2008 CFN Big Ten Preview

Posted Jul 31, 2008

The much-maligned Big Ten is better than you think thanks to pass rushers like Minnesota's Willie VanDeSteeg, Indiana's Greg Middleton, PSU's Maurice Evans and Michigan's Tim Jamison. Check out the potential surprises, disappointments, predictions, coaches on the hot seat and more in the CFN Big Ten Preview.

2008 CFN Big Ten Preview

Team Previews & Predictions
Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota
Northwestern | Ohio State |
Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin

- CFN All-Big Ten Team & Top 30 Players
- Big Ten Team-by-Team Capsules

Big Ten Unit Rankings

- Big Ten Schedules & Predictions

By Pete Fiutak

The Big Ten isn’t as bad as you think.

Because of the geographical location, media coverage, and history, the Big Ten is the most popular conference in college sports. Big schools, big fan bases, big rivalries, big stadiums, its own network … big, big, big. It’s such a big league that it has too many teams for its name.

Since there’s so much attention and so much coverage, fans from other leagues love to pile on when things aren’t going so well. However, for all of the bad PR and all the shots the Big Ten has taken over the last few years, it’s getting a bad rap. No, it’s not as good as the SEC, but it’s been better than the ACC and Big East and it’s been every bit as good as the Big 12 or Pac 10, if not better.

First of all, it’s time to stop punishing Ohio State for losing the last two national title games. There’s no shame whatsoever in losing to the national champions.

Second, it’s not fair to impugn an entire conference because one of its teams loses to USC every year. USC would’ve beaten at least 116 other teams in the last six BCS games its been in; there’s no reason to rip on the Big Ten just because it keeps getting in the way of the steamroller.

Third, the league simply hasn’t been as bad as you think. Yeah, when you have Michigan losing to Appalachian State, Northwestern losing to Duke, Iowa losing to Western Michigan and Minnesota losing to North Dakota State, everyone will notice, but other leagues had their embarrassments (like Alabama losing to UL Monroe, Oklahoma State getting thumped by Troy, and UCLA getting blown out by a depleted Utah and a horrible UCLA), and the Big Ten had its share of impressive moments, but they seem to be pushed by the wayside.
Michigan beat Florida in the Capital One Bowl. Wisconsin and Michigan State played well in tough bowl losses to Tennessee and Boston College (the No. 2 teams in each of their leagues), respectively, and Purdue and Penn State won their bowl games. Oh yeah, and Ohio State played in the national title (again, that deserves at least a little respect). In all, the Big Ten went a not that bad 7-9 against other BCS teams.

However, the league does need a bounce-back year, and it should get it with the bottom teams (Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota) all better than last season, Iowa good enough to get back to a bowl, Penn State and Purdue at least as good as last year, Michigan State a bit better, Wisconsin a lot better, and Ohio State worthy of another national title shot. Illinois might take a step back and Michigan is in a rebuilding phase, but overall, the league is fine. Now the rest of the nation just has to be sold.

Team That'll Surprise

Iowa – The schedule is a joke. There's no Ohio State or Michigan, and Wisconsin and Penn State have to come to Iowa City. The road games are against Pitt, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota; that's not that bad. The offense needs a steady running back but gets everyone else back, and the defense should have one of the Big Ten’s best lines.

Team That'll Disappoint
Illinois – Missouri, at Penn State, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, Ohio State. Uh-oh. While there's a good nucleus of young talent to get excited about, you don't get better by losing RB Rashard Mendenhall, tackling-machine LB J Leman, all-star OG Martin O'Donnell, and unsung DT rock Chris Norwell. Everyone will be gunning for the Illini this year.

Big Ten Game of the Year
Ohio State at Wisconsin, Oct. 4 – What?! Uh, isn’t Michigan playing at Ohio State this year? Yeah, but there’s a very good chance the Wolverines will be finishing up a major rebuilding project while the Buckeye – Badger battle could have real, live national title implications. If nothing else, the game in Madison will go a long, long way to deciding the Big Ten championship.

One Bold Prediction
Michigan will start out 1-3. If that’s true, Michigan will be in big, big trouble with four road games in the final six. If you thought Appalachian State was a tough opener, that’s nothing compared to facing a strong Utah team. Miami University might be the best team in the MAC, going to Notre Dame will be far different than last year, and Wisconsin and Illinois kick off the Big Ten season.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...
1. DE Greg Middleton, Jr. Indiana
2. LB Jonathan Casillas, Sr. Wisconsin
3. S Vontae Davis, Jr. Illinois
4. WR Eric Decker, Jr. Minnesota
5. DT Mitch King, Sr. Iowa

Coach on the Hot Seat
Rich Rodriguez, Michigan – While no one will say it out loud, RichRod will get a little bit of a grace period … at least until the November 22nd trip to Columbus. That could all change considering Utah, Miami University and at Notre Dame are tougher non-conference games than they appear. All three are better than Appalachian State was last year.

5 Non-Conference Games the Big Ten had better take very, very seriously
1. Wisconsin at Fresno State, Sept. 13
2. Utah at Michigan, Aug. 30
3. Ball State at Indiana, Sept. 20
4. Illinois vs. Western Michigan (in Detroit), Nov. 8
5. Miami University at Michigan, Sept. 6

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. RB Chris Wells, Jr. Ohio State
2. CB Malcolm Jenkins, Sr. Ohio State
3. DE Maurice Evans, Jr. Penn State
4. LB James Laurinaitis, Sr. Ohio State
5. LB Marcus Freeman, Sr. Ohio State

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Josh Hall for LB Dan Connor, Penn State
2. Mark Ortmann for OT Jake Long, Michigan
3. Daniel Dufrene for RB Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
4. Ray Fisher for WR James Hardy, Indiana
5. Lawrence Wilson for DE Vernon Gholston, Ohio State