled in over the last couple of years are ready to step in on the defensive side of the ball to star in the running sequel Buckeye Defense: Re-loaded..
The schedule is also favorable. They must play Michigan State prior to getting the suspended players back, but its at home. After that, and conveniently so, the four key players will join the party in Lincoln for the mega-tilt with Nebraska. Most importantly, the team that most figure to win the Leader’s division, Wisconsin, has to come to Columbus in a Scarlet and Grey ambush at night in the ‘Shoe. Can you say revenge ratcheted up a few levels?
OSU has had to deal with enough news to spill over into the banks of the Olentangy the last six months, and at some point it has to take its toll. Let’s not lose sight of the forest for the buckeye trees however. There is talent on this roster, and lots of it-enough to make a serious run for the conference crown.
How fitting would it be for Ohio State to win the inaugural Big Ten title game in Indianapolis, the home of its judge and jury the NCAA?
Rule on that.
Dan Cronin: Nebraska will finish unranked.
Wait a minute, what? Yes you read correctly. The team that is ranked 10th and 11th respectively in the AP and Coaches preseason polls will suffer through a year to forget in its inaugural Big Ten season.
To the surprise of the college football world, the team that many see spending New Years in Pasadena will instead not be able find its name in the national rankings by season’s end.
First, the Huskers have an outstanding defense. It might even be the best in the country. However, the talent that the defense has is causing believers in Nebraska to gloss over the serious problems that they are going to have when it comes to putting up points on the scoreboard.
Gone is Shawn Watson, the Husker offensive coordinator since 2007. Tim Beck, who was running backs coach for Nebraska last season, is the new offensive coordinator for 2011. This will be Beck’s first season calling the plays in his coaching career, so therefore the decision making on offense will be pretty green for Big Red this season.
Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez was prolific at times last season frustrating defenses with his running ability. However, his ability to throw the football was an issue all season long and the young QB wasn’t the same player following an ankle injury late last season. Martinez will have to prepare to operate against some stiff defenses and keep his cool when he visits some of the toughest environments in the country. Backup Cody Green who saw action last season transferred, so should Martinez get injured again, Nebraska will be forced to go to redshirt freshman Brion Carnes.
If the passing game fails, then they will be forced to turn to a running game that may not be able to shoulder the load. Roy Helu Jr. graduated taking 1245 rushing yards with him to the NFL. The versatile Rex Burkehead is back this season, but after him there are no experienced ball carriers on the depth chart.
Sometimes the thing most overlooked evolves into the biggest problem. The ultra-reliable kicker and punter Alex Henery is gone and freshman Mauro Bondi will be handling the field goal duties. With a terrific defense and a suspect offense Nebraska could find themselves in a number of close, low scoring contests which is not a situation you want to be in when your place kicker is not a position of strength.
The schedule doesn’t do the Huskers any favors for in their first year in the new conference. In fact it will turn out to be the downfall of the Big Red this season. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin shared the Big Ten Title in 2010. Nebraska sees all three of them this season. Throw into that mix road games against Penn State and Michigan, both of whom should be much improved off of last season.
The offense will likely shine against a week non-conference schedule, but it will be a whole new world once the toughest defenses in the Big Ten are standing in the way of the Husker attack. The game at Camp Randall Stadium is at night against a Wisconsin team out to prove last season was no fluke. The Buckeyes will have all their big guns back just in time for the big showdown in Lincoln.
This means Nebraska fans will have to wait until October 22nd against Minnesota to celebrate their first Big Ten win. Two additional losses in the last five games certainly are not out of the question. Michigan State returns a number of key players from last year’s championship team. Visits to Penn State and Michigan will also be no picnic.
Whether or not they finish the year unranked will come down to the bowl game which would more than likely be against an SEC team. The SEC has fared extremely well against the Big Ten in the postseason and what would make Nebraska feel more like a true Big Ten school then losing a bowl game to an SEC school?
Bart Doan: Ohio State will lose at least four games in 2011.
Originally, I thought this prediction was far more of a stretch. The proverbial bandwagon has been stationed in Columbus, OH for what seems like forever when it comes to Big 10 analysis. Wind, nor rain, nor SEC could deter the Buckeyes from being the Big 10's elite through another January. Someone forgot to tell the NCAA.
Ohio State is on the way down. Below sea level, if you would. Down like Hanson after “Mmm Bop”, as if that wasn’t low enough. Chalk the Bucks up for four losses at minimum this year, and we’re talking regular season. I’m not copping out and using a potential bowl game loss (to another SEC team) as an excuse for my prediction being right.
As previously mentioned, quarterback, coach, and schedule are paramount in determining who’s on the way up and who’s on the way down in college football. OSU has all of zero of those categories working for them. The quarterback is Braxton Miller, who was supposed to be starting next year, not this one. Terrelle Pryor made sure that the process was expedited. Miller isn’t awful, but he’s still a freshman. The laundry list of freshman to win a Big 10 title would essentially mean you don’t have much in the hamper. It’s a rare occurrence.
