We're speeding this up because the GAMES START TONIGHT! The wait is over for football season - thank the Lord.
Here are my predictions for the final Big 10 standings.
I'm not sure anybody could make a case for a team not named Ohio State for #1. Fans across the South have mercilessly mentioned that they think Ohio State is a fraud, but I don't buy it. Ohio State will make a run for the national title this year because this team is very, very good. They may lose a game or two in the conference, but they'll win the Big 10 easily.
Losing Anthony Morelli is addition by subtraction, and Pat Devlin gives them the mobile QB they need. The defensive line losses this summer make me a little worried about this prediction, but they had such amazing depth to begin with. The young stable of running backs should be electric while dynamic. It's time for the big 3 (Williams, Butler, Norwood) to live up to expectations. I think Penn State will run the table at home in conference, and lose 2 road games to Wisconsin and Ohio State. The games at Purdue and versus Illinois/Michigan State will determine where State finishes.
The Spartans are my #1 surprise team of 2008. They return, in my opinion, the best running back in the country in Javon Ringer, an underrated QB in Brian Hoyer, and 3 offensive linemen. They have some questions at wide receiver, but Mark Dantonio offenses at Cincinnati always threw the ball well. The defense needs to improve against the pass, and I think they will with 3 returning starters in the back. The Spartans won't get 40 sacks again, especially after losing 18.5 from Baldwin and Saint-Dic. However, as with the offensive pass game, Dantonio can find defense. He's one of the most underrated coaches in the country, and will be a hot commodity in the next few. The schedule helps Sparty. They get Wisconsin and Ohio State at home (win 1!) and they can beat Michigan on the road. I see 2-3 conference losses for the Spartans.
The Badgers are getting a lot of preseason hype, and I can see why with 17 returning staters. They have 4 returning OL and 3 returning DL, so the trenches are well stocked. Honestly, I think Wisconsin could be anywhere from 1-4 in these predictions. I think they lose @ Michigan St, @ Michigan, and v. Ohio State. That would be 5-3 and a tie with Sparty. I'm fairly worried about their QB situation, but does it matter? Line up, give PJ Hill, John Clay, Zach Brown, and Lance Smith the ball, score. The end.
I'm a big fan of the Illini. I was a Rashard Mendenhall fan in the summer of 07 and predicted a huge year for him. I was right. Illinois lived above expectations, though. They finished 3rd in the Big 10, but were 6th statistically. That's not a good sign. They lose THE reason they won so many games - Mendenhall. Juice Williams has potential, but he isn't the passer he needs to be. Benn and Co. at WR will be great, and they return 3 starters on the OL. If Dufrene can give them 1,000 yards, they should be formidable. Defensively, it's a mixed bag. They return Vontae Davis, superstar in the making, but lose J Leman and two other top tacklers. All told, they lose 5 of their top 7 tacklers, which never bodes well. The defensive line returns almost all their sacks, and Will Davis is a star. Illinois, with increased security from Juice and a solid year from Dufrene, could finish as high as #2 in the conference.
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