Well, Gopher Nation fans it is time to start thinking about Big Ten Football. Today begins the Big Ten Media so the Big Ten Bloggers is kicking off their roundtable to coincide. As an inagural member I am putting my fingers to the keyboard. At the bottom I will link the other Big Ten Bloggers responses to the very same questions...
Badger Sports - originator of the opening roundtable
Paging Jim Shikenjanski (MN)
Black Shoes Diaries (PSU)
Around the Oval (OSU)
Lake the Posts (NW)
Run up the Score (PSU)
There Is No Name On My Jersey (PSU)
Maize n Brew (Mich)
1a. The press and the coaches will be predicting the Big Ten champ at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago on Wednesday. That's fine, but overdone. In lieu of boilerplate predictions of who will come out on top, which Big Ten team will be the most surprising? Remember, surprises can be good or bad; the underdog who comes out of nowhere to share the title is just as surprising as the favorite who winds up with five losses and no bowl bid.
I've thought about this for quite a while now. I toyed with Purdue or Indiana because they return a quality QB (which is a rarity in this year's Big 10) along with a high number of overall returning starters. And I wish I could tell you that I firmly believed Minnesota was going to have a 5-3 year, even 4-4 would be the surprise of the Big 10. My surprise team is Ohio State.
I know they are your classic "we don't rebuild, we reload" team. But they lost a LOT from last year and I think there will be a bigger let down than OSU fans are anticipating. My gut tells me that the next wave of talent is not a group that will work harder than anyone else to avenge the egg they laid vs. Florida. Instead they will feel entitled to playing time and expect wins because they are THE Ohio State University. There is a very fine line between confidence that carries you to victories and entitled-arogance that leads to poor execution, mental mistakes and let downs.
Would 6-2 in conference finishing tied for 2nd be surprising? No, not with as much as they lost and the strength of Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State. Here is my bold prediction, OSU goes 5-3 in conference, 1-2 vs. the other big 3 (@Mich, Wis, @PSU) and drops one shocker (@MN, @Pur, NW, MSU or Ill). I think that a 5-3 record finishing tied for 4th would be a surprising finish, although exciting for many other Big Ten programs.
1b. Imagine it's December, and the consensus in the media is that your team's season was "surprising." Is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? What would have to happen for you to consider your team's season surprising?
Well since just about everyone is predicting a 10th or 11th place finish, anything over 2 wins would be surprising. But really for people to be talking about the Golden Gophers and their upstart program under first year head coach Tim Brewster, I think they have to put together a 5-3 conference season. 4-4 might do it, but since we are dreaming lets go with 5-3.
Is this realistic, NO. Is it in the relm of possibility? I think so. Home games with Purdue and Illinois are winable. Road games at Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa are also winable games.
But to truly be considered a surprise team I think the Gophers HAVE To stage a big time upset. That means a win over Ohio State, @Michigan or Wisconsin. Beating Ohio State would be huge because there are a number of important recruits in town that weekend. I don't hold out much hope for a road win to regain the Little Brown Jug. But most of all I'd love to take down the Badgers and bring Paul's Axe back home.
2. A preseason player of the year will also be dubbed in Chicago. For your team to succeed, which player or unit is going to have to put forth a "player of the year" performance? What's the one position that would take your team to the next level if it performs above expectations?
QB is the obvious answer. A new QB in a new offense is going to make things very difficult for this offense to get going. But I'm going to the other side of the ball. The Gopher pass defense (and I use defense loosely) has been putrid for several seasons. I'm looking for a DB to step up and be a big time playmaker for 12 games. The likely candidates are either CB-Jamal Harris or S-Dom Barber. My dream is for one of them to end up on an All-Big Ten team.
3. Which Big Ten team's out-of-conference schedule would you most want to have this year? Why? Do you think your team will have out-of-conference losses this year?
I like Michigan State's OOC schedule. I understand the need to schedule a couple wins and they have that in UAB and Bowling Green. But then I love taking on some decent teams from major conferences. Pittsburgh is solid and then I would LOVE to get Notre Dame on the schedule. I have never traveled to watch the Gophers on the road, but I would put my life on hold to make the trip to South Bend.
4. Here's a chance to look like a complete genius in a few months: pick the biggest in-conference upset that will happen this season. Justify your prediction!
I'm going to play "homer" here and pick Minnesota over Ohio State. As I mentioned above I think OSU will drop one shocker. Realistically, their next game @Purdue is the more likely candidate. There is more roster turnover with OSU than with anybody else in the Big Ten and taking them on early is the key. Minnesota will be adjusting to a new coach and system, but they should have had 3 non-conference wins and a home game vs. Purdue to build some confidence and rhythm heading into this game.
5. Say something nice about the Big Ten school whose name precedes yours alphabetically. Say something mean about the one that comes after.
Michigan State...hmmmm....I'm not very good at this saying something nice thing...well,
- they aren't Michigan?
- they have a good basketball program?
- they make being green look easy?
- Here we go...As a Minnesota fan I should appreciate, recognize and congratulate them on winning the NCAA Frozen Four (that's hockey). Really I am one of the few up here who cares very little about hockey, but I'll try to act like I do.
For instance 2006-07 basketball?
- Minnesota 3-13 (OUCH)
- Northwestern? 2-14 (thank you, Wildcats)
6. USC: great football program, or greatest football program? Also, how about that SEC? Damn, those guys are fast!
Hard to argue against them being the greatest. If they weren't on the west coast I don't think it would be much of a question. Unfortunately they play in the Pac 10 which is the most overrated of the BCS conferences in my mind. Ultimately I admire what Pete Carrol has done there and I'll grant them "greatest" status.
The SEC? Is Floriday Atlantic or North Dakota State in the SEC? See I'm a Gopher fan and I've seen 2 SEC teams over the past 20 years. And we are 2-0 so I don't see what the big deal is. We "rolled" all over the Tide in on 2004 and the mighty leg of Nystrom sliced up the Razorbacks in 2002. Overall we are 5-3 vs. the SEC (yes that is 8 total games in our 120+ year history), if we can help it won't don't play them tough schools.