The coach is Luke Fickell. He’s been mentioned ad nauseam after the departing of Jim Tressel. Not that Luke can’t coach, but he’s entering his first year amid tumult with a rook quarterback and missing 5 other stalwarts for half the season. I don’t think I need to try and make a list of coaches who led teams to the Rose Bowl in their first year as a head coach…anywhere. I’m holding up zero fingers. Are you taking the over or the under?
Lastly, the schedule is arduous. Assuming the NCAA allows Miami to field a team, the September 17th game in Coral Gables won’t be a skip in the park. The schedule includes road games at Nebraska, Illinois, Purdue (before you laugh, OSU lost in West Lafayette last time), and Michigan. There are easier road slates out there.
Whether it’s a turn for the worst or a one time crash and burn is for another discussion, but 2011 isn’t the year of the Buckeye. Young quarterbacks, inexperienced coaches, and crusty schedules do not often make champions.
Aaron Calhoun: 2011 will be Joe Paterno’s final season as Penn State’s head coach.
Well, somebody had to say it.
When the 2011 college football season concludes, Joe Paterno will be 85 years old and his current contract with Penn State University will be up. He was recently injured in a collision with a Nittany Lion receiver during practice--he suffered hairline fractures to his right shoulder and hip. It is another incident in what has recently become a long list of incidents that have resulted in JoePa needing to be put back together again.
More telling, though, might be a statement Paterno made before the 2005 season after a sad stretch in Happy Valley from 2000-04 (26-33 overall record), “If we don’t win some games, I’ve got to get my rear end out of here. Simple as that.” Of course, the ‘05 squad went 11-1, were co-champions of the Big Ten, and defeated Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Fast forward to the present, and the Nittany Lions are again coming off of a disappointing season that forced Paterno to answer questions about his stepping down or not; any rumors of retirement were quickly shrugged off by JoePa after the loss to Florida in the Outback Bowl, but based on the aforementioned quote, it would indicate that when college football’s eldest statesman feels he cannot maintain a program that competes at an elite level in the BCS, he will step aside.
It is also worth noting that while Paterno holds the all-time record for most wins by an FBS coach (401), he currently trails Eddie Robinson (408) for most wins by a Division I coach; eight victories in 2011, which is not out of the realm of possiblity for Penn State, would put JoePa at the top of the D-I mountain, and that may be enough for him.
Chris McKeown: Michigan defeats Ohio State
For those who think this is impossible, I argue the opposite: it might not even be bold. The Michigan Wolverines haven’t had a taste of sweet victory over their bitter, hated rival since 2003. That changes in 2011.
True, Michigan really hasn’t had a football team to brag about since the days of Lloyd Carr. (Think about the irony of that statement.) Let’s take a quick look at what they’ve accomplished since 2008…
Under Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines were a measly 15-22 and only 6-18 in Big Ten conference play. When fans are accustomed to the winningest college football program in all the land, and then are served an unbelievably poor helping of 15-22 over the course of the next three years, something had to give. Oh yeah, 0-3 against Ohio State as well. Enter Brady Hoke, and with him the changes we can expect.
First, a pro-style offense will be in place in Ann Arbor. Denard Robinson, the junior quarterback, took plenty of hits last season despite rushing for slightly over 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns. He actually missed playing time in 10 of 13 games in 2010 because of that punishment. behind a pro-style set, he won't take as much of a beating this year, which should keep him on the field longer.
This is a good thing, because even without a spread offense, Robinson figures to be the leader Michigan desperately needs heading into this season. His 62% completion percentage is fairly impressive along with his 2570 passing yards and 18 touchdowns.
For once, there's more turmoil in Columbus than Ann Arbor. And with two new coaches walking the sidelines, it's Brady Hoke that has by far more experience. Plus, the game this year - it's in the Big House.
However, if he and Michigan expect to beat Ohio State, a few different things must happen.
Robinson’s 11 interceptions are a bit concerning. Ohio State lost two defensive linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs from last year’s extraordinary defense. Denard Robinson, assuming a good enough running back steps up and takes the job, will have a good enough balance of passing and running to keep the Buckeyes a bit off balance.
The main concern is Michigan’s defense; it hasn’t been much to brag about recently. The Wolverines finished dead last in the Big Ten in scoring and total defense last season, and will look to return to a 4-3 defensive scheme instead of the 3-3-5 that ultimately doomed them. This should be more effective in shutting down the run game of typical Big 10 teams.
Michigan is unproven. They have the potential to be a great team and could possibly be a failure yet again. But if Brady Hoke can make Ball State and San Diego State relevant, he can absolutely repair things in Michigan. It’s been a long time since Michigan beat Ohio State, and I expect this year that monkey will jump from Ann Arbor to Columbus.
Please follow Aaron Calhoun on Twitter @ACalhoun_CFN, Dan Cronin @Djc5353, Chris McKeown @csm5206, Bart Doan @Bart_CFN and Phil Harrison @PhilHarrisonCFN.
